After an overnight flight from Heathrow, immigration at Dubai was swift and organised. Lots of cruise staff to guide you through the airport and onto awaiting coaches. Travelled short journey to the Hyatt near the port for breakfast refreshments, arriving shortly before 9. 30. Hotel very organised and check in staff available to issue cruise documents. Red carpet treatment for us Emeralds.
Departed hotel just prior to 11 with priority passes and walked straight through pier terminal and onto ship.
Cabins are not available till 1pm so passed out time in the Centrum.
After checking out room we confirmed our dining table and then had lunch in Windjammer , followed by a quick nap to recover from flight.
Muster drill at 4.45, although this did not start until 5 due to late-comers, but was brief . Sail-away at 6pm. Main seating at 6pm and 2nd at 8.45pm. One showtime at 7.45pm till 8.30pm.
Port side berth.
Day 2 at Fujairah. This is an industrial dock and to enjoy this as a port of call then you would have to take a trip. There is an Ali Baba flying carpet stall on the dock but no-one seemed to be buying much. Next to us was an oil tanker with 25 tanker lorries on standby waiting to fill up, quite a sight. It is also a navy port. We stayed on the ship and the view was of one of the most unattractive ports we have been to.
Formal night. Tango Buenos Aires showtime for each sitting, Karaoke very popular in Colony Club.
Day 3 at Muscat. This is a very attractive port and very reminiscent of one in the Med or Caribbean. Free shuttle buses take you from the berth to the pier gates, ¼ mile, 5 mins. From there it is an easy stroll along the waterfront past the fountains and gold domed seating areas. The Soukh is right on the front and is pleasant, without too much hassle from the merchants. Overwhelming smell of frankincense. The soukh is used by the locals but most stores are stocked with tacky souvenirs for the cruise ships. Pashminas are an excellent buy, and were being offered at 2 euros each, with many deals to be made. The soukh accepts euros, us dollars, dirhams and rials.
One show time at 7.45pm, Now & Forever which was billed as Cole Porter, The Full Monty and Mamma Mia, but had more emphasis on the former. White Pool Party and Buffet on pool deck at 11.15pm.
Port side berth.
Day 4 again Muscat.
Show was performed by West Coast, a Beach Boys tribute, we had seen them before on the Jewel and made appoint of going as they are very professional. Motown hour in the disco very popular as was ABBA quiz pre dinner. Quest night.
As the ship is catering mainly to the British and German market it would benefit from having more entertainment geared towards this. The nights that did feature either the 70s or Motown or ABBA and such like were the most popular with those bars filled to capacity, you would think that the ship would build on this rather than have entertainment decided upon by HQ in Miami !
Day 5 at sea.
2nd formal night, whilst there were many men in dinner suits or lounge suits there were just as many without, wearing either wearing a long sleeve shirt with or without a tie or something else. The ladies all made an effort though and every night were dressed up. We Brits do like to dress up on holiday though !
Windjammer does struggle on sea days to accommodate everyone, although the staff did do an excellent job of clearing tables, more so than on the Jewel last summer where tables were piled high at times with dishes. There are less opportunities now to dine in the main dining room at breakfast or lunchtime than there used to be.
The food is nowhere near as good these days as a few years ago and sometimes it is hard to put together an inspiring lunch. We have been on HAL ships where they made sandwiches to order or RCCL ships that had pasta or burger stations. Eating habits at lunchtime are changing and some more healthy options would be good.
C&A Champagne Breakfast today with C&A Welcome Back (all 536 of us) at 7.45pm.
Afternoon sunbathing was difficult as it becomes very windy when travelling through the Straights of Hormuz between Iran and the Oman peninsular. 50 mph gusts.
Centre Stage show for each sitting.
Day 6 in Abu Dhabi.
Shuttle is available free of charge from pier to Marina Mall, this is provided by the Hop on Hop off Big Bus Company. Mall passengers travel free and anyone wishing to continue on the Big Bus Tour can buy tickets at this point.
Journey takes about 20 mins along the Corniche and beachfront. Abu Dhabi is a very attractive city and very clean. There is not the amount of ongoing development at the waterfront that Dubai has, therefore is it a much more attractive tourist stop.
The shops at the Mall are very good, with a mix of high end and chain store. Lots of food options and there is a Carrefour in the basement.
All visitors ashore are advised to dress respectfully, ladies to cover up shoulder and dress modestly, not that some of the passenger of this ship bothered and there were a few sights for sore eyes, however the majority did respect that they should dress with decorum. Locals use this mall as well as lots of cruise passengers. I would do most of my shopping here if I came back as it is compact and easier to shop in than the ones in Dubai which are more than enormous.
Sand haze all day, with temperature feeling chilly in afternoon.
Magician and Illusionist show for each sitting. 70s night in Centrum at 10.30pm.
70s night very popular and well presented and continued on until 11.30pm when it transferred up to the disco.
Day 7 - Dubai overnight.
Sand haze again today with a high of 72. Big Bus hop on Hop off at pier where you can buy tickets. Takes you to first stop of tour where you choose red or blue route. Sitting up on the top deck of the bus was unpleasant at times due to the wind with the sand in the atmosphere. It was chilly and a hazard to hairstyles.
We did blue route and stopped off at Soukh at Jumeriah. It is a well presented shopping venue with cafes and part of Jumeriah resorts. Excellent place to photograph the Burj. Then the route continues onto the Palm, transiting the whole of the core of the palm to the Atlantis resort. We spent time next at the Dubai Mall. The worlds largest shopping mall with 1200 shops and next to the worlds tallest building. Very high end shopping with all the usual uk stores thrown in too, including an ice rink and aquarium. We did the aquarium, an extra 50 dirham onto the 220 dirham tour, personally I would give it a miss. You can see as much of the aquarium as you need to from within the mall. The tour only adds the walk through the glass tunnel with the fish above, a bit of a let down.
Quiet evening aboard the ship as everyone doing Dubai at some point or other with many early flights back to Europe departing early next morning, some passenger even disembarked that evening. Berthed next to the sorry looking QE2.
Overall it was a very good cruise and well worth doing to experience the Middle East, even if it was not the best time to travel to the region with the political unrest. We saw no evidence of any troubles and the captain assured us the situation was being monitored very closely.
The ship is in good overall condition and has worn better over time than the Jewel. It was clean and well maintained. Some of the soft furnishing need freshened up.
The 2nd sitting in the main dining room could be slow in some areas. We had a table for 2 and were served promptly, having the customary two American style starters and a main, often skipping dessert however in favour of pots of tea. I had one or two, ok maybe more ..., fillet steaks in the main dining room. All well cooked and well worth the extra in my opinion, they should be free of charge of course but that a separate discussion.
The menus are stale to us frequent cruises, with no dishes available that relate to the region you are travelling in. You don't look at the menu and feel excited about trying new dishes and flavours. They used to give Conche Fritters for example in the Caribbean. Fish is served without a fish knife and butter is in foil packets. Our asst waiter took an unused wine glass from our table and took it immediately to another table with a bottle of wine, that to me is a bit out of order, and wouldn't happen in a top restaurant. The main dining room is becoming more like a banqueting hall, with cutlery proved to match your course , rather than a full set laid out. I wouldn't set a table like that at home for a special occasion so why would it be acceptable on a cruise ship. Personal preferences of course.
The drinks are becoming very expensive, especially wines. Spirits seem to be watered down, my G &T and Campari Soda certainly were compared to last summer. The cans of Diet Coke served were flat and also out of date.
Crown and Anchor changes I noticed are no invite to a Welcome Back Party for the upper tier levels. We were the old Platinum level last summer and they held a separate party as well as the general one for all C &As. As an Emerald we did get our Welcome Aboard gift of dried nuts, dried fruit and cookies with soft drinks. No gifts anymore such as baseball huts or beach bags. The only real benefit is the dedicated separate check in and internet vouchers, also the BOGOF coffee and wine ones. Gold card passengers have access to a private sun deck and the front of the ship, one deck down from the gym. Also a small area in the windjammer to dine in. All costs nothing of course.
Those of us who started cruising over ten years ago comment on the slipping standards. It's the small things we miss : the daily newspaper, the afternoon tea, lobster, tournedos. We do like My Time Dining though and missed not being able to use it this time having booked late.
The onboard shops are becoming tacky. It is the same products trotted out year after year. The $10 sale. No high end brands that other cruise lines offer. At least Oasis seems to be getting it right with a Coach outlet amongst other. Princess used to have Ralph Lauren and Longchamp products.
Disembarkation was very straightforward and smooth. Our 6.45 am colour was called on time, luggage was easily found and the coaches were waiting for the short transfer to the airport.
Perhaps it's time for a break from RCCL, will be interesting to compare how Celebrity is these days having not travelled with them for 5 years. It is no longer a 5 star experience, more like a 4 in Tenerife or somewhere, if it was your first cruise though you would have different opinions.