(11 a.m. EDT) -- There's a lot to be said, it seems, for guaranteed winter sunshine. Though the winter of 2011 may seem a long way off, the port of Dubai is already likely to be expecting a bumper season, if Royal Caribbean's latest move is anything to go by.
The cruise line began offering cruises out of Dubai in January 2010 on the 2,501-passenger Brilliance of the Seas and is returning this coming winter for a second season. Both of these programmes --which, according to a statement from Royal Caribbean, have exceeded expectations by 30 percent -- have been so successful that the line has stepped up its presence in the Gulf for 2011.
One of the reasons, the statement says, is easy air access from the U.K.; Emirates, the national carrier, has an impressive 98 flights a week from the U.K. including daily services from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow -- all easy, regional departures for holidaymakers who want to depart from close to home.
Brilliance will now return to the United Arab Emirates in November 2011, two months earlier than previously planned, and will offer an increased range of itineraries including longer cruises of 12 and 18 nights, taking in ports in southern India as well as the Gulf.
Royal Caribbean has also tweaked the itineraries for both 2010 and 2011based on feedback from passengers and travel agents. There will be double the number of seven-night cruises and the order of ports has changed, to speed up visa processing. Bahrain, which lacks the history or culture of some of the other ports, has been replaced with an overnight in Muscat, while the cruise ends with an overnight in Dubai, so passengers can shop and sightsee without running up huge hotel and restaurant bills.
One of the new itineraries for 2011 is a 12-night Dubai and India cruise featuring ports of call such as Muscat, Cochin, Goa and Mumbai.
These changes put Royal Caribbean's Dubai season in line with rival Costa's; Costa Deliziosa and Costa Luminosa between them cover the Gulf from November to the end of March. But it's not just the mass market lines that are mad for the Middle East. Seabourn has 14 sailings from Dubai between now and 2012; Azamara Club Cruises has four next season, and Silversea, three.
Meanwhile, German-owned Sea Cloud will base its brand-new square rigger, Sea Cloud Hussar, in the Emirate for weekly sailing cruises from January to March 2011.
Would you choose Dubai? And if you did, would it be for the sun, the shopping or the sightseeing? Let us know in our poll!
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
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Dubai Cruise Port Hotter Than Ever for 2011
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