Background This was our 4th Costa cruise out of about 30 in total but this time we took our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter for their first cruise. It was good to see some of the things we take for granted through the eyes of first-timers and we were all very pleased with the holiday. The Deliziosa is a nice new ship, rather bright and gaudy in places. We knew what to expect from the food on Costa - excellent pasta and fish, variable quality meat and less than exciting desserts, and it did not disappoint. The buffet weas nothing special but our waiters in the main dining room were excellent, in fact the crew in general were very pleasant and friendly, despite the ongoing problem of multiple languages. Some menu items lose something in the translation (eg slow cooked rib-eye steak = prime rib). Costa may not be the most luxurious of cruise lines but we always admire their ability to cope with the multiple languages, and our family particularly liked the relaxed party atmosphere on board.
Embarkation We had already spent a few days in Dubai before the cruise (very nice family apartment in the Dunes Hotel Barsha, near the Mall of the Emirates) and been to Ski Dubai, Aquaventure water park at Atlantis on the Palm, seen the Burj Khalifa and explored several shopping malls and souks.
Having booked cruise-only and organised our own flights & hotel 2 of us took all the luggage to the ship by taxi on the first day. Our tickets showed embarkation from 8pm but we had heard from other CC members that we could board from 3pm and this was indeed the case. Arriving back at the port shortly after 3pm we expected a long queue but in fact must have beaten the crowds as we walked straight on board. Cabins were not supposed to be available until 6.30pm but our steward kindly allowed us to leave our hand luggage so that we could explore unencumbered. At 6.30pm we returned to find our Costa cards in the cabin, as usual. The family had the X1 drinks package and got drinks during the afternoon buffet by showing their booking form. As widely reported on CC drinks on Costa are very expensive and at about £10 per day this is an excellent package for anyone who likes a few glasses of wine/beer and was well worth it for them. The only glitch they reported was that some of the staff at the pool bar did not always know whether the buffet was open so whether or not they could get drinks there.
So now to the ports of call. A few hours of research really paid off on this cruise, as the maps and information provided by Costa were fairly useless, I would definitely recommend printing out maps from the internet before leaving home if you do not intend to take excursions.
Muscat, Oman Immigration cards were given out as we left the ship - the same for all nationalities (2 of our family have Maltese passports and had needed 3 visas each for the UAE, one for each entry, which had been rather a nuisance to organise and cost about 50 pounds per visa). All of the ports on this cruise are large commercial harbours and all provide a free bus to the port gates, but Muscat is the only place where there is anything of interest within walking distance of the drop-off point. It was a pleasant, if hot, walk along the seafront corniche to Muttrah Souk. There are nice gold sunshades by the sea every now and then and the entrance to the Souk is clearly marked on the large gateway (maybe half a mile at most from the drop-off point). There were plenty of taxis available at the port gates offering tours into Muscat itself but we enjoyed just wandering around the Souk for a few hours. The forts at the entrance to Muscat are clearly visible from the ship, as was the huge inscense burner on a nearby hilltop. This is the place to buy Frankincense and perfumes.
Fujairah, UAE Having read earlier reviews we had low expectations of Fujairah but in fact quite enjoyed the day. We had considered hiring a car here (and if we visited again probably would as the driving was nowhere near as mad a Dubai and I found several companies that would deliver a car to the port) but this time took the 6 euro Costa shuttle to the Lu Lu hypermarket, quite a pleasant drive and we saw quite a lot of the city - it went along the seafront going and came back a different route via the fort. The hypermarket was large, some things were cheap (granddaughter bought a Blackberry and saved about 60 euros), my only feeling was that the shop should really have paid for the shuttle bus, as there was nothing else in the area. There were several taxi drivers offering 90 minute tours from the hypermarket car park but they only looked like visits to 4 forts, probably not very interesting. We did not see any taxis at the port gates.
Abu Dhabi, UAE I had booked a 14 seater minibus over the internet from a company called Majestic Transport from 350 dirhams (about 70 pounds) and through our CC rollcall had made up to 11 people, and then found another 3 on board to join us, so excellent value at 25 dirhams each (about 5 pounds). The free port shuttle here did not drop off at the port gate, as expected, but took us to the Mina Centre, a small shopping mall a couple of miles away. The hop-on-hop-off bus (200 dirhams each) stops here as do some local city buses (I would be tempted to try them if we ever returned). As each shuttle bus arrived it was surrounded by a mob of taxi drivers - the only place on this cruise where we experienced any significant hassle. Unfortunately we were a bit early and our bus was 20 minutes late, finally arriving after a number of phone calls to the company to explain our location, each time assuring us that it was 'right there', while several taxi drivers with smaller vehicles tried to convince us that they were the one we were waiting for - all rather stressful and we were pleased when a bus arrived, the driver assured us he was from Majestic, I showed him the print-out of his boss' s email that we had to give him 350 dirhams at the end of the day and he confirmed that was right.
We had absolutely super day, Ahmed, the driver, was most helpful and acted as a guide as well as a driver. First stop was the magnificent Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, a little like the Taj Mahal in shape, really lovely. Abayas were provided for the ladies. Men were allowed in provided they had long trousers - any with shorts were given a white robe. The mosque is about 30 minutes drive out of the city and closes at midday but we just made it and were so pleased that we did.
Next Ahmed suggested a drive past the palaces of the Sheik's various wives and relations, which he pointed out, then a visit to the 7* Emirates Palace Hotel. Sadly they did not let us into the hotel as it is now restricted to groups of 5 or less, but we saw it from the outside. Then we drove a short distance to the Heritage Village, an open air museum of life before oil and a small craft market (all free admission) with a stunning white sand beach. From there we spent a couple of hours at the nearby Marina Mall for lunch and visited the tower for fantastic views of the city. It is really a restaurant but just follow the signs to 'Burj Marina' and ask to go up, it was no problem (and free).
Last stop was a few minutes on the public beach on the way back to the ship - how we all wished we had brought our swimming costumes, it was so lovely and we could only paddle !
Sadly, the day ended on a slightly sour note when Ahmed told us his boss had 'made a mistake' about the price and it should have been 350 euros (he later tried dollars) not dirhams. I was really upset as I had shown him the printout before we got on the bus and he agreed it, and we had whipped round for a very nice tip for him as he had been so good. Of course we refused to pay any extra and he did not pursue the matter for very long - I suspect this is something they just try on with tourists, I have read about a similar ploy with taxi drivers, so for anyone else visiting please be careful and always get a quote in writing including the currency. We would have thoroughly recommended his firm to other CC members if it had not been for this. But Abu Dhabi was definitely our favourite port of the cruise. For anyone else visiting you would get a good view of the city (including the Emirates Palace and the beaches) by taking the shuttle bus to the Marina Mall - the heritage village is walkable distance from there too.
Bahrain We went with low expectations again, as other reviews had said it was dirty, nothing there etc etc and even my cousin who lived there for 15 years was surprised that cruises call there now. She told us that, being a Friday, the souk would not be open in the morning, so we had a lie in and headed off about 11.30am. The only easy way to get into town is to take the 6 euro shuttle bus as it is a very long way (about half an hour in easy traffic). There is also a free shuttle to the port gate (several miles from the ship) and a few taxis were waiting there but sadly they are known for rip-offs and one couple we spoke to paid 26 euros and still did not get to where they wanted. We were pleasantly surprised to arrive in the centre of Manama just opposite the Bab-al-Bahrain gateway, to find thousands of little shops selling everything you could think of - and copies of every designer label under the sun (handbags about 20-25 euros, 'iphones' about 80-100 but not all features work). Some shops were indeed closed for the day, but about 75% were open in the afternoon, at least, so we had more than enough to keep us busy for a few hours. It was not as clean as Dubai or Abu Dhabi but we did not think it was particularly dirty, just a typical middle eastern souk.
Dubai Disembarkation The process is a typical Costa easy-going muddle. No other cruise line lets arrivers mingle with leavers for a couple of days over changeover, but we had this in Hong Kong with Costa and again in Dubai and actually it works fine. There is no proper information, you just come and go from the ship as you please from when it docks on Saturday lunchtime until sometime on Sunday night/Monday morning and when you are ready to go - you just go ! Our family had to leave early on the Sunday morning, our own flight was not until the early hours of Monday morning, so we enjoyed a long walk along Dubai creek and around the gold souk, returned to the ship for a final swim, ate dinner (open seating but still the fixed times of 6.15/8.45pm) then got a taxi to the airport about 11pm.
Shows Costa excell in language-free shows. We had 2 juggler/magician/acrobat acts - both excellent, just a shame they were on consecutive nights. Productions shows are not really my 'thing' but the 'Delicious' one was actually very good. The other one was something about shapes, we only saw the first 10 minutes, as that was the only night the show was after 2nd seating dinner and we were tired. The last night was one of the resident pianists, Pietro, doing a solo show and he was absolutely amazing - do not miss him !
Conclusion We loved the cruise - probably our best yet with Costa. It is a shame that so many English travellers are consistently disappointed with Costa, we have always enjoyed the difference, but then we love Italian food, don't drink so don't care about the prices, and I quite enjoy trying to understand the announcements in other languages - if things like that would ruin a cruise for you, please go with another line ! We would not mind repeating the itinerary one day as we focused on enjoying the ship and shopping on this trip and probably missed out on some sightseeing in this interesting area. As for the family, they say they love to cruise again and would be happy to do 2 weeks with Costa next time !