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Will we make Khasab?

The captain made an announcement as we were leaving Muscat to the effect that Khasab would be a tender port. Apparently, the port will have neither a pilot nor or a tug available tomorrow. So we’ll be tendering.

And even that’s not certain. The captain mentioned that that high winds with squalls were forecast, and he made some comments along the lines of “if we decide that it will be safe to run tender operations….”. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if the call was cancelled.

Actually, the captain didn’t sound too upset about not being able to berth in the port. I’ve heard that it’s a very tight entrance, and at least one other captain regards it as the most difficult port of all.

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Ashore in Muscat

As I said in an earlier post, today we’ve been in Muscat, Oman. We’ve actually docked in the port area of Moutra – I think that’s how it’s spelt (it seems to vary). This is a classic bay with a dock area at one end, shops, mosques and a Souk around the centre of the sweep, and a park, etc, at the end opposite the port. It’s about 5 kms from ‘Old Muscat’ – keep going on beyond past the park area, round at least a couple of rocky headlands, and you’ll reach Muscat old town which is situated around another, smaller, bay. Very sharp, rough and rocky hills/mountains rise immediately behind the bay, so the immediate scenery is quite dramatic.

We berthed just before 8 o’clock and I went ashore on the shuttle bus shortly after 10 o’clock. There’s a lot of politics here – because the local taxi drivers are very powerful there are objections to the P&O running the shuttle bus as such, so it’s described as an excursion – “Muscat on your own”. Then there was a pantomime using the bus. A group of us piled onto a coach next to the ship, and after a few minutes the bus set off. After about 150 metres (alongside the cruise terminal) it stopped and we all got off. We walked through the terminal, had our bags scanned, walked outside – and then got back on the bus, which had driven alongside the terminal while we were walking through it.

We were dropped off at the entrance to Moutra Souk, which is a classic Souk: narrow alleys crowded with people in all manners of dress, innumerable small shops all with their owner at the door imploring to get you inside, and all manner of sounds and smells. Especially here – I gather that Muscat is famous for perfume, and especially frankincense, and many of the shops were perfume shops and/or had incense sticks burning. So that was very characterful. Continue Reading »

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Muscat

Today we’re in Muscat, and as is my habit I’ll be going ashore on my own. This is another country (Oman) so of course there is another currency to deal with (Omani Riyals) and this presents some additional hassle. Horizon is advertising the US$ as the currency, but the port presenter said that while some places will accept dollars, e.g. in the Souk, you’ll get a rubbish rate of exchange. Better to draw some cash from an ATM, but of course that leaves open the question of how much should you draw out. Either way, you’ll lose money, either from the aforementioned rubbish exchange rates, or because you don’t spend all the Riyals you withdrew. And who is likely to have plans to return to Oman in the near future?

The other hassle is that I won’t have any connectivity from about 10:45 or so this morning. That’s when the internet package that I triggered yesterday expires, and of course my UAE sim from du won’t work in Oman (and don’t ask about EE’s coverage and costs here…). So I shall be going dark soon, as they say in all the best spy movies. I hope to be back on-line sometime tomorrow afternoon, after the return from Khasab, and at that time I’ll be able to post some comments about these two ports in Oman.

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It’s that time of the cruise – the disembarkation instructions have been issued, even though it’s still 3 or 4 days before we actually disembark.

Broadly speaking, they seem to be more or less as expected:

  • Bags out of the cabin before midnight at the latest (“…in the afternoon is fine”);
  • Vacate the cabin by 8am;
  • Then “remain in the comfort of the public rooms…”
  • No announcements – passengers have to meet in the Adriatic restaurant at the time specified for their flight.
  • Passengers will have to collect their bags from the baggage area in the cruise terminal, and presumably then take it to the coach. There’s no comment on whether or not passengers will have to recover their bags from the bag and take them through check in themselves, or whether P&O will handle that. I’ll seek some clarification on that point. (Update: I’ve learned that passengers will indeed have to take their luggage from the coach and through checkin themselves.)
  • The meeting times (and flight numbers) are published on the information sheet for both disembarkation days, Tuesday (E904) and Wednesday (E904A). He times range from 8am to 10:45am on Tuesday and 8am to 10:50am on Wednesday, and in fact that last time is for those passengers not actually flying out that day, but going on to a hotel. The last meeting for a flight is 10:30 (Tuesday) and 10:40 (Wednesday), so passengers won’t be hanging around the ship for too long.
  • Then there’s some information to be gleaned from the flight details. On Tuesday, flights seem to be as follows: Continue Reading »
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    At last, a Sea Day!

    I’m enjoying the first, and only, sea day of the cruise. This is during the passage from Sir Bani Yas island round the Kasandam peninsula, through the strait of Hormuz and and down the coast of Oman to Muscat. I’ve also triggered one of the three internet days that I booked before the cruise, so I can spend the day browsing and blogging. (Sad, I know.)

    In fact, I might as well talk about how I’ve kept in touch during the cruise. I’ve used several different methods:

    • First, I bought some internet access in advance – three days of the ‘Browse’ package. This cost £10 per day which is an advance purchase price – it’s £12.50 a day if bought on board. I’m able to take the days separately from each other, so it’s not three successive days. Also, it’s not a calendar day, it’s actually 24 continuous hours, starting whenever I log in. So today, for example, I logged in and confirmed that I wanted to trigger one of my days at around 10:30 this morning, and that will last through till 10:30 tomorrow morning;
    • Secondly, I bought a tourist sim at Dubai airport when I arrived. That cost me 139 Dhs or something like that, from the UAE telecoms provider ‘du’. (The same sort of deal is available from the other provider, Etisalat, but it just so happened that the du booth was the less busy when I walked past them.) The sim included 2Gb of data, which for simple browsing on the phone, emails, and uploading text-only blog posts has worked whenever we’ve been in a UAE port. So that covered Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sir Bani Yas, and on occasions when we were sailing along the UAE coast;
    • The sim didn’t work in Manama, of course, since that was in Bahrain and not the UAE. I was hoping to do without connectivity that day, but in the event I found that I needed Google Maps so I switched back to my UK sim and bought a data package for the day – £5 for a whole 15Mb. (Yes, Megabytes and not Gigabytes!) Before I actually triggered that I turned off all my apps except Google Maps, then turned on roaming. (For those of you with iPhones, go to Settings -> Mobile Data, and look at ‘Mobile Data for Travel’; there, you can set individual apps to not use Mobile Data.) I may decide to do something similar tomorrow in Muscat.

    One other thing – the sketch maps on the port information sheets are awful. That’s why I’ve been glad to have the on-line resources available. Of course, if you’re on an excursion it’s less important.

    So now I’m off to carry on being lazy, and will continue to enjoy my sea day.

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    I went ashore at just after 11 o’clock, stayed for about two and a half hours, and then came back to the ship.

    I actually started the ‘going ashore’ process at about 10:30, but what with queuing for the tender ticket and then for the tender to be available, it was just gone 11 before the group that included my ticket number was called. Actually tendering took between 15 and 20 minutes – a short period to fill the tender, ten minutes for the actual crossing, and then five minutes or more to get the tender moored and passengers off.

    On first stepping ashore it became apparent how basic the facilities are on SBYi. There’s what looks like an artificial beach, with a roped-off swimming area. Above that, on the beach, is a host of (small) sunshades and wooden loungers. Then there are some large covered areas that were being pressed into service as a buffet and a bar; and there are several sets of loos. And that’s it. At the back of all this is a narrow road, and it’s along this road that excursions depart. There is basically just the one excursions, to (hopefully) see the wildlife of SBYi; and this lasts just an hour.

    So basically going ashore gives you however long you want on a beach. I sat on a lounger (which I found uncomfortable) for a while, had a brief swim, had a wander along the footpaths, took some pictures, had some lunch, and didn’t have a drink. At about 1:in44 or a bit later I decided I’d had enough and went back to the ship. There again I’m not a beach person, but I gather that a lot of people were enjoying the day.

    I’ll endeavour to find out how the excursions went.

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    It’s Thursday morning – Valentine’s Day – and we’re at Sir Bani Yas island (I’m going to refer to it as ‘SBYi’ from now on. This is a tender port , and Oceana is anchored a few hundred metres off-shore. The sky is clear blue and the sun is shining; what more could we ask for?

    Er….. something to do, perhaps? Here’s what Horizon says about SBYi:

    “The island exists as a nature reserve that is only accessible to Guests who have booked a P&O Cruises shore excursion. You can go ashore independently, however be mindful that it’s just a strip of beach with loungers. There will be a limited Food & Beverage offering.” Continue Reading »

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    I spoke to some more people at dinner this evening (Tuesday) about the arrival arrangements at Dubai airport. Several of them mentioned that they had a long wait for the bus to take them to the port – one couple mentioned waiting for an hour. They were comparing this with the arrangements at Barbados (for Caribbean cruises) or even Malta which typically run very smoothly – you walk out of the terminal and there’s the coach.

    Bear in mind that typically they will have spent many hours travelling – from home to the departure airport, at least a couple of hours waiting there, probably 7 hours or more in the air, then some time at Dubai getting through immigration and collecting their bags, all before the wait for the bus. And the flight will almost certainly have been overnight. So I think P&O have to try to speed this up.

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    I made it to the Louvre museum. I went by taxi from the Abu Dhabi mall, and went direct by taxi back to the cruise terminal. The fare was just under 20 Dhs for each journey. Taxis are easy to get at the mall – there is a special taxi pick-up and drop-off entrance, and I was able to get a taxi without waiting. Similarly there is a taxi pick-up area at the museum, with taxis waiting.

    Enough of the practicalities – how was the museum? Well, I certainly enjoyed it very much. It’s arranged in a number of areas, each with three or four galleries. In the galleries are objects from all the major cultures on earth, starting in pre-history and going forward to today. Typically a gallery shows objects from around the world that were used for the same thing , e.g. funeral urns, or holy books. Religion is a constant element, and the museum shows how all cultures have striven to represent their gods and their beliefs in objects.

    The building itself is stunning, of course, as were yesterday’s destinations. I do have images but I’m not able to post them yet. Perhaps when I get home I’ll add some pictures to the posts I’ve already done.

    One thing – thee is an entrance fee, which is 60 Dhs + (5%) VAT, so the price I paid was 63 Dhs. Well worth every penny, IMHO.

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    Regular readers will be aware that I do try to use public transport whenever possible. My objective today is the Louvre on Saadiyat Island, and I found out that there is a bus (#94) that goes there – terminates there, in fact – from the city. So could I get there on this bus instead of using a taxi?

    At first glance it looked possible. I googled ‘Abu Dhabi bus station’ and got a result that suggested that the bus station was just a few minutes walk from the shuttle bus drop-off point at Abu Dhabi mall. Unfortunately I was wrong – I’d been given the location of the City (air) Terminal. More careful googling revealed that the actual central bus station is almost 2 miles from the mall. Rather closer to what might be the centre of the city, but that’s a rather amorphous concept here. It looked as if I’d have to take a taxi to the bus…. not a sensible idea.

    Then there’s ticketing. You need a Hafilat card, which is a smart card that has to be bought and loaded with credit. The buses don’t take cash. Nor do the city buses sell basic cards on board (the inter-city buses, e.g. Dubai to Abu Dhabi) do, I gather). The best place to buy a card is at the bus station, of course.

    There was a hint that some malls might sell the cards so I’ve been wandering the aisles of Abu Dhabi mall, but with no success. So I shall have to use the taxi again. A pity – I enjoy bus rides, and it would have been much cheaper. Ah well.

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