Insider Journal: Doha & Qatar on Seabourn Ovation's Arabia & Antiquities

Olivia Balsinger

Insider Travel Report - May 28 2019

Our third day of Seabourn Ovation’s “Arabia & Antiquities” itinerary brought us to a country that I have previously explored, but still find incredibly intriguing—Qatar. What I love most about this tiny country sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf is its diversity of attractions.

As the Seabourn guests I chatted with onboard agreed, Qatar is not merely trying to become the next United Arab Emirates. Until the discovery of oil in 1939, Qatar cultivated its greatest profit from pearl diving. But it has since grown, flourished and made its own substantial mark on the map.

In Qatar, the dichotomies are unparalleled: old versus new, tradition versus innovation, religion versus modernity. From the world-class metropolis of Doha, brimming with museums, nightlife and unrivaled man-made architecture to the natural phenomena in the deserts, Qatar maintains all aspects of its heritage while embracing the new world.

Each of the optional Seabourn excursions served to showcase Qatar’s complexities. One excursion that Seabourn guests could choose, for example, was called “Doha City Highlights.” It included a panoramic drive along the Corniche, the four-mile costal route that stretches from the Museum of Islamic Arts to West Bay; a stop at the Pearl of Qatar, an artificial island that evokes the architecture of Venice; and shopping time in the labyrinth of alleyways that comprise the Standing Markets.

My friend Jonathan and I chose to spend our morning in Doha city center on our own (I was excited to be the tour guide for once). Indeed, the capital a major tourism draw by itself. Doha is significantly smaller than both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which allows it to keep its slightly provincial feel.

While travelers can still find modern high-end innovations, such as Doha Festival City with an Angry Bird theme park, Qatar stays true to its heritage in a number of ways. We visited the Souq Waqif, one of the most traditional in the Middle East, to find pearl shops and nooks where men still gather to chat. Whether eating traditional Qatari food or getting whimsically lost in its labyrinth of mazes, the Souq is a market not to miss.

As a metropolis, Doha also showcase’s Qatar modernity. The sheer decadence and luxury found within Qatar’s downtown is reason enough to visit. Jonathan and I stopped inside the Mondrian Doha, a 270-room property featuring incredible views of the manmade Pearl Island. Here I enjoyed a luxurious detoxing massage and indulgent swim in the penthouse pool. The hotel epitomizes dual elegance and creativity, described as Alice in Wonderland in real life, all due to the whimsical architecture by famed Dutch designer Marcel Wanders.

Jonathan and I decided to explore some of Qatar’s more adventurous activities in the afternoon. I had met a fabulous tour guide named Abdullah of Q-Explorer Tours on a previous visit and he kindly offered to pick us up in Doha for some adventures in the desert.

Few things spike the adrenaline more than a safari in a 4x4 through Qatar’s vast desert, about an hour and a half car ride from Doha. We went dune bashing, a favorite leisure activity of locals and tourists. It was quite an experience—the radio was blasting Arabian-French techno music as Abdullah’s white Land Cruiser picked up speed. He would smile slightly mischievously and rev the engine prior to accelerating through this stunning natural oasis.

Q-Explorer Tours is a professional tour operator that handles individual and group guided arrangements, catering to specific itinerary desires and budgets. In addition to dune bashing, the company provides many other opportunities to explore Qatar’s culture, gastronomy and natural beauty. I loved the freedom and flexibility Seabourn provides, allowing guests to work with a private operator or explore a port on their own should they wish.

After a full day enjoying Qatar’s cultural and adventure offerings, we boarded the Seabourn Ovation again and sailed out of Doha’s port in the early evening. The next day would be at sea, passing through the Persian Gulf and into the Gulf of Oman before arriving in Muscat.