While the brand-new Costa Deliziosa stole the show on Tuesday with its dazzling quayside naming ceremony complete with parachutists, Arabian horseman and specially-constructed grandstand for 3,000, there was a lower-key but equally important party going on nearby. Dubai officially debuted its new cruise terminal at Port Rashid, a facility that tourism chiefs hope will further cement the Emirate's domination of winter sun cruises in the Gulf.
The building's opening ceremony was performed by the Dubai Crown Prince, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who stopped in to do the honours before progressing along the quay to attend the far splashier naming ceremony.
What's unusual about Port Rashid is that is has been developed by the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), the only cruise terminal in the world, the DTCM claims, to be run by a tourist board. As such, the new facility has been carefully thought through and should be ultra-friendly to visitors. At first glance, it certainly seemed to have everything for the cruise passenger who might want to plan an independent day in Dubai.
Port Rashid itself is admittedly a little bleak and industrial-looking, but the new building, a complex of sand-coloured domes, arches and carvings, provides an instant taste of traditional local architecture. Inside is a big tourist information desk with maps and staff who can book private guides; a booth for booking Big Bus Double Decker tours of the city and another for arranging floatplane tours.
There's a decent souvenir shop, a cafe, ATM, money exchange bureau, post office and duty free shop, as well as free Wi-Fi and six terminals offering free Internet (popular with ships' crewmembers, not surprisingly). For passengers embarking in Dubai, which this winter include those on Costa Deliziosa, Costa Luminosa and Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, there are several check-in desks and plenty of seating. Taxis line up outside and several of the city's shopping malls provide free shuttles.
This year, Dubai will be hosting 120 ships with over 325,000 passengers, ambitious projections escalating to 195 ships with 575,000 passengers by 2015, so the terminal could be put through its paces in busy times. The quayside can take four big ships, with golf buggies whizzing up and down to transport the less mobile from the further moorings.
The end of the wharf, however, is occupied by an uncomfortable reminder that not everything in Dubai is new, shiny and successful. The QE2 sits there forlornly, as it has been for over a year, furniture piled up on the aft decks, a thin wisp of smoke from the iconic scarlet funnel the only indication that there's still a pulse in there, somewhere.
Ironically, the ship is fast becoming an attraction in its own right at Port Rashid, although camera-toting tourists won't solve the financial problems of its troubled owner, Nakheel. Whether the former Cunarder will be kept in Dubai is uncertain, but we'll let you know as soon as there'\'s news.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
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Alongside Splashy Cruise Ship Naming, Dubai Inaugurates New Terminal
February 25, 2010