After the Christmas celebrations were over we decided we would shoot off somewhere warm to combat our UK weather. A UAE cruise fitted the bill and looking at the available cruises we had a choice of MSC or Costa. We had cruised with both companies previously but we opted for MSC as a 7 night cruise was offered rather than a 6 night with Costa, although both liners were back in Dubai for the last day. This is a great idea so you are able to see something of your departure city.
We tried to book the MSC Lirica cruise and flights but all the allocated flights were full from Gatwick. We had read of cruisers having to fly overnight and having to leave their cabins at 2.30am to connect with their flight home. We were relieved that we could fly at our convenience. We decided to fly with Emirates and fly out to Dubai on the 16th giving us one full day to explore before joining Lirica on the 18th. On closer research
Emirates offered some favourable rates, booking flights and hotels at the same time. We opted for sensible times to fly and booked 2 nights at the Rose Rayhaan Hotel in Central Dubai. We booked the cruise direct with MSC and chose cabin 9144, an outside berth with 2 single beds, midships. The next 2 weeks flew by and we obtained Dirhams and Euros from the local post office which offered reasonable rates and gave us usable cash on landing in Dubai.
Our flight, 6.1/2 hours was comfortable and we were well fed. We landed at 8.15pm and after the usual queues to get through passport control and collecting our luggage, headed for the taxi rank. A point of interest here is that the pink top taxis have female drivers and will take ladies only or escorted ladies, in their cabs. The fare with tip to the hotel, about 5 miles, was 80 dirhams approx. £13.00.
On checking in at the Rose Rayhaan we were asked if we would like to upgrade to a corner suite for an extra 200 dirhams (approx.£34) for the 2 nights. We agreed and were soon zooming up to the 47th floor to our suite which was sumptious to put it mildly. We slept well and had a buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant and were ready for a day of sight seeing. We chose the hop-on hop-off buses to see as much as possible and took a taxi to the Grand Mall to buy our tickets for one days travel 220 dirhams (£37 each). The blue route lasts 2.3/4 hours and we toured the waterfront, skyscrapers, Palm Island, the World etc and stopped for lunch at the WAFI Mall (very Egyptian) where we could change over to the red route which included an hour on a dhow on the Dubai Creek. We also visited the Museum, Spice and Gold Markets and before we realised it the day was over and it was time to make our way back to the hotel for dinner and bed. The sightseeing was brilliant with temperatures in the low 80's f, just amazing.
After breakfast the next morning we booked out and took a taxi to the cruise terminal. We arrived at about 11.00am, booked in and went straight on board and made our way to our cabin. While we waited for our luggage to arrive we explored Lirica. We had been on MSC Poesia and Magnifica and Lirica was noteably smaller but the ship was modern, clean and well proportioned. Our cabin was excellent, a 3 berth and was configured as a double which our cabin maid soon changed to the singles we had ordered which gave us plenty of space between the beds. The downside of MSC is there are no tea/coffee facilities in the cabins but without giving things away, there are ways of overcoming this slight criticism. Our shower room was adequate and not cramped and we have to add our cabin maid renewed towels etc. whether we had used them or not, sometimes 3 times a day. Likewise, our cabin was kept spotless at all times.
We had booked La Bussola Restaurant on deck 5 for dinners and we used this venue for most breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We had a table for 4 and were sat with a lovely couple from Wolverhampton who were always interesting to talk to over dinner. As we don't drink that much we didn't take up the offer of the drinks package but opted to buy a bottle of wine for dinner, it was held over to the next night to finish it, this worked well for us. We did discover that some of the cruisers that had travelled overnight had been given a drinks package, perhaps this was an extra bonus for them.
To sum up the food on board, bear in mind that MSC is an Italian cruise company so the majority of the food is Italian orientated, lots of fish, pasta etc. Also, think on the fact that Italians have warm food on cold plates, unlike us in the UK having hot food on hot plates, most, if not all the food in the restaurant is good to excellent. In the Le Bistrot Buffet on deck 11 it was very much pot luck, sometimes the food was good and sometimes not so good. The 24 hour tea and coffee station was on deck 11 just outside the buffet. At selected times there was pizza and pastries also available on deck 11. Entertainment on board was varied with something for everyone, we opted for 1st sitting for dinner (6.30pm) and went to the Broadway Theatre for the evening shows. A point here is the access to the Broadway Theatre is from deck 6 or through the 'smoking area' Lord Nelson Pub on deck 5, so if you don't like smokey smells, sit well away from the areas close to the deck 5 entrance. The shows we saw had the same backdrop for the whole week. The shows consisted of dancing, singing and speciality acts. There were different themes each night, including, Broadway hits, Temptation, The Four Musketeers, Cuore Italiano, Starwalker (Michael Jackson tritute) and Frank Forever (Frank Sinatra tribute). The shows generally were good but in our opinion deteriorated slightly as the week progressed (purely our opinion).
It should be noted that each evening we were issued with 'The Daily Program' for the next day which listed all the details, weather forecast, opening times and answers to most cruisers questions.
Gratuities on board are 7 Euros per person per night which is optional and we requested a reduction so that we could tip individually. On our mid week invoice this was not detailed but on the final invoice the gratuities were cancelled completely, so we tipped accordingly to the very deserving staff.
Excursions, we booked all through MSC and we were quite happy with all the tours. Yes, they maybe more expensive than private/taxis but if you are happy with what is offered on board, then go with it. The highlights of the excursions were the visit to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi and the dhow cruise on the fjords in Khasab (Oman ) and to see the dolphins playing in the wake between two dhows was amazing. On all the outings we went on we were offered free water and on the dhow we were offered water, fruit and soft drinks, again all free.
To answer some questions about disembarking , our flight did not leave until 2.45pm so we stayed on board until 11.00am. We did have to vacate our cabin by 7.30am.
Our summing up of our cruise and visit to the United Arab Emirates is summed up with two words, 'AMAZING and BRILLIANT'. The overall cost was very reasonable and we considered good value for money.
Wouild we do it again ? - You bet, as soon as possible.
Ken and Maureen (alias B and S)