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Home > Virtual Cruises > Middle East Virtual
Middle East Virtual
Day 1: Dubai
Day 2: Muscat
Day 3: Embarkation in Muscat
Day 4: At Sea
Day 5: Salalah
Day 6: Aden
Day 7: Aqaba
Day 8: Suez Canal
Day 9: Crete, Heading Home from Piraeus
Related Links
Europa ship review
Europa Member reviews
Hapag-Lloyd Messages
Day 3: Thursday, Embarkation in Muscat
Embarkation in MuscatNo matter how enticing and exotic a departure city -- and Muscat absolutely fits the bill in both capacities -- for people who love cruising embarking the ship is always the day's highlight.

After an early morning swim at the Holiday Inn, and a stroll down Beach Road to sample our first Arabic Starbucks, we were ready to head over to the pier. We were more excited then usual to see our ship.

Europa, rated by most guidebooks as the world's best ship, is a bit of a mystery to those of us who live in North America. The ship, based in Germany, owned by the German Hapag-Lloyd and marketed, generally, to Europeans, has not been on the English-speaking traveler's radar. As such, all but the most intrepid and sophisticated U.S.-based cruise travelers have sampled Europa. Until recently, that is. That's because Hapag-Lloyd has decided to court English-speaking travelers. And so our Middle East cruise is one of a handful designated as "bilingual."

After a frenetic three days of exploring Dubai and Muscat, I must admit, too, that I was looking forward to that old cruise axiom: settling in, unpacking (just one more time!) and some downtime.

My first impression? Upon boarding the 30,000-ton, 408-passenger ship, I felt as if I were entering an elegant, floating boutique hotel.

There was none of the usual cruise regimentation more typically experienced on North American mid- to large-sized ships. A female crew member greeted us halfway down the gangway, insisted on carrying our hand luggage and then established us in a nook in the cozy lobby's Piano Bar. She brought us a drink -- no pre-poured champagne here -- from the adjacent bar before disappearing, literally, for a minute and a half and returning with our suite keys. We were onboard.

Of course, all cabins are outside and are called "suites" -- and nearly all have balconies. Ours, a "standard with verandah" was bigger than the equivalent on other luxury lines on which I've traveled, had a state-of-the-art television system (you can even send and receive e-mail from the television, free of charge), a walk-in closet and lovely marble bathroom with separate tub and shower.

Aside from the ship's safety drill, when all passengers converged on four designated spots at once, it never, ever felt crowded (and in fact, were it not for the boat drill, we'd have thought we were one of only a handful of folks onboard).

Another plus: The ship no question attracts a (mostly German) moneyed crowd but there is none of the pretentiousness, in passengers or in onboard decor, that we've experienced elsewhere.

Just before sail away, and not wanting to miss the sun setting over Muscat, we headed up to the fabulous, edgy Sansibar. The ship's elegant disco and bar is spread across the back of the ship and offers kaleidoscopic views. The floor-to-ceiling glass doors open, which extends the bar onto the aft deck. We pulled out early -- one benefit to being a small ship is that whenever everyone's onboard, the captain can take off -- and the view, as Muscat's craggy coastline receded, was magical.

I even imagined I could smell a trace of frankincense emitting from the souk and the mosques of the port city, but honestly, it was probably just the same old -- and only slightly less exotic -- scent of seaspray.
Day 2: Muscat red arrow Day 4: At Sea

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