Forget the flightmare, cruise through your holiday

Brett Debritz says sailing may be the best way to spend a holiday not so far from home

Dubai is expecting a large number of cruise ships this winter season. Jeff Topping / The National
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Unlike, it seems, almost everybody else, I didn't take time off over Eid this year. And although I had a few weeks off in May and June, I won’t be taking a traditional summer holiday; I’ll be working right through the next few months.

I don’t really mind that because, for one thing, it means not having to deal with the inevitable crush at the airport during the busiest travel time of the year.

Even when I do take a break, I may not be going to the airport at all – I may just travel by road to one of the UAE’s cruise terminals, at Mina Zayed in Abu Dhabi or Port Rashid in Dubai. If I do, I won’t be alone.

Cruising is the fastest-growing sector in global tourism, and the biggest operators have discovered the UAE big time. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, because the UAE is an exciting and exotic destination for foreign cruise passengers who, in turn, are often cashed up and prepared to spend a lot of money while they are in port.

The two ports will be buzzing from October through to mid-March next year, with a record number of visiting passenger ships on the schedule.

There will be stopovers by the Queen Mary 2, the Norwegian Star and the Pacific Princess (although, sadly, not the one from the cheesy but celebrity-laden late-1970s television show The Love Boat, which has been sold for scrap), along with a few smaller craft belonging to boutique cruise companies.

And three companies will be basing ships here for all or part of this winter: MSC's Fantasia (with a capacity of 3,900 passengers), Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas (2,416 passengers) and Costa's neoRiviera (1,700).

Between them, they will be making dozens of journeys up and down the Gulf, typically spending a day each in Abu Dhabi and Muscat, with a two-day sojourn in Dubai. Some itineraries go further, to Bahrain and Doha.

Mostly the ships will be filled with Europeans who are on package deals that include their airfares, but the cruise lines are also beginning to target the local market. There are many good deals to be had, and bookings can be made easily online or through the growing number of specialist cruise-holiday agents.

I've sailed twice out of Dubai, in 2014 and in February this year. On both occasions it was aboard the Costa Fortuna, which is now sailing in South-east Asia, and I got a very good deal.

The holiday cost me less than $100 (Dh367) a day, inclusive of food, accommodation and entertainment, although tips, speciality beverages and excursions were extra. That compares very favourably with a room-only deal in an Abu Dhabi or Dubai hotel, or an airfare to anywhere.

If I book soon, I can secure a similar deal for sailings in December, January or February. And if I do, it will be my 11th cruise in four years.

To me, the attractions of cruise holidays are obvious: no packing and unpacking, many destinations on the one holiday, comfortable and slightly exotic surroundings, friendly service and the chance to meet people from all over the world.

The itineraries and the ships themselves are designed so you can do as much or as little as you like – see a Vegas- or Broadway-style show, party in the nightclub, swim in one of the pools, relax in a hot tub, workout in the gym, have a massage or spa treatment, or just borrow a book from the library and sit on the deck with the sea wind blowing through your hair. ­(Although, sadly, that last option is not available to me due to the curse of early onset male-pattern baldness.)

Cruising may not be for everyone, but it is worth considering as an affordable alternative to an overseas holiday – the getaway you can have without having to get too far away.

It’s a great way to see this country and its neighbours from a new perspective.

Take a moment to imagine the view of Dubai’s skyline as you pull out of harbour at sunset, or yourself swimming with the dolphins amid the Arabian fjords, and you’ll be sold already.

On Twitter: @debritz