Super cruise liner 'MSC Bellissima' sets sail from Saudi Arabia's shores

The vessel's journey marks the kingdom's efforts to develop its tourism industry in push for economic diversification

The 'MSC Bellissima's' main pool. Courtesy: MSC Cruises

A super cruise ship departed the shores of Saudi Arabia on Friday for the first time, setting sail for Egypt and Jordan as part of the kingdom's efforts to develop its tourism industry and diversify its economy away from oil.

The MSC Bellissima became the first cruise ship to leave Saudi waters, departing from Jeddah Islamic Port on the Red Sea coast for Port Safaga in Egypt and Aqaba in Jordan on a journey spanning July 30 to October 30 before returning to Jeddah, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

"The largest and most modern cruise ship to operate in the Red Sea has set sail from Jeddah’s new terminal to mark a new beginning for cruising in Saudi Arabia and, more broadly, for its growing tourism industry," Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, the Geneva-based operator of the MSC Bellissima, said in a statement.

Cruise Saudi, a business that is wholly owned by the kingdom's sovereign investment fund, the Public Investment Fund, and MSC Cruises, the world's largest privately-owned cruise line, signed an agreement for preferential berthing rights at the port of Jeddah during the inauguration of the first cruise ship terminal at Jeddah Islamic Port on July 28.

Saudi Arabia opened up its tourism industry in 2019, making it easier for foreigners to apply for tourist visas. Developing the tourism industry is part of its Vision 2030 plan to grow the non-oil sector contribution to its gross domestic product, attract foreign investment and create jobs. These ambitions include expanding its cruise ship travel segment, Fahd Hamidaddin, chief executive of the Saudi Tourism Authority, told The National in May.

"The remit of Cruise Saudi [is] to create 50,000 jobs by 2025, to facilitate the building of an additional five ports, with Jeddah as a homeport, and to welcome 1.5 million annual passenger visits by 2028," Mark Robinson, chief operations and commercial officer of Cruise Saudi, said in a statement on July 28. It is an ambitious target which will play a major part in strengthening the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia, he said at the time.

The MSC Bellissima was delivered in 2019 and has a deck surface area of 450,000 square metres.

In addition to a wide range of accommodation options, it is home to a luxurious spa, Broadway-style theatres, bowling alleys and Formula One simulators.

MSC Cruises plans to launch winter itineraries in the Red Sea, which will run from November to January on board MSC Magnifica. They will also start in Jeddah, before taking in the Saudi port of Al Wajh, a gateway to Al Ula.

Other stops in Saudi include Ar Ras Al Abyad, Dammam and Yanbu Al Bahr before the cruise heads to Aqaba and Port Safaga, where it will travel up the temple valley of Luxor in Egypt.

Updated: August 1st 2021, 3:25 AM