A pioneering voyage for MSC Cruises in the Red Sea and Saudi Arabia

Elisabetta De Nardo of MSC Cruises talks with Alex Smith about the success of the cruise line’s first deployment in the Red Sea and what makes the region such a special place to cruise

A pioneering voyage for MSC Cruises in the Red Sea and Saudi Arabia
MSC Bellissima has homeported at the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia throughout her deployment in the Red Sea

Last July, MSC Cruises made the bold choice to position one if its newest ships, MSC Bellissima, in the Red Sea and Saudi Arabia. The decision to move the ship out of the traditional regions for cruising and become one of the first major cruise lines to homeport in Saudi Arabia foresaw that guests would embrace the chance for a fresh new experience, and the ship’s voyages in the region were hailed a success as the vessel cruised continuously from summer and then throughout the 2021-2022 winter season. 

The unique prospect of a Red Sea cruise was a significant factor in appealing to returning guests who may have already sailed onboard cruises in those more traditional regions, says Elisabetta de Nardo, vice president of port development.

“The Red Sea cruises from Jeddah are new to us and the industry,” says De Nardo. “That word ‘new’ is very attractive for experienced holidaymakers and the itinerary itself is incredible. Regions or countries that open their borders to tourism for the first time are an excellent marketing tool themselves and a cruise is a great way to visit and see this remarkable country. These are early days for Red Sea cruises from Jeddah and we’re delighted to be pioneers as the first major cruise line to base a ship there.”

De Nardo says the region has proved attractive to cruise passengers.

“Our guests can discover the untouched beauty of this region to its fullest and go ashore and explore plenty of undiscovered destinations,” she explains. “There’s something for absolutely everyone – whether it be culture and traditions that date back many thousands of years, somewhere new to visit, amazing beaches, fabulous weather, or simply the chance to enjoy a well-earned break.”

MSC Bellissima has been homeporting in Jeddah, the second largest city of Saudi Arabia. The port dates to the seventh century and the city offers a range of cultural highlights, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.

“Homeporting in this vibrant city that blends history and modernity, lets our guests have their pick of sites to visit,” says De Nardo. “Al Balad, the old town of Jeddah, is a cultural melting-pot with beautiful buildings and is one of the many Unesco World Heritage sites Saudi Arabia has to offer. Jeddah is also known for its waterfront and modern shopping malls, offering entertainment and recreational activities to its visitors.”

Guests onboard MSC Bellissima are also able to visit another Unesco World Heritage site when the ship calls at Aqaba, Jordan. The port’s proximity to the ancient city of Petra provides the chance for guests to explore one of the most recognisable destinations in the world.

“Aqaba itself is a heaven for divers and history buffs alike,” says De Nardo. “From snorkelling in the Aqaba Marine Park to touring Mamluk Castle and the Aqaba Archaeological Museum, this destination has something to attract everyone’s interests.”

The reaction of passengers to the new itineraries has been overwhelmingly positive, with a number choosing to return for another sailing later in the year.

“About 60 per cent of passengers were families with young children, who loved the whole experience. Five per cent rebooked on MSC Bellissima for a summer cruise and many more have rebooked for the ship’s winter cruises, which will also be open to all our international travellers.”

Given the success of the itineraries, De Nardo is excited about the possibilities for MSC to expand its offerings in the region in the future.

“Travelling through the Red Sea by cruise ship is one of the most spectacular ways to take in the stunning coastline and enjoy the region’s unique and still untouched beauty of sea and nature,” she says. “Just thinking about the fast-growing opportunities to increase the number of destinations we can offer is so exciting.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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Alex Smith
By Alex Smith
11 April 2022

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