Anchoring on arabian shores

From Crystal Cruises and Explora Journeys to Ponant, luxury cruise lines have secured regional partnerships this year with the aim of maximising their Middle East potential


Hot on the heels of Explora Journeys appointing Cruise Master as their preferred advisor for the Middle Eastern market and Crystal Cruises also flying into the region over the summer to showcase its luxury interpretations, Ponant and CruiseXplore have entered into a partnership.

Any cruise agent worth their salt will tell you that returning luxury cruise brand Crystal Cruises - synonymous with exceptional voyages over three decades; Explora Journeys - the recently debuted luxury lifestyle brand of the MSC Group; and luxury expeditions cruise brand Ponant, are all unique luxury cruise products in their own right.

Yet they are united in their efforts to create awareness of their respective brands in the Middle East, to maximise their high-net-worth footfall from the region, and to draw attention to their vessels that are either docking in the region this season or focusing heavily on the Mediterranean.



Ponant and CruiseXplore have entered into a partnership, combining CruiseXplore’s Middle East cruise industry experience and seamless services with Ponant’s world-class luxury voyages of exploration offering a privileged experience of sea travel.

“We are thrilled to announce our strategic partnership with CruiseXplore. This collaboration marks a significant milestone in our journey to expand our presence in the Middle East,” Stephen Winter, Ponant International Sales Director, said. “Together, we will not only enhance our sales efforts, but also raise awareness locally. With our joint expertise, we are set to embark on an exciting voyage towards a brighter future in this dynamic market.”

“We are delighted to see the pace at which the demand for luxury cruises has been growing year on year. Ponant’s combination of high sophistication, outstanding service and exceptional destinations appeal greatly to this region. The Middle Eastern guests always look for premium holiday options and Ponant serves to be the perfect fit for our guests.” said Lakshmi Durai, Chief Executive Officer of CruiseXplore.

“With Ponant, our guests will get to experience the most luxurious and private yacht style cruise vacation. Its winter season in the Arabian Gulf will enhance awareness of the brand in the region,” she added.

Ponant’s new deployment for this winter are aboard Le Bougainville, which will depart Doha for Muscat on the 11-day ‘Music of One Thousand and One Nights’, from November 28 to December 8. The eight-day ‘Treasures of Arabian Gulf’ itineraries will depart Muscat on December 8 and on December 22. The New Year cruise will depart from Doha on December 29 for cruising the Arabian Coast with Smithsonian Journeys.

For 35 years, Ponant has offered awe-inspiring voyages to some of the Earth’s most fascinating places. The company’s modern fleet of 13 French-flagged small ships are all fitted with the latest environmental technologies, as an industry pioneer in sustainable exploration.

It offers more than 400 itineraries across 100 plus countries. Across all itineraries, guests will have opportunities to visit and enjoy over 120 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.



Explora Journeys, the luxury lifestyle brand of the MSC Group, announced Cruise Master as its preferred advisor for the Middle Eastern market on brink of its summer debut.

“Explora Journeys offers a different and wonderful new form of ocean travel that will evolve and attract a global audience with a style of vibrant, cosmopolitan and relaxed European luxury. The ship, Explora I offers impressive itineraries to renowned destinations with lesser travelled ports,” Suzanne Kochen, Head of Sales Northern Europe and Middle East Explora Journeys, said.

“We are very excited with this partnership. The Explora Journeys cruise brand is taking the next generation of luxury travellers on a journey that will offer them authentic experiences. The target audience will be the well-travelled and sophisticated audience, looking for curated experiences,” added Ashok Kumar, Founder and Managing Director Cruise Master LLC.

Explora Journeys launched a fleet of six ships, with Explora I embarking on her maiden journey on August I from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Explora II entering service in Summer 2024, spending her first season in the Mediterranean Sea.

Designed in partnership with the world’s foremost superyacht and luxury hospitality designers, Explora I seamlessly blends elegant Swiss precision with modern European craftsmanship. With a choice of 461 oceanfront suites and residences, guests enjoy striking views at sea and in port from their floor to ceiling windows and personal private terrace.

All the decks provide ample indoor public space, maximising guest choice and seclusion with generous outdoor decks that will boast more than 2,500 square metres overlooking the sea, with private cabanas and a number of outdoor pools.



Crystal Cruises made its debut in the Middle East since its historic debut this summer with Crystal Serenity’s inaugural sailing departing July 31.

Crystal Cruises has been synonymous with the word exceptional, it is known for its award winning voyages for over three decades and offers some of the most amazing itineraries and destinations around the world.

After A&K Travel acquired the brand along with two of its ships Serenity and Symphony in June 2022, the vessels have undergone a thorough $150 million refurbishment exercise in Italy. The spanking new ships have been completely reimagined to feature larger, updated suites with artisanal finishes, cutting-edge wellness and entertainment options, as well as complimentary world-class dining - including the only Nobu at sea.

Under the A&K Travel umbrella, Crystal customers will enjoy legendary shore excursions being created by the A&K Travel team.   

We spoke to Matthew Boutwell, Senior Director Charter & Incentives, Crystal, at a brand-immersion event in Dubai.

“For more than 30 years, Crystal Cruises has been synonymous with the exceptional. From service to dining, suites to experiences, our commitment to delivering the best in travel has set the standard for excellence in the cruise industry. Through the years, our focus on innovation, attention to detail, and personalized service has underpinned everything we do. Now we have taken this commitment to the next level, merging with Abercrombie & Kent, bringing together two of the most respected names in high-end travel to create a truly unparalleled experience for our guests.”

Both vessels will traverse different parts of the Mediterranean, making it very interesting for the Arab market.

Boutwell says, “The 2023 sailings have been filling with an accelerated booking curve due to the unprecedented release of itineraries for two vessels returning to service in the same calendar year. The Mediterranean and Caribbean itineraries have been the fastest-selling regions - additionally, Australia and New Zealand 2024 voyages are selling very well, along with the 2024 World Cruise Crystal Serenity.

“We are also starting to see Alaska sailings generating more movement for our first sailings in the region,” says Boutwell.