Inside the World Cup’s floating hotel

Giant slides, whirlpools, bumper cars, non-stop entertainment and food – this is how thousands of football fans in Qatar spend their time between matches.

During this World Cup – the first to invite fans to sleep on a cruise ship – a Dubai father and son had an exciting time aboard the fan zone that never sleeps.

Saptarshi Bandopadhyay and his son Siddharth spent five days aboard the MSC World Europa, one of three cruise ships that can accommodate 10,000 fans from around the world.

Booking a small cabin in a 22-story floating hotel made sense to a marketing executive who wanted to fully occupy his young son before starting work.

You had more time to talk to other fans about their country, football culture, favorite player, what they think was right or wrong

Saptarshi Bandopadhyay, World Championship guest on MSC World Europa

“It’s a completely different party on a cruise ship,” Mr. Bandopadhyay said National.

“The pace changes at night and everyone gathers on the 18th floor, where there are big pools, hot tubs and a huge screen where you can watch games you don’t have tickets for.

“When looking for accommodation, there was a choice between a separate hotel, a fan village or container camps.

“Since I took my son, the idea was to find a place where we could relax and he could have fun all day with 1001 activities and we could easily get to and from the games.”

The line docks at Doha’s Grand Terminal and is a short bus ride from the eight stadiums used for the tournament, all located within a 50km radius of the city centre.

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Theatres, themed shows and nightclubs

On the upper deck, there is a large swimming pool, hot tubs and a huge screen for watching the action in the stadiums.  Photo: Saptarshi Bandopadhyay

Guests on the cruise were mixed: some were alone, others shared rooms with friends, and there were also groups of families traveling with younger fans.

Fans spend the day sunbathing on deck in one of the six pools, working out in the gym or signing up for a spa treatment before the game.

When guests return from the stadiums in the evening, they watch themed shows, dine in one of the 13 restaurants, or head to nightclubs or the theater.

The flags of Denmark, Wales, Iran and Croatia were among the many team colors displayed outside the booths.

Mr. Bandopadhyay often caught the last match of the day on the big screen on board along with hundreds of others.

“The atmosphere changes at night when you see the Brazilians and the Argentines coming,” said the Indian national, who supports both teams in that order.

“The South Americans brought a jovial energy of song and dance that lifted the whole mood.”

A crowd favorite spiral slide

Siddharth was devastated when his favorite team Argentina were beaten by Saudi Arabia in an upset that resulted in the upheaval of the tournament.

The nine-year-old kept himself busy with an endless stream of activities, playing soccer with new friends and going down giant waterslides with virtual reality headsets that transport guests to snowy wonderlands or African safaris.

Of all the activities on board the mammoth passenger cruise ship, there is a clear favorite — climbing into the mouth of a giant snake.

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The winner among the younger guests was the spiraling 11-story Venom slide – the longest dry slide at sea – which descends from the 20th to the eighth floor.

“The cruise ship was crazy. It was basically a fun hotel, but you were anchored on the waterfront,” he said.

“I would stay on a cruise ship again. I made new friends from Tokyo and played soccer with them.

“The spiral Venom drop and the VR sets on the water slides were the most amazing.

Saptarshi Bandopadhyay and his son Siddharth in the match against Spain as the Spanish beat Costa Rica 7-0.  Photo: Saptarshi Bandopadhyay

A true football fan, the real excitement came from watching the matches.

Of the four matches he attended, his top pick was Spain’s decisive win over Costa Rica.

“I know some kids don’t like to watch the whole game because they think it’s too long,” he said.

“But it was very exciting. I was really, really upset that Argentina lost.

“I really liked how many goals Spain got. The 7-0 score was unbelievable.”

He collected scarves and team flags from Spain, Denmark and Tunisia to bring back to Dubai as part of the World Cup memorabilia he will always treasure.

The floating city that never sleeps

Football fans spend a day in the sun by the pool before heading ashore for matches.  Photo: Saptarshi Bandopadhyay

With an outdoor 90-meter promenade and an indoor pedestrian zone, MSC World Europa aims to replicate the offerings of a small town with conference centers, video game arcades, a theater, a spa, a salon, boutiques and shops.

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Cabin rates start at $350 per night.

Mr. Bandopadhyay chose the full board package for four nights. He and his son stayed in a small room with no view, knowing they would be outside most of the time.

Prices range upwards of $2,600 per night for a luxury suite with a living area, terrace with outdoor hot tub, and expansive glass doors that open to panoramic views.

The football enthusiast will return to Qatar later in the tournament with a friend and stay in a hotel for the two quarter-final matches.

He was at the World Cup in Russia (2018) and Brazil (2014), where he said the atmosphere was significantly different.

“If it was Russia or Brazil, I certainly wouldn’t go on a cruise because then you want to be in the heart of football,” he said.

“It was natural and flowing there. People would play football in the streets. In St. Petersburg, you would see two Argentina fans against hundreds of Brazil fans shouting songs at each other.

“That’s something you can’t replicate in Qatar – the true spirit of football fans and their passion.

“But they did a decent job of bringing people together in fan zones with DJs, people, singing and dancing.

What was unusual about the cruise experience was the time spent with fellow fans.

“In the previous two World Cups you had to talk to other fans, but in a bar or a restaurant it’s a very transitional phase,” Mr Bandopadhyay said.

“The cruise ship had a different take on fan interaction.

“You had more time to talk to other fans about their country, football culture, favorite player, what they think was right or wrong.

“And that was a unique and interesting twist to being on a ship.

After MSC World Europa will make the United Arab Emirates her home port and cruise the Arabian Gulf for the winter season.

Updated: November 28, 2022, 3:00 am



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