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Sunset over Doha, Qatar (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Red Sea Attacks and Ongoing War Lead to More Canceled Cruises in Middle East

Sunset over Doha, Qatar (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Senior Editor, News and Features
Aaron Saunders
U.K. Executive Editor
Adam Coulter
Executive Editor, U.S.
Chris Gray Faust

Last updated
Feb 16, 2024

Read time
13 min read

Ongoing unrest in the Middle East has led to a series of changes and cancellations to cruise line itineraries, with more lines opting to re-route their Red Sea itineraries, including World Cruises, away from the conflict.

The October 7, 2023 attacks on Israel by Hamas led to a number of lines canceling port calls (see below), while the latest attacks on cargo vessels in the Red Sea in early 2024 has led to cruise lines canceling itineraries in that region.

We will keep tabs on the situation as it develops, but if you have a cruise booked in this region it is best to reach out to your cruise line for all the latest information on changes and cancellations.

Crystal Cancels Middle East Cruise on Symphony; Reroutes World Cruise

Welcome sign for Crystal 2024 World Cruise on Crystal Serenity (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

On February 16, Crystal announced that it would cancel a cruise from Mumbai to Athens on Crystal Symphony, scheduled to run March 27 to April 13.

The line is also rerouting segments on the 2024 World Cruise on Crystal Serenity to avoid the Middle East. The ship still scheduled to arrive in Miami on June 8, 2024.

Silversea Cancels and Reroutes Red Sea Itineraries on Silver Whisper, Silver Spirit and Silver Moon

Silver Moon docked in Roatan, Honduras (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Luxury line Silversea canceled a 17-night voyage from Mumbai to Athens aboard Silver Whisper, citing the geopolitical situation in the Red Sea region.

Originally scheduled to traverse the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the ship will now sail around the coast of Africa on its way to the Mediterranean.

The cruise line is also adjusting itineraries for Silver Spirit. The ship was originally scheduled to sail from Dubai to Athens on March 13, but will now circumnavigate Africa.

“The safety of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit is always our top priority. Our Global Security teams continue to monitor the evolving situation in the Red Sea. In an abundance of caution, we have adjusted select itineraries of Silver Moon, Silver Spirit, and Silver Whisper. We are notifying guests and travel advisors of changes directly,” the cruise line said in a statement shared with Cruise Critic.

Earlier this year, the cruise line announced it would also scrap its Red Sea voyages aboard Silver Moon. The voyages affected included the ship's Jan. 16, 2024 departure from Muscat, Oman and the ship's return voyage on Jan. 26, 2024 from Dubai, UAE.

Silver Moon's February 11 departure from Mumbai to Singapore remains, as of this writing, unaffected.

Virgin Voyages Reroutes Resilient Lady's Repositioning Voyage

Virgin Voyages Resilient Lady arrives into Sydney Harbour (Image: Virgin Voyages)

Virgin Voyages announced that it will re-route Resilient Lady's repositioning voyage from Sydney to Athens, in order to avoid transiting through the Red Sea and crossing the Suez Canal en route to the Mediterranean.

"We remain concerned about potential escalations in this part of the world over the next 12 months and the risk that this presents for safe passage through the region. As a result, we have been left with no choice but to make changes to Resilient Lady's repositioning voyage taking place on March 27," the cruise line said in a statement shared with Cruise Critic.

The new itinerary will sail around the coast of Africa, with calls in Eden and Fremantle (Perth), Australia; Port Louis, Mauritius Islands; Durban and Cape Town, South Africa; Walvis Bay, Namibia; Praia, Cape Verde; Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain; and Casablanca; Morocco. Once in the Mediterranean, the ship will stop in Barcelona, Malta's Valletta, and Santorini before arriving in Athens (Piraeus).

In its statement, Virgin Voyages said that passengers on the former legs of the original repositioning voyage will have guaranteed spots on the new sailings at no additional cost and a price protection commitment in place. Cruisers also have the option to receive a future cruise credit based on their paid balance or a full refund.

The cruise line also shared that it is currently reassessing other geographically similar repositioning voyages and will provide an update in the coming weeks on further changes.

Cunard Reroutes Queen Mary 2's World Cruise

Queen Mary 2 (Photo: Cunard)

Cunard Line informed guests it will re-route its World Cruise aboard Queen Mary 2, changing a full month of the planned voyage itinerary in order to bypass the Red Sea and Suez Canal in favor of transiting around the horn of Africa.

In a letter to passengers, Cunard said the changes were being made for the safety of passengers and crew aboard the company's flagship.

"Given recent developments and following extensive consultation with global security experts and government authorities, we have made the decision to reroute our itinerary to bypass the Red Sea and the surrounding area," the company wrote.

Queen Mary 2 will maintain its existing itinerary until after its call in Colombo, Sri Lanka. At that point, the ship's itinerary will sail south along the east coast of Africa before rounding the horn and coming up the western coast of the continent.

The anticipated conclusion of Queen Mary 2's World Cruise in Southampton on April 28, 2024 has not been affected.

Carnival Corporation Reroutes 12 Cruise Ships

AIDAcosma alongside at Abu Dhabi, UAE (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Carnival Corporation announced on January 30, 2024 that it would re-route 12 individual cruise ships across its family of brands in order to avoid the Red Sea and conflict in the Middle East.

The affected ships, which include Costa Cruises' Costa Toscana and Costa Deliziosa; Princess Cruises' Island Princess; and AIDA Cruises' AIDAbella, AIDAblu, and AIDAprima, along with P&O Cruises' Arcadia.

Some brands, like Princess, are re-routing ships away from the conflict areas and opting to travel around the horn of Africa. Others, like Costa, have elected to sail ships empty through the Suez Canal en-route to their spring European cruise seasons.

Each brand is offering affected cruisers a variety of compensation options, depending on the circumstances and whether their voyages are already underway.

Currently, only Spring 2024 sailings are affected. Anticipated transits of the Suez Canal later in 2024 and into 2025 are not affected at this time.

MSC Cruises Became First Cruise Line to Cancel Cruises Due to Red Sea Attacks

MSC Opera alongside in Dubai, UAE (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

MSC Cruises has become the first cruise line to cancel cruises due to the ongoing risks to shipping in the Red Sea.

The line has canceled three repositioning ‘Grand Voyage’ sailings in April from South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Europe.

The cruises are:

• a 24-night cruise of MSC Splendida from Durban, South Africa to Genoa, Italy

• a 21-night sailing of MSC Opera from Dubai, UAE to Genoa

• a 23-night voyage of MSC Virtuosa from Dubai to Southampton, UK.

The move comes after a series of attacks by Yemen-based Houthi rebels on vessels transiting through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, followed by U.S. and U.K. air strikes on Houthi bases.

Three MSC Ships Will Transfer Directly to Europe With No Passengers Or Port Calls

Red Sea in Sharm el Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt (Photo: Oleg_P/Shutterstock)

MSC Cruises released the following statement:

“The safety of passengers and crew is the number one priority and as there was no viable alternative itinerary, the Company has regrettably had to cancel the voyages.

“The three ships will transfer directly to Europe without any passengers on board and avoid transiting through the Red Sea.

“Instead, they will sail around the west coast of Africa with no ports of call on their journeys to their respective European homeports for the summer 2024 season.

“None of the company’s other ships in its fleet are affected.”

All passengers booked on the three repositioning cruises have been, or are in the process of being, contacted directly or through their travel agent and can transfer their booking to a future Grand Voyage of a similar duration for free. Alternatively, affected passengers can rebook to any other cruise in the company’s global network, with either a partial refund or additional payment for the difference in price of the original booking or receive a full refund with no cancellation fee.

Cruise Lines Cancel Middle East Itineraries Due to Ongoing Fighting in Gaza Strip

Hanging Gardens of Haifa (Photo: snapshopped/Shutterstock)

Cruise lines have begun canceling itineraries scheduled to call on the Middle East as the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip escalates.

The surprise dawn attack on Saturday, October 7 has led to a declaration of war by Israel, and has escalated throughout Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Cruise lines had initially canceled ports of call in Israel like Ashdod and Haifa following the attack on Israel by Hamas in early October. Now, with the conflict showing no signs of resolving, some cruise lines have begun making sweeping changes to current and upcoming deployments in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf.

Windstar Cruises Cancels Star Legend’s Middle East Season, Redeploys Ship to the Med

Star Legend (Photo: Windstar Cruises)

Windstar Cruises, which was to deploy its Star Legend on its first series of Middle East voyages next month from Dubai, sent a note to passengers on October 16 advising them that their cruises had been canceled.

“It is with a heavy heart that I must convey some important news regarding our inaugural Middle East cruise season, which was scheduled to begin on November 23, 2023,” Windstar said in the statement to booked guests. “Due to the current environment and the evolving circumstances in the region, we have made the difficult decision to postpone this season until the fall of 2024.”

A Windstar spokesperson told Cruise Critic, “Windstar staff are contacting all booked guests with an offer to move their sailing to a 2024 date. Other destination options being offered aboard Windstar’s ships are Caribbean, Tahiti, Costa Rica and Panama.

“The November 23, 2023, inaugural cruise event on the 10-day Sparkling Sands itinerary sailing between Dubai, UAE and Muscat, Oman will be moved to 2024 with special planned events and executives on board. The 2024 cruise departs from Dubai on November 24 on the same itinerary.”

On October 24, Windstar announced Star Legend would instead be deployed to the Mediterranean, offering cruises from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Barcelona or reverse between December 2023 and April 2024. Ports of call include Nice, Monte Carlo, Florence (Livorno) and Cannes on select voyages.

"The ship was originally scheduled to sail in the Middle East. We’ve postponed our launch in that region to begin in November 2024,” said Windstar Cruises President Christopher Prelog.

"With a ship in the Mediterranean, we saw an opportunity to offer guests a legendary winter season in Europe. Our small ships and intimate atmosphere provide a truly unique way to explore Europe's winter wonderlands, while enjoying the magic of the season and the comforts and casual luxury that Windstar is known for."

Royal Caribbean Scrubs Middle East Cruises on Rhapsody of the Seas

Rhapsody of the Seas alongside at Venice (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Royal Caribbean has canceled the entire Middle East season aboard its Rhapsody of the Seas, which is now being used for humanitarian aid in the region since it was previously operating sailings out of Haifa.

The season was scheduled to run through November 12, 2023. Jewel of the Seas is scheduled to return to the region in August 2024 for a series of Eastern Mediterranean voyages, while Serenade of the Seas will briefly visit the region in May when it sails from Dubai to Athens, via the Suez Canal, as part of its “Ultimate World Cruise” voyages.

MSC Cancels Red Sea Cruises on MSC Orchestra, MSC Sinfonia

MSC Orchestra (Photo: MSC Cruises)

MSC Cruises announced on October 23, 2023 that it had canceled the entire 2023-2024 winter season of Red Sea cruises aboard MSC Orchestra and fleetmate MSC Sinfonia. The impacted voyages were scheduled to run from November through April 2024.

MSC says the changes were made due to the ongoing situation in Israel and uncertainty with countries in the surrounding area, as countries impose entry restrictions and governments issue travel warnings and advisories to various parts of the region.

MSC is offering passengers the option to move to a new sailing or cancel for a full refund. The line becomes the third cruise operator to fully pull its ships out of the region due to the ongoing conflict.

Replacement voyages for MSC Orchestra and MSC Sinfonia have not yet been announced.

Celebrity, Holland America Line and Celestyal Drastically Alter Itineraries

Nieuw Statendam (Photo: Holland America Line)

Some ships altered their itineraries mid-sailing. Celebrity Apex was en-route to Haifa before altering course to dock in Limassol, Cyprus. Passengers on the sailing that departed October 16, 2023 had received notice of itinerary changes that replaced calls in Ashdod and Haifa with stops in the Greek ports of Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes before the ship continued on to Port Said, Egypt as planned.

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam, meanwhile, had already docked in Israel and had sent passengers on tour when the conflict broke out.

“We were on tour of Galilee region at Jordan River when we were all recalled to the ship,” writes CNSJ on Cruise Critic’s Holland America Line message boards. “Awaiting last passengers to return so we can depart for sea as soon as possible. Three days in Holy Land has become three hours…obviously this is beyond HALs control.

“Captain just informed us that we are sailing in a few hours..at sea tomorrow followed by a stop in Analya Turkey on Monday, then back to our scheduled stop in Cyprus on Tuesday.”

Celestyal Cruises, which maintains a presence in the region, said late Monday evening it would suspend calls to Israel on its sailings until the end of November.

"Firstly, as a business, our thoughts are with those impacted by the events in Israel," said Celestyal CEO Chris Theophilides in a statement provided to Cruise Critic. "We wish for the safety of all the souls affected and a rapid return of peace to the country.

"On the advice of our internal teams and the relevant authorities we have decided to temporarily remove Israel from our Three Continents itinerary until the end of November this year.

"Our teams will be contacting any affected customers to advise them of the updates to their itineraries and the additional provisions that have been made to ensure their continued enjoyment.”

Affected departures include Celestyal's "Three Continents" voyages sailing aboard Celestyal Journey on October 21, 28; November 4, 11, 18, and 25, 2023.

What Does This Mean For Cruises to the Middle East in 2023-2024?

Haifa (Photo:Phish Photography/Shutterstock)

With the conflict continuing to escalate – and the increased possibility it could spread beyond the borders of Israel and the Gaza Strip – cruisers are starting to wonder what may become of their cruises to the region in the coming months.

Itinerary changes as a result of the conflict are also being felt in other geographic areas, too. Passengers aboard Norwegian Epic were notified that their November itinerary would drop ports in Israel – but also the Greek ports of Rhodes and Patmos.

“Why cancel non-Israeli ports that were already scheduled?” writes PhilRSchultz. “That seems odd.”

In the meantime, other lines are operating on a business-as-usual basis. Viking notes its river cruise departures along the Nile in Egypt are still proceeding as planned, with the cancellation of select overland extensions to Jerusalem.

“All of our departures in Egypt are operating as scheduled. Our top priority is the safety and wellbeing of our guests, crew and partners on the ground; should additional extension cancellations become necessary, impacted guests and their Travel Advisors will be contacted directly by Viking Customer Relations.”

MSC Opera alongside in Dubai, UAE (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

MSC Cruises, which maintains a strong presence in the Arabian Gulf with cruises aboard MSC Opera, also told Cruise Critic in an email that those voyages – which operate far removed geographically from the current conflict – would continue as planned.

Some passengers booked on itineraries in the region, however, are making alternate plans.

“The region is very volatile at the best of times,” writes RJHNorthyorks. “We were due to visit Israel, Egypt and Jordan next April but spoke to TA this afternoon about canceling."

Cruise Critic will update this story with more information as it becomes available.

Publish date October 18, 2023
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