Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 January 2020

Mega cruise ship docks in Abu Dhabi

MSC Bellissima is the largest ship to base itself in the UAE for the annual cruise season so far

Cirque du Soleil shows, Broadway-style performances, swimming pools, Swarovski crystal staircases, scores of restaurants and room for more than 5,600 passengers.

Welcome to the MSC Bellissima, a megacity on the waves, that docked at Abu Dhabi’s cruise terminal on Sunday.

The 170,000-tonne ship is spending this year’s season based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi where she will offer cruises around the Arabian Gulf until March.

At 316-metres, it is one of the largest cruise ships in the world, and MSC's decision to home port in the UAE underlines the huge growth in the cruise business here.

The ship’s Gulf cruises will alternate between east and west. The eastern itinerary will take passengers on a tour of Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island and then visit the Omani ports of Khassab and Muscat. The western cruises, meanwhile, involve stops at Qatar and Bahrain.

Dubai is the largest cruise port in the UAE with two terminals at Mina Rashid. The city welcomed more than 800,000 people during the 2018 to 2019 season, while the emirate’s tourism chiefs want a million by 2020. Industry experts said the decision by MSC to base the ship — which is only about a year old — in Dubai was a hugely significant move for the regional cruise market.

“She’s the largest ship to ever home port in the UAE and will add around 40 per cent in capacity for MSC in this market,” said Shaun Ebelthite, editor of the trade journal, Cruise Arabia and Africa.

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, handles more than 300,000 cruise tourists a season. But the emirate has also been investing hugely in its facilities at Mina Zayed, improving transport links and adding airline check-in facilities. The decision to build a cruise stop in 2016 close to Sir Bani Yas Island was also important.

Gianni Onorato, chief executive of MSC Cruises, was on-board as the vessel arrived at Port Zayed. "MSC Bellissima will call on Port Zayed on 17 separate occasions to bring thousands of guests to enjoy the culturally-rich, inspiring and remarkable capital city of the UAE," he said.

It was busy day for Mina Zayed on Sunday with two other ships also docked meaning 8,000 visitors disembarked during the day.

Mr Ebelthite said the presence of the ship in the UAE was great news in particular for Abu Dhabi because the ship interports between Dubai and the capital, treating both as turnaround ports. This means guests can get on and off there.

“It means more passengers will come through Abu Dhabi cruise terminal and fly-cruise to Abu Dhabi, supporting its growth as a regional cruise destination,” he said.

The ship, meanwhile, leaves Abu Dhabi for Sir Bani Yas on Sunday before sailing on to Manama and Doha.

Updated: December 8, 2019 05:55 PM

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