Morocco Cruise, Casablanca City Welcomes Ships: North Africa’s Largest Port for Marrakech, Rabat, Art Deco Shopping

on October 23, 2020

Ever since this ancient town gave its name to that legendary Bogart-Bergman 1942 Casablanca movie, a stream of visitors has come in search of Rick’s Café and a cast of ‘all the usual suspects’. Faced with modern Morocco's main industrial and commercial centre, some find it disappointing and move on. But, thanks to some inspired restoration projects and impressive new buildings, that's all changed. In 2004, Casablanca City even got its own version of Rick's Café, that most famous (if fictitious) gin joint in all the world.

Cruise ships from 11 lines now call here, and passengers are quick to see that Casablanca has so much more to offer than nostalgia for the days of black-and-white wartime romances. ‘The usual suspects’ calling here include MSC, Oceania, Fred Olson, Norwegian CL, Princess Cruises, Holland America (HAL) and the graceful Star Clippers in the full sailing rig, weaving their own romantic spell.

Passengers disembark, often for their first taste of North Africa, from the commercial harbour about three miles from the town centre. (A dedicated cruise port is underway.) There’s a choice of day excursions around town, or further afield for an overnight port stay. Casablanca is also a good place for those wanting to go it alone, as it’s likely that they will, in any case, be visiting the same sites as the tour groups.

Casablanca Cruise ToursHalf or Full Day

Cruise tours for Casablanca always feature Casablanca City centre, where most of the town’s attractions are to be found. Designed by the French in the 1920s glory days of Art Deco, this is one of the most pleasant town centres in North Africa. Fans of Art Deco will find much to admire, in the wide, tree-lined boulevards and the relaxed French/Arab café culture. Highlights of cruise tours are likely to include:

 

  • Historical Casablanca's restored 18th-century fortifications and the Old Medina with Atlantic views.
  • Markets, especially Central Market for fresh food and general goods and the Quartier Habous with its prettily restored arcade-style shops and boutiques for stylish, quality ethnic or imported clothes and handicrafts.
  • Upmarket tea salons or shaded open-air cafés or restaurant stops, often with seafood, or a traditional tagine or couscous lunch.
  • The impressive exterior of the Hassan II Grand Mosque overlooking the ocean.

Themed Casablanca Tours for North African Culture, Rick's Café and Morocco Beaches

Casablanca City lends itself to certain themes likely to appeal to a wide range of interests, budgets and age groups:

  • The Best of Islamic Culture, to include the interior of the Hassan II Grand Mosque, which has guided tours for non-Muslims, followed by a 90-minute scenic drive and tour of the beautiful ‘imperial city’ of Rabat.
  • Casablanca by Night, with dinner at Rick’s Café, featuring ‘all the usual suspects’ round the piano and cool jazz, for ‘Casablanca’ nostalgia.
  • Casablanca Beaches such as Ain Diab or Miami Plage, by day, or evening, for almost the only nightlife in town, apart from Rick's Café, since alcohol is not part of Islamic culture.

Tips for Going it Alone in Casablanca

All the above highlights can be reached safely and easily from the ship by grand taxi, or the red petit taxis which are cheaper.

  • Prices in Morocco are sometimes quoted in Euros or US dollars, but the local currency is the dirham, and will definitely be needed for those not on a tour.
  • Small-denomination notes are more useful than large ones for tips, and because change is usually in short supply.
  • Booking for dinner at Rick’s Café is advisable: American or Fusion French/Arab food.
  • Inexpensive return rail tickets can be brought for the pleasant ride from the Gare Casa Port (Port Station) to Rabat.

Shopping for Art Deco in Casablanca

Art Deco fans intent on bringing home some original treasures can take a grand taxi from the ship to the working-class district of Hay Hassani (near the airport) and head for Soco Demoina, with its maze of bric-a-brac stalls and scrap yards, for discarded relics of French colonial times, as recommended by Moroccan author Tahir Shah in The Times, (23/02/2008).

For upmarket genuine North African and Art Deco antiques, he also recommends Memo-Arts in Derb Omar, Galerie Athar near Habbous, and the high-end Gallerie Moulay Youssef, 54 Boulevard Moulay Youssef.

Casablanca Out of Town Overnight Tour to Marrakech

Marrakech is the most popular destination if the ship is in port overnight. It is a 4-hour scenic drive through the Atlas Mountains and usually features:

  • Overnight at Morocco’s most famous hotel, the newly restored La Mamounia, within sight of the historic city walls of Marrakech, or a high-quality traditional riad hotel.
  • Carriage ride or guided walk through the Jemaa el Fna, one of the world’s most famous city spaces.
  • Night trip to the Jemaa el Fna with dinner and music at a traditional riad restaurant.
  • Camel ride in the Palmerie on the edge of Marrakesh for a feeling of the desert.
  • Visit the Majorelle Gardens, made famous by Yves St-Laurent.

Some ships organise tours to the spectacular Atlas Mountains for a night under canvas or at a ski lodge for adventure-minded travellers according to season.

Casablanca is a good introduction to North African city culture, Islamic architecture and French colonial Art Deco elegance, with a breath of the great Sahara desert beyond. The bargaining and hassle of shopping can be tough but rewarding in this pleasant town which welcomes cruise visitors.

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