By Tracy Anderson
I recently hosted a Signature cruise on Azamara from Dubai to Athens. This was a very unusual itinerary and I was really excited about visiting this area of the world.
I first flew into Dubai on Delta – side note, if an agent tries to check your bag on the jet way for a domestic flight connecting to an international flight, you will NOT get your bag until you reach your final destination. DON’T give it up without taking out your valuables and comfortable traveling clothes! Also Delta reserves the right to change your seats randomly from aisle and window to middle seats in the center of the plane for a LONG flight from Detroit to Paris EVEN as a paying passenger.
After 30 hours of flying and getting through a 2 hour immigration in Dubai at midnight, I had about had it with traveling. We took a taxi to our hotel, the Oberoi and that is where everything turned around. I had done a Mystery Shopper at the property and we were greeted by the friendly door man and front desk staff that seemed fresh even though it was 1:30 am. She upgraded us to a suite (without asking) and then proceeded to walk us to our room. When we arrived our bags were already there. It was HUGE with a living room, separate bedroom and a wraparound verandah. There was a basket of fruit and chocolates waiting for us. Complementary chilled bottles of water sitting next to the bed. The bell man, front desk gal and a butler who turned down the bed and lowered the electronic shades. They had a note in the room stating they prefer you not tip individuals and if you want to tip, leave something when you check out in the box in the lobby. We felt obligated and it was accepted graciously.
After a good night sleep, we awake for a full buffet breakfast that had such a variety of ethnic foods that I had a waiter give me a tour and explain some that I was not familiar with. They could have not been more accommodating and also carried your plate to the table after you had filled it. Dubai’s main industry now is tourism and it was VERY apparent with the level of customer service at this hotel. Above is the view from our room.
I had arranged a tour of Dubai with Cox and Kings. Rajiv had arranged a city tour with a visit to the Burj Khalifia – the tallest building in the world. The ride to the 125th floor took about 1 minute and the views were unbelievable. It was a little hazy but still could see a lot of sand! This was followed by a trip to the old city across the creek in a very odd ferry. There we walked the old streets and visited the museum before the souk where we were roped into trying on the local garb. It was also full of 10 tons of gold and fragrant spices.
That afternoon, we were picked up by another guide and taken out into the desert for a safari. We gathered at a rest stop to collect several other 4X4 vehicles of which we were the lead. We got to the desert and they deflated their tires to go 4 wheeling on the dunes. Awesome fun! After a fun filled slip and slide over the sand, we were dropped at a camp where they had tents set up for shisha pipes, sand art, henna tattoos and falconry. Also outside were camels to ride and sand boarding. I took a liking to this one. After a delicious dinner and belly dancing, they put a spotlight on the hill and this was a photo op!
This was a full day so we needed to get to bed so we could explore a little on our own in the morning before boarding the ship. The next day we jumped on the local metro and went to the Dubai Mall where they have the indoor ski resort. I had to see it with my own eyes. From there we wanted to see the sail hotel, Burj Al Arab. We took a taxi over to the hotel but we were not allowed to go inside. We took a photo from outside the gate and then headed back to the hotel to check out and go to the ship.
Finally on board the Azamara Quest, our stateroom was very nicely appointed and comfortable. The ship had been refurbished in Singapore just a couple of weeks prior and it looked very nice. Dinner the first night was in the buffet, Windows Café. Lots of selection and wine flowing. They offer a white and red each night. The first night there was a magician entertaining. He was pretty good but I am not much for magicians.
Our first stop was Muscat in Oman. There were several tour options but as a host they request you not to make plans for the first couple of days in case you are needed. We opted to take the free shuttle into town and wander around the souk. Lots to look at and purchase. It was really hot so we didn’t stay too long. Back on the ship and we would leave that evening for our first day at sea. We will start to enter the Pirate Zone before we get to Salalah so we had 6 SAS/British former marines board the ship with a full arsenal of weapons to ward off any would be attacks. We also had a “Safe Haven” drill so we would know what to do. There has not been an pirate attack in 4 years and 8 years for a cruise ship. There were several lecturers on board talking about the destination, history, economic situation in the Middle East and Piracy. Salalah was a little disappointing as there was not much to see or do. The strong taxi union deterred passengers from taking taxis into town as it was $60 each way. We opted for a day at the beach at a local resort. The waves were high and a strong undertow so we were watched closely by the lifeguards. Apparently this was Azamara’s first ever stop at this port.
The next 5 days were at sea. I had arranged a bridge tour and a Control Room tour for my Signature guests and they were both very interesting. The captain was a real hoot! He came onto the bridge wearing a pirates hat! There are a lot of activities on board so what I thought would be a long boring and relaxing 5 days was actually filled up with all kinds of activities. I actually enjoyed them. I will mention here that the food was outstanding. We visited Prime C, one of the alternative dining restaurants and the steak I ordered was huge and cooked to perfection. They have a new alternative for dining called the Patio which is located at the poolside grill but at night it becomes table service and a casual but nice grill menu to dine outdoors. The evenings were warm so this was a popular location.
After 5 days at sea we arrived in Aqaba, Jordan where we would spend the night. I love this about Azamara as we had much more time than the Regent ship that pulled up in the morning and was out before we were in the evening. We were able to do tour of Wadi Rum on the first day we arrived and then a full day tour to Petra on day two. I arranged a private tour through Nebu tours. A friend of mine from APTA represents them in the US and they did a fantastic job. We were firstly taken to a camp in Wadi Rum that most of the ship did not go to so it was not crowded. Another desert safari and then lunch at the camp. It was traditional Bedouin cuisine and it was delicious as well as being a LOT of food. They like to give you a lot of small dishes so you can mix and create your own favorite combinations. Petra the following day was amazing! Our driver made sure he would get there prior to the cruise groups so we would have some time to explore without crowds. It was a little hairy getting there but we arrived and walked down the long path into the Sik to the Treasury. This is the sight you see in the movies and there may have been 50 people in the square. I mention that because the groups had not yet arrived. Our guide was very informative so we learned a lot of why this place existed. They had asked what religion I was before assigning the guide so he would give his interpretation based on my faith. He really knew his bible!
After a hard walk back up to our taxi we were in need of refreshments. Beer is only available at Christian establishments. Luckily our guide knew one.
Back on the ship and a late departure to the Suez Canal. That meant two more days at sea going through the canal. I was not aware there are not locks just canals – and lots of sand. We had one of the lecturers on board give us a commentary of the canal while we were sailing through it.
That night there was a strong smell of oil as there are hundreds of oil platforms in that area. We arrived into Haifa early morning and had a FULL day (11 hour) tour to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was another hot day and the crowds were incredible. We visited the Waling wall and several churches and markets with a stop for lunch. It was a very long day. Overnight in port again and the morning we explored Haifa on our own.
One last day at sea and ending the cruise in Athens. We picked up the Hop on Hop off bus tour that stopped at the port. We were able to store out bags downstairs of the double decker bus and listen to the commentary and finally dropping at our hotel the Grand Bretagne in Syntagma Square next to the Parliament building. Again we were upgraded to a nice room with a view of the parliament building which is nicely lit up at night. On the roof of the hotel you can see stunning views of the Acropolis as well. We continued on to the Acropolis and then lunch in the Plaka area full of shops and cafes. My husband insisted we get t-shirts from the local Harley Davidson dealer and we spent a good part of the afternoon locating it and getting there and back using the metro. Early morning flight back made for an early evening. All in all this was a great trip and I would highly recommend Azamara Club Cruises. They offered almost as much as Regent Seven Seas and the cost was a lot less.
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Tags: Adventure, All-inclusive, Athens, Azamara Club Cruises, Azmara Quest, Bethlehem, Cruise, Culture, Dubai, Haifa, Jerusalem, Jordan, Luxury, Oman, Petra, Resort
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