When you think of a cruise vacation, you probably imagine sailing the tropical waters of the Caribbean, or navigating around the Greek islands. Your brain likely isn’t conjuring images of the sandswept deserts of Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia strives to make itself more attractive for international tourism — making the process of getting a visa very easy, and establishing tourism-specific destinations like NEOM and AlUla. And thanks to its efforts, it’s become a desirable new destination for Red Sea cruises. Since the first cruise to Saudi Arabia in January 2022, sailings to the kingdom have multiplied. Right now Jeddah is the country’s main cruise port, though as tourism development continues throughout the region, more ports are likely to open. Whether you’re a cruise enthusiast or a newbie, now’s the time to consider a Saudi Arabia cruise.
Norwegian Cruise Line — Middle East: Saudi Arabia & UAE (departing December 13, 2023)
You don’t have to wait until 2024 to take a Saudi Arabia cruise. Departing from Dubai on December 13, 2023, this seven-day Norwegian cruise visits Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Dammam in Saudi Arabia, before ending in Doha, Qatar. If you’ve never heard of Dammam before, it’s one of the kingdom’s most modern, bustling port cities, where you can visit local museums, vibrant markets, and stroll the scenic coastline. You can also take a ferry to a nearby artificial island (Marjan Island), known for its bike trails and iconic Khobar Water Tower. (Note that another NCL cruise with the very same itinerary will be departing on December 27, 2023.)
Cruise starts at $299
MSC Cruises — Saudi Arabia & Red Sea (January 2024)
MSC Cruises is one of the leading cruise lines operating sailings to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. They offer a wide range of itineraries, stopping in a variety of Middle Eastern ports, but the Saudi Arabia & Red Sea sailings scheduled for January 2024 are some of the best for seeing the region’s highlights. Five of the sailings start in Jeddah, where you can visit the New Jeddah Corniche promenade, King Fahad’s Fountain, and the still under-construction Jeddah Tower, which is slated to be the largest building in the world. The itinerary will take you to historic Petra, Sharm-El Sheikh resort city in Egypt, as well as Egypt’s Sokhna Port and Safaga, before heading back to Jeddah.
Cruise starts at $769
Windstar Cruises — Red Sea Revelries via the Suez Canal (departs March 27, 2024)
This 12-day voyage, courtesy of Windstar Cruises, begins in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and ends in Athens, Greece. While the trip starts in Jeddah, you’ll also have the chance to explore Saudi Arabia’s port of Yanbu, a city on the country’s west coast, known for its grassy Al Fairouz Park, tree-lined promenades, and Oyster Island. After leaving Saudi Arabia, you’ll head to Luxor and Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, visit the ancient wonder of Petra, Jordan, and make a stop in Cairo before transiting through the Suez Canal to Greece.
Cruise starts at $4,399
Ponant — Secrets of the Red Sea (departs October 30, 2024)
An epic 11-day cruise through the ancient ports of the Middle East, Secrets of the Red Sea begins in Saudi Arabia and ends in Jordan. Start in Jeddah, exploring the seventh century port’s UNESCO World Heritage old town of Al-Balad. There’s even an optional excursion you can take to the Al Tayebat Museum, home to a variety of pre-Islamic artifacts like coins, weapons, and manuscripts. From Jeddah, head to Baridi Island off the Saudi coast, whose crystal-clear water and white sand is the perfect setting for swimming and snorkeling. After stopping at Yanbu, a 2,500-year-old trading crossroads with a modern night market, you’ll hit the open sea en route to Safaga and Hurghada in Egypt, before ending the trip with a visit to the legendary site of Petra in Jordan.
Cruise starts at $7,740
Emerald Cruises — Red Sea & Gulf of Aqaba (departing December 4, 2024)
The Red Sea & Gulf of Aqaba voyage on Emerald Cruises, departing on December 4, 2024, is an eight-day adventure from Aqaba, Jordan, to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s major port city on the banks of the Red Sea. Along the way, you’ll get to see the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh and the black sand dunes of Safaga in Egypt, as well as explore Yanbu, Saudi Arabia’s diving capital. The luxurious cruise, taking place aboard the Emerald Azzurra, is a great way to experience the highlights of three countries. You can even extend your trip in Jeddah to further explore the city, whose historical area of Al-Balad is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Cruise starting at: $5,285