THIS cruise was certainly a weird one, perhaps memorable more for the things that went wrong than right.
It was our first run-out with Royal Caribbean (although our 13th cruise in all) unimaginatively entitled “14-night Suez Canal Cruise on Explorer of the Seas” from October 9 to 23, 2015.
What first made it attractive to us was the visit to Israel and an excursion to Jerusalem, a trip down the Suez Canal and a return to the fabled Jordanian Rose Red City of Petra.
The ship had undergone a multi-million dollar refit in April to install a FlowRider surf simulator, new restaurants, new bars, new engine, virtual balcony cabins overlooking the Royal Promenade but with pictures of the sea, and refurbishment of all public areas and cabins.
It began peacefully in sunny Barcelona, then ran into poor weather for most of two cruising days before reaching the port of Souda in Crete.
The following day we were told our excursion to Jerusalem had been cancelled because of the violence and political unrest. The captain took the decision, soon backed up by Royal Caribbean Miami Headquarters.
It was a sensible course of action. Everyone who had booked the trip immediately had their money refunded, a day’s free Internet (don’t laugh, it was expensive), and a one-off payment of $150 per cabin. And we duly set sail a day early for Port Said.
So far not too good. But things improved with the stunning passage, leading the convoy through the Suez Canal. We had deliberately chosen a Starboard balcony. What a difference! It was a very impressive, interesting few hours.
And why not?
In August 2014, construction began to expand and widen the Ballah Bypass, for 35 km (22 miles), costing $8.4 billion, to speed the canal's transit time. Funding was arranged by issuing interest-bearing investment certificates exclusively to Egyptian entities and individuals, and the target amount was collected over eight working days. The expansion is expected to double the capacity of the Suez Canal from 49 to 97 ships a day.
The "New Suez Canal", as the expansion was named, was opened with great fanfare in a ceremony on 6 August, 2015.
After entering the Red Sea and the end of the canal, we changed course for Aqaba, arriving next morning for the visit to the Petra, of Indiana Jones fame (just jesting). It was our intention to hire a horse and carriage for the journey both ways through the Siq but it was soon established we would have to wait anything up to an hour. So we chose to walk the whole six miles round trip.
Another glimpse of the fabled Treasury (Al Kazneh) was worth it but those who had not been before were completely misled by being informed that this magnificent highlight was all there was. They were not told by the courier of the amphitheatre, the vast temples built into the rock faces and various other masterpieces down the whole three miles the other side of the Treasury. Wonder why?
After Aqaba, there was nothing but six days of cruising. But they passed pretty quickly with all the activities on the ship.
And, of course, there was always the threat of an attack from Somalian pirates to pique interest. The ship took adequate precautions, certain areas were blacked out and all cabin curtains closed at night and “technical equipment” was taken on board from a small boat. There was considerable conjecture that these were guns and people who could use them.
It was all rather to different to our last trip through the Suez Canal into the same “piratical waters” in 2009 on the late, and lamented by many … Ocean Village Two where we undertook serious pirate drill, the ship was sheathed in barbed wire and we had HMS Cornwall and attendant helicopter for company.
This time, the “technical equipment” was later dropped off in Muscat, Oman. But before this the captain had also dropped his clanger, cheerfully announcing that the ship would be docking in Dubai on October 24.
This set alarm bells ringing, since most people were catching flights to various parts of the world on October 23.
There were immediate reassurances, and several more throughout the day, that “someone” had made a mistake and we would, after all, dock in Dubai on the 23rd.
Captain Kjetil gallantly made a public apology for his error the following day. Well done, sir.
Most of the entertainment was typical cruise fare, good production shows and other lively acts. Variable music in various bars, particularly in the Star Lounge where the Top Notch, a band from the Philippines, performed most nights for dancing. Cherry Mae Fernandez, who lived briefly in Portsmouth, is their lead singer and if there is better one on any cruise ship we certainly haven’t heard her.
The ice-skating show was excellent and spectacular, the new FlowRiders area provided joyful spectator sport at the rear of the ship as well as an ideal place for dolphin watching.
The cabins were spacious, well cared for and it was sunshine all the way after the initial gloom.
A buxom woman of Northern English descent (alright, so are we!) charged her way into the lift on the final morning, using an enormous suitcase as a battering ram, bruising people in the process, and then proceeding to insult “every American onboard the ship” in fluent and colourful language.
A pathetic library without books. Oh, sorry, there were half a dozen in Swedish.
A large and bustling casino where we actually managed to win a fistful of dollars. Could have done with a few dollars more.
All in all, an interesting and enjoyable 14-night experience … which almost became 15.
Spacious, well-managed, fair-size balcony and QUIET!
Barcelona needs no description and we didn't really have time to see it. Straight on the ship. But we've been many times before.
This, sadly, was cancelled at relatively short notice because of the escalating violence.
A little tiring as we were unable to get a horse and carriage but the place is magic and the Treasury is one of the world's top archaeological sights.