Cruising is a new and exciting way to explore Saudi Arabia. The cruise operator Red Sea Cruise Company launched its first recreational cruise in Saudi Arabia this summer aboard the luxury Silver Spirit. Guests were treated to three- or four-day packages, which included fine dining, entertaining shows and stops at virgin-sand beaches (offering various watersports in addition to supreme relaxation).
Ghassan Khan, the chief strategy officer at Red Sea Cruise Company, told Arab News: “Recreational cruises provide a distinct tourism offering that combines luxury and the exploration of new destinations. In Saudi Arabia, there are exceptional opportunities to discover treasures along the Red Sea coast, where the islands, beaches and nature are unspoiled and unexplored. Travelers will also have opportunities to enjoy on-shore activities as part of their itineraries which meet the aspirations of all segments of society.”
Before summer, “we never had a cruise line leave Saudi shores,” says Feras Sheraif, who leads marketing and communications efforts for the Red Sea Cruise Company. “Eventually, Saudi will invite many international cruise and charter ships in.”
What can you expect from a cruise on the Red Sea now? “An authentic Arabian experience. Saudi has myriad cultures and subcultures, so we have many cuisines onboard, plus different types of music and shows. It is exotic, but we want you to feel at home,” says Sheraif, who adds that for people who have never been to the kingdom, cruises offer the convenience of a well-planned itinerary — a one-stop-shop, if you will.
What you can count on as part of a cruise experience for sure: private dining, rooms that overlook the sea, large auditoriums for dance and theater productions, which appeal to local and international audiences, and small markets offering sundries and souvenirs. Cruise ships also generally come equipped with health and wellness facilities, swimming pools and recreation areas.
Safety is, of course, also a priority while cruising. For people who get seasick or experience any other medical issues, there are enhanced medical teams on board as well as designated points of evacuation, Sheraif says. “Due to COVID-19, we are operating at 70 percent and can both test and quarantine people on the ship. We are also offering shorter itineraries, which are less likely to prompt outbreaks.”
Sheraif says cruise companies try to arrange what’s best of what’s local, in terms of food and culture, for tourists to experience at their ports of call. One of the stunning sites to see while cruising the Red Sea is Ras Al Abyad (Coastal White Head, so named for its pristine beaches), in Yanbu, which features an all-female beach as well as family beaches. Another popular stop is Sindalah Island, which offers a spa and private cabanas on the beach. “The locations where cruise ships dock tend to provide everything from fine local cuisine to burger joints to water activities for adults and children, and shows,” Sheraif says.
While there are no calls to prayer on the high seas, guests are welcome to pray as they would on land. And to further foster a homelike environment, halal food is served on board (and alcohol is not).
As for what there is to see at sea, Sheraif says dolphin sightings are not uncommon. “The Red Sea is famous for its coral reefs,” he says, adding that Red Sea Cruise Company cruises will be adding snorkeling excursions to its offerings soon. Beyond that, expect azure water as far as the eye can see, fresh sea air, lots of fun — and memories that will last a lifetime.