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Cruises to Sir Bani Yas Island

40 Reviews
Sir Bani Yas Island, in the United Arab Emirates (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

About Cruising to Sir Bani Yas Island

A green oasis on a desert island in the Arabian Gulf, Sir Bani Yas Island -- about 150 miles west of Abu Dhabi -- is the site of the only private beach resort for cruise ships in the region. It provides a welcome alternative to the shopping malls, grand mosques, theme parks and dune bashing at the heart of excursion programs in the Gulf's other ports of call.

Natural geological forces created the salt dome island millions of years ago, and its name originates from the Bani Yas tribe who first inhabited Abu Dhabi. A ruined Nestorian Christian monastery dating from 600 A.D. is the oldest of 42 archaeological sites on the island.

Sheikh Zayed, the late ruler of Abu Dhabi and founder of the United Arab Emirates, established a nature reserve on the island in 1971 and began work that has involved the planting of several million trees and the introduction of species including giraffe, cheetah, hyena, ostrich and oryx. It's not quite a self-contained ecosystem -- some 73,000 miles of pipeline water the trees, while feed is left out for the animals, although the cheetahs hunt the gazelle, nonetheless.

The 16-square-mile Arabian Wildlife Park occupies about half of the island and now contains more than 10,000 breeding animals and 170 species of bird, including peacocks and flamingoes.

MSC Cruises was closely involved with the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority in the creation and construction of the facilities on an island that houses a wildlife park for a collection of endemic Arabian species. The only other visitor facilities on the island are three luxury resort hotels, operated by Thai group Anantara, and a small airstrip.

The beach resort was built on an artificial spit of sand connected to the main island by a short causeway across the lagoon. It houses the only facilities -- apart from shore excursions -- for visiting cruisers. There are about 2,000 sun loungers and plenty of shade.

The main season for cruises in the Gulf runs from November to March. Cruise lines visiting Sir Bani Yas include MSC, Costa, P&O Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and occasionally, Seabourn. There is never more than one ship per day at the resort -- which is definitely a bonus for most visitors. Find cruises to Sir Bani Yas Island on our UAE cruise itineraries.

--updated by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic contributor

  • More about Sir Bani Yas Island

  • Why Cruise to Sir Bani Yas Island?

  • Sir Bani Yas Island Cruise Port Facilities?

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More about Sir Bani Yas Island

Why Cruise to Sir Bani Yas Island?

Pros:

A relaxing beach day -- and the novelty of a safari drive in the Middle East

Cons:

Very limited entertainment on cooler days

Bottom Line:

A valuable addition to Middle East cruise itineraries and great timeout from busy sightseeing

Sir Bani Yas Island Cruise Port Facilities?

Ships used to have to anchor offshore and tender passengers ashore, but this changed in 2022 with the opening of a new cruise pier that can accomodate two ships at once.

The beach resort is split into four separate areas along its mile-and-a-half stretch. Visitors arrive by tender at the central Al Maha district, which houses the administrative offices, excursion sales desk, tour dispatch, medical clinic and bathrooms.

To the right, backed by the road leading to the causeway and the rest of the island, is Al Ghazelle with three bars and a covered barbecue area. The beach itself is packed with sunbeds and sun umbrellas, and the area behind it has courts for football, volleyball, basketball, tennis and other sports.

On the other side of Al Maha is Llama, the section devoted to families. It, too, has a covered barbecue and two bars, but there is also a covered area for young children to play in the shade. The water sports station on the lagoon side of the beach provides mangrove kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding and floating mats. Some cruise lines require water sports equipment to be booked in advance.

Beyond Llama, the Al Reem district is reserved for suite guests and those prepared to pay extra to rent a cabana, or sheikh bed, which comes with bottled water and a selection of snacks. Some cruise lines offer beach spa treatments, chargeable to your cruise account.

The whole beach area offers free Wi-Fi, with a strong signal.

Good to Know?

Treat Sir Bani Yas as a day off from the intense sightseeing on an Arabian Gulf cruise. Take a guided tour to see the wildlife before relaxing on the beach with a barbecued burger and a cold beer, or book a water sports activity -- there's very little else to do here other than chill.

Getting Around?

By Official Tour: Beyond the beach, access to the island is by official tour only. Visitors may not wander around at will. For example, if you want to make a private visit to one of the Anantara resorts for lunch, you will need to arrange for its staff to pick you up at the dock and get you back in time for departure.

By Shuttle: Some cruise lines offer a shuttle to the larger of the resorts, Anantara's Desert Islands Resort & Spa, as a shore excursion.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money?

You can charge drinks to your cruise account and activities, like kayaking or safari drives, are prebooked through the cruise line as shore excursions.

Should you arrange privately to have lunch at the Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort (+971-2-801-4200) or the Desert Islands Resort & Spa (+971-2-801-5400), the currency is United Arab Emirates dirhams (AED). For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.

Language?

All the safari guides and water sports instructors on the island speak English.


Sir Bani Yas Island Cruise Reviews
Lovely island, well worth the tour.Read More
S Cowleard
This was the only port we visited, and the whole family really enjoyed it. A very relaxing day at the beach with a great lunch. It's very convenient to have the bridge joining the ship to the island so you can hop oRead More
bronwyn.penny
Ship docked alongside a walkway leading to the beaches which was very convenient. Sun beds were freely available to relax and chill on the beach. However the sand wasn't soft and there were broken shells which hurtRead More
56jab
Free tender dock to island. We got there early, first boat I think. Got spot on beach free sunbeds and as we had deluxe drinks package we had free drinks on beach. Food available free from ship. Amazing day for FREE.Read More
Mjk88

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