I am fortunate to have family based in Dubai so have seen many of the sights already. I booked my flights independently to give me time pre and post cruise with the family. If you arrange a fly-cruise package you need to bear in mind that some of the return flights were very early and some people needed to leave the ship at 3 a.m. on the morning of departure. Would highly recommend organising your own flights to give you more flexibility and the chance to see Dubai pre and/or post cruise.
I did a similar cruise with RCI last year but wanted to visit those places I just could not fit into the itinerary then. I have travelled several times with MSC but this was my first time on Lirica - I was not disappointed. The ship was kept spotlessly clean, the staff were friendly and efficient. It was nice too that we had plenty of time in each port of call so were not rushed to see the various sights.
Embarkation went very smoothly and I was in my cabin (10061) by 9.45 a.m. and my luggage arrived very soon afterwards. The cabin was well equipped with plenty of storage and wardrobe space, a good sized bathroom, a nice balcony with two chairs and a small table. The huge bed was comfortable and there was a cosy armchair and settee for relaxing in. The safe took some finding but it was hidden behind the huge mirror! My cabin steward was first class, very friendly and efficient and he kept the cabin spotless throughout the cruise.
I did ask for my daily tips to be taken off my account and the receptionist was quite happy to do this, allowing me to tip those I thought deserved recognition for the service they gave. Do ensure your final on board account is not converted from Euros to GP Sterling (or your own country's currency) as the cruise line make a charge for the conversion.
Prior to sailing I had set up a Roll Call and we liaised with each other regularly and arranged private excursions at some of the ports. We met up on several occasions and had some fun evenings together, along with other newly formed friendships with people from various parts of the UK, Australia etc.
DINING: I opted for first sitting at 6.30 pm (felt second sitting at 8.45 pm was too late). I was on a table for 8(three couples, a gentleman travelling alone and myself). We all got on very well and had a lot of laughs together. Our waiter Wody was excellent and looked after us admirably. The food was very good with plenty of choice and it was nicely presented. One lady on the table required a special diet (gluten free) and the waiter was fully aware of her needs and meals were prepared separately for her if she could not make a selection from the menu itself. I mostly ate in the main dining room for breakfast and there was everything you wanted - cereals, fruit, yoghurt, croissants and of course the full English breakfast. The self service buffet served the same food as in the dining room but on occasions it was so crowded but it was OK for a quick lunchtime meal. A 24hr tea and coffee station was located on Deck 11 and at selected times it was possible to get pizza and pastries there too. The formal nights were not as grand as some cruises I have been on but enjoyable all the same although I felt the Gala Night dinners were not anything very special.
I had pre-booked the Allegrissimo All Inclusve Drinks Package and at £18 a day it was great value for money. It included all wines, water, soft drinks, spirits, cocktails and tea and coffee with meals and there was no 15% surcharge on any of the drinks ordered through this package.
The Coffee Corner served speciality coffees and it was possible to sit there for drinks too. This was one of the places with WiFi but internet time was very expensive and the reception was not very good at times in many of the designated areas.
ENTERTAINMENT: The shows in the Broadway Theatre were very good with singing, dancing and speciality acts. The choreography was precise and the dancers worked so hard. There were two performances each evening so after my evening meal I would make my way to the theatre for the 9 pm show. I did try my luck at the Casino but needless to say did not come away with a fortune!. There were several lounges to choose from, each offering different types of entertainment. My favourites were the Cabaret Lounge and the Beverley Hills Lounge. The entertainment staff worked so hard making sure everyone had a good time integrating with the passengers all the time. Our group did venture to the disco one evening but being of the older generation we found it a little too noisy on the dance floor so found a quiet corner and enjoyed watching others.
POOL: There were too pools and the surrounding areas were kept very clean and there were plenty of sunbeds available. It was quieter on the Sun Deck on Deck 12. Daytime activities were centred around one end of the pool deck and people could join in or sit back and watch as they chose. Again the entertainment staff worked hard to keep everyone happy. The pool water was quite cold but quite refreshing once the initial shock had worn off. Unless you like being amongst smokers you need to choose your sun bed away from the designated smoking areas (this is one reason why I did not visit the Lord Nelson Pub as it was a smoking zone)
SPA: I enjoyed a visit to the Spa and was pleasantly surprised how reasonable the charges were compared to other cruise ships I have been on but one needs to be quite firm to avoid the sales pitch they adopt In trying to get you to purchase the products after a session.
EXCURSIONS; In ABU DHABI I booked direct with The Emirates Palace Hotel for Afternoon Tea - all I can say is WOW! What a wonderful experience. Booking direct was cheaper than going on an organised excursion via MSC and I was given a leisurely guided tour of the hotel beforehand and what a beautiful hotel it is. Yes, it may be a little extravagant but the tea was delicious and served in style in a lovely setting. I could not get through all the three stages and came away with a box with sandwiches and cakes which I shared with friends back on board ship.
When I docked at Abu Dhabi last year I did the City Tour organised excursion which included a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque - it is breath-taking and anyone visiting Abu Dhabi without seeing this magnificent building is missing a great treat.
KHOR AL FAKKAN - I had read other reviews on this port and on recommendation from those several of us took the free shuttle bus provided by the Oceanic Hotel from the port gate. We spent a relaxing day using all the facilities. Beach towels were provided by the hotel and we had use of the sunbeds around the pool and on the beach. The day pass also included an Eat As Much As You Like Buffet Lunch - I have never seen such variety and it was delicious). It was excellent value at 90 Dirhams (about £15).
MUSCAT - This is another port which I have visited before - I did the organised Mystical Muscat Tour which included a visit to the mosque there the Muttrah Souk, the Bait Al Zubair Museum and the Sultan's Palace. On this occasion I met up with a friend who is now living in Oman. She took me on a panoramic tour into the mountains. We stopped for lunch at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel before going to the Marina and Diving Centre where she and her husband have a small boat - unfortunately we did not have time to take the boat out but we relaxed on board and admired the scenery.
KHASAB - One of the Roll Call members kindly offered to arrange a private tour with Khourshem Tours for a half day Dhow Cruise. This was a most enjoyable trip and it was fun to see the dolphins swimming alongside the dhow as we sped through the clear waters. We weighed anchor and were able to swim and snorkel (equipment provided). We were given free drinks and snacks on board and it was a relaxing experience and good value at 130 Dirhams each.
DUBAI - I have seen a lot of the sights on my previous visits. My recommendations would be:
The Burj Khalifa - do book in advance in order to ensure a time slot and also to save money - in advance 100 Dirhams but on the day 400 Dirhams, if you can get in. An ideal time to go up the Burj is mid-late afternoon and then you can make your way to the Dancing Fountains show (start around 6.30pm and are every half hour). A good view of this spectacular display can be seen from the balcony of TGIFridays and the meal will be a lot cheaper there than in the pricey restaurants at ground level.
I would also recommend a visit to the Mall of The Emirates to be amazed by the Ski Resort there the Dubai Mall to see the huge Aqaurium, a visit to The Atlantis Hotel on the Palm, where you can swim with the dolphins, have fun in the Water Park or just enjoy the ambience of the hotel. A Dhow Dinner Cruise is interesting and of course there are the shopping malls, the gold souk and the spice souk to wander around.
There are Hop On Hop Off Buses operating in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat but you do need lots of time to complete the whole routes as traffic congestion can be a problem in getting around. Taxis are very reasonable but do agree a price first if you want to arrange any kind of tour with the driver. In Abu Dhabi a driver wanted to charge me 150 Dirhams to go to the Emirates Palace Hotel. I did not know how far it was but haggled nevertheless and got the price down to 60. I did not realise it was not an official taxi but a private tour company. When I arrived at the hotel the driver wanted to wait for me and take me to other sights (for a fee) but I stood my ground and said I did not know how long I would be at the afternoon tea and he drove away. The taxi the hotel arranged for me to return to the port cost just 22 Dirhams - lesson learned.
Whilst on board I purchased a voucher costing 10 Euros which lasts for 18 months and gives discounts and special offers on a future cruise. MSC will be sailing from Dubai again for the Winter 2014/2015 season and they will be using MSC Orchestra for these cruises and this ship will then sail from Dubai to Freemantle (33 days cruise) on 21st Feb 2015. As children travel free with MSC and my family are keen to take a cruise we decided to take advantage of the voucher and my discounts as a previous MSC passenger and we have already booked for 4th Feb next year. I am looking forward to seeing more wonderful sights in the ports of call.
I thoroughly enjoyed my cruise on MSC Lirica and cannot wait for next year to sail on Orchestra. If you have not visited the United Arab Emirates I can highly this cruise - you will not be disappointed.