Bob Hoelscher

An ‘Immersion’ Cruise in the Middle East

 
 

Bob Hoelscher
Published October 01, 2017

Early this year, I experienced an exceptional 10-day/nine-night Celebrity Constellation sailing that featured the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The cruise was billed as an “immersion” cruise, since it featured a day and a half in Abu Dhabi, where we embarked and disembarked; two days in Muscat, Oman; a day in Khasab, Oman, which is a much more rural community than Muscat that is situated on the Strait of Hormuz; and three full days in Dubai, with only one day at sea.

Having this much time available for exploring ports as fascinating as these was a definite plus, since most itineraries that visit the Arabian Coast include only a single day in each city on the way to or from the eastern Mediterranean or India. I found the concept so attractive that I’ve booked another of Celebrity Cruises’ immersion voyages departing in January aboard Celebrity Millennium. This one, two weeks long, will travel from Singapore to Hong Kong and include multiday stops in Thailand and Vietnam.      

Getting back to the Arabian Coast, I was amazed by how extraordinary a place it is, an ideal destination for travelers who feel they’ve “seen it all.” The winter weather was ideal, and everything in the region appeared to be spotless, neat and safe, with crime virtually nonexistent. There are no slums or squalor, and no panhandlers or poverty, plus the sightseeing is excellent, and the mosques are eye-popping. Everybody is friendly, welcoming and respectful;

My longtime friend and frequent traveling companion “Gig” Gwin, who has been to every country on earth, agreed with me that Dubai is the most astounding, incredible city we’ve ever seen, even if it doesn’t offer the extensive historical and cultural treasures found in places like Europe and China. I’ve attempted to compare the city’s amazing architecture to that found on the Las Vegas strip, except that Dubai, without casinos, is seemingly 10 times as large. Incidentally, for group coordinators who like to plan ahead, Dubai will be hosting a World’s Fair in 2020, which promises to provide an even more spectacular visitor experience. 

While at the magnificent Dubai Mall, we splurged for the “luxury” trip to the 148th-floor observatory of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and it was worth every penny. Both Abu Dhabi and Muscat are also hugely impressive, if not quite in the same league as Dubai. I’m convinced that if the area weren’t so distant — 12 time zones from my home in Washington, nine from the East Coast — this would be a top destination for American groups. However, even though it was a 14-hour, nonstop flight back to New York City on Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi, airfare wasn’t any more expensive than a normal trip to Europe.

Celebrity offers very attractive pricing for these programs, surely comparable to cruising anywhere else. This was my first experience with the line since the fall of 2010, and I was pleased to reconfirm past impressions that it has its act together. Staterooms, shipboard service, dining options and food, activities, entertainment and shore excursions on Celebrity Constellation were all excellent, and the cheerful, ever-smiling crew members were most accommodating. Special mention must be made of the outstanding two-day, “hop-on, hop-off” Big Bus Tour in Dubai, which not only covered the city from A to Z but also included a complimentary and most enjoyable Desert Sunset Experience on the third day of our visit.