Cruising around the world is a fascinating way to travel, especially if you have been on one particular cruise line a number of times in other parts of the world. As an example, I have cruised the Caribbean with Royal Caribbean many times, so when I stepped aboard the Brilliance of the Seas in the exotic and far-away port of Dubai, it was like coming home to a familiar place, even though I’m in a strange culture. The highlight of this particular cruise aboard the Brilliance of the Seas was the fascinating itinerary cruising from Dubai to Fujairah, (UAE) Muscat, Oman, and finally Abu Dhabi, (UAE). We cruised through the Straight or Hormuz twice, which has been in the news because of the instability of Iran and their military and nuclear programs. This cruise was an adventure. The ship offered all the usual Royal Caribbean amenities; food and entertainment, which was very familiar, while the places we visited were mysterious and intriguing.
I’m going to be very straight and honest about our experience with Royal Caribbean. I’m a fan of Royal Caribbean, I use to work at Royal Caribbean and when I was selling cruises I sent a lot of people on Royal Caribbean. I was impressed with the professionalism among the Guest Services staff and all the crew and staff I came across. The ship was very clean and well maintained. Two things stuck out with me, however; and that was the dining experience was not memorable, except for the one night we ate in Portofino, and the fact that so many ammenities and services were monetized or commericalized. Back to the dining, our waiter for example, was excellent, and from the explanations of the food and the presentation by the waiter, you would expect the taste to be extraordinary….but in my opinion the taste and sometimes even the look of the food fell flat. I think the waiters are trained to hype-up the dining and get you ready for an incredible tasty experience, then when the food is there in front of me and I took a few bites, I felt it was good but not extraordinary. I liked the new plates and bowls, the service was excellent, it was the actual taste and sometimes presentation of the food that fell flat with me. I also must take into consideration that most of the passengers onboard the Brilliance of the Seas were from the UK, so there may have been some cultural adjustments to the preparation, presentation and taste, based on the palate of people from the UK, and the European market too. One more example: I usually take photos of the food, but on this cruise, in the main dining room, I did not. I’m not saying the food was poor, or not tasty, it just didn’t stand out as being extraordinary, as it was built-up to be by the waiters and my personal expectations.
I am embarrased to say that only one time did I set foot in a stage show during this cruise, and only for a few minutes. What I did see was excellent. Royal Caribbean does such a great job with their shows, the talent brought onboard is top of the line. I have just seen so many shows in the many cruises I’ve been on, and the shows were later in the evening when I was tired and ready for bed. I think you can expect great entertainment onboard any of the Royal Caribbean ships, that is yet another part of the cruise that is very consistent. There were plenty of activities throughout the ship, and many familiar games and activities I use to host when I worked on the ships. The Brilliance of the Seas had one particular “Cool factor” activity, and that was the pool tables. Yes, you can play billiards on a ship, since these pool tables were rigged with gyros so they remained level no matter how rough the seas were outside. It was very fun to watch someone play pool as the ship is pitching and listing through the sea, and the pool table remained level.
Another area where Royal Caribbean stepped-up to the plate and hit a home-run was the Arabian White Night on deck. This was the third night of the cruise, we had been docked in Muscat, Oman all day. Many passengers, including me, went out and purchased the Arabian head gear which was in nearly every shop in Muscat. The band was playing on deck, there were ice sculptures, a fantastic dessert buffet, you could rent a special bong device where you could smoke some harmless, tobacco / drug-free mint. I forgot what the flavor was, but everyone seemed to enjoy pretending to get high on the bong. There were tents set up with pillows on the deck so you could live the dream of being an Arabian Sultan. It was a very fun event and my hat goes off to Royal Caribbean for producing such a creative activity.
The real treasure from this cruise, aside from the Brilliance of the Seas, was the unique ports, and the incredible sights to see in Muscat and Abu Dhabi. Muscat, Oman, did not seem like a place that was accustomed to tourists and cruise passengers scrambling around. We were docked in Muscat for two full days, giving passengers plenty of opportunity to explore the city. The one thing I was surprised to see were the Indian shop keepers and product from India. There were few if any women that actually worked in the stores or shops, in fact, I think it was against the law in this town for women to work in a public place. At every turn throughout the city of Muscat it was clear that this was a very strict, religious community. Mosques and religious structures were everywhere, and there were large speakers throughout the city that broadcast prayers every morning. I was anticipating somewhat of an oppressive feeling in an environment like this, but that was not my experience. A pleasant surprise was the fabulous market-place or mall. There were no windows in this mall, it was a little on the dark side, but absolutely fascinating to walk through. We spent hours wandering through this mall. Again it surprised me that nearly every shopkeeper was from India. There were numerous shops that had identical nick-knacks, statues, clocks, nautical brass items, jewelry, linens, cashmere, silk, herbs, exotic spices….it was mesmerizing how much “stuff” these stores had in stock. Much of the product in these stores were useless junk, but one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. It truly was fascinating to walk through this mall, and I only wish I had brought money to spend, cause there were certainly some items I’d like to have, but then I tried to realize that most of this stuff was made in England or India, and the real challenge was to find items actually made in Muscat, Oman. I did find and purchased some silver earrings for my wife, that were made in Muscat.
We also visited Abu Dhabi. I truly enjoyed Abu Dhabi and was impressed by how clean and modern the city was. We went on one shore excursion during the entire cruise, to a fabulous mosque, which was very impressive. Entirely made out of white marble, and larger than the Taj Mahal in India, this Mosque was recently completed in 2007 I think. All of the women in our group had to wear black robes to enter the mosque. I think this mosque had several Guiness world records, including the world’s largest chandelier, which was spectacular. In fact, there were four of these giant chandeliers. Another world record was the massive custom rug manufactured specifically for this mosque. It was a massive structure and worth visiting. I was also impressed with the mall in Abu Dhabi. This mall in Abu Dhabi is far different than the seemingly ancient mall in Muscat. I enjoy walking through malls, and this one in Abu Dhabi was ultra modern and had all the brands you would expect in a first-class mall anywhere in the world. I’m a movie fan, and asked if I could peek into the theater. The movie playing was Mission Impossible and it was subtitled in Arabic, in the latest stadium seating theater with the latest sound system.
Finally, we spent a whole day in Dubai before disembarking the Brilliance of the Seas the next morning. I had made special transportation arrangements with Dubai Exotic Limo, and visited several landmarks in Dubai, including Burj Al Arab, the giant hotel that looks like a huge sale, and the mall at the base of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. First of all, if you ever plan a trip to Dubai, contact Dubai Exotic Limo who offers a truly luxurious experience of transport in an actual stretched limo. There are few stretched limos in Dubai. If you ask for a limo service, most companies send you just a “car” or van, but not Dubai Exotic Limo, where you are shuttled around in an actual stretched limo….the best way to get around in Dubai in my humble opinion. We also visited the world’s most luxurious hotel, Burj Al Arab. At this moment, all I can say is Wow! Burj Al Arab is over-the-top spectacular, and one of the only seven star hotels in the world. It’s a very exclusive building that is only accessible by crossing the gated bridge. Only hotel guests and special visitors who are invited by a guests can enter this exclusive and luxurious hotel.
I think the builders of Dubai have decided long ago to construct a city with the best of the best, the largest, tallest and most extravagant structures in the world. I thought our Mall of America in my hometown was impressive, but then visited the Dubai Mall and I was completely taken back by the size and range of stores and activities available. There’s a complete ice-skating rink and the world’s largest fish tank, all in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The dancing waters in the lake at the base of the Burj Khalifa, rivals that of the dancing waters in Las Vegas. As you walk around the mall area in Dubai, you can’t help but think this place is over-the-top and the best of the best. It reminded me of a massively expanded Fashion Island in Newport Beach.
I’m so thrilled that I can now check off my bucket list of places to visit, this amazing city of Dubai and the cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas was an adventurous and comfortable experience. Without question I would recommend a cruise with Royal Caribbean out of Dubai. For American’s reading this, you might want to take note that on this itinerary out of Dubai, you will be a minority. Of the two thousand or so passengers onboard the Brilliance of the Seas, there were only one hundred fifty American passengers onboard. Most of the passengers were from the UK or Europe, so you can expect a culturally diverse experience on this itinerary among the passengers.
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