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Back home from Oceana

Well, I’m home. Yesterday was a long, hard day – in UK time terms I got up at 2am, started travelling at 4am, and walked through my front door (or staggered through it) at 10:45pm. I was hanging around Dubai Airport for five hours before boarding the plane, then take-off was delayed, and then there was seven and a half hours for the flight. Getting back into the UK, i.e. through uK Border, was remarkably quickly, helped by the fact that I was one of the first off the plane. But then it took over half an hour before my second bag appeared on the carousel, and that meant I’d missed the train back to Sheffield that I was aiming for and had to wait an hour for the next one. That was annoying.

Still, at least I’d planned for that – I’d bought an off-peak ticket for the train rather than an Advance. And it’s also a lesson that there can be a *lot* of bags on an A380 – they just kept coming and coming. It’s just the luck of the draw – there was a gap of twenty minutes between my first bag appearing and the second. Had takeoff not been delayed I’d have made the earlier train, of course. Though looking at Flight Radar (and a couple of other sites) suggests that on about 1 occasion in 3 recently, that flight (EK019) has been delayed by 15 minutes or more. Which in the grand scheme of things is excellent – 15 minutes late arriving after a journey of over 3,500 miles? That’s an extraordinary achievement, actually, which we often forget.

Sometime in the next few days I’ll do a summary pst, bur now all I can say is that I’m home, I enjoyed the cruise, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. For now, here’s a link to a collection of the posts from the cruise.

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Disembarkation

I was packed and ready before 8 o’clock, the listed time for independent travellers to start their disembarkation. In the event I joined the end of the party disembarking at 8 for the Emirates flight to Heathrow. It all went smoothly.

Once off the ship we all had to get our main luggage. This had been arranged in a covered area by ‘label colour’. For example, all of those on that Heathrow flight had yellow bag tags, and all the bags with that colour tag were stacked together. Altogether there were nine different colours for flights, plus another colour for independent travellers. I found my bag very quickly and equally quickly found a taxi. There were about half a dozen or so waiting, and not much business for them. So I was straight into the taxi and off to the airport.

The taxi fare was 120 Dirhams which seemed very high, so I think I was fiddled on that one. But I didn’t feel like arguing and in any case I had plenty of dirhams. But on reflection I don’t think he had the meter on.

So that was me walking into the airport just before 8:30. I’d done the online check in a couple of days ago, so I just went to the bag drop counter and dropped my bags (obviously….). Then there was an exit passport check which gave me another stamp, a quick security scan, and I was airside at 9 o’clock.

I’m afraid I don’t know if passengers with P&O flights had to go through check in or not. I’ve done a number of round trips with Emirates, I’m an Emirates Skywards member, I’d registered this trip with them, I’ve got the App, and that gives access to on-line check in. But that might not be true of other passengers.

So now I’m just hanging around the airport waiting for boarding. All in all, it’s gone pretty smoothly, and certainly I haven’t found myself in any long queues. But of course other passengers’ experience might be different.

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I’ve just (at 8am!) done my face-to-face immigration check in Dubai and got my passport back.

Oceana docked at Dubai sometime around 7 am or so and the passport return and immigration check was the first order of business. Basically, passengers must go ashore and first collect their passport from a P&O desk on the quayside. There are actually two desks, split by cabin deck, and there are signs to direct passengers to the right desk. This does require a bit of thought and a decision, and at 8am after a good final black tie night, I for one found myself a little challenged by this. But I successfully recovered my passport.

Then it was into the terminal and up to one of several desks where an Emirati official gave my passport and me a quick scrutiny, stamped the passport, and gave it back to me. I was also given a “Dubai Immigration Cleared” card, which also reads “Carry this card with you at all times”. I had to show this to regain entry to the ship.

So that was it. Continue Reading »

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I’m at the Peninsular Club cocktail party and the Captain is regaling us with stories and titbits. He was talking about the arrival of Iona and he mentioned that two years after her arrival, P&O will get a sister ship. No real details yet, of course, but apparently coming in 2022.

Apologies if this is old news, but I hadn’t heard it before. When I get home I’ll research this.

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Just as happened when we re-entered the UAE at Abu Dhabi from Bahrain, authorities at Dubai require us to do a face-to-face passport check when we re-enter the UAE there tomorrow morning from Oman. I’m not clear yet how this is going to be managed, but it will probably involve passengers to go through this check early in the morning. If it’s like the Abu Dhabi exercise, there’ll be a time limit on it – at Abu Dhabi it had to be finished by 11:30, which was achieved with time to spare.

We’ll also get our passports back – they were taken from us at Abu Dhabi. So one piece of organisation I do know is that when we go for this check, passengers from certain decks have to go to a particular desk, and passengers from the other decks have to go to a different desk. This is all detailed in a sheet distributed to all cabins yesterday or even the day before.

I’ll post something tomorrow after this has happened with information on the procedure. I’m pretty sure that these procedures will apply to all of these itineraries.

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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.

Update:

Readers, we did make Khasab. Oceana anchored offshore and tendering went ahead without any problems; indeed, if anything it was calmer than at Sir Bani Yas island earlier in the cruise.

This is a very small port, very undeveloped. The main attraction in the town is Khasab Fort, which I visited as part of an excursion, “Khasab and Surroundings”. That one went ahead, but I did hear a story that another excursion, the popular one – “Omani Fjord Dhow Cruise” – was cancelled, at the very last minute. To be fair, this was just a viral rumour I heard as I was disembarking/tendering, but when we arrived at the quayside at Khasab at 9:30, there were a number of people waiting to return to the ship, all wearing an excursion sticker (4, as it happens) and all looking unhappy. So it looked as if something prevented the excursion from happening at the very last minute.

As I said, this is a very small port with practically nothing. I didn’t even see a Souk, although there is LuLu Hypermarket…. But I don’t think this is a port to keep passengers busy for long.

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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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