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I’ve given this cruise an average of 4 stars, but it’s really 3 stars for MSC and 5 stars for the ports/itinerary. We are very glad we did it just to get to experience the ports, but MSC is a poor choice for English speaking families. We have sailed with several other lines, including Costa before and they had English speaking activities (cards/games/trivia) almost every day, so you could at least connect with other English speakers, there was none of this with MSC, and the Italians/Germans/Russians didn’t seem keen to chat outside their native tongue. We travelled with our 3 children (aged 19, 17 and 14 years), and the younger 2 tried the kids club a few times, but again it was full of kids who didn’t want to practice any English. The flip side to that is we got to have plenty of quality family time together, but I did miss the social side of cruising - just having the chance to chat with others re where they’re from, what excursions they’ve done etc. Anyway, onto the cruise itself. I’ve written a detailed day by day report and will load in the review section as well as in the forum if there are any questions. There are not many reports around for this cruise, so hope it’s of help for planning. Embarkation – Saturday 3 January 2015 We spent 5 days in Dubai pre-cruise, so arrived at the terminal at noon and were onboard within 40mins. They grab you before boarding to buy drinks packages, our saleswoman’s leading line was to point to the bar list and say “look at these prices….but you can save 20% with our drinks package”. Hubby was very tempted to say ‘so you’re acknowledging that the onboard prices are that inflated’, but stayed mute. We bought a drinks booklet (30 Euros each) for the kids which gave them 10 tickets each for soft drinks/juices/mocktails. If you only used it on soft drinks you’d lose money, but they had mocktails which was better value. The wine packages seemed too pricey for us, so we didn’t get one, but were staggered to be told that we needed a water package. There is no such thing as table water in the restaurants, if you want a glass you have to buy a bottle. The water package was 27 Euros for 10 bottles of either still or sparkling water. The only free water was from the dispensers at the buffet on level 13, even the gym had no bubbler available. I loved how the buffet dispensers had signs advising not to fill bottles of water there “due to hygiene reasons”. Our rooms were ready when we boarded, so we dropped off our hand luggage and headed to the buffet for lunch. Our checked suitcases were delivered by 3pm. Hubby and I had a balcony room on level 9, and the kids were directly across the corridor in an interior. There was no confiscating of anything in our luggage, I had a travel iron with me for earlier in the trip and was expecting it to be taken, but it, along with power boards, hair straightener and 2 bottles of wine arrived in our luggage with no issue. The show tonight was a performance of all the songs from Grease. Singing & dancing was good, although the accent variation from Olivia Newton John & John Travolta sounded quite obvious to our ears. Sailing time wasn’t til 11pm, which meant the compulsory drill was 11.15pm. The kids were exhausted so we told them to stay in bed, while hubby & I went. It was such a debacle, we were all clustered into bars – we didn’t even go to our actual muster station on deck. It started at 11.15pm, we stood there for 30mins, eventually at 11.45pm they announced ‘we will now show you how to put on your life vest’ (given that 90% of people already had these on, this was pretty funny). Instructions consisted of – ‘put life vest over your head, wrap the belt around your waist’ and then pointing out the whistle, light and reflective strips. We waited 5 more minutes and the all clear sounded, back to bed by midnight…what a waste. In the morning there was a letter under the kids door, thanking them for choosing MSC and noting that “due to the impossibility of their attendance” at the drill, they would need to attend a 2nd drill at the theatre at 5pm. This wasn’t announced onboard, they went and said there were plenty of people there (mainly families with kids and older people), but it was much quicker and they were actually then taken to their muster station as well. Sunday 4 January – Abu Dhabi We were off the ship by 8am and nabbed a family taxi (7 seater) for a 6 hour city tour for 800 dirham. I had read that prices should be less than that, but our driver would not budge. Omar turned out to be a great guy who did give us an excellent tour, well worth the money (particularly compared to what MSC charged). First stop the public beach, then the Heritage Village with plenty of cultural and historical displays, and on to the Sky Tower for fairly smoggy views across Abu Dhabi. Next stop was the over the top Emirates Palace Hotel with its lush grounds, sparkling fountains and gold embossed everything inside. We ooh’d and aah’d through the foyer, loved seeing the world’s first gold bar dispensing ATM machine and were still admiring the views when our 19yo discovered they had free wifi and everyone stopped to pull out their devices for a fix. After disconnecting we made our way to the highlight of an Abu Dhabi visit – the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Girls have to be covered from neck to wrist to ankle + have a headscarf to visit (you can just rent an abaya/gown if you don’t have them), but we were prepared. We joined an 11am English tour given by the entertaining Abdullah and spent a great hour seeing this stunning place. It is the 3rd largest mosque in terms of area in the world, and can accommodate 40,000 in prayer. The mosaics, carpet and chandeliers inside were all larger than life and it was interesting to hear more details of the 5 times a day requirement for prayer. We did manage to get pinged a few times along the way. 14yo slipped her headscarf down to put her tour headphones on, only to have a guard come up and tell her ‘cover head’. Towards the end of the tour, 17yo’s scarf had slipped just a little off the top of her head, and a guard also told her to cover up (I’m the sole respectable female). We were posing for a family photo in the courtyard and did our usual arms around each other position but were told “no touching” quick smart by a guard. We continued to a modern souk/marketplace where we nabbed a quick snack from Starbucks. The final stops for the day were the Formule 1 track, which has to be the best one we’ve seen (not that we’ve seen that many), as it has a massive permanent grandstand in a circle around the end of the main track, you would certainly get some great views for your no doubt expensive ticket. Just behind the track is Ferrari World, the world’s largest indoor theme park. Due to cost and time we didn’t go in, I’m sure it really deserves a day of its own to visit but was good to get a glimpse before Omar dropped us back to the ship at 2.30pm. We’d picked up some cans of coke zero during the day (as they’re 2.80 Euro each onboard) and water bottles and were hoping to smuggle them in. At the scanner to get into the port they pulled up 19yo (who had half the stash in his backpack) and went through it all, but made no comment. Also survived unscathed through the scanner as we boarded the ship, so were very happy with our success. There is free wifi at the port, and as our balcony is right across from it we are able to pick up some signal so have spent a fair bit of the afternoon enjoying the balcony view (among other things). Monday 5 January – Sea day We had a lovely lazy sea day and got more good use of our balcony. The girls tried the kids club again (with no success), we played cards and then spent the rest of the day eating, napping and getting ready for the first formal night. In a very un-MSC move, they actually offered free champagne, cocktails and mocktails (but not water!) in the bars for an hour before dinner. We thought it might be one glass each, but they were practically throwing them at us. We sat down and every few minutes they were coming up asking if we wanted more. 19yo tried his first martini (he couldn’t cope with the olive at the bottom of the glass) and a red rum drink. We posed for some family photos and had a lovely meal. The show was “Gotham”, ie dancers dressed as Batman characters dancing, singing and doing amazing aerobatics and gymnastics. Tuesday 6 January – Khor al Fakkan, UAE Another gorgeous sunrise this morning, it’s so nice walking the top decks as they come to life. The port of Khor al Fakkan is one of the quietest of the trip. The best activity I could find (aside from 4WD dune bashing which we’d already done out of Dubai) was to buy a day pass to the only big hotel here, the Oceanic Resort. They are meant to provide a free shuttle from the port, but it wasn’t waiting when we got off. A taxi wanted to charge us 20Euro to drive there, but another driver told us it was only 1km away, so we decided to walk. Turns out it was more like 3k, but that was fine and we got a closer view of the town along the way. The resort was very nice, set on the beach front (a very tame, waveless beach) with a massive pool with delicious buffet lunch provided, all for 90 dirham each (you could also buy a day pass with no lunch for 60dirham). We grabbed 5 deck chairs and spent the next 7 hours lazing, reading, swimming, napping and eating – it was a gorgeous relaxing day. The other bonus was that there was free wifi available, so we all got to reconnect. We were debating what shuttle to return on when 19yo says “let’s stay til the last one at 4pm, it’s nicer here and there’s less old people” (I’m sure the wifi didn’t influence his decision at all). Hubby and the girls hit the gym on our return, while I lapped the walking deck. We poured a glass of wine and watched our 6pm sail out from the balcony. There are about 4 mosques in the town and the call to prayer had sounded just beforehand, so the sound from all was echoing across the water to us, with mountains behind and town lights flickering made for a most picturesque scene. Wednesday 7 January 2015 – Muscat, Oman Oman was our first new country of the cruise and we had yet another beautiful sunrise vista as we sailed into the port of its capital city, Muscat. I was a bit nervous about this tour as the guide who gets rave reviews on trip advisor was not available, so had offered me her “associate” Mohammed. We’ve had a bad experience with an “associate” in Morocco, but they assured me he’d be good so we took the risk. Mohammed was waiting at the port entrance with my name on a sign, always a welcome sight. On the 1.5 hour drive to our destination of Wadi Shab (wadi means waterhole) we learnt plenty about Oman and our concern was needless. When we arrived at the start of the walk another guide (Hussein) took over to take us on the 1hr walk to Wadi Shab through a long rocky gorge with several other wadi’s on the way. There were a few large red ‘strictly no jumping or diving in the deep wadi’ signs along the path. Hussein however was keen for the kids to have a go, so if the guide says jump apparently it’s fine to ignore those signs, and they did really enjoy launching themselves from the 7.5m ledge into the deep wadi below. After about 45mins you strip off your shoes and clothes down to swimmers only. We went on from there alone (much to the girls concern) while Hussein stayed with our gear. He lent us brilliant waterproof pouches for our iphones which you hang round your neck and can still take photos through. He also very kindly offered me his swimming shoes which made the rocky sections so much easier than for the others hobbling through on bare feet. Most of the time we could swim though, the water was beautiful and the colours of the rocky gorge just breathtaking. After swimming/clambering along through several wadis we reached the entrance to Wadi Shab, which is semi enclosed with a very narrow opening. We tried to get a photo at the opening, but as that involved me treading water in very deep water, trying to hold the iphone/case up to get a shot while not laughing too much, the results are pretty dodgy. Inside the opening the wadi was fairly round, with about a 10m diameter and a waterfall at one end. There were narrow ledges around that you could clamber up to for a break from treading water (well actually the kids pulled me up, my clambering abilities are pretty weak). The kids all took the challenge of pulling themselves up on a rope dangling down one side of the waterfall and then circled round up higher to a very slippery slope from which they launched themselves back into the wadi. It was very nerve-wracking to watch and my photos of those jumps reflect that as I was shaking so much just watching they are all completely blurred. I should mention there were quite a few other people in there with us, so we’d all had time to watch them and gauge what was possible. We eventually made our way back the way we’d come in down the gorge and were on such a high at having seen this beautiful place. There are many wadi’s scattered through Oman, we agreed it would be fun to return and go through them all. There’s also lots of hiking to be done in an area known as Oman’s Grand Canyon…always so many reasons to return to places you get just a taste of on a cruise. Mohammed had said that if we weren’t late leaving the wadi we should have time to go into the old centre of Muscat and see the palace (which is for show only, the Sultan doesn’t live there), fort and souk (market) so that gave us the incentive to keep moving. There was no food whatsoever available at the wadi, but luckily we’d done our usual foraging at the breakfast buffet and had brought 2 tupperware containers full of muffins and pastries. These are usually our snacks on tours, but today it was lunch as well. We were back in Muscat by 3pm, had a wander there and saw the sights before a final stop at the souk. Mohammed showed us frankincense in the souk that was smoking in an incense burner and we bought our usual souvenir magnet and Christmas ornament. At 4pm we were about to keel over from lack of food, so asked to be dropped back to the ship. We had to be onboard by 4.30pm and Mohammed was keen to wring every minute out, wanting to pop by something else to use up the 30mins, but we were done. I have to say that’s the first time a guide has wanted to give us every minute of the time booked, they’re usually very keen to drop you back early. We went straight to the buffet and devoured some food, before starting an activity the kids had been looking forward to for days now. Yes, we’d told them that this was the trip they were all going to learn to hand wash their own socks and undies. 19yo had been in denial that it would happen all week, but we were clear that we have 6 more nights to go and as they don’t have near that many undies, something would have to give. Pleased to say lessons were passed and we’re now surrounded by a sea of drying undies. Tonight was Italian night, so all the food at dinner had an Italian theme and they did the special dance that we’d also seen done on our Costa cruise where all the waiters come out in a long line carrying tiramisu cakes and waving red/white/green hankies above their heads and then the rest of the diners join in with the napkin wave as well. The show tonight was favourite tunes of Italy, but we were feeling rather Italian-ed out, so elected to have an English night and watch the Downton Abbey Christmas special. We only managed half of it as the girls were exhausted and demanded we pause the rest for a second sitting so they could get to sleep. Thursday 8 January 2015 – Khasab, Oman The walking decks were closed this morning as it was quite windy, so I actually ventured to the treadmill in the gym which I usually find too boring. Luckily it’s much more entertaining to walk in the same spot while sailing into a new port. Very pleased to have a later 9am arrival into Khasab, our second Omani port (rather than the usual 8am arrival). We had booked a 6hr tour with Khourshem Tours, a local company that does snorkelling and dolphin watching dhow cruises through the fjords for 200 dirham each including lunch. The MSC cruise equivalent tour was only 4 hrs, no lunch and cost 76 Euro. The tour company were waiting for us at the port entrance and also offered walk up tours for the same 200 dirham for passengers who weren’t already booked – the walk up tours though were only 3 hours, with no lunch so it pays to book direct in advance. The dhow boats are motor powered, but an old fashioned style boat. You remove your shoes when boarding, the floors are covered in rugs and around the sides are many cushions for general lounging about…it’s a very pleasant way to travel. It takes around an hour to sail to the entrance of the fjord, the rock formations all around actually reminded me of the gorge cruise we did in the Kimberley north of Broome. The multiple types of rock strata layered diagonally up the cliffs were similar, what was missing was the deep red/brown/orange colours of the Kimberley, these were mainly sandy or grey in colour, but still lovely to see. We passed by a few tiny fishing villages at the base of the steep cliffs and saw a pod of dolphins doing their usual trick of diving up and disappearing as your camera shutter clicks. We anchored to snorkel at Telegraph Island where the British laid the first underwater cable to connect India to Iraq for onward communication to London back in 1864. Unfortunately they didn’t have any goggles for the sight challenged, so I kept my sunnies on and enjoyed a swim while the others snorkelled. We swam over to Telegraph Island and clambered very gingerly around its surface covered in sharp stones. I was really missing Hussein’s waterproof iphone case and his water shoes, as we had lovely views from there but no camera to capture them, and each step was painful. On our swim back to the boat 17yo got up close and personal with a friendly jellyfish, who wrapped its tentacle around her arm leaving a nasty red mark. She rinsed it with fresh water when back onboard and felt brave enough to refuse any offers to wee on it. We had a wonderful lunch onboard, make your own pita breads + some deliciously marinated chicken. We cruised to another island but the wind had picked up so no one on our boat was keen to get back in, but we were all right into the lounging on cushions while watching the scenery glide by. We were back at the dock by 4pm and driven the short distance back to our ship. We rinsed out our swimmers on our return and while I was sitting on the balcony the wind suddenly picked up and hubby’s flew off the deck…..eeeek! I looked over expecting to not see them, but they had incredibly stuck to this narrow grill 1.5 decks below us and a couple of cabins across I went to reception and they called someone from housekeeping who took ages (well 10mins) to come. He looked out our balcony and agreed it looked hopeless (and pretty funny), but said he’d see what he could do. We kept watch and finally see staff appear on the balcony just above the grill, but they could not get anywhere near it with their arm. Eventually they got a long stick with a claw on the end reached out and down and actually snagged them, we couldn’t believe they’d salvaged them. The rescue operation had attracted quite a following, with a few people standing on their balconies to watch. Tonight was the final formal night and final show. We posed for heaps of family photos, really hoping we get one we’re all happy with from this batch. Friday 9 January 2015 – Dubai, UAE Incredibly, 19yo woke early this morning of his own accord (obviously he could sense that we had pulled up beside free wifi after over 48hours without it) so the kids were breakfasted and off the ship before us. By the time we joined them the Dubai port free wifi that had been so good when we arrived was grossly overloaded with 4 other ships in port and most passengers seeking to connect. We gave up on the wifi and re-boarded to check out our photos. We ended up selecting 13 in total, a combination of family, individual and 3 kid shots. If you buy 5 photos of the same size, you get another 5 for free at a cost of 99 Euros, an extra 2 adds 10 Euros (including a digital copy on disk). You could also pay 300 Euro for every photo taken of you, but this was beyond our budget. The whole process took almost an hour as we must have had about 150 shots in total (they really go beserk for photos, as do all cruise lines). We wanted to lunch onboard as it was free, but we also had drink vouchers to use up. After lunch we taxi’d into the Dubai Mall for a final look. The boys found a spot and made use of higher quality internet, and then we girls spent a couple of hours browsing the shops. 17yo made a few purchases but on the whole everything was either way out of our price range, or very tacky looking….so much for the supposedly amazing January Dubai sales. The running joke of the whole trip has been a pair of denim shorts 14yo saw in Australia at ‘Cotton On’. They were $35 full price, so I said she’d have to wait for a sale. There has been a Cotton On in Singapore, KL airport and Dubai, they have had the same shorts as at home, but still no sale. One of the 4 ships on the pier at Dubai is the Costa Serena and by an incredible coincidence, the waiter from our Costa Mediterranean cruise 4 years ago is actually on that ship. We’re friends on facebook and when he saw we were in Dubai, he got in touch and we actually met up tonight. Unfortunately he didn’t finish work till 10.30pm, but we all wanted to see him so we went down on the pier to his ship. It was so wonderful to see him, we had a good catchup and saw lots of photos of his 3 month old son. He won’t be home again til August, such a long time away from the family. As it’s final night, our luggage had to be left in the hallway by to be taken off the ship ready for us to disembark tomorrow. Saturday 10 January – departing Dubai We were told to be out of our rooms by 7.30am so had breakfast at the buffet and were leaving the ship at 8.30am. I have never been on a cruise where disembarking passengers overlap onboard with new arrivals. As we were trailing off at 8.30am we were crossing over with the new arrivals – that is a crazy turnaround schedule for the poor room stewards. Our flight didn’t leave til 2.30pm so we sat in the port terminal for a while using the now functioning free wifi. Around 9am we realised we’d left a power adaptor in the room, so my daughter and I were able to pop back onboard using our MSC id cards with no issue, re-enter our room and get the adaptor. There are plenty of family (7 seater) taxi’s available at the port, and actually all round Dubai – taxi is often cheaper than metro for 5 of us. We were able to fit all our luggage in, it’s less than a 30min drive to the airport from the port at a cost of 60 dirham. The temperature in their “winter” is also perfect, Dubai was around 26 degrees every day, it got up to 29 in Muscat. I am very glad we did the cruise, we loved the ports and had a great time….but I wouldn’t chose MSC again. Even though both Costa and MSC are Italian lines with a mainly European clientele, we found Costa catered better to English speakers, at least organising opportunities for them to meet. It’s funny that it’s only the Italian lines that are doing the 7N cruises out of Dubai as it’s such a great place for families to visit.  

Ports are wonderful, but MSC disappointing for English speakers

MSC Orchestra Cruise Review by tmbhl_on_the_go

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Trip Details
I’ve given this cruise an average of 4 stars, but it’s really 3 stars for MSC and 5 stars for the ports/itinerary. We are very glad we did it just to get to experience the ports, but MSC is a poor choice for English speaking families. We have sailed with several other lines, including Costa before and they had English speaking activities (cards/games/trivia) almost every day, so you could at least connect with other English speakers, there was none of this with MSC, and the Italians/Germans/Russians didn’t seem keen to chat outside their native tongue. We travelled with our 3 children (aged 19, 17 and 14 years), and the younger 2 tried the kids club a few times, but again it was full of kids who didn’t want to practice any English. The flip side to that is we got to have plenty of quality family time together, but I did miss the social side of cruising - just having the chance to chat with others re where they’re from, what excursions they’ve done etc.
Anyway, onto the cruise itself. I’ve written a detailed day by day report and will load in the review section as well as in the forum if there are any questions. There are not many reports around for this cruise, so hope it’s of help for planning.
Embarkation – Saturday 3 January 2015
We spent 5 days in Dubai pre-cruise, so arrived at the terminal at noon and were onboard within 40mins. They grab you before boarding to buy drinks packages, our saleswoman’s leading line was to point to the bar list and say “look at these prices….but you can save 20% with our drinks package”. Hubby was very tempted to say ‘so you’re acknowledging that the onboard prices are that inflated’, but stayed mute. We bought a drinks booklet (30 Euros each) for the kids which gave them 10 tickets each for soft drinks/juices/mocktails. If you only used it on soft drinks you’d lose money, but they had mocktails which was better value. The wine packages seemed too pricey for us, so we didn’t get one, but were staggered to be told that we needed a water package. There is no such thing as table water in the restaurants, if you want a glass you have to buy a bottle. The water package was 27 Euros for 10 bottles of either still or sparkling water. The only free water was from the dispensers at the buffet on level 13, even the gym had no bubbler available. I loved how the buffet dispensers had signs advising not to fill bottles of water there “due to hygiene reasons”.
Our rooms were ready when we boarded, so we dropped off our hand luggage and headed to the buffet for lunch. Our checked suitcases were delivered by 3pm. Hubby and I had a balcony room on level 9, and the kids were directly across the corridor in an interior. There was no confiscating of anything in our luggage, I had a travel iron with me for earlier in the trip and was expecting it to be taken, but it, along with power boards, hair straightener and 2 bottles of wine arrived in our luggage with no issue.
The show tonight was a performance of all the songs from Grease. Singing & dancing was good, although the accent variation from Olivia Newton John & John Travolta sounded quite obvious to our ears. Sailing time wasn’t til 11pm, which meant the compulsory drill was 11.15pm. The kids were exhausted so we told them to stay in bed, while hubby & I went. It was such a debacle, we were all clustered into bars – we didn’t even go to our actual muster station on deck. It started at 11.15pm, we stood there for 30mins, eventually at 11.45pm they announced ‘we will now show you how to put on your life vest’ (given that 90% of people already had these on, this was pretty funny). Instructions consisted of – ‘put life vest over your head, wrap the belt around your waist’ and then pointing out the whistle, light and reflective strips. We waited 5 more minutes and the all clear sounded, back to bed by midnight…what a waste. In the morning there was a letter under the kids door, thanking them for choosing MSC and noting that “due to the impossibility of their attendance” at the drill, they would need to attend a 2nd drill at the theatre at 5pm. This wasn’t announced onboard, they went and said there were plenty of people there (mainly families with kids and older people), but it was much quicker and they were actually then taken to their muster station as well.
Sunday 4 January – Abu Dhabi
We were off the ship by 8am and nabbed a family taxi (7 seater) for a 6 hour city tour for 800 dirham. I had read that prices should be less than that, but our driver would not budge. Omar turned out to be a great guy who did give us an excellent tour, well worth the money (particularly compared to what MSC charged). First stop the public beach, then the Heritage Village with plenty of cultural and historical displays, and on to the Sky Tower for fairly smoggy views across Abu Dhabi. Next stop was the over the top Emirates Palace Hotel with its lush grounds, sparkling fountains and gold embossed everything inside. We ooh’d and aah’d through the foyer, loved seeing the world’s first gold bar dispensing ATM machine and were still admiring the views when our 19yo discovered they had free wifi and everyone stopped to pull out their devices for a fix. After disconnecting we made our way to the highlight of an Abu Dhabi visit – the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Girls have to be covered from neck to wrist to ankle + have a headscarf to visit (you can just rent an abaya/gown if you don’t have them), but we were prepared. We joined an 11am English tour given by the entertaining Abdullah and spent a great hour seeing this stunning place. It is the 3rd largest mosque in terms of area in the world, and can accommodate 40,000 in prayer. The mosaics, carpet and chandeliers inside were all larger than life and it was interesting to hear more details of the 5 times a day requirement for prayer.
We did manage to get pinged a few times along the way. 14yo slipped her headscarf down to put her tour headphones on, only to have a guard come up and tell her ‘cover head’. Towards the end of the tour, 17yo’s scarf had slipped just a little off the top of her head, and a guard also told her to cover up (I’m the sole respectable female). We were posing for a family photo in the courtyard and did our usual arms around each other position but were told “no touching” quick smart by a guard. We continued to a modern souk/marketplace where we nabbed a quick snack from Starbucks. The final stops for the day were the Formule 1 track, which has to be the best one we’ve seen (not that we’ve seen that many), as it has a massive permanent grandstand in a circle around the end of the main track, you would certainly get some great views for your no doubt expensive ticket. Just behind the track is Ferrari World, the world’s largest indoor theme park. Due to cost and time we didn’t go in, I’m sure it really deserves a day of its own to visit but was good to get a glimpse before Omar dropped us back to the ship at 2.30pm.
We’d picked up some cans of coke zero during the day (as they’re 2.80 Euro each onboard) and water bottles and were hoping to smuggle them in. At the scanner to get into the port they pulled up 19yo (who had half the stash in his backpack) and went through it all, but made no comment. Also survived unscathed through the scanner as we boarded the ship, so were very happy with our success. There is free wifi at the port, and as our balcony is right across from it we are able to pick up some signal so have spent a fair bit of the afternoon enjoying the balcony view (among other things).
Monday 5 January – Sea day
We had a lovely lazy sea day and got more good use of our balcony. The girls tried the kids club again (with no success), we played cards and then spent the rest of the day eating, napping and getting ready for the first formal night. In a very un-MSC move, they actually offered free champagne, cocktails and mocktails (but not water!) in the bars for an hour before dinner. We thought it might be one glass each, but they were practically throwing them at us. We sat down and every few minutes they were coming up asking if we wanted more. 19yo tried his first martini (he couldn’t cope with the olive at the bottom of the glass) and a red rum drink. We posed for some family photos and had a lovely meal. The show was “Gotham”, ie dancers dressed as Batman characters dancing, singing and doing amazing aerobatics and gymnastics.
Tuesday 6 January – Khor al Fakkan, UAE
Another gorgeous sunrise this morning, it’s so nice walking the top decks as they come to life. The port of Khor al Fakkan is one of the quietest of the trip. The best activity I could find (aside from 4WD dune bashing which we’d already done out of Dubai) was to buy a day pass to the only big hotel here, the Oceanic Resort. They are meant to provide a free shuttle from the port, but it wasn’t waiting when we got off. A taxi wanted to charge us 20Euro to drive there, but another driver told us it was only 1km away, so we decided to walk. Turns out it was more like 3k, but that was fine and we got a closer view of the town along the way. The resort was very nice, set on the beach front (a very tame, waveless beach) with a massive pool with delicious buffet lunch provided, all for 90 dirham each (you could also buy a day pass with no lunch for 60dirham). We grabbed 5 deck chairs and spent the next 7 hours lazing, reading, swimming, napping and eating – it was a gorgeous relaxing day. The other bonus was that there was free wifi available, so we all got to reconnect. We were debating what shuttle to return on when 19yo says “let’s stay til the last one at 4pm, it’s nicer here and there’s less old people” (I’m sure the wifi didn’t influence his decision at all).
Hubby and the girls hit the gym on our return, while I lapped the walking deck. We poured a glass of wine and watched our 6pm sail out from the balcony. There are about 4 mosques in the town and the call to prayer had sounded just beforehand, so the sound from all was echoing across the water to us, with mountains behind and town lights flickering made for a most picturesque scene.
Wednesday 7 January 2015 – Muscat, Oman
Oman was our first new country of the cruise and we had yet another beautiful sunrise vista as we sailed into the port of its capital city, Muscat. I was a bit nervous about this tour as the guide who gets rave reviews on trip advisor was not available, so had offered me her “associate” Mohammed. We’ve had a bad experience with an “associate” in Morocco, but they assured me he’d be good so we took the risk. Mohammed was waiting at the port entrance with my name on a sign, always a welcome sight. On the 1.5 hour drive to our destination of Wadi Shab (wadi means waterhole) we learnt plenty about Oman and our concern was needless.
When we arrived at the start of the walk another guide (Hussein) took over to take us on the 1hr walk to Wadi Shab through a long rocky gorge with several other wadi’s on the way. There were a few large red ‘strictly no jumping or diving in the deep wadi’ signs along the path. Hussein however was keen for the kids to have a go, so if the guide says jump apparently it’s fine to ignore those signs, and they did really enjoy launching themselves from the 7.5m ledge into the deep wadi below. After about 45mins you strip off your shoes and clothes down to swimmers only. We went on from there alone (much to the girls concern) while Hussein stayed with our gear. He lent us brilliant waterproof pouches for our iphones which you hang round your neck and can still take photos through. He also very kindly offered me his swimming shoes which made the rocky sections so much easier than for the others hobbling through on bare feet. Most of the time we could swim though, the water was beautiful and the colours of the rocky gorge just breathtaking. After swimming/clambering along through several wadis we reached the entrance to Wadi Shab, which is semi enclosed with a very narrow opening. We tried to get a photo at the opening, but as that involved me treading water in very deep water, trying to hold the iphone/case up to get a shot while not laughing too much, the results are pretty dodgy. Inside the opening the wadi was fairly round, with about a 10m diameter and a waterfall at one end. There were narrow ledges around that you could clamber up to for a break from treading water (well actually the kids pulled me up, my clambering abilities are pretty weak). The kids all took the challenge of pulling themselves up on a rope dangling down one side of the waterfall and then circled round up higher to a very slippery slope from which they launched themselves back into the wadi. It was very nerve-wracking to watch and my photos of those jumps reflect that as I was shaking so much just watching they are all completely blurred. I should mention there were quite a few other people in there with us, so we’d all had time to watch them and gauge what was possible. We eventually made our way back the way we’d come in down the gorge and were on such a high at having seen this beautiful place. There are many wadi’s scattered through Oman, we agreed it would be fun to return and go through them all. There’s also lots of hiking to be done in an area known as Oman’s Grand Canyon…always so many reasons to return to places you get just a taste of on a cruise.
Mohammed had said that if we weren’t late leaving the wadi we should have time to go into the old centre of Muscat and see the palace (which is for show only, the Sultan doesn’t live there), fort and souk (market) so that gave us the incentive to keep moving. There was no food whatsoever available at the wadi, but luckily we’d done our usual foraging at the breakfast buffet and had brought 2 tupperware containers full of muffins and pastries. These are usually our snacks on tours, but today it was lunch as well. We were back in Muscat by 3pm, had a wander there and saw the sights before a final stop at the souk. Mohammed showed us frankincense in the souk that was smoking in an incense burner and we bought our usual souvenir magnet and Christmas ornament. At 4pm we were about to keel over from lack of food, so asked to be dropped back to the ship. We had to be onboard by 4.30pm and Mohammed was keen to wring every minute out, wanting to pop by something else to use up the 30mins, but we were done. I have to say that’s the first time a guide has wanted to give us every minute of the time booked, they’re usually very keen to drop you back early.
We went straight to the buffet and devoured some food, before starting an activity the kids had been looking forward to for days now. Yes, we’d told them that this was the trip they were all going to learn to hand wash their own socks and undies. 19yo had been in denial that it would happen all week, but we were clear that we have 6 more nights to go and as they don’t have near that many undies, something would have to give. Pleased to say lessons were passed and we’re now surrounded by a sea of drying undies.
Tonight was Italian night, so all the food at dinner had an Italian theme and they did the special dance that we’d also seen done on our Costa cruise where all the waiters come out in a long line carrying tiramisu cakes and waving red/white/green hankies above their heads and then the rest of the diners join in with the napkin wave as well. The show tonight was favourite tunes of Italy, but we were feeling rather Italian-ed out, so elected to have an English night and watch the Downton Abbey Christmas special. We only managed half of it as the girls were exhausted and demanded we pause the rest for a second sitting so they could get to sleep.
Thursday 8 January 2015 – Khasab, Oman
The walking decks were closed this morning as it was quite windy, so I actually ventured to the treadmill in the gym which I usually find too boring. Luckily it’s much more entertaining to walk in the same spot while sailing into a new port. Very pleased to have a later 9am arrival into Khasab, our second Omani port (rather than the usual 8am arrival). We had booked a 6hr tour with Khourshem Tours, a local company that does snorkelling and dolphin watching dhow cruises through the fjords for 200 dirham each including lunch. The MSC cruise equivalent tour was only 4 hrs, no lunch and cost 76 Euro. The tour company were waiting for us at the port entrance and also offered walk up tours for the same 200 dirham for passengers who weren’t already booked – the walk up tours though were only 3 hours, with no lunch so it pays to book direct in advance.
The dhow boats are motor powered, but an old fashioned style boat. You remove your shoes when boarding, the floors are covered in rugs and around the sides are many cushions for general lounging about…it’s a very pleasant way to travel. It takes around an hour to sail to the entrance of the fjord, the rock formations all around actually reminded me of the gorge cruise we did in the Kimberley north of Broome. The multiple types of rock strata layered diagonally up the cliffs were similar, what was missing was the deep red/brown/orange colours of the Kimberley, these were mainly sandy or grey in colour, but still lovely to see. We passed by a few tiny fishing villages at the base of the steep cliffs and saw a pod of dolphins doing their usual trick of diving up and disappearing as your camera shutter clicks. We anchored to snorkel at Telegraph Island where the British laid the first underwater cable to connect India to Iraq for onward communication to London back in 1864. Unfortunately they didn’t have any goggles for the sight challenged, so I kept my sunnies on and enjoyed a swim while the others snorkelled. We swam over to Telegraph Island and clambered very gingerly around its surface covered in sharp stones. I was really missing Hussein’s waterproof iphone case and his water shoes, as we had lovely views from there but no camera to capture them, and each step was painful. On our swim back to the boat 17yo got up close and personal with a friendly jellyfish, who wrapped its tentacle around her arm leaving a nasty red mark. She rinsed it with fresh water when back onboard and felt brave enough to refuse any offers to wee on it.
We had a wonderful lunch onboard, make your own pita breads + some deliciously marinated chicken. We cruised to another island but the wind had picked up so no one on our boat was keen to get back in, but we were all right into the lounging on cushions while watching the scenery glide by. We were back at the dock by 4pm and driven the short distance back to our ship.
We rinsed out our swimmers on our return and while I was sitting on the balcony the wind suddenly picked up and hubby’s flew off the deck…..eeeek! I looked over expecting to not see them, but they had incredibly stuck to this narrow grill 1.5 decks below us and a couple of cabins across I went to reception and they called someone from housekeeping who took ages (well 10mins) to come. He looked out our balcony and agreed it looked hopeless (and pretty funny), but said he’d see what he could do. We kept watch and finally see staff appear on the balcony just above the grill, but they could not get anywhere near it with their arm. Eventually they got a long stick with a claw on the end reached out and down and actually snagged them, we couldn’t believe they’d salvaged them. The rescue operation had attracted quite a following, with a few people standing on their balconies to watch.
Tonight was the final formal night and final show. We posed for heaps of family photos, really hoping we get one we’re all happy with from this batch.
Friday 9 January 2015 – Dubai, UAE
Incredibly, 19yo woke early this morning of his own accord (obviously he could sense that we had pulled up beside free wifi after over 48hours without it) so the kids were breakfasted and off the ship before us. By the time we joined them the Dubai port free wifi that had been so good when we arrived was grossly overloaded with 4 other ships in port and most passengers seeking to connect. We gave up on the wifi and re-boarded to check out our photos. We ended up selecting 13 in total, a combination of family, individual and 3 kid shots. If you buy 5 photos of the same size, you get another 5 for free at a cost of 99 Euros, an extra 2 adds 10 Euros (including a digital copy on disk). You could also pay 300 Euro for every photo taken of you, but this was beyond our budget. The whole process took almost an hour as we must have had about 150 shots in total (they really go beserk for photos, as do all cruise lines). We wanted to lunch onboard as it was free, but we also had drink vouchers to use up. After lunch we taxi’d into the Dubai Mall for a final look. The boys found a spot and made use of higher quality internet, and then we girls spent a couple of hours browsing the shops. 17yo made a few purchases but on the whole everything was either way out of our price range, or very tacky looking….so much for the supposedly amazing January Dubai sales. The running joke of the whole trip has been a pair of denim shorts 14yo saw in Australia at ‘Cotton On’. They were $35 full price, so I said she’d have to wait for a sale. There has been a Cotton On in Singapore, KL airport and Dubai, they have had the same shorts as at home, but still no sale.
One of the 4 ships on the pier at Dubai is the Costa Serena and by an incredible coincidence, the waiter from our Costa Mediterranean cruise 4 years ago is actually on that ship. We’re friends on facebook and when he saw we were in Dubai, he got in touch and we actually met up tonight. Unfortunately he didn’t finish work till 10.30pm, but we all wanted to see him so we went down on the pier to his ship. It was so wonderful to see him, we had a good catchup and saw lots of photos of his 3 month old son. He won’t be home again til August, such a long time away from the family. As it’s final night, our luggage had to be left in the hallway by to be taken off the ship ready for us to disembark tomorrow.
Saturday 10 January – departing Dubai
We were told to be out of our rooms by 7.30am so had breakfast at the buffet and were leaving the ship at 8.30am. I have never been on a cruise where disembarking passengers overlap onboard with new arrivals. As we were trailing off at 8.30am we were crossing over with the new arrivals – that is a crazy turnaround schedule for the poor room stewards. Our flight didn’t leave til 2.30pm so we sat in the port terminal for a while using the now functioning free wifi. Around 9am we realised we’d left a power adaptor in the room, so my daughter and I were able to pop back onboard using our MSC id cards with no issue, re-enter our room and get the adaptor. There are plenty of family (7 seater) taxi’s available at the port, and actually all round Dubai – taxi is often cheaper than metro for 5 of us. We were able to fit all our luggage in, it’s less than a 30min drive to the airport from the port at a cost of 60 dirham.
The temperature in their “winter” is also perfect, Dubai was around 26 degrees every day, it got up to 29 in Muscat. I am very glad we did the cruise, we loved the ports and had a great time….but I wouldn’t chose MSC again. Even though both Costa and MSC are Italian lines with a mainly European clientele, we found Costa catered better to English speakers, at least organising opportunities for them to meet. It’s funny that it’s only the Italian lines that are doing the 7N cruises out of Dubai as it’s such a great place for families to visit.
 
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Cabin Review

Cabin 9203/9205
Enjoyed the balcony and got good use of it with mild Arabian "winter"
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Abu Dhabi
    I will review Abu Dhabi & Khor Al Fakkan here (as Khor al Fakkan does not appear on CC's port list)ABU DHABI - We were off the ship by 8am and nabbed a family taxi (7 seater) for a 6 hour city tour for 800 dirham. I had read that prices should be less than that, but our driver would not budge. Omar turned out to be a great guy who did give us an excellent tour, well worth the money (particularly compared to what MSC charged). First stop the public beach, then the Heritage Village with plenty of cultural and historical displays, and on to the Sky Tower for fairly smoggy views across Abu Dhabi. Next stop was the over the top Emirates Palace Hotel with its lush grounds, sparkling fountains and gold embossed everything inside. We ooh’d and aah’d through the foyer, loved seeing the world’s first gold bar dispensing ATM machine and were still admiring the views when our 19yo discovered they had free wifi and everyone stopped to pull out their devices for a fix. After disconnecting we made our way to the highlight of an Abu Dhabi visit – the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Girls have to be covered from neck to wrist to ankle + have a headscarf to visit (you can just rent an abaya/gown if you don’t have them), but we were prepared. We joined an 11am English tour given by the entertaining Abdullah and spent a great hour seeing this stunning place. It is the 3rd largest mosque in terms of area in the world, and can accommodate 40,000 in prayer. The mosaics, carpet and chandeliers inside were all larger than life and it was interesting to hear more details of the 5 times a day requirement for prayer.We did manage to get pinged a few times along the way. 14yo slipped her headscarf down to put her tour headphones on, only to have a guard come up and tell her ‘cover head’. Towards the end of the tour, 17yo’s scarf had slipped just a little off the top of her head, and a guard also told her to cover up (I’m the sole respectable female). We were posing for a family photo in the courtyard and did our usual arms around each other position but were told “no touching” quick smart by a guard. We continued to a modern souk/marketplace where we nabbed a quick snack from Starbucks. The final stops for the day were the Formule 1 track, which has to be the best one we’ve seen (not that we’ve seen that many), as it has a massive permanent grandstand in a circle around the end of the main track, you would certainly get some great views for your no doubt expensive ticket. Just behind the track is Ferrari World, the world’s largest indoor theme park. Due to cost and time we didn’t go in, I’m sure it really deserves a day of its own to visit but was good to get a glimpse before Omar dropped us back to the ship at 2.30pm.We’d picked up some cans of coke zero during the day (as they’re 2.80 Euro each onboard) and water bottles and were hoping to smuggle them in. At the scanner to get into the port they pulled up 19yo (who had half the stash in his backpack) and went through it all, but made no comment. Also survived unscathed through the scanner as we boarded the ship, so were very happy with our success. There is free wifi at the port, and as our balcony is right across from it we are able to pick up some signal so have spent a fair bit of the afternoon enjoying the balcony view (among other things). KHOR AL FAKKAN, UAEThe port of Khor al Fakkan is one of the quietest of the trip. The best activity I could find (aside from 4WD dune bashing which we’d already done out of Dubai) was to buy a day pass to the only big hotel here, the Oceanic Resort. They are meant to provide a free shuttle from the port, but it wasn’t waiting when we got off, although must have swung by soon after. A taxi wanted to charge us 20Euro to drive there, but another driver told us it was only 1km away, so we decided to walk. Turns out it was more like 3k, but that was fine and we got a closer view of the town along the way. The resort was very nice, set on the beach front (a very tame, waveless beach) with a massive pool with delicious buffet lunch provided, all for 90 dirham each (you could also buy a day pass with no lunch for 60dirham). We grabbed 5 deck chairs and spent the next 7 hours lazing, reading, swimming, napping and eating – it was a gorgeous relaxing day. The other bonus was that there was free wifi available, so we all got to reconnect. We returned on the last shuttle to port at 4pm. Much cheaper to do yourself than via cruise excursion.
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  • Dubai
    We stayed in Dubai for 5 days pre-cruise so did plenty of activities. Main thing to know re Dubai port is that taxi's (including 7 seater family ones) are plentiful at the port and much cheaper than any cruise organised transport. Our highlights for Dubai were the 4WD safari, top of the Burj Khalifa, TGI Friday's for dinner and amazing view of fountain show (book ahead). Not a fan of the evening dhow dinner cruises. Good family fun working together to solve clues and puzzles at Escape Quest or Hinthunt. So much to do here, can definitely recommend allowing 2-3 days at least pre or post cruise.
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  • Muscat
    Reviews for Muscat & Khasab below (as Khasab not on CC's port list)MUSCAT, OMAN - We booked a day tour with VS Private Tours and Mohammed was waiting at the port entrance with my name on a sign, always a welcome sight. On the 1.5 hour drive to our destination of Wadi Shab (wadi means waterhole) we learnt plenty about Oman. When we arrived at the start of the walk another guide (Hussein) took over to take us on the 1hr walk to Wadi Shab through a long rocky gorge with several other wadi’s on the way. There were a few large red ‘strictly no jumping or diving in the deep wadi’ signs along the path. Hussein however was keen for the kids to have a go, so if the guide says jump apparently it’s fine to ignore those signs, and they did really enjoy launching themselves from the 7.5m ledge into the deep wadi below. After about 45mins you strip off your shoes and clothes down to swimmers only. We went on from there alone (much to the girls concern) while Hussein stayed with our gear. He lent us brilliant waterproof pouches for our iphones which you hang round your neck and can still take photos through. He also very kindly offered me his swimming shoes which made the rocky sections so much easier than for the others hobbling through on bare feet. Most of the time we could swim though, the water was beautiful and the colours of the rocky gorge just breathtaking. After swimming/clambering along through several wadis we reached the entrance to Wadi Shab, which is semi enclosed with a very narrow opening. We tried to get a photo at the opening, but as that involved me treading water in very deep water, trying to hold the iphone/case up to get a shot while not laughing too much, the results are pretty dodgy. Inside the opening the wadi was fairly round, with about a 10m diameter and a waterfall at one end. There were narrow ledges around that you could clamber up to for a break from treading water (well actually the kids pulled me up, my clambering abilities are pretty weak). The kids all took the challenge of pulling themselves up on a rope dangling down one side of the waterfall and then circled round up higher to a very slippery slope from which they launched themselves back into the wadi. It was very nerve-wracking to watch and my photos of those jumps reflect that as I was shaking so much just watching they are all completely blurred. I should mention there were quite a few other people in there with us, so we’d all had time to watch them and gauge what was possible. We eventually made our way back the way we’d come in down the gorge and were on such a high at having seen this beautiful place. There are many wadi’s scattered through Oman, we agreed it would be fun to return and go through them all. There’s also lots of hiking to be done in an area known as Oman’s Grand Canyon…always so many reasons to return to places you get just a taste of on a cruise.Mohammed had said that if we weren’t late leaving the wadi we should have time to go into the old centre of Muscat and see the palace (which is for show only, the Sultan doesn’t live there), fort and souk (market) so that gave us the incentive to keep moving. There was no food whatsoever available at the wadi, but luckily we’d done our usual foraging at the breakfast buffet and had brought 2 tupperware containers full of muffins and pastries. These are usually our snacks on tours, but today it was lunch as well. We were back in Muscat by 3pm, had a wander there and saw the sights before a final stop at the souk. Mohammed showed us frankincense in the souk that was smoking in an incense burner and we bought our usual souvenir magnet and Christmas ornament. At 4pm we were about to keel over from lack of food, so asked to be dropped back to the ship. We had to be onboard by 4.30pm and Mohammed was keen to wring every minute out, wanting to pop by something else to use up the 30mins, but we were done. I have to say that’s the first time a guide has wanted to give us every minute of the time booked, they’re usually very keen to drop you back early. KHASAB, OMANWe had booked a 6hr tour with Khourshem Tours, a local company that does snorkelling and dolphin watching dhow cruises through the fjords for 200 dirham each including lunch. The MSC cruise equivalent tour was only 4 hrs, no lunch and cost 76 Euro. The tour company were waiting for us at the port entrance and also offered walk up tours for the same 200 dirham for passengers who weren’t already booked – the walk up tours though were only 3 hours, with no lunch so it pays to book direct in advance. The dhow boats are motor powered, but an old fashioned style boat. You remove your shoes when boarding, the floors are covered in rugs and around the sides are many cushions for general lounging about…it’s a very pleasant way to travel. It takes around an hour to sail to the entrance of the fjord, the rock formations all around actually reminded me of the gorge cruise we did in the Kimberley north of Broome. The multiple types of rock strata layered diagonally up the cliffs were similar, what was missing was the deep red/brown/orange colours of the Kimberley, these were mainly sandy or grey in colour, but still lovely to see. We passed by a few tiny fishing villages at the base of the steep cliffs and saw a pod of dolphins doing their usual trick of diving up and disappearing as your camera shutter clicks. We anchored to snorkel at Telegraph Island where the British laid the first underwater cable to connect India to Iraq for onward communication to London back in 1864. Unfortunately they didn’t have any goggles for the sight challenged, so I kept my sunnies on and enjoyed a swim while the others snorkelled. We swam over to Telegraph Island and clambered very gingerly around its surface covered in sharp stones. I was really missing Hussein’s waterproof iphone case and his water shoes, as we had lovely views from there but no camera to capture them, and each step was painful. On our swim back to the boat 17yo got up close and personal with a friendly jellyfish, who wrapped its tentacle around her arm leaving a nasty red mark. She rinsed it with fresh water when back onboard and felt brave enough to refuse any offers to wee on it.We had a wonderful lunch onboard, make your own pita breads + some deliciously marinated chicken. We cruised to another island but the wind had picked up so no one on our boat was keen to get back in, but we were all right into the lounging on cushions while watching the scenery glide by. We were back at the dock by 4pm and driven the short distance back to our ship.
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