Day 1: Abu Dhabi
Day 2: At sea
Day 3: Khor al Fakkan
Day 4: Muscat
Day 5: Khasab
Day 6: Dubai
Day 7: Dubai
Day 8: Abu Dhabi
We are a couple, just turned 50, no kids and love to travel. This is our 3rd cruise, 2nd with MSC. We prefer land trips as our main holiday, such as camping in Europe, touring Asia or Africa and city trips. Cruising is for us a 2nd holiday and at this moment we prefer the shorter cruises.
Our 1st two cruises where in an inside cabin in the Med in the winter. This time we booked an Aurea balcony cabin as we knew that the weather would be great and we could enjoy the balcony. The Aurea package we booked because we do not like the fixed dining times. The early one is too early and the late one is too late. So the option for my choice dining was great including the Allegrissimo package, spa package and preferred boarding. During our cruise we also found out that the access to the top 16 deck is a great addition to this experience because you don’t have to hunt for a sunbed at one of the lower decks. They also checked before going up if you had the right credentials to be at deck 16.
We booked a fly cruise package directly via the Dutch MSC website and everything did go very smoothly with the booking process, payment, online check in and booking additional services. We booked a photography package for € 59,-. This was for 10 pictures including a cd with the files on it. This was a very good offer. On the ship the minimum we heard was € 99,-for 10 pictures, without the cd and this was exclusive the 15% svc.
The fly cruise package was including Etihad flights from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi v.v. and the transfers from the airport to the cruise port v.v. Flying with Etihad was ok, not special.
Upon arrival at Abu Dhabi airport (after a night flight) we easily found the MSC representatives and they showed us where the busses were. There was a short queue to get into the busses but everything went very smoothly; luggage into the busses with the tags on it. Unfortunately the weather was not so good, temperature was nice but it drizzled and upon arrival the cruise port it was really raining so we had to run from the bus to the entrance. Once inside we quickly walked to the priority check in and found out that it is not clear to everybody that the Aurea balcony cabins also have priority check in but the guy let us in first and then checked with a colleague and came back with an apology. He did not know that not only the suites but also the Aurea balconies have priority check in.
Check in was very quick so after 10 minutes or so we were ready to board. As we forgot to get some local currency (AED) at the airport we saw that there is an ATM in the cruise terminal as well so got some money there. Luckily the heavy rain had stopped and we could walk to the ship without getting wet. We were welcomed on the ship and told that breakfast was ready in the buffet restaurant. First we went to our cabin, 14005 on deck 14 to drop our hand luggage. Cabin was ready (it was 10.00 in the morning) and looked very nice.
Our cabin steward, Agus, did a great job during our cruise and kept it very clean and supplied us with enough towels both for the shower as well as for swimming. We went up for breakfast at the buffet and had some breakfast. Also made use of our drinks package and ordered an espresso. The regular coffee is not too great but the coffee you can order at the bars is perfect. After breakfast we did a short tour on the ship. Our previous trip with MSC was on the Splendida and the Musica is a little smaller but we liked her a lot. Because we had not been sleeping very well at the plane we went back to the cabin to get a sleep before taking a taxi to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The taxis are very cheap compared to European prices. We paid approximately € 25,- roundtrip from the port to the mosque. Taxis have meters so no need to negotiate a price.
The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque is really an amazing building. Especially the materials they used on the inside. It is definitely worth a visit. Please note that they have a dress code for both men as women. It can be found on their website http://www.szgmc.ae/en/ At this moment there is only one location where you can have a drink but they are constructing a whole new area with restaurants just next to the mosque. A taxi back is no problem; there are enough taxis driving around the mosque.
We were back at the ship in time for the safety drill which was a quick one because most passengers embarked in Dubai the day before and had the drill already had. The first night for dinner it said theme: 60’s, 70’s, 80’s so we dressed up casually and had some pre-dinner drinks at the Blue Velvet bar. We liked this bar because a lot of people pass this bar to go to the theatre. Our dining time for the 1st night was 19.00 hrs. This was not our choice and that was actually the only real issue we had during our cruise. Because most people embark in Dubai and we came on the ship a day later; the times for my choice dining are already set. Most people pick the same time for every night. So the 1st night we could only go at 19.00 hrs. The 2nd was the same but luckily after that it was 20.00 hrs. which suited us much better. Looking at our dining times, it is easy to figure out that we did not visit any shows.
Day at sea. We ordered breakfast in our cabin the night before. So at 8:00 we got coffee and croissants which we had on our balcony. Because we were still tired we went back to bed and got out around noon. By this time al sunbeds at the pool were taken but we at the top 16 deck it was no problem so we spend the afternoon at deck 16. There were some children which we did not mind because I think that if you have booked the Aurea experience as a family it is weird that your kids cannot go up. The kids up at deck 16 behave nicely so no issues there. It is a nice area and you have your own bar and they also come by with fruits and cold towels. We spend most of our free time here. Spa access is also included so we also visited the steam room and the hot tubs for an hour or so.
Because it was a sea day it was also gala night. We always love it to dress up so this is one of our favorite evenings. Our pre dinner drinks were again in the Blue Velvet Lounge and there were a lot of people who looked really nice. I think it was 50/50 with the dressing up. We did not see many tuxedos. (My husband doesn’t have one either but always has some jackets with him). On this 2nd night we also had some after dinner drinks at the Enoteca. They offer a wine tasting with 3 different (half) glasses of wine for only € 8,- p.p. This includes also some cheeses and olives. You can choose the wines you like to taste. This is really good. We did this and one of the wines was very nice so we ordered a bottle which we had the next night.
Khor al Fakkan. There is not much to say about this port. I think MSC offers some excursions and you probably can book tours with local operators. We did not do any of these, just got of the ship. Had the shuttle to the port entrance and walked a little bit around this small town. It is a typical Arabic town and we visited a local supermarket just to check out the things they sell. That is always fun to do in other countries and here it was the same. A lot of products are very familiar; the only difference being the Arabic script on it. We had lunch on the ship in the buffet restaurant and after lunch we went up to deck 16. In the late afternoon we had a nice Balinese massage; this is included in the Aurea package. We did not use the Spa doctor and the Solarium; these are also included in the Aurea package.
Tonight the theme was Italian night (green, red & white). This is a festive night; all the waiters have the 3 colors on their cumber bands. As we did not have dinner in the MDR I do not know if there was any Tiramisu parade. We had dinner in the Kaito Sushi bar. After dinner we had our after dinner drink in the Enoteca.
Muscat, the capital of Oman. This is a lovely city. We heard that it is not allowed to build higher than 8 stories and there can only be used 2 colors for the buildings, cream or white. Because we had not made any arrangements for an excursion we just hopped on the Big Bus and had a tour around Muscat. Stopped at 2 locations for coffee & pictures and got back on. It was easy and we did see some nice things along the way. We got off the bus at the soukh and walked around for a while. Followed by lunch at a local restaurant where I had some falafel. Theme for tonight was white. So no problem with our outfits for this night. A white dress for me and white jeans with a white shirt for my husband.
Khasab. Here we booked a half day dolphin tour via http://dhowkhasabtours.com/ The price for this tour was AED 140,- which is approximately € 35,- p.p. Payment is cash only. Via MSC it is € 79,90 p.p. The only difference is the boat you are on. The boats MSC uses are a little bit more luxurious with a shower but for this you pay twice as much. What was good about our tour was that we also had some local people on the boat with whom we could talk and that added to the experience. We were picked up at the port building and after a short bus ride we embarked our dhow. The dhows are traditional boats. You have to take of your shoes and there are carpets on the floor. No real seats but only low couches on which you lie down. During the tour there is coffee, tea & water free available plus some fruit like apples, oranges and bananas. We did see a dolphin family of 6 dolphins and after this we anchored where most dhows anchor. Unfortunately the snorkeling was not too great. You could see the fish much better from the boat but anyway, the swimming was nice. We were back at the Musica around 13:00 hrs. and had lunch in the buffet. After an afternoon on deck 16 it was time for our 2nd gala night. This time less people were dressed up. But the baked Alaska parade was very nice and we had baked Alaska for dessert.
Dubai. The city that never sleeps and is the most crazy city I have ever visited. I had booked some tickets for the Burj Khalifa online. This is recommended to do because otherwise it is possible that you will not be able to go up. http://www.burjkhalifa.ae/en/index.aspx We had a 13:30 time slot so after again having our breakfast on the balcony we went to the Dubai Mall by taxi. The Burj Khalifa is located at the Dubai Mall so we thought to visit this first before going up. Taxis are also cheap in Dubai and metered. The Dubai Mall has 1200+ shops and a great variety of brands. From H&M to Dior, from Chanel Kids to Le Petit Bateau and from Rolex to Guess watches. There is also a large aquarium and an ice skating rink. We spend the morning here and around 13:00 hrs we got to the entrance of the Burj Khalifa.
You get your pre ordered tickets via a ticket machine. The elevator ride up to the 124th floor only takes 60 seconds. It is not cheap AED 140,- for just an elevator ride but you have to do this when you are in Dubai. The views are great and it is just the feeling that you are so high up; it gives a thrill. In the afternoon we just stayed at the Dubai Mall because it is so large you will not be bored. In the front of both the mall as well as the Burj Khalifa there are the fountains. During the day there are 2 times they fountains dance. In the evening it is every 30 minutes starting at 18:00 hrs. And this is much nicer because it is dark and the dancing is actually a sound and light show. We watched the first slot and had a taxi back to the ship. No after dinner drinks this time because we were so tired after a busy day in Dubai.
The fun thing is that you have an overnight in Dubai so the next day we again had a taxi and this time to the old part of the city. The soukh area, where there is a gold soukh, a perfume soukh and a spice soukh. These are all very nice to walk through and because you have the sea on one side and the Creek (which divides Dubai) on the other side you always can have water as a reference point for not getting lost. You can cross the Creek with an Abra; this is the local transportation and only costs AED 1,- p.p. for a single ride. It is also possible to have one for 1 hour; this is AED 120,- in total. So independent of the number of people on the boat. We did this and had a leisurely hour on the water; followed by some coffee at a Creek side restaurant. In the afternoon we spend some time at deck 16 and in the night we had our last dinner on the ship. The last 2 nights were both casual nights. Because of the overnight and the late embarkation time on the 2nd day it was actually very quiet in the restaurant these last nights.
After dinner we had to pack and leave our suitcases in the corridor before 23:00 hrs. One nice thing, in the early evening our cabin steward brought us our boarding passes. Check in was done by Etihad because we had the fly cruise package.
An early rise at 04:30 because we had to assemble in the Blue Velvet Lounge at 05:15 for our disembarkation. Disembarkation was very quick and after picking up our suitcases in the terminal we only had to walk 10 meters to leave them again with the Etihad counters. This is a great set up. There is a check in area from Etihad and we dropped of our luggage which we got back upon arrival in Amsterdam. So no dragging with luggage at Abu Dhabi Airport. After the bus transfer we could go directly to the passport control. Our return flight was as eventful as the outbound flight and after 7 hours we were back in Amsterdam.
The ship was very full; we didn’t know that probably both Italy and Russia still had holidays this first week of January. But it also gives a nice vibe to the ship when there are a lot of people.
Embarkation and disembarkation: very smooth and quick
We did not take any ship excursions.
In Abu Dhabi and Dubai taxis are very cheap. You can also take the Big Bus but in Abu Dhabi it doesn’t run frequently and in Dubai I heard that it is stuck in traffic very often.
In Khor al Fakkan there is not much to do; we were lazy and didn’t arrange anything. But I think there are some nice excursions either via MSC or locally arranged. There are a lot tour companies waiting at the stop where you get of the shuttle.
In Muscat the Big Bus is an option; we booked the ticket via MSC and they charged us € 57,- p.p. for it.
In Khasab we used a local operator for the half day dolphins tour; they also offer other tours on their website.
Breakfast, every day we ordered breakfast in our cabin which was nice. The croissants, pain au chocolate and Danish are very nice; the coffee not. The last day it tasted like plain water.
Lunch, we did not go to the MDR for lunch. Had some lunches ashore and the ones on board in the buffet restaurant. We think that the food is ok. Enough variety, tastes good for buffet food and we never had any problem with getting food or getting a seat. Because of the nice weather you can always have seat on deck.
Dinner, first Kaito sushi restaurant. This was very nice, worth the extra money. We got a coupon for a 15% discount so this saves you the service charge.
MDR, we had my choice dining in Le Maxim’s and what many people say, it can be a hit or miss. The pastas and risottos where always nice and hot. The cold starters were also good. The warm starters were sometimes lukewarm. The soups where nice and warm. One night I had an Indian dish with paneer in it. Only there was no cheese in the sauce. When I asked our waiter he said it was in it but melted or something? Well paneer does not melt, it are always cubes. The taste of the dish was good but when you expect something else it is a little disappointing. Fish and meat where sometimes ok and sometimes very nice. Desserts were always good.
The last 2 days were actually the best days and we have figured out that this might have to do with the fact that there were less people on the ship. Our maître told us that there were only half of the people embarking in Dubai than disembarking. So for the my choice dining this was only 70 in the week after us compared to 140 in our week. Because we disembarked one day later we still had this experience of less people. I still think the food is ok if you look at the price you pay for the cruise. I am not expecting Michelin star food on a cruise ship and I do not know one restaurant which can serve 1300 people at the same time. Taking this in account I think the food is nice enough and if I would like better food I will have to pay more and go to Oceania.
Service: only smiles and nice people. Even the security guys were nice and one even could speak a few words in Dutch. We also had some interaction with Guest relations and this was also very well taken care of.
This was our 2nd MSC cruise and we would we come back. Yes, if the price and route is right for sure. Do we look at other companies, yes we also do but this will be some higher end ones like Azamara or Oceania.
Nice, not so large but space enough for 2 people. Enough storage space and a very nice cabin steward from Indonesia, named Agus.