MSC Cruises continues to build its presence in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia, already a stronghold for the Swiss-based, world’s third-largest cruise line. Flagship MSC Virtuosa picked up passengers for the first time in Jeddah as she makes her way towards the Mediterranean and the UK for her summer season.
Saudi Arabia has been working steadily on bringing more tourists to the country, with cruises playing a significant role in the process. Since the 2021 cruise season started, more than 70 calls have been made to the country by cruise ships from Viking Ocean, Silverseas, Scenic, and MSC.
MSC Flagship Sails From Jeddah
MSC Virtuosa made its maiden call to Jeddah while making her way to the Mediterranean and the UK for her summer season.
The MSC cruise ship is the company’s second cruise ship to sail from Jeddah. MSC Bellissima has been operating from the port for the entire 2021/2022 summer and winter seasons.
Lars Clasen, Chief Executive Officer of Cruise Saudi, said: “We are proud to host the flagship of one of the world’s most established and popular cruise lines. MSC Virtuosa’s visit highlights Saudi as an exciting cruise destination for international cruise lines and travelers. At Cruise Saudi, we look forward to welcoming more guests and operators to experience the glistening waters of the Red Sea as the tourism industry gathers pace.”
MSC Virtuosa has been spending the winter in the middle east. After her naming and christening ceremony in Dubai in November 2021, she spent the winter cruising in the Persian Gulf, visiting Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island, and Doha.
At 181,541 gross tons and with a guest capacity of 6,334, MSC Virtuosa is the joint-largest ship in the MSC fleet. The vessel boasts 10 restaurants, 21 bars and lounges, and five swimming pools.
Saudi Tourism Takes Off With Help From Cruise Ships
Saudi Arabia has been closed and inaccessible since 2004 for international tourism, the only exceptions made for business and religious travelers. However, this is rapidly changing with new Vision 2030 policies implemented by the Saudi government.
“By supporting Saudi’s tourism industry, we are not only enabling the world to experience Saudi’s pristine islands and beaches as well as unique culture, heritage and hospitality – but we are also opening new gateways to connect Saudi with the world and transform the country into a tourism hub,” Lars Clasen continued.
Over the last couple of years, several international cruise lines have been making regular calls in Saudi Arabia. Most notably, around 70 calls from MSC Cruises, Scenic Group, Silversea, and Viking.
The country’s cruise representative, Cruise Saudi, also closed a deal with MSC, which ensured the company would be sending its ships to the country for the next five years.
Over the following years, as Saudi Arabia continues to build up its tourism industry and attempts to become less reliant on the oil industry, Cruise Saudi seeks to create 50,000 jobs in the cruise industry in Saudi by 2035.
Would You Cruise To or From Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is not yet a significant player in the cruise industry and not a destination many would see as their new favorite cruising area. However, that is not to say there is no reason to make a voyage of discovery here.
Besides the warm waters of the Red Sea and the watersports opportunities that are on offer in places such as Yanbu, known as the scuba diving capital of the Red Sea, there is much more to see in the country itself.
Some of the ports ships call include Al Wajh, from where guests can visit one of the most historical cities in Saudi Arabia, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Al-Ula. Dammam, visiting AlAhsa oasis, another UNESCO World Heritage site.
And of course, Jeddah itself is considered the commercial hub of the country, but also the home of Al Balad, Jeddah’s UNESCO World Heritage recognized Hijazi style old town.
Guests will need to keep one thing in mind when cruising to Saudi Arabia. Alcohol will not be served during port calls and only when the ship is in International waters.