December 14, 2016
(3:20 p.m. EST) -- The world’s newest cruise destination -- Sir Bani Yas, an island in the United Arab Emirates - was officially declared open for business this week, but it was unable to welcome passengers ashore because of freak high winds.
Abu Dhabi dignitaries, international media, and delegates from the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum were flown to Sir Bani Yas island for the opening ceremony. But the ship slated to dock, 3,274-passenger MSC Fantasia, was unable to deploy its tenders, due to an unusual easterly wind.
Fantasia, which is operating Arabian Gulf cruises for the winter season, had already made two calls to the island earlier this month, and will be returning each week until the end of March. Costa neoRiviera will be another regular visitor this winter.
Seabourn Sojourn, Seabourn Encore, Silversea’s Silver Cloud and Silver Whisper, Crystal Esprit, and Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2 fill out the total of 39 ship calls booked for Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach’s maiden season. Celebrity Cruises have announced that they will be visiting the resort, developed by Abu Dhabi Ports, from the 2018-19 season onwards
The island is a significant development for Arabian Gulf cruises, the first time Western visitors to the region have been provided with a safe swimming beach that permits sunbathing -- outside those operated by luxury hotels.
The set-up will be familiar to any passenger who has visited cruise resorts in the Caribbean and Bahamas. Serried ranks of sun loungers are arrayed on the carefully-manicured beach, and there are bars, barbecue buffets and cabanas in abundance. Kayaking and snorkelling are among the water activities available.
Sir Bani Yas, about 10 miles long and five-and-a-half miles wide, is a nature reserve packed with endangered wildlife collected by Abu Dhabi’s late ruler, Sheik Zayed.
It is home to a herd of about 400 Arabian oryx which are extinct in the wild, and there are thousands of gazelles and antelopes plus ostrich, peacocks, deer, giraffes, hyenas and cheetahs.
Visiting passengers can take 75-minute guided tours of the reserve by coach or 4x4 Land Cruiser.
Also on Sir Bani Yas are Stone Age relics and the remains of a Christian monastery dating back to 600 AD. The island has three small hotels.
Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority, His Excellency Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, said the cruise beach was "unrivalled in the region and has been developed to meet the demand for a beach call addition to the itineraries of the world’s leading cruise lines.
"Anchoring at this multiple award-winning nature-conservation desert island adds a unique proposition to an already diverse array of passenger shore excursions,"
Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises, added: "This is a key milestone for us as we continue to develop our offering in the Middle East, bringing our guests to new exciting ports of call, exotic destinations and luxury shore excursions during the winter season."
--By Cruise Critic contributor