This was supposed to be a busy fall and winter season for Middle East cruising. The region was to see an influx of both small and large ships hoping to attract international travelers and locals on sailings to see Old Jerusalem, the Pyramids of Giza, and Jordan’s Nabatean city of Petra, as well as the natural beauty of Oman, the mosques and heritage villages of Saudi Arabia, and the ultra-modern skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Doha.
Now cruise lines are canceling port calls in Israel and elsewhere and, in some cases, entire cruise seasons in the Middle East, as the result of Israel’s war with the militant group Hamas and ensuing security concerns.
On November 1, Norwegian Cruise Line became the first major cruise company to say it was canceling all port calls in Israel through 2024. MSC Cruises canceled visits to Israel in 2023 and into 2024 and moved two ships out of the Middle East.
Windstar Cruises, which had planned to inaugurate a full season of Middle East cruises on the 312-passenger Star Legend from November 2023 into April 2024, now has the ship headed to the Mediterranean for the winter season instead.
Other cruise lines have canceled visits to Israel and in some cases also ports in Egypt and Aqaba, Jordan, in October and into November, while urging passengers to stay tuned for possible further itinerary changes.
Here are some of the upcoming cruise redeployments. If the war lingers or widens, passengers can expect more itinerary changes, including to the multi-month world cruise itineraries embarking this winter.
Destination-focused, port-intensive European line Celestyal Cruises has canceled port visits in Israel through the end of November. A port call in Ashdod, for day trips to Jerusalem, had been part of the line’s seven-night Three Continents itinerary on the 1,260-passenger Celestyal Journey. Instead, the ship is subbing in Heraklion, Crete. The itinerary also includes Alexandria, Egypt, and calls in Cyprus, Greece, and Türkiye.
Geneva-based MSC Cruises canceled Israel port calls into April and as a result is pulling two ships out of the region that were to cruise in the Middle East. The 3,223-passenger MSC Orchestra, scheduled to sail the Red Sea, will instead do seven-night sailings in the Mediterranean between December 16, 2023, and April 19, 2024. The cruises will visit Valencia, Spain; Sardinia; Civitavecchia (the port used to access Rome), Italy; Livorno, Italy; Marseille, France; and Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The home base is Valencia, but guests can also board at the other ports. Meanwhile, the 2,646-passenger MSC Sinfonia’s Haifa-focused winter schedule from November 12, 2023, to April 15, 2024, has been canceled. A new route has not yet been announced for that ship. MSC also tweaked itineraries on other ships scheduled for Middle East stops. The 6,334-passenger MSC Virtuosa, for instance, is skipping port calls in Aqaba, Jordan, and Safaga, Egypt, on an 18-night sailing from Barcelona to Dubai in November.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line canceled all port calls in Israel through 2024. “We are also canceling and redirecting certain calls to the surrounding region for the remainder of 2023,” a spokesperson tells AFAR. “We are currently working through alterations for affected itineraries and will communicate changes to impacted guests and travel partners as they are confirmed. We will continue to monitor and make adjustments to both current and upcoming cruise itineraries, as needed, and thank our guests for their patience and flexibility during this fluid situation.”
Oceania Cruises revamped its 2024 schedule of Mediterranean cruises to replace ports of call in Israel, Egypt, and Jordan with alternate ports in the Mediterranean. The 42 revised itineraries range from 10 to 58 days and include segments of the 180-day world cruise on the 670-passenger Insignia, embarking from Los Angeles in January. As a sample of the changes, on a 24-day sailing in May from Dubai to Barcelona, the ship will transit through the Suez Canal without stopping in any ports and instead focus its attention on shore in Athens, Valletta, Dubrovnik, Rome, and Barcelona, with the addition of stops in Santorini, Capri, and Monte Carlo. A 15-day cruise on the 1,250-passenger Riviera from Dubai to Trieste, Italy, meanwhile, is now promoted this way: “Enjoy leisurely days as you traverse the Arabian, Red, Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. Highlights include Argostoli and Corfu in Greece, Montenegro and Dubrovnik and Split, Croatia” and a sail-through without stopping in the Middle East.
Royal Caribbean’s 1,998-passenger Rhapsody of the Seas was set to run a season of cruises out of Haifa, Israel, into November. That plan was promptly canceled on October 7, when Hamas militants from Gaza attacked villages in southern Israel. Rhapsody of the Seas was used for humanitarian aid, evacuating international travelers from Israel to Cyprus, after international airlines canceled flights from Tel Aviv. Following a transatlantic sailing from Barcelona to Fort Lauderdale, embarking on November 12, the Rhapsody of the Seas will then sail the Caribbean and Central America, as planned, through 2024. The line does not have any ships returning to the Middle East until August 2024.
On the river cruise side, Viking canceled some pre- and post-cruise Jerusalem extensions of its 12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids cruise-tours on the Nile River. “We will continue to evaluate conditions in the days and weeks to come,” the company said in a statement, adding, “All of our departures in Egypt are operating as scheduled. Our top priority is the safety and well-being 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.” The remaining 2023 sailings are on the 52-passenger Viking Ra, 82-passenger Viking Osiris (launched in 2022), and 62-passenger MS Antares.
In terms of its ocean cruises, Viking modified the remaining 2023 departures of its Cities of Antiquities & the Holy Land itinerary between Rome and Athens to drop a day in Ashdod and overnight in Haifa. Instead on the 14-night sailings on the 930-passenger Viking Venus, Viking Neptune, and Viking Saturn, between Rome and Athens, the company is subbing an overnight in Valletta, Malta, and expanding a visit to Cyprus into an overnight call. The itinerary also visits Naples, Italy, and Mykonos and Rhodes in Greece.
Windstar Cruises canceled its entire five-month Middle East season for the 312-passenger Star Legend. Now the ship is headed instead to the western Mediterranean where, beginning in December, it will do a rare winter season of 16 seven-night sailings between Barcelona and Rome (from the port of Civitavecchia). The cruises will visit Livorno, Italy (for Florence and Pisa), and Marseille, France, with overnights in Nice, Barcelona, and Rome (Civitavecchia) into April 2024. The small ship line has curated the itineraries to include Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Rome, New Year’s in Barcelona, and Valentine’s Day in Nice. Windstar now plans to launch its Middle East season of sailings from Dubai and Muscat in November 2024, with additional cruises from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Aqaba, Jordan; and Haifa, Israel, into April 2025.