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March 4th 2020
Published: June 22nd 2020
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While the Diamond Princess was on all the front pages, held up in Japan and the Corona Virus was rapidly spreading and now had at a foothold in least half the world’s nations, we were docking in Muscat, vaguely aware that something was happening but, at this stage, not concerned. We arrived several hours late, due to the weather, so we were told, but during the night and this morning the sea seemed to be as smooth as a millpond. If we did have a patch of bad weather, the ship must have bloody good stabilisers as we never felt the slightest bump!! As it turns out, we didn’t lose any time here as we departed several hours later than scheduled.

The capital of Oman is Muscat. We’ve been here twice before so when Beryl and Brian said they’d probably just jump in a taxi, Roisin and I said we’re happy just to go for a walk along (yet another) Corniche. Whilst there is more to see than our last port, Khor Fakkan, and the centre of Muscat has some interesting architecture, there is nothing that draws me as a must see again.

The ship docked in the port of Muscat, the largest sea port in the region, in a suburb known as Muttrah, a 20-minute bus ride from the centre of Muscat. The population of Muttrah is about 230,000 making it the most densely populated region in the country. A Japanese imperial naval vessel was moored adjacent to us closely guarded by several mariners.

Our passports were taken from us on day 1 and retained onboard by MSC. This is customary and is more convenient for the immigration to clear everyone. We were given a landing card as we exited the ship. This had to be shown at the port gate and surrendered on returning to the ship.

The key phase today was; No thanks. We’ve been here many times before, as in:

‘Taxi. Tour city? I give you good price.’

‘No thanks. We’ve been here many times before!!’ (I favoured embellishment over accuracy on this occasion as saying ‘many times’ had a better impact than saying ‘twice!!’)

We have been here when it has been unbelievably hot and sticky. Today it was very temperate, just like a hot English summers day. The thermometer outside on the deck read 26°C. There was a nice breeze and no hint of humidity.

Having ridden the gauntlet of taxi drivers milling around at the port gate, we followed an unevenly paved road around onto another well maintained corniche. We had no plan to see or visit anything special in Muscat, after all we weren’t on this cruise to visit Oman. At this juncture we were just happy to stretch our legs, sit on the benches provided at regular intervals, and watch people go about their business. For anyone who is visiting Muscat for the first time and doesn’t want to venture further afield or aren’t brave enough to haggle a fair taxi price for a tour of the region, within walking distance of the port is a small mosque. No matter the size of the mosque, they are always immaculately and ornately decorated. This was no exception. There is also a fair sized souk if shopping is your thing. We passed Muttrah fort towering 150m above us, overlooking the bay. This was built by the Portuguese in the 1580s. Until recently it has only been used for military purposes but finally the doors have been opened to the public. But history would have to wait. It was not a day for walking up the steep hill that would take us to this military landmark. Another time perhaps?

In the bay was anchored the Sultan of Oman’s yacht, Al Said, which is named after the current ruling House of the Sultanate. This is 15,000 tonnes and 155m of pure luxury. She was built in 2006 under the code name Project Sunflower. With a code name like that, the populace probably thought the millions were being spent on improving the parks and gardens!! When it was launched in 2007 it was the world’s second longest yacht in the world next to the Dubai, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE. In the foreground, an Omani dhow, a great reminder of the old, the new, the traditional and the obscene!!

Back on board, our evening entertainment in the main theatre was a ventriloquist. It is unusual to have this type of act due to the multitude of nations and different languages spoken by the guests on board. His name sounded familiar until Roisin reminded me that we saw him on the MSC Bellissima in March 2019. His show was postponed and had to be rearranged on that occasion due to a sore throat. This evening had a familiar ring to it. Valerio, the Cruise Director who always appears on stage each evening to introduce the acts, told the audience that despite having a sore throat, the ventriloquist is still going to perform for us. That old chestnut!! Sounds like he’s stacking up the excuses in case he bombed. The act was similar to his previous performance. He introduced several dummies during his 45 minutes on stage, switching between English, German, French and Spanish (but mainly spoke in English). One of his dummies would not go back in that gox no matter how hard the ventriloquist tried.

‘I’m not going back I that gox!!’ The dummy would scream.

I still haven’t figured out what a gox is!! To be honest he hadn’t improved his ventriloquism skills (it must have been that sore throat he has had for the past 12 months!!) but overall, he was entertaining without actually being funny.

There now followed two days at sea. With no Italians onboard, I was wondering what the dominant nationality was. In the restaurant, buffet, and just walking around the ship, we heard lots of Russian being spoken. It was later confirmed that the majority of guests on board were Russian/Ukrainian. So, Russian is the new Italian!! That explains why Valerio, who was fluent in five languages, started his good evenings, in the main theatre, with: ‘Dobry vecher’ which always got the biggest cheer of the evening.

The two navigation days that followed reached outside temperatures of 30°C+. There was very little breeze, no humidity just very hot. Ideal sunbathing weather. The sun and pool deck brigade were out in full. The usual array of towels and belongings were left on sun loungers whist their occupants were nowhere to be seen. For those people, though, this must have been a force of habit because with the ship being light by about 450 guests, there were plenty of spare sunbeds and a corner of the ship that hadn’t been invaded!!

Two days at sea. That spells trivia. Well, actually T-R-I-V-I-A spells trivia but you know what I mean!! Our third session; we made it three wins from three. And the rest of the teams were still clapping us!! The regular teams that are playing seemed a good crowd and everything had been (until now) taken in good spirit. No one had questioned any of the answers yet. We played our part in the ‘friendly’ games by spreading the love. We have been passing our winnings amongst all the losers!! It’s amazing how grateful people can be for little things. On the first navigation day en route for India, the trivia stepped up to four trivia sessions per day (days at sea only): two trivias conducted in English, the first round of a cruise long trivia started but immediately following the morning ‘English’ trivia, a multi-lingual trivia. These were hosted jointly between the Portuguese, the French and the Spanish hosts. All questions are multi media. This could be landmarks or famous people, for example. On this occasion the topic was flags of the world. Aside from the regular players, a few French teams and a couple of Poles joined in the fun. Flag number five was the George Cross so when the answer was given as England, one of the French teams argued that England wasn’t a country and it should be the UK. I pointed out that the trivia is called flags of the world not countries flags of the world. And by country, I mean a sovereign state that is a member of the UN in its own right!!

For our cruise long trivia, each team was given the name of a country. We were Thailand. There were four rounds, the two sea days either side of our visit to India. Roisin, Aussie Anne and I were now joined by a married couple: Janice, an American lady and Canadian man called Keith. They currently lived in Vancouver. It was good to have a mix of nationalities who could all bring something different to the table. We got off to the worse possible start, though, scoring a miserable 4/10. However, we were let off lightly as the top score was only six. The following sea day we came back with a vengeance scoring 9/10 with our nearest rival scoring 7. We were back in the game!!

Two Indian immigration officer joined the ship at Muscat. They will spend the next two days clearing everybody in readiness for embarking in India and the first of three ports: New Mangalore.

Additional photos below
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23rd June 2020
Struggling for photos - so here's one of a seagull!!

Simon and I were on the Grand Princess in Hawaii on that day (March 4). The next sailing of the Grand was to Mexico, when the virus got on board. We are all lucky not to have been infected. Stay well.

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