Dubai (Photo:Rastislav Sedlak SK/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Dubai

On busy Sheik Zayed Road, the highway running through the sprawling metropolis of Dubai that connects the old city with its modern eye-catching skylines, a Ferrari whizzes past at 75 miles per hour. It's a police car, a sign that Dubai -- a city often compared to Las Vegas -- has flash to spare.

The biggest and most developed of the seven United Arab Emirates, Dubai has a well-deserved reputation as an oasis for cosmopolitan luxury travelers with money to burn. Yes, Dubai is a working port city on the Arabian Gulf, a gateway to places that, for most North Americans, are tucked away in the encyclopedia as distant and forbidden lands: Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan. But the city's most distinctive feature is its pursuit of all things over the top, from "seven star" luxury hotels and shopping malls with ski resorts to manmade islands built in the shape of palm trees and continents.

As late as the 1950s, however, Dubai was a small-time trading and fishing port. (Pearl diving was a major industry until cultured versions came into vogue.) It's possible, although it does take some work, to find remnants of this uniquely Emirati history. A few savvy entrepreneurs are beginning to develop cultural tourism that highlights the country's Bedouin roots, as well as the melting pot that Dubai has become.

Yet still, it's the modern trappings you'll notice first, from the ultra-sophisticated Emirates Air planes that you no doubt arrived on to sleek Dubai International Airport to the fact that everyone speaks English. (You won't need to trot out Arabic here -- though attempting "shukran," for thank you, is always appreciated.) Although North Americans are somewhat scarce, Dubai has already been discovered by the elite from the rest of the world, who are magnetically drawn by its resorts, gorgeous beaches and coast, and its duty-free status as a shopping mecca.

That being said, Dubai -- and the United Arab Emirates in general -- is Muslim, and morality laws are alive and well. Public displays of affection are forbidden (no kissing your partner), and gay travelers are not welcome. (Homosexuality is illegal.) Alcohol is only served at hotels and restaurants with licenses, and many common prescriptions drugs are illegal. (Bring copies of your prescriptions from your doctor.) Although beachwear is appropriate at resorts, shorts and tank tops are uncommon; even some malls have a dress code. Pack long-sleeved tops, capris or long pants, and long skirts and dresses if you plan to visit mosques or do a lot of walking around.

Despite its hardline stance on these cultural issues, Dubai remains a major port of embarkation -- if not port of call -- for cruise travelers on popular Middle East itineraries through the Arabian Gulf or around the Arabian Peninsula to the Red Sea and Suez Canal. (Even if your cruise doesn't begin or end there, you're likely to have an overnight.) The "season" runs from October through May and is particularly popular with European lines, such as Costa and AIDA. If you're looking for a view into the modern Middle East -- and want a guarantee that you'll have sunny, warm weather on your vacation -- Dubai is perhaps your best place to start.

About Dubai


Pro

It's easy to get around this ultramodern port, which offers an impressive selection of shopping and dining options

Con

In the summer, the soaring heat and dusty conditions make sightseeing outdoors uncomfortable

Bottom Line

An attractive port within easy access of Dubai's major attractions, souks and beaches


Find a Cruise to the Middle East

Where You're Docked

Dubai has embraced cruise travelers, and the Port of Rashid is expanding at a rapid pace; there are now three distinct terminals. The Port of Dubai facility offers a coffee bar, a deli/lunch operation, souvenir shops and free Internet on five terminals in its business center. There's a currency exchange office, an ATM, a post office and a concierge who can set you up with day tours. Several major shopping malls also offer free shuttles from the port.

Good to Know

Although Dubai looks freewheeling on the surface, the United Arab Emirates is still a strict Muslim country. Women should cover their shoulders and knees, even while sightseeing; coverings are a necessity for visits to mosques or other religious sites, and malls have a conservative dress code. Displays of affection in public are forbidden, especially between unmarried or same-sex couples. Also avoid photographing Arabs or Emiratis in their native dress without asking permission.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The currency is the UAE dirham (dh); check xe.com or oanda.com for current exchange rates. Dollars are generally not accepted. Taxis take currency only (no credit cards), so exchange money at the airport, or use an ATM.

Language

Arabic is the main language, but everyone speaks English. As a result of its expansion boom, Dubai has opened its gates to supplement its work force. (However, these expats, who make up the majority of the population, cannot become citizens and, as such, have fewer rights.) You'll encounter Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Russians and a plethora of other nationalities -- all of whom speak passable English.

Shopping

This is a city that loves shopping; there's even a monthlong festival dedicated to it. Designer goods of all kinds are available in shopping malls such as Dubai Mall (the world's largest) and Mall of the Emirates.

If you're looking for something more traditional, gold in almost any form is a terrific remembrance, particularly coupled with the experience of visiting Dubai's old souk (marketplace) on the Deira side of the creek. Traditional coffee pots -- known as dallah and sold in sets with small cups -- are also great gifts. Dubai is the place to stock up on gorgeous scarves, many in luxe fabrics with elaborate beading.