Booked this cruise to celebrate Mum's birthday and she chose the itinerary. Have cruised many times before mostly in the Caribbean and one previous good experience with Costa in the Med. Was a little anxious about a smaller & older ship and how we would cope with the Middle East but everything went as smoothly as clockwork.
Booked the cruise and flights online and we arrived in Dubai with British Airways. It's really easy to pick up a taxi at the airport. It takes around 30 mins to reach Port Rashid and costs 40-50 dirhams (<£10). Check in does not start until 3pm but they will keep your luggage if you want to go off explore. The cabins were not available until 8.30pm but you can go on and enjoy ship and have dinner as you wait.
SHIP Classica is easy to get around and most of the public areas have been redecorated in neutral colours with nice leather furniture. Our cabin was spacious, very clean with excellent service from the cabin attendant. The buffet cafe was unpleasant with old dEcor and chaotic buffet area BUT keep walking and there is a fantastic Al fresco cafe outside. At lunchtime there is a barbeque and the fillet steaks with salad is my recommendation. The Dining room was excellent and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had a lovely table for 2 and outstanding service there. On Mum's birthday the Maitre'D brought her a massive cake and drinks (complimentary). The quality of the food was excellent with nice sized portions, good variety and 7 courses every night if you can eat that much. As Costa club members we also got a basket of fruit, champagne and chocolates in the cabin plus free photo and reception with the captain. The evening entertainment was excellent. Drinks are quite expensive and the packages are probably the cheapest. Tea/coffee is free at the buffet all day We enjoyed the shows and the dancers were very professional with great costumes. The entertainment staff were very lively, got to know us by name so we joined in on a lot of activities. There is a hostess for English speaking guests but we didn't need to ask her much. The ship is Italian so all announcements will be made in Italian then in about about 6 languages. All literature we received was in English and we had a daily news printout to keep in touch with the real world. The guests were mostly German and Italian but there were groups from Russia, USA and South America so Costa did a good job in catering for everyone. It is different to being with mainly British or American tourists so you jut have to get your elbows out, join in with the crowd and have a laugh. We will definitely travel with Costa again and this itinerary gave us a chance to see places in the Gulf we'd never heard of before and we had beautiful sunshine in January. If you want 5 star luxury or British etiquette then it's not for you. Look at the price, the itinerary and it's a great deal.
PORTS OF CALL This was a fabulous chance to experience some Arabic culture from the comfort of a European ship. Costa have a good range of tours ranging from 50-100+ euros. They also run shuttles from the Port to city centre in Abu dhabi and Bahrain for 6 euros return. I am an intrepid explorer and just love the challenge of finding my own way so we used a combination of taxis, public transport and the shuttles to find our way.
Muscat (Oman) was our first and favourite port of call. I had arranged a local guide called Mahmood to show us round and he was worth his weight in gold. Muscat is a very old historical place which has kept its culture rather than building skyscrapers like other Arab states. When you get off the ship the surrounding mountains are spectacular. Our first stop was The Grand Mosque which was absolutely magnificent. Men & women must be fully covered, including headscarves for women and ankles covered. It was well worth the trip to see the magnificent architecture and there was a real serenity in the place. My mum particularly liked the gardens. We then went up along the coast and the beaches are pristine. Unfortunately there was red algae in the gulf so we couldn't swim. Came back though the mountains then visited The Royal palaces drove along the Corniche and stopped at the Mutrah Souq. We love markets and this particular souq is like going back hundreds of years in time. Good things to buy from here are frankinsense with burners, saffron was inexpensive and the pashminas were only 2 euros. Our driver and guide was Mahmood Al balushi (firstname.lastname@example.org) who charges 10 omani rials (around 26 US dollars) per hour. We paid him 80 US dollars for half a day and didn't barter as he did deserve it. I would highly recommend him as his English is good and it was very nice to have someone waiting with our name on a sign. There are many taxi drivers at the port in Muscat who hassle you and we heard some horror stories of other cruisers being charged 60 euros to go somewhere then had to pay 40-50 euros to get back!
Abu dhabi in my mind is the nicest of the emirates stops. It has developed beautifully along the waterfront but not as hectic as Dubai. We took the shuttle to The Marina Mall which has many international & British stores. The Heritage village is walking distance from here which is a museum of old Bedouin, Arabic culture. My mum loved this place and there are craft stalls and cafes close by. There are lovely views of the Abu Dhabi skyline. The Emirates Palace (7star hotel) is only a short distance away and I think it is much more impressive than the Burj. You can have afternoon tea or lunch here but need to book in advance. There are many other places to visit here so Research what you want to see and it's very easy by taxi.
Fujairaih We were planning a beach day here but with the red algae couldn't swim so didn't venture far. This was my least favourite place as it's a dirty industrial port with a limited range of excursions. The Duty free inside the port was the cheapest for fags & booze. We loved just having a day on the ship here to relax.
Bahrain This small island state revolves around oil so you are never far from tankers or heavy industry. Downtown is being rebuilt with tall modern buildings. There is a mosque to visit, museums and heard great things about the formula one circuit. Taxis are readily available. There are some old archaeological burial mounds if that's your thing. At this stage we were saving energy and funds for Dubai.
Dubai What a melting pot of activity. This is the most westernised of the ports so you can wear regular clothes and everyone speaks English. At the port there is a terminal with tourist info, cafe, duty free, bank, post office & free internet. There are free buses to Mercato and Dubai malls plus taxi stand. Taxis are metered but we found that many taxi drivers are Asian and one had just arrived the day before so we had to give him directions! Dubai is currently a building site with construction everywhere. Our first stop was Jumeriah beach. It was easy to take the local bus there from Mercato mall for 2 dirhams. Buses were clean, regular and women had reserved seating at the front. We went to the Public beach next to the Burj which is very clean and excellent photo opportunities. Jumeriah beach hotel (shaped like a wave) is nice for drinks, food with great views of the Burj. You can't go into the Burj unless you have a reservation so book in advance if you have something to celebrate. Madinat is also close by with mall and nice restaurants, Another day we headed for the Gold souq and spice souq in Old dubai which is a maze and hive of activity. From there we took a trip on Dubai creek on an abra (water taxi) which cost 50 dirham per hour for private boat or 1 dirham to cross to the other side. It's amazing to see the dhows come in from the gulf laden with cargo and you get wonderful views of the old city from the water. The textile souq is on the other side and is the best place for souvenirs especially scarves, carpets etc. It's only 10 mins from here back to the ship. If you want to buy designer goods there is no shortage of mega malls in Dubai. With the low pound we found everything quite expensive and the Duty free at Heathrow is cheaper.
On debarkation day Costa have a wonderfully relaxed attitude. We had a late night flight so we were allowed to stay on the ship until 10 pm. That meant we had most of the day for sightseeing in Dubai and actually were allowed to stay in the cabin until 4.30pm. That meant a very relaxing last day even dinner at our usual table and arab folklore show before debarking at our leisure to go to the airport. Made a wonderful change to being herded off like colour coded cattle and ended the holiday on a high for us. British Airways even upgraded us on the return journey home so thankfully for us the whole holiday was like a dream.
In summary I hope you enjoy your gulf cruise with Costa as much as we did