Fred Olsen Cruise - Balmoral - Dubai & Muscat

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February 4th 2014
Published: February 4th 2014
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26th / 27thJanuary 2014

Where do I start?!!! The journey to Gatwick was uneventful, arrived, checked in our luggage – that was a new one as we usually only take hand luggage!! The plane left on time ( A huge Boeing 777!) and after a delicious 3 course meal we tried to sleep the remaining four hours of flight (6 ½ hrs altogether!) Managed to doze for a while but woke up in time to see a beautiful sunrise across the mainly sandy terrain and we landed at about 7.00am Dubai time (3.00am UK time!!)

The airport was impressive – large as are most things here! Full of pillars, mirrors, coloured glass and palm trees. A guy was waiting for our taxi transfer to Cassells Al Barsha Hotel, and we were whisked off for the 40 minute drive there. As our room was predictably not ready, (It was still only 8.45am!!) we dumped our cases in the secure room and caught the Metro from Sharaf DG Station opposite the hotel, to Union Square.

It definitely worth getting a day rider ticket which is 16 euros and allows unlimited travel all day! We didn’t!!! Anyway, Metro turned up and we had quite an amazing journey into Downtown Dubai in the front car of the driverless tram!! (We later discovered that the front carriage may just be for Gold1st class travellers, but hey ho!!)

Got off at Union Square with a view to finding the souks but decided to get back on the metro and get off at Al Ras Station (green line) . Still no sign of the gold or spice souks so we walked along the creek, past the old blue boats that were unloading/loading their cargoes , to the Abra cross ferry! Avoided the 100 AED river trip and duly paid our 1AED to join the locals and cross the river! Basically a square box that you all sit around the outside and are about 6” from the water! A good experience and very popular. We ended up talking to an ex-pat,now living in China who told us that the gold and spice souk were opposite the Abra station that we had just left! Ah well – next time!!

Walked through the textile souk market, with the usual hustlers and then, by accident, found the Dubai Museum that looked interesting enough for a visit and showed some insight as to how they used to live in the desert in old cane (??) houses and various musical instruments etc. (3 UED – great value !)

Caught a taxi to Dubai Mall ( 25 UED) (with hindsight we should have probably looked for a metro station and caught metro most of the way and then got a taxi?) and welcomed the air-conditioned interior! Its the biggest Mall in the World (I think) and contains over 1200 shops as well as the worlds largest aquarium, that dominates the centre of the Mall. There are three floors so after a quick Chinese lunch on the 3rd floor we walked around the Mall admiring the different Atriums, well as the amazing indoor waterfall cascading down a wall with sculptures of divers!

Decided to walk around the lake outside to Burj Square and then we wandered back past the Palace Hotel and onto the bridge by the Souk Al Bahar.

We were beginning to flag a bit by now so enjoyed an 1hrs sit down and watched the world go by before heading to the LG floor of the Dubai Mall ready for our pre-booked ticket up the highest building in the world!! (125 UED pp pre-booked on line or 400 UED on the day (although fully booked ) Apparently when viewed from overhead the building looks like a lotus flower which is where the logo comes from. Took the lift, after a fairly efficient queuing system to the 124th floor and admired the views!! It didn’t seem to be as high as Shanghai but as we were at 452metres, it was pretty high!! Watched the sunset over Dubai and caught a glimpse of the fountain show from the top and then caught the lift back down in time to watch the 6.30pm fountain show! Quite spectacular, a complete copy of Ballagio in Las Vegas, but very enjoyable! After eating we watched the 7.30pm fountain show before walking back to the metro.

Chris created a huge diversion for a carriage full of people on the Metro when he opened his water bottle, fiiled with coke, and it sounded like an explosion or gun going off!! Fortunately most people just laughed but I’m glad we weren’t on an Indian train or goodness knows what would have happened!!

Anyway, got back to the hotel, checked in, lovely room, showered and slept!

28th January 2014

Overslept slightly, not getting up until 8.00am, where after a quick breakfast, we walked about 15mins to the Mall of the Emirates, which houses the worlds largest ski slope! Another impressive Mall, although at 9.00am it wasn’t quite as ‘buzzy’ as the Dubai Mall in the evenings! Couldnt unfortunately see the ski slope from inside, just the bottom of the toboggan run, but could see the size of it from the outside! Walked back to the hotel and had a quick look at the outdoor roof swimming pool before heading down to reception and waiting for our transfer!. A taxi duly arrived (early!!) and we were driven through the heavy traffic, arriving at the Port by 11.45am ish. Check in was painless, cases went one way, we boarded ship after passport check (Fred Olsen World Cruise – Balmoral) had a spot of lunch before unpacking in our cabin.

We were all ready to go on our Fred Olsen Trip – Dune Bashing, when a letter was delivered at 14.00hrs saying that the trip (due to start at 15.30hrs!) had been cancelled due to lack of bookings - Gutted!! What do we do? ! Didn’t really want to waste the rest of the day in Dubai, on the Ship, so decided to get a taxi and see what we could sort out ourselves!

Walked to the taxis waiting at the Port, explained what had happened, and by chance one of the taxi drivers had a friend who had a vehicle and, after a few phone calls, established that there was availability. It was all a bit hotch potch as he then said his friend only had availability for 1 person and then he dropped us off at a Travel Agent (Sun and Sky Travel & Tourism) saying it was all sorted and we had to wait there!! Well, we waited for about 20mins and then lo and behold, a driver appeared.

All seemed well!! At first I was a bit apprehensive as the other ‘guests’ in the powerful Toyota 4x4 were two Angolan boys who could only speak Portuguese , and a big guy from the Congo, who spoke good English ! But as it turned out, everything was kosher and we had a very enjoyable trip!

The driver drove for 45mins, (at 140km per hr at times ! – Bit too fast for my liking!!!) out into the desert. Amazing!! Sand, sand, and more sand!! Odd camels wandering about as well as a few hardy trees that seem to survive in the desert! Our first stop was an oasis where you could hire and ride quad bikes ( If you so chose!!) or wander around the tourist stalls, look at the various animals and birds or just drink some coconut juice! The lads all went quad biking over the dunes.

Onwards for our ‘dune bashing’ in the 4x4!! Our Driver deflated the types before we set off down to 13 psi so we would’nt get “bogged” in the sand. ( Personally i was a bit nervous to start with but the dunes weren’t that enormous so was actually looking forward to it!!) Raced along the ridges, up and down and then bang!! The tyre had come off or something ....not sure! Anyhow, we all had to get out whilst the other “Sun and Sky” 4x4 came to the rescue and between them they fixed it, whilst we passed the time dune climbing!

Another half an hour of racing across the dunes, sand flying over the car, music blasting where we eventually stopped just under a rock ridge and watched the sand change colour as the sun set – brilliant fun! Loved it!! One of the Arabs from the Quad Biking centre appeared – he must have followed us all to see if we wanted a photo of his hawk (It was hooded and riding on the foot pedal!!) After a few pics, he rode off, only to get stuck on a sand dune, with sand flying off his wheel over the poor bird who eventually fell off his foot pedal and was promoted to his arm before they rode off!

Carried on across the dunes until we reached another road and we then drove for 10mins or so to the ‘Bedouin Camp’. A complete tourist set up but interesting! Many different stalls that showed old crafts and how the people used to live as well as the stalls selling scarves and glass bottles of sand! We all sat around a stage on cushions and ate a BBQ meal ( self service!) which was excellent and watched a show of traditional dervishes and belly dancing! Very good!

Left just after 8.00pm and had to drop the other three people in Deira before the driver dropped us back to the Port (last boarding 22.30pm for sailing at 23.00) Back into Dubai by 9.00ish but the traffic was horrendous! We crawled back streets, its very lively in the back streets of Deira, until the young guys decided it was quicker for them to walk back to the hotel! It was getting on for 22.00 now but somehow we were able to escape the traffic and after a manic drive back to Port, got back on the boat just in time!!


29th January 2014

A sea day! Hot and sunny again (about 25C) so after breakfast we went to a travel talk on Mumbai before catching up on the Safety Procedures .......that we had missed yesterday due to the trip! (whoops!!!) Anyway, after learning about safety lifejackets and where to congregate if we were boarded by Pirates, and to not confront the Pirates but to put our hands behind our head and look at the floor ( I couldn’t take it seriously!!!) we had a lazy lunch and afternoon!

MUSCAT 30th January 2014

When we got up we had already arrived in Muscat and awoke to a beautiful day with views of the town, squashed between a range of small rocky mountains and the sea! A hasty breakfast and off the ship at 8.00am....only to be told that the shuttle buses didn’t start until 9.00am! Well, fortunately, someone saw sense and directed us to one of the six mini transfer buses and we reached the Port gates at about 8.30am!

We were greeted by an army of Arab taxi drivers who all tried to persuade us to take a round trip for 20 Rial....about £30.00 I think but in the end we stuck to our original plan and paired up with an Indian couple in a taxi and agreed a total price of 5 Riad to the Grand Mosque. It was unfortunate as we only had Dirham or US$ so we ended up paying the Indian Guy about $8 so I think we slightly overpaid!! ( or contributed to their fare!!)

However, the Grand Mosque is a ‘must’. Its the 2nd largest Mosque in the world, (the largest being in Casablanca!) and is surrounded by wonderful gardens, with arab fountains and streams and smothered in all sorts of flowers – petunias, snapdragons, bouganvilla hedges. We took off our shoes and wandered around into the ladies prayer room and then into the main hall which was decorated with amazing chandaliers and was quite spectacular!

We then negotiated a taxi to Al Alam Palace and settled on 80 Dirham, which again was slightly over the odds, but we had Dirham to use up so it was ok!! It was a 25 minute ride back past the National Opera Building to the Palace, where we were dropped off. We couldn’t go into the Palace or any of the forts either side of it but duly admired everything, with pristine marble pavements and squares, forts and watchtowers dotted around the jagged coastline.

Walked back through the Old Town of Muscat (very similar to the old houses of Spain!!) and through the old City Gateway, which we were able to climb for some fine views. Carried on walking along the coast road, passing the Water Tower (shut!!) climbing up to an old watchtower, through Riad Park and past the waterfalls back to Muttrah Fort. Climbed up the steps hoping we could get in ( we had seen a local up there earlier!) but the gated door was shut!!

Had a wander around the Old Souk area which was beginning to shut up for their siesta, before having a spot of lunch in the Cafe Corniche that also had free wifi. Took a few pictures of the Sultans luxury Yatch, that is used for International conferences, before heading back to the Balmoral at about 4.30pm.

SEA DAYS 31st Jan & 1st Feb 2014

A time to relax, chill out and do what you want!! There is a full daytime programme of good lectures – travel, history, finance, arts and crafts, dancing, choirs, quiz so I don’t think you can get bored!! Its beautiful weather so its quite pleasant to just sit and read! Chris does the odd swim and disciplines himself to walk around the deck eight times (two miles) I try to do the same!!! We have also tried to use the gym for at least 15mins a day! I cycled three miles today!!!

Anyway, the ship is quite small, but there are enough bars and eating places and it doesn’t feel too crowded which is good! The majority of people, I would say, are Fred Olsen Fans who have been cruising with ‘Fred’ for many years! There does seem to be a very dedicated loyal following band of mainly elderly single people (I think the ship has a lot of single cabins) but my impression of Fred Olsen is that they are trying o cut a lot of corners! There is no shampoo, shower caps or any of the other nicities you get on cruise ships, the staff are not quite so helpful as P & O and the ship just feels a bit tired although the atmosphere and dress code is quite relaxed.

The entertainment has been Jazz singers the last two nights, that I personally don’t like, but we are quite happy sat up in the Lido bar at the back looking out the back of the ship. Last nights entertainment was a magician and then a comedian, who were both excellent and we then teamed up with Derek and Gill to do the quiz! (We didn’t win – no surprise there!!!) There have also been quite a few good shows, including a comedian,as well as Bollywood and Viva Las Vegas! Plenty of places to sit outside with loungers, tables and chairs and comfortable settees (if you get there quick enough!!) and two small pools and four Jacuzzis. Haven’t seen much wildlife at sea, although we did see two dolphins or porpoises yesterday and a pod of dolphins swimming away from the Ship, but we were hoping to see maybe whales or flying fish! Still hoping on that one! We have an inside cabin (3056) which is adequate, plenty of storage room, but the walls must be quite thin as we can hear next doors TV! The air conditioning is quite noisy as well, but you can get used to that.

Food is not quite fine dining but plenty of choice and places to eat for breakfast and lunch, where it is self service or waiter service. We are on a fixed dinner sitting at 6.15pm which, because of the good, sunny weather feels a little bit early as it doesn’t get dark now until about 7.45pm so we miss the sunset! However we have very interesting dining companions (retired Consultants) and a choice of six course meals so time is passed very pleasantly!

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6th February 2014

Keep up the good work with the blog. It all sounds fabulous - well maybe not the gym!! You are on holiday!!

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