As a 70 year old grandfather, I flew Emirates alone from Birmingham on the overnight flight to Dubai. Emirates have great food and a generous baggage allowance and I was well within the 30kg limit, even including all of the Christmas presents which I was taking. Flying overnight and the 4 hour time difference meant I wouldn't require a hotel. The flight route, which you can reassuringly monitor on your own screen,carefully avoids the troubled areas (Ukraine,Syria and Iraq) with the final leg over increasingly friendly Iran.
The early morning arrival at Dubai was delayed by a half hour whilst we circled over the Arabian Gulf, waiting for the airport to re-open, after being closed due to the morning fog. On the landing approach, the magnificent sight of the Costa Serena could be seen at berth in the port.
Dubai is a massive hub airport. After an internal train ride, I joined the immigration queue. Allow a good half hour for this if you need the 30 day visitor visa stamp.
I was to meet up with the rest of the family party arriving at midday so there was no rush. Our party totaled 6, 3 adults and 3 children.
After lunch, we looked for transport to the ship. We made the initial error of dealing with a taxi tout at the exit. It became clear that we were going to cover a very large distance on foot to his vehicles. We then retraced our steps back to the white taxis in the official taxi rank. We realized that with 6 of us and all of the luggage, we would need 2 taxis. To our surprise, both our taxi drivers were ladies. They are not allowed to drive all male passengers, but because we had two females in our party, the convoy could depart, after negotiating a very reasonable fee for the trip.
At the port, an army of porters unloaded our luggage and took it into the embarkation hall for us. With hindsight, arriving at 3.30pm was a bit early. I would think 4.30 would be better but there is significant traffic at rush hour in Dubai. There were many people there already and the check in process was very slow to gather pace. Basic refreshments were on sale in the embarkation hall. Toilets are available but you had to re-enter via security again.
Security was good; equal to airport standards. The labels which Costa pre-supplied were attached to the luggage which duly appeared later outside our cabins at 8.00pm. You may prefer to keep your carry-on bag with you as cabins are not available until 8.00pm.
Access to the ship using the Costa Card initially required a photograph to be taken at the gang-plank. This is then stored and associated with your bar-code each time you leave and enter. Your carry-on baggage is then X-rayed and you are metal detected. This is a very reassuring level of security, although one cynic suggested they were looking for smuggled-on booze.
Once aboard you are relieved of your passport. This is duly labelled and stored until the eve of dis-embarkation when they are returned. A receipt was issued for each passport.
On board your Costa card serves many purposes. It is used as a payment cash card, cabin key, and identity card. You need to back it up with either cash or a bank card within 48 hours otherwise you get a reminder letter delivered to your cabin.
Once on board, you are free to explore. Buffet food was available for free in the buffet areas. We used the deck 9 Ristorante Buffet Prometeo with lovely views from the window tables and subsequently we always breakfasted there and had lunch when aboard.
Bar staff will approach you to sell the many drinks packages. We settled for a wine and water package which gave us 6 bottles of wine and 7 bottles of water. This worked out well for 3 adults with the 6 restaurant meals we would have during the week. We couldn't justify the all-in drinks package costs because we are only moderate drinkers. When you use your drinks package, you sign a receipt and retain a copy. On this receipt is printed exactly what you have remaining of your package. It is a good system, and you know exactly where you stand.
The crew consisted of mainly Philipinos and some Italians. The Engineers and navigational and administrative crew were mainly Italian with a handful of other nationals The catering and cleaning crew were mainly Phlipino. The level of English spoken was very good. Although Italian was officially the first language, English was widely understood.
There were many nationalities amongst the passengers Italian, French,Spanish Dutch, British,Philipino, South African, German,,Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and we got to know some of them. A good chance to try out my restricted foreign languages.All very friendly and lots of smiles
The amount of traffic on the tannoy system was reasonable. English was usually 4th in line. The accommodation areas were quiet after about 10pm so the children could get to sleep.
The level of service was very good. All of the crew were very pleasant and polite. The dining staff in particular were brilliant with the children. They would quickly serve dishes outside of the main menu, nothing was too much trouble. The whole ship was kept sparkling clean by a crew which happily took pride in the ship.
For the trips ashore at Muscat, you are issued with a local entry and visa card by the immigration officials who come aboard. We later found that our passports had been stamped by them each time we had dis-embarked and embarked. The guided tour of Muscat was good with a really excellent local guide. We visited the Grand Mosque, the Sultan's Palace, the Omani Museum and the Souk. This is the biggest souk in the Middle East and we liked it so much that we went back on foot to get lost there the next morning. Muscat is highly recommended, so beautiful and the people so friendly.
We were on the top deck when we left the port of Muscat. Playing loudly on the deck p.a. System was
It’s time to say goodbye (Con te partirò) sung by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman
Con te partirò ( I’ll go with you
su navi per mari ( on ships across seas
che, io lo so, ( which, I know,
no, no, non esistono più. ( no, no, exist no longer.
It’s time to say goodbye…
I never realised before how poignant those words were. With the ship's siren blasting away, there were few dry eyes on deck that evening.
We were too late in booking excursions at Khasab, they were all fully booked. We took the free shuttle bus into town. It is quite small and did not take long to explore. You really need to book an excursion in time. So after a lazy lunch on the ship we tried out The F1 Racing Simulator. At 12 euros for 7 minutes, great fun and reasonable value.
There were also some dance lessons available. A different dance each day with instruction in italian,
In Abu Dhabi we traveled using our Costa Cards as I.D and took the Big Red Bus Tour..This is good value. There is an earpiece (which you keep) commentary in many different languages. It is Hop on-Hop off so you can structure your own trip and spend as long as you wish at each location, so long as you don't miss the last bus back. In most of ports you are not permitted to walk to the gate; you have to be in a vehicle.
In Dubai, we again traveled using our Costa Cards as I.D. and took the Big Red Bus Hop-on Hop-off Tour with commentary. Tickets are valid for two routes and for 24 hours. This includes a free trip one way on the water bus across the Dubai Creek. This is on the red route. The blue route takes you down the Palm Jumeirah and passes the Burj Al Arab. The return route passes the famous palatial shopping mall and the Burj Khalifa which is the world's tallest building. There is also a metro and a monorail system which we didn't have time to explore. Useful maps are available on the bus.
So there is a great deal to see here. One day is definitely not enough. Unfortunately my return flight was early next day, so I wished I had booked a hotel for an extra day or two.
For dining, we had a large table on the upper deck (4) of the Ceres Restuarante for the early sitting at 6.30pm. This was exactly as requested. We dined there every evening and the earlier sitting meant that we could take the children to the shows or discos before bedtime. The meals were always superb. Served with Italian style, always five courses plus a side salad.The waiters were really pleasant and efficient. They were really great with the children's food and were really attentive. There were two gala evenings during the week when we did get dressed up. There were some entertainments from the waiters including singing and napkin waiving and a conger dance.There was also a glass of proseco from the Captain. We made use of the squok club for the younger children. This was well run with good security that also scrupulously verified collection of the child. The 6 year old enjoyed it so much that she stayed all day and had two meals whilst the rest of us went on a shore excursion. The elder boy (15) used the teen club on several occasions and enjoyed playing wee games there.
The theatre shows by the resident entertainers involved very professional dancing and singing. Most of the songs were in English with a few french and iIalian songs also, with audience participation. I mean everybody knew volare, cantare oh oh oh oh. A drinks service in the theatre is provided by very agile bar staff, so you do not need to leave your seats. There is no interval as the shows last for just over an hour.One evening there was a kind of talent show which involved varied acts by crew members such as waiters, chefs and engineers etc. This was surprisingly good and very entertaining. An other evening in the theatre was a meet the Captain and officers multilingual affair with free proseco for a toast. I spent part of a pleasant warm evening watching the Andrea Bocelli Christmas Show on the large screen outdoor video screen in the sheltered area on deck 9; more for the oldies though. There was always live music at various parts of the ship and also discos. The daily newsletter (Oggi, Today) which arrived in every cabin each evening, was a useful list of all of the next day's activities.
Disembarkation was well organised with presentations in various languages. These presentations were also available on the video channels. Basically there were two windows for departure either before or after 0730 and two times for collection of luggage from outside each cabin. The luggage would be labelled with colour coded tags for the various different tours and duly delivered to collection points in the embarkation hall. Passports were reclaimed on a per cabin basis.
Boat drill muster took place early on the first day and is compulsory for all passengers. As a first time cruiser and also as this ship was the sister of the Concordia, I took particular attention. We pre-walked the route specified on the back of our cabin door in advance of the actual drill. This route involved using stairways which were nominally 'crew only.' On the actual drill we were shepherded by crew along a different route using the standard stairways. I am sure a knowledge of these secret routes could prove vital in a real emergency. I believe this was done as a time saving measure; but I would say familiarise yourself with all of the safety instructions.
Possibly as as a precaution, and maybe as a result of intelligence received, a letter was sent to all cabins regarding dangerous waters through which we would be sailing. This detailed the alarms that would be given in the event of possible attack at sea by pirates, terrorists etc. In the event of an alarm, passengers were not to use balconies, flash photography over the side would be banned. Certain areas high above the water line such as deck 9 were designated as muster points. I guess the Gulf of Hormuz was perhaps seen as a danger point. However the Serena had just completed a 3 week voyage from Savona, the last week of which took her down the Red Sea,non-stop past Sudan,Eritraer,Djibouti, Somalia and through the Gulf of Aden and then past the Yemen. It was reassuring that Costa had done the risk analysis and produced a plan to deal with such an emergency, however unlikely.
The level of hygiene on the ship was good. We all remained well and were not aware of any gastric type illnesses on board. We were always very careful to wash hands thoroughly before eating and avoided touching surfaces by using elbows, knees and feet to open doors etc.Hand gel dispensers were fitted in the in the buffet areas and most passengers used the individual serving tongs correctly.
As non-smokers we were pleased that the ship's smoking rules were well observed. We were never troubled by people smoking.
In summary, we really enjoyed this cruise and would definitely sail again with Costa. The Serena is a well run happy ship and the food is excellent.
We had internal cabins on deck 6 on the starboard side near the stern. Deck 6 is entirely cabins and its long corridors give easy access to the whole ship via a choice of 3 sets of lifts, bow, stern and midships. The cabins are comfortable, air conditioned, well ventilated and very clean.Being internal cabins you have no daylight so you may need to set an alarm to wake up in the morning. The TV system provides a handful of satellite channels in many languages. It also shows several internal ship channels with useful safety information and shows meetings which you might have missed on an endless loop. You also get the navigational information and the bow and stern web-cam pictures. These are very useful with an internal cabin as you can see land approaching and it gives you an incentive to get up and go on deck.The cabins were fairly quiet, vibration was only felt when the stern thruster was in operation which was on entering or leaving port.