The world has a new cruise destination. Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach in western Abu Dhabi was officially opened a few days before Christmas, but an unexpected visitor from the east – in the form of strong winds – prevented passengers going ashore to join in the celebrations.
Abu Dhabi dignitaries, international media, and delegates from the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum were flown to the island for the opening ceremony.
Together with developers Abu Dhabi Ports they could only watch in frustration as MSC Fantasia, with more than 3,200 passengers on board, lay at anchor a mile offshore, unable to deploy its tenders. Waves whipped up by the unusual easterly wind – said to be blowing from that direction for the first time in at least a year – made for tricky conditions at the newly-constructed jetty.
Fantasia, which is operating Arabian Gulf cruises for the winter season, had already made two calls to the island earlier this month, and will be returning each week until the end of March.
MSC commercial executive director Angelo Capurro said passengers who went ashore for a “soft opening” visit on December 5 gave favourable feedback on the beach resort’s facilities.
“We are looking forward to returning on a weekly basis throughout the season, and we are talking to the port authority about a Plan B anchorage in case of the strong easterly wind recurring,” he added.
Costa neoRiviera will be another regular visitor this winter and Seabourn Sojourn, Seabourn Encore, Silversea’s Silver Cloud and Silver Whisper, Crystal Esprit, and Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2 fill out the roster of 39 ship calls booked for the beach’s maiden season. Celebrity Cruises have announced that one of their ships will be visiting the resort from the 2018-19 season onwards
The island is a significant development for cruises in the Arabian Gulf, the first time western visitors to the region have been provided with a safe swimming beach that permits sunbathing – outside those operated by luxury hotels.
The set-up will be familiar to any passenger who has visited cruise resorts in the Caribbean and Bahamas. Rows of sunloungers and parasols are arrayed on a carefully-manicured sand spit, and there are bars, barbecue buffets and cabanas in abundance. Kayaking and snorkelling are among the water activities available.
Sir Bani Yas, about 10 miles long and five-and-a-half miles wide, is a nature reserve packed with endangered wildlife collected by Abu Dhabi’s late ruler, Sheik Zayed.
It is home to a herd of about 400 Arabian oryx which are extinct in the wild, and there are thousands of gazelles and antelopes plus ostrich, peacocks, deer, giraffes, hyenas and cheetahs.
Visiting passengers can take 75-minute guided tours of the reserve by coach or 4×4 Land Cruiser.
Also on Sir Bani Yas are Stone Age relics and the remains of a Christian monastery dating back to 600 AD. The island has three small hotels.
Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority, His Excellency Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, said the cruise beach was “unrivalled in the region and has been developed to meet the demand for a beach call addition to the itineraries of the world’s leading cruise lines.
“Anchoring at this multiple award-winning nature-conservation desert island adds a unique proposition to an already diverse array of passenger shore excursions,”
Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises, added: “This is a key milestone for us as we continue to develop our offering in the Middle East, bringing our guests to new exciting ports of call, exotic destinations and luxury shore excursions during the winter season.
IN THE Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Harvest Caye resort opened on an island off the coast of southern Belize in November. Its facilities including luxury beach villas, pool, zipline and Jimmy Buffettt’s Margaritaville will also be visited by passengers from Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.