Dune Dinner Safari

Please forgive the delay in posts. The internet on the Mariner is almost unusable for most things. But to write, edit and post with my blog provider is impossible.  

We are now a few nights out from Dubai, making our way through the pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden. This is another story. 

Back in Dubai we shared the cruise port with our sister companies ship the Celebrity Constellation.  

 The Celebrity Constellation in Muscat. 

The Celebrity Constellation in Muscat. 

The Constellation is a very similar size to us, and many on board both ships decided to the Dune Dinner Safari. Combined with the guests staying in hotels there were about 400 of us enjoying the sand dunes, entertainment and views in the desert 🐪 outside Dubai. Far more than I expected. I thought it would be a more intimate experience, around 40 people (which my driver Rasheed said was a more standard number of guests). 

Apart from waiting in the car park at the cruise terminal for too long, the whole excursion was fantastic. It was a beautiful afternoon as we drove out from Dubai. Taking in the views of the Burj Khalifa and other amazing buildings.  

On the outskirts of town we drove past a camel race track, a camel market, and a camel hospital. The Dubai freeway system had minimum and a generalist maximum speed limit of 120 km/h but I was told that you could do 140 without incurring too much of a penalty.

After arriving at the entry to the desert all the land cruiser is pulled over to air down.    many of us took this opportunity to stretch our legs and climb the nearest dune. The more sensible of us removed footwear and climbed in bare feet. Many of us, including myself expected the sand to be scorching hot, But we were happy to find the sand was not just comfortably warm but it also had an amazingly fine texture that was wonderful to walk in. 

After the four wheel drives had aired down, all the guests bordered the vehicles and we had out to the dunes. It was very clear that the drivers were very comfortable and confident in themselves, their vehicles and the other drivers. With all the drivers performing daredevil manoveuvers to entertain the guests.  

Along the way some of the 4WDs had to pull over to allow for the more motion sick prone traveler an opportunity to relieve themselves of their afternoon meal.  (I was going to insert the “puking emoji” but you got the idea).

Close to sunset we pulled over once again to allow everyone the chance to enjoy the sunset over the desert.   however it was very close to sunset and we all have to scramble to the top of the nearest dunes  to get to see the sunset in time.

It was very much worth it.  

 I just made it. 

I just made it. 

Arriving at the “Bedouin camp" aka  tourist trap in the desert, many guests joined the queue to ride the camels.  I headed straight to the camp to find my position to enjoy my dinner and the belly dancing. 

The belly dancer was fantastic, they should r The belly dancer was fantastic, I should really be called hip dancers, wow could she move them.  

Beer and wine were included in the package, And it all went rather well the simple and traditional meal. Considering the large number the catering was quite well done and the food was reasonably tasty.

After dinner I headed to the hookah lounge, for an apple flavoured smoke. Unfortunately my vehicle companions wished to return to the ship so I couldn’t fully enjoy my time in the lounge, staring at the stars ⭐️. 

The drive back to the ship would’ve been quite uneventful if it had not been for the alcohol fuelled conversation in the car. Had me blushing for most of the kilometres. 

Overall it was an excellent excursion and a try highlight of this journey.  If you have a chance, do it.  

The Worst Day on a Cruise. 🛳
 Sail Away... Let's Dance! dance

Sail Away... Let's Dance! dance

There is something about cruising that engenders genuine excitement. Think kids at Christmas like! Your cruising friends start posting countdowns on Facebook and/or Twitter. There are a range of sites and apps which will do it for you. Why is cruising so exciting? I’d argue it’s because the moment you get on board, you are on vacation. From this aspect it’s different to any other holiday. Normally if you are going anywhere you have to fly ✈️ , and flying sucks 😞 !  Dealing with airport security 🚨 , immigration 👮 , leg space 💺, the monotony of sitting in an aluminium tube for hours on end, farting neighbours 💨, and very ordinary food 🥘 . Flying - no thanks!! It’s only benefit, it makes getting to where you are vacationing quickly 🛫 🛬. 

But cruising 🛳 is different. Yes, you have the security and immigration, but the moment you set foot on board your holiday has begun 😊 . The bars are open 🍻 🍷 , there is entertainment 🎶 💃, the buffet 🍴 is in full swing. And there’s the ship 🚢 to explore 😎!! A week or more (I do not understand short cruises) of no work, cooking, cleaning. Have you checked-in to the ship? Sure, but more importantly, you have checked-out of reality.

Normally in the late afternoon, early evening the ship will then make it’s way from port, and you get to enjoy the sail away! Take in the views, with a drink 🍸, party 🎊. That evening when you head to bed, your stateroom attendant will prepared your room for the evening, and on your bed is the ships newsletter, The Cruise Compass, with all the information of what and where tomorrows events and activities are happening on the ship. 

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You will probably also come face to face with a towel creature. These delightful little art forms are a cruising staple. With monkey’s 🐒 , bats🦇 , elephants 🐘 , dogs 🐕 , and many more, carefully constructed and placed on your bed 🛏  welcoming you to your room for the night. (On a personal note, I now instruct my stateroom attendant not to bother with the creatures. My room just gets filled up with towel animals, it takes the attendants time, and creates extra laundry, and after 200 nights on board, I am pretty sure I have seen almost every variety of them at this time. But they are one of cruising little pleasures, so no judgement by me if you enjoy them). 

In addition to your towel critters, you may come back to your room to find chocolates, fruit, wine, certificates, tickets, or any other manner of things which are all designed to enhance your experience. Yes, it may just be a flyer for the spa, or a certificate to use in the casino. But they are all in aid of the cruise. But little do you suspect that lurking somewhere on the ship is your departure survey, and at some stage this nasty reminder that reality does exist will find its way to your room. It is included in the other paraphernalia on your bed. But departure is still many days away, and after you fill in the survey, this little break in reality continues.

And yet, the magic bubble just feels a little diminished, a little less sparkly for the intrusion into your reality free zone. Little do you suspect at this time, that the real threat to your cruise is just around the corner.

And then with 2-3 nights left you come back to your room to this...

 😭 Departure Luggage Tag Day, it sucks!

😭 Departure Luggage Tag Day, it sucks!

And bubble the bursts. Reality is imminent. The departure forms, instructions and luggage tags. There is even a shift in the atmosphere on board. People who you may have only met in the elevator, with some passing joke on its stopping at every level, or the mystical express ride, the little old lady you have been talking to in the buffet almost every day, yet still don’t know her name, and the pool bar fly you discuss the sea conditions with, the countdown to probably never meeting again has begun. Farewells are on the tip of your tongue, for you don’t know when it is the last meeting. 

With the magic cruise bubble burst, your vacation is almost over. At least when you are flying, the vacation bursts at the airport. 

There is one exception - when you just can't wait to get off the ship. For whatever reason it is, a plethora of bad guests (there needs to be a collective noun for these people, I nominate “a killjoy”), a GI outbreak, or perhaps you just haven’t enjoyed it; these departure luggage tag days may just be the sweet relief you desire. 

What’s your worse day on the cruise? Has departure luggage tag day ever give you sweet relief?

Marching off! (would have been a better title if the month was called "Cruise")
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If you stop and look at your calendar (which is really a silly thing to do) you will see it’s now mid-March. How is that possible? 2.5 months into 2018 already. Less than 10 months till Christmas! Jeez! 

Well now that I have gotten temporal shock out of my system and probably transmitted it to you, I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath, maybe get a cup of tea or coffee ☕️ or do you need something stronger 🍻 🍹 🥃. 

As for me, I have just left Picton, 🇳🇿; which is, for many, the starting point after arriving on the south island of New Zealand, but for me it’s basically my finish point (with just Wellington left tomorrow). Then I will be crossing the ditch back to Sydney. Which pretty much brings a close to my adventures cruising in the Southern Hemisphere .

Back in Sydney I will disembark the Radiance. It’s been my home for 61 nights so far in 2018. Which, at years end, will make it my longest place of residence for the year. For the rest of the year, I will be on the move every few weeks. Either changing ships, or changing cities. wow

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The Radiance of the Seas is definitely a favourite for myself and with many old hands to Royal Caribbean. If you spend any time talking with the long time cruisers they love the size and intimacy of this of ship and its sisters. (The Radiance is the namesake for the class, which includes Brilliance, Serenade, and Jewel). Even for many of the crew, these ships are some of the most preferred in Royal Caribbean fleet.  

The lack (and that's a relative term when compared to the biggest ships in the fleet) of facilities is easily trumped by it’s intimacy and the breathtaking vistas that can taken in from many points of the ship. With guest numbers around 2000 and staff around 800 you really begin to get to know each other (especially after 2 months on board). 

But time is running out for these ships, Radiance is 17 years old, and beginning to show her age.  She is in need of some TLC. With her last refurbishment in 2016 (it’s hard to believe that was only 2 years ago) she is need a decent update and some repairs.  

But of all the ships I have been on the Radiance class is definitely one of my favourites, I would love to see a Radiance v2 come online, but RCI is moving to bigger ships, with all current builds catering to 4000 or more guests. (2 Quantum, 1 Oasis, and 2 (completely mysterious) Icon class)

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Anyway I digress; this season I have completed; 9 cruises, on board 4 ships, visited 7 countries (🇳🇿, 🇳🇨, 🇻🇺, 🇫🇯, 🇦🇺, 🇹🇴, & 🇮🇩), and around 22 ports. And I am now just over ½ way to the Pinnacle Club, RCI’s top tier in the Crown and Anchor Society (the loyalty program). That 700 points required is a LONG journey!

The one main observation I have taken away from this season, covers all ports, and countries. Is the inadequate facilities, tour operators (ranging from disreputable to just none); and poor (or costly) transport options. (My pick of transport would be Adelaide who have a cruise ship transport card for $10 which covers all transport in city, but it can still take over an hour to get to town with trains running every ½ hour, if you just miss one, make sure you have a book, or a device to kill time with). Pretty much every port needs to up its game, with deep water facilities for the bigger ships, better (faster) transport to town, and tour operators willing to work around the strict schedules that cruise lines have. I would also like to see ships spend more time in ports, especially places like Cairns, or other ports where the key attractions are a decent journey away,  

Personally the biggest disappointment, has been the lack of scuba diving, how can you spend so much time on the water, and so little time in it? With the only dive happening in Vanuatu, and even then it was only a single dive (where’s the scuba emoji? Huh unicode?) With most ports being tender ports the whole process of disembarking and getting anywhere punctually is near impossible. The dive boats have already left, and very few operators cater to the cruise ship crowd. I am sure there are an opportunities for these operators to start catering to cruise ships (whether it be scuba or other active excursions), if not today with the older cruisers, certainly in the not too distant future with many younger folk getting into cruising.

The real surprise this season has been New Zealand. I have loved almost every port we have sailed to, my only disappointment (again), we didn’t stay longer in several places. Picton, Tauranga, and the Bay of Islands been my pick for an extended stay. 

The South Pacific Islands have their charm, but I am in no rush to re-visit them on a cruise ship, (trans-Pacific crossings excluded). 

I would definitely be interested in more Australian cruises! How is it an island continent, where 85% of the population live within 50km of the ocean doesn’t have more ports and facilities to appeal to cruise ships? Or why aren’t the cruise lines going there? My guess, is a lack of government planning in these places.

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I am very lucky to have gotten in on the circumnavigation of Australia this year, as the Radiance (or any other RCI ship) is not scheduled to do it next season. I hope that it is added to future ship schedules, possibly with alternating ports every season. This is something I want to do again (with scuba dives in the appropriate places)

So that’s it, next up is the Ovation of the Seas, which will take me to Singapore 🇸🇬 and my adventures for the Northern Hemisphere begin.