Welcome to the Ultimate World Cruise Itinerary blog series based on the survey results of the resident owners of Storylines first residential ship, MV Narrative. We asked our residents to nominate their top wish-list travel destinations to curate their dream itinerary.
For our second post in the series, we will be exploring North Africa and the Middle East after sailing south from our Eastern Mediterranean travel. Many countries and destinations were requested by residents in the Middle East, including:
- Petra (Valley of the Kings)
- Nile River
- Suez Canal
- Red Sea
- Saudi Arabia
Middle East Travel Guide
The Middle East sometimes gets a bad rap due to conflict in the region, but there are many safe and unique places to visit with some of the richest histories on the planet. The region is abundant with magnificent scenery, ultra-modern cities, and the most fascinating archaeological digs and historic sites.
Although Cyprus was surprisingly not requested as a destination by our owners, MV Narrative would likely stop by Cyprus while heading south from Turkey. Now, let's start our Middle East travel itinerary, beginning with...
Lebanon is rich with local culture, incredible Middle Eastern cuisine and fascinating historical sites. The main port of Lebanon is in Beirut, the country's capital. It is conveniently located a short 10-minute walk from downtown. If you do decide to get transport, we advise caution using the taxis waiting and establish a fare upfront if you do so. And avoid renting a car. We suggest using Uber, which provides a hassle-free way to get around and pay in foreign currency while knowing the price before you ride.
Beirut is known as the Paris of the Middle East for its European architecture, good food, and outdoor café culture. Head downtown to view beautiful ancient architecture and historical sites dating back over 6000 years. As the city is compact, we recommend exploring to discover some unexpected gems on foot. However, if you want the city's best views, then take a ride on the Beirut Balloon, a hot-air balloon rising to an altitude of 300m above the city.
Of course, there are several places to spend time outside of Beirut if you have time, some of which are listed below.
- National Museum of Beirut: See the magnificent collection of archaeological artifacts at Beirut's cultural institution.
- Temple of Bacchus: One of the best-preserved and most beautifully decorated temples from Roman times.
- Baalbek Ruins: This ancient site and the Roman temple are one of the Middle East's major archaeological attractions.
- Byblos: A must-visit UNESCO World Heritage-listed ancient village located on the Mediterranean coast.
- Shouf Biosphere Reserve: For the hikers and nature lovers, head to Lebanon's largest natural cedar reserve for some incredible trails in a pleasant and cool mountain climate.
- Jeita Grotto: AKA The Pearl of Nature in Lebanon, these limestone caves can be explored on foot and by boat. It's a must-see grotto located just outside of Beirut.
- Our Lady of Lebanon: Catch the cable car to experience incredible panoramic views and a massive statue on par with Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.
- Baalbek: One of the most mysterious ancient Roman ruins from the Roman Empire.
Neighboring Lebanon down the coast is both Israel and the port of Haifa, which is Israel's main passenger cruise terminal. The port has been newly expanded and has several services, amenities and infrastructure, including getting an Israeli stamp and a train to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Note, we can not cruise into Tel Aviv or Jerusalem since they are inland. Hence, we suggest planning your shore excursions beforehand. With Haifa being such a large port and the main tourist attractions of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and The Dead Sea requiring overland transport, we might request a more extended port stay in Israel. If so, there is enough time to explore all of the above and also Haifa itself, which most regular cruise passengers bypass because of time constraints.
Haifa city center is a short 15-minute walk from the terminal; however, it is hilly, so be prepared for some exercise. While Haifa is made up of Muslim, Christian, Baháʼí and Jewish Arab communities, they co-exist peacefully, making Haifa a unique and special place to visit. Just explore and enjoy the beautiful beachfront with golden sands and baby-blue waters. Carmel National Park and Mount Carmel are sacred sites due to their significant importance to the Baháʼí. Here, you will find The Baháʼí Terraces, aka the Hanging Gardens of Haifa, spectacular gardens etched into the mountainside with the Shrine of the Báb as its centerpiece. From the top, enjoy breathtaking views over Haifa.
- Jerusalem: This ancient city and Israel's capital is arguably one of the world's most historical and religiously significant places. Be sure to get lost in the labyrinthine alleyways of the old city inside the western wall.
- Bethlehem: A major Christian pilgrimage destination, Bethlehem is home to the Church of Nativity, built over the exact site where Jesus is said to have been born.
- Nazareth: Another holy pilgrimage place of enormous importance to those of the Christian faith; Nazareth is where Jesus lived as a child. Visit Basilica of Annunciation and explore the Bazaar area in town and its twisty old lanes.
- Tel Aviv: Israel's largest city. Just be sure to visit this rejuvenated Mediterranean city and its many fascinating museums.
- The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth and a great place to swim, especially if you can't swim, as you won't sink due to its high salt content. There are several luxury Dead Sea beach resorts to stay at. Happy floating!
- Timna Park: Visit this rugged desert park for an escape to nature. Popular for camping and biking, the park leads to Israel's only connection to the Red Sea at Eilat.
- Coral Beach Reserve: Visit the Red Sea resort area of Eilat, where you will find excellent snorkeling and diving sites in the protected Coral Beach Reserve.
- The Red Canyon: Also in Eilat is The Red Canyon, with well-marked trails ranging from moderate to difficult that will lead you through the extraordinary red rock of the canyon. (No wi-fi out here.)
Just over the Israel border lies Petra's ancient and historical site in Jordan. Jordan is a land-locked country, so we cannot cruise there; however, one of the great features of Storylines MV Narrative is the potential to stay several days in port. Let's hope that's doable at Israel's large and modern port of Haifa. For those of us who want to experience the best of what Israel has to offer and visit Jordan, we recommend pre-booking an overland tour.
There are several overland tours to Petra; for example, this 11-day tour by Global Journeys takes you from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, The Dead Sea, The Red Sea and Petra, among other attractions. Although it is an 11-day history tour, keep in mind you can link back up with MV Narrative at the next port of call, such as The Red Sea in Egypt. Overland tours such as these take care of visa stamps for your passports when crossing any borders.
After passing through the Suez Canal, the other itinerary option is cruising up the Gulf of Aqaba and docking at the Aqaba Jordan Cruise Port, which serves as a gateway to Petra and the Dead Sea. More on that option later in the post.
Jordan & Petra highlights:
- Bab As-Siq: This is where the trail starts that will lead you through the gorges and the history of the area.
- Siq: Siq is the gorge formed from tectonic forces that split the mountain into pieces. Snaking your way through the towering red rock on either side and rays of sunlight beaming down is an unforgettable experience.
- The Royal Tombs: Petra is famous for the lost city and tombs carved into the sides of sandstone mountains that belonged to Nabataean Royalty.
- The Colonnaded Street: The Romans built this street when they took control of Petra in 106AD. It still remains today, with several sandstone columns lining the side of the road.
- The Treasury: The pièce de résistance, you may recognize The Treasury from photos or from the movie Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. It is a massive tomb carved into the mountain that belonged to the Nabataean King Aretas III.
- Wadi Rum: AKA The Valley of the Moon, is a plateau on the edge of the Arabian Desert. Its colossal rock formations, red rippled sand dunes and clear night skies create a fairy-tale environment.
Jordan Volunteer opportunity
There are several ways you can give back to the Jordanian community. UNICEF supports child’s rights in Jordan and helps disadvantaged and vulnerable youth reach their full potential. UNICEF has a number of programs in Jordan across education, child protection, health & nutrition, and others. You can get involved through volunteer work or donations towards a children’s advocacy topic you are passionate about.
Egypt was requested in the resident survey, as was the Nile River, Suez Canal and the Red Sea. The main cruise port of Egypt is Port Said, which also happens to be the entrance to the Suez Canal and not too far from our last port of call in Israel. Transiting through the Suez Canal is an experience as one of the world's most crucial shipping routes connecting Europe with Asia.
We can safely assume that residents want to visit Cairo even though it wasn't explicitly requested. There are day trips from Port Said to see the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, and the Step Pyramid at Sakkara, among other attractions. For those wanting to properly explore Cairo, we suggest taking a few days and linking back up with MV Narrative in Suez Port at the southern end of the Canal. You can organize a tour bus from Cairo to Suez. We recommend the Four Seasons Hotel Nile Plaza if you intend to stay overnight there and are keen on the Nile River. If you would rather stay closer to the pyramids, we recommend Marriott Mena House, Cairo.
As larger ships like MV Narrative cannot go up the Nile River, those wanting to experience it can organize a River Nile Cruise from Cairo. Many 5 star River Nile cruises provide spacious cabins, authentic Egyptian and international cuisine and take you to attractions such as Karnak Temple and Temple of Hatshepsut. Other than that, the spectacular Egyptian and Nile scenery alone makes the cruise worth it.
Valley of the Kings
The famous and sacred Valley of the Kings is located near Luxor on the River Nile. Therefore, those who take the option of a Nile River cruise can also see The Valley of the Kings. While cruises will take you from Cairo to Luxor and all the top attractions, note that it is a long way, and they average fourteen nights. Those who wish for a more expedited journey can organize ground transportation from Luxor to the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada, a four and half hour journey, to catch up with MV Narrative if it stops there.
Logistics aside, how about those ancient ruins! The Valley of the Kings is arguably the most fascinating ancient historical site in the world. Home to the over 1000-year-old royal tombs and final resting places of kings, queens, and other royals of the New Kingdom from 1500 - 1070 BC. The most famous king and sarcophagus unearthed is Tutankhamun. The Valley of the Kings isn't the only archaeological marvel. The whole Luxor area contains ancient ruins, including the Alley of the Sphinxes on the other side of the Nile.
Ships pass through the Suez Canal to transit from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and eventually the Indian Ocean. Passing through the canal is an experience, if only to witness the huge, imposing cargo ships passing by en route to the other side of the world. Built in 1869, the Suez Canal is famous for being one of the world's incredible engineering feats, cutting 4,300 miles off shipping routes between Europe and Asia. Before Suez, ships had to sail around the entire continent of Africa. Besides marveling at the canal and its massive cargo ships and other carriers, you can take in the stunning views of the Nile Delta and the Sinai Peninsula before reaching the beautiful Red Sea.
It's no surprise the Red Sea was requested, with it being one of the premier scuba diving and snorkeling regions in the world. As we know many of our residents are water sports lovers, you will most likely visit some of the most renowned underwater wonderlands of the Red Sea. One such location is Ras Mohammed National Park. As it's a National Park, ships often anchor or dock elsewhere in the Red Sea Riviera, such as Sharm El Sheikh, then tender to the aquatic reserve. It is famous for crystal clear vision, colorful coral and abundant marine life.
Sharm El Sheikh itself is a popular beach resort town worth exploring and the town has a wide range of activities, fine dining and great nightlife. There are many excellent excursions out to Mount Sinai and desert attractions with ancient ruins to learn about the history and culture of ancient Egypt.
Another must-dive site is the wreck of the Thistlegorm, considered by many to be the best wreck dive site in the world. Located in the north of the Red Sea in the Strait of Gabal, Thislegorm is a World War 2 shipwreck and a bucket list experience for any diving enthusiast.
Jordan & Red Sea highlights:
- Sharm El Sheikh: Well known beach resort and the base for excursions, including the diving sites of Ras Mohammed and the Straits of Tiran.
- Ras Mohammed National Park is a world-renowned diving and snorkeling site and home to the famous Shark and Jolanda Reefs.
- Straits of Tiran: Famous dive site rated among the best in the world.
- Thistlegorm Wreck Dive: This sunken World War 2 ship is considered one of the best wreck dives in the world.
- Dahab: A smaller beachside resort with many dive sites accessible from the beach, making it perfect for learning divers, with many courses for both scuba and free-diving.
- Hurghada: Hurghada is the original and major Red Sea coastal resort city and has a cruise port. However, all the closest dive sites have been damaged and are the most crowded.
- El Gouna: About 25 kilometers from Hurghada is another main beach resort town, El Gouna, which is known for being Egypt's most environmentally friendly town and has plenty of luxury resorts that specialize in watersports.
- Marsa Alam: Another renowned small beach resort and dive base for Egypt's deep south; however only suitable for more experienced divers.
- The Fury Shoals: A more remote and less busy dive site, the coral gardens here are the most pristine in the Red Sea.
Saudi Arabia was a requested itinerary stop. As we are in the Red Sea, not the Persian Gulf, it makes sense to visit Jeddah. Saudi Arabia is home to some of the world's most fascinating ancient sites and ancient ruins, many of which can be visited by overland tours from Jeddah. It is also home to Mecca and Medina, the holiest cities of Islam and important pilgrimages for Muslims worldwide. The capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, is quite some distance from Jeddah and may be difficult to visit. However, there is the option to undertake an overland tour and reunite with MV Narrative in the Persian Gulf when we visit the UAE, our next port of call.
Jeddah will be an unexpected surprise and a little bit of a mystery to many residents. An ancient Red Sea Port, Jeddah is undergoing a rapid transformation with lightning-fast development happening from oil money, much in the vein of Dubai over the last few decades. Today, Jeddah is a cosmopolitan hub and a delightful mix of the old and new. The historical quarter is still the heart of Jeddah, having undergone a renaissance in recent years, and is home to where Eve was laid to rest (according to lore). In contrast, they are currently building the world's tallest building, The Jeddah Tower, designed by the same architect as Burj Khalifa in Dubai (the current tallest building in the world) and will be over a kilometer high! The Red Sea is still central to the city, contributing to the legendary seafood of Jeddah.
Saudi Arabia is one of many conservative countries in the Middle Eastern countries, so it's essential to know the local customs. Female travelers (and the average traveler) should be mindful of what they wear to avoid unwanted attention; no revealing clothing and definitely no bikinis on the beach. Women dress conservatively with their arms and legs covered. Also, alcohol is off-limits in Saudi Arabia, and you could be arrested for bringing alcohol in. Respect the local customs and laws, enjoy yourself, and you'll be fine.
- Jeddah Tower should be complete by 2024; there will be tours to the top available.
- Al-Balad: The historic center of Jeddah also hosts incredible street food on Al Balad Street.
- Dine at Al Nakheel restaurant: One of the oldest restaurants in Jeddah and overlooking the gorgeous Red Sea.
- Obhur Beach: Escape to relax by the beach or in one of the many beach clubs.
- Silver Sands Beach: A small private beach with soft white sand and clear, turquoise waters. Extra costs $40 USD to enter but offers private rooms for changing and showers.
- Theme parks: Jeddah is an excellent destination for families being home to Al Shallal Theme Park, Atallah Happy Land Park and Jungle Land Theme Park.
- Red Sea Diving: You can also do diving expeditions from Jeddah.
- Al Ula Desert Safari: There are 4x4 desert safari tours to cross the sand dunes and explore the surroundings of Al Ula and its ancient sites.
- Al Ula Old Town: Learn about the local people's history, culture, and historic trade routes in this ancient village.
- Mecca & Medina: Take a tour from Jeddah out to the two holiest Islamic sites globally.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Our next leg of the trip in the resident curated journey is the United Arab Emirates. Like Saudi Arabia, it has undergone enormous economic development due to its vast oil reserves in the last few decades. The two main and beautiful cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi seem to have sprung up out of nowhere. Both cities attract expats from all over the world and offer a high standard of living.
This could be an excellent opportunity for those wanting to do an overland trip from Jeddah to Riyadh, take in some amazing desert scenery and ancient sites along the way, then go to Dubai or Abu Dhabi and reunite with MV Narrative should she dock there.
Port Rashid has three large, modern (like everything else in Dubai) passenger cruise terminals. Taxis are plentiful, Uber is also available, and it's only a ten-minute drive into Dubai Mall. If docked for a limited time, we suggest the Dubai hop on hop off bus tours, leaving from port. Buy the 48-hour ticket if you want to see all the top attractions.
Dubai has many modern and historical attractions, including the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa. However, Burj Khalifa isn't just an insanely tall building; it's also terrifically designed and an example of masterful engineering. We highly recommend a trip to the top of Burj Khalifa, if you can handle heights, that is! Other than that, take in some historical sites, relax at the beach or the many luxury hotels, or get some great deals at the biggest shopping mall in the world, Dubai Mall.
- Dubai Shopping mall: Even if shopping isn't your thing, this mall is like an entire suburb and needs to be experienced.
- Burj Khalifa: The tallest building in the world is almost one kilometer high and is an architectural masterpiece. Take a trip up to the observation deck for an accurate birds-eye view of the city.
- Burj Al Arab: Dubai's most iconic hotel sits out over the water. We suggest having a meal at Sal, a chic new beach restaurant overlooking the Arabian Gulf.
- Palm Islands: These man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree house some of the most exclusive homes in the city.
- Museum of the Future: Here's a different kind of museum. They flip the concept on its head, as quoted from their website: 'Explore a museum where history is made rather than displayed'.
- Bastakiya Old Town: Take a trip to the historical village to glimpse what Dubai was like before it turned into a modern metropolis.
- Al Fahidi Fort: Dubai's oldest building and now a famous museum where you can learn about the history and culture of Dubai and its people.
- Heritage Village: Learn about Dubai's history, heritage, local value, and community in this historic village.
- Legoland Dubai & Legoland Waterpark: What is a child's idea of heaven? A theme park and water world based on their favorite toy.
- Abu Dhabi: There are many top attractions in the UAE's second-largest city, including world-class museums and grand mosques.
- Louvre Abu Dhabi: One such museum is the Louvre which takes you on an incredible journey through human history.
- Sheikh Zayed Mosque: One such mosque is Sheikh Zayed Mosque, a massive modern traditional design and craftsmanship structure.
- Jebel Jais Flight: For our resident thrill seekers, take a ride on the world's longest zip line from Jebel Jais Mountain for an incredible 2 kilometers, reaching speeds up to 120km/h!
- Desert tours: The UAE has a fantastic desert landscape, and there are several excellent 4x4 tours to experience it.
- Al Ain: Al Ain translates to The Spring, a green, oasis, palm tree-filled city in the heart of the scorching desert.
Middle Eastern Trip
Thank you for joining us on this epic Middle Eastern adventure. You can view the latest posts in the series here. The next exciting leg of the journey will be Southern Africa, so get your safari attire ready as we visit the wild African Savannah and the iconic city of Cape Town. For the non-residents reading who may be experiencing a healthy dose of travel envy, check out our website to learn more about our resident community of global citizens.
Disclaimer: The ultimate world cruise itinerary blog post series explores some of the requested destinations of our community of global citizens on board Storylines MV Narrative. It is for inspiration only at this time and the final itinerary has not yet been set. Further information in our FAQ.