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SHIP REVIEW: MSC ORCHESTRA
SHIP REVIEW: MSC ORCHESTRA
the bathroom’s Grohe shower works well. The 17 cabins
for the disabled are generous in size and well equipped.
The ship’s spa centre has a hair and beauty salon and
several treatment rooms with Balinese massage therapists
dressed in attractive sarongs and bright-yellow kebayas.
MSC Orchestra has a well-oiled excursion desk. Shore
excursions, which offer something for everyone and run
like clockwork, start at 8.30am. Tours cover the city, culture
and history, adventure, natural wonders and beach.
When guests return at around 1.30pm, there is a queue
in the heat. O ur good-humoured guides find themselves
calming frazzled nerves.
Our seven-day trip is Arabia on speed. Our first port of
call is Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates
(UAE). We visit the Grand Mosque, one of the most
beautiful in the world. It has 82 gold-tipped domes and
1,000 columns. The Italian marble glistens in the sun. It
has the world’s largest carpet that measures over 5,000sqm
and was hand-woven in Iran. The most astounding feature
is the 9.5-tonne chandelier, inlaid with red, green, yellow
and blue Swarovski crystals.
We quickly learn that women have to be modestly
dressed and covered from head to toe. Even a slight show
of sun-tanned skin is not allowed. Either you cover up
with a borrowed Arabic black outer garment called an
“abaya’’ or forfeit entry.
Unlike the glitzy razzle-dazzle of Dubai, Abu Dhabi
prefers to be seen as the cultural capital. It has many
museums, including the Louvre. The Guggenheim will be
ready in 2017.
We sail into Khor Al Fakkan and join a Fujairah east
coast tour to visit its famous fish and vegetable market.
A rustic coastal town, Fujairah is surrounded by barren
mountains. But because it faces the Indian Ocean, it is a
rich source of seafood.
Fujairah is also a playground for snorkelling enthusiasts
and divers. We call at a heritage village in Sharjah and try
the delicious dates and local Arabic coffee.
Many of the women, clothed in traditional garb and
wearing burqas, are busy making pancakes in a round
flat pan and frying sweets in hot oil before serving them
dripping with honey.
We stop at the oldest mosque in the UAE: the Al
Badiyah, which has two Portuguese watchtowers dating
back to 1498.
The next day, as dawn breaks, we berth at Muscat, the
capital of Oman, a separate state ruled by Sultan Qaboos
bin Said. It ’s a refreshing change from the skyscrapers of
Dubai and Abu Dhabi – the highest commercial “tower”
in Muscat is only 13 storeys. All buildings are either white
or brown to blend in with the land.
Oman is rich in oil and gas and exports copper and
limestone. We visit the Grand Mosque. The white marble
is Italian, the blue Indian and the heavily engraved teak
wooden doors come from Myanmar.
CRUISE LINE: MSC Cruises
VESSEL: MSC Orchestra
STAR RATING: 4-star
MAX PASSENGER CAPACITY: 3,000
TOTAL CREW: 940
PASSENGER DECKS: 13
GRT: 92,409 tons
ENTERED SERVICE: 2007
FACILITIES: More than 800 cabins with
private balcony (17 wheelchair accessible),
two pools, four hot tubs, spa and beauty
salon with steam rooms, Jacuzzi and
sauna, casino, three restaurants, cafe,
theatre, tennis and basketball court, gym,
mini-golf and jogging track.
BOOKINGS: See msccruises.com.au or
phone 1300 028 502.
possible on an
– from dining in
the heat of the
penguins at Ski
Dubai in Mall
of the Emirates
(below, left) is a
dream for food
as the Al Bithnah
Fort at Fujairah
a treat for
‘We try delicious dates and
local Arabic coffee.’
Our final port of call is Khasab, also in Oman, to
discover the stunning beauty of the fjords of Musandam,
known locally as the “Norway of Arabia’’.
We travel on a traditional wooden dhow, comfortably
decked out with cushions, and go dolphin chasing in the
fjord waters. We are not disappointed. The mischievous
and fast swimmers follow us.
“Shout louder, make more noise, only then will the
dolphins appear – dolphins like noise – can’t you do
better?’’ shouts our tour guide.
We arrive at Telegraph Island, a barren, tiny rock which
is home to 24,000 kilometres of cable – hence the name.
Here the dhow disgorges its eager passengers who swim in
crystal-clear waters among the colourful fish.
That evening, the ship makes its way back to Dubai and
the mood on board changes as it also marks the end of the
We arrive at dawn at Port Rashid in Dubai. The skyline
is obscured by a sandstorm. Our trip to the tallest tower
in the world, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa, turns out to be
a hazy experience. The fast lift takes only one minute to
reach the viewing tower on the 124th floor. But alas, the
sandstorm has shrouded the view.
A visit to Dubai Mall, the world’s biggest shopping
centre, does not disappoint. No sandstorms here. It’s
simply mind-boggling. It would be impossible to cover all
1,250 shops in one day.
But Dubai Mall is more than just shopping. It is packed
with all kinds of family entertainment, from a spectacular
fountain show, aquarium and ice-skating rink to an
underwater zoo. In Mall of the Emirates, at Ski Dubai –
the first indoor snow resort in the Middle East – there is
a penguin enclosure where you can see and touch Gentoo
and King penguins that have been trained to twirl around
for a piece of fish. The penguins even allow visitors to
stroke their backs and caress the soft fur around their ears.
Back on board the ship, there are more adventures to
come for the lucky ones who are staying on for the 33-day
voyage to Australia.
For those who disembark at Dubai – including
myself – it has been a wonderful journey of discovery.
Now I know why the mystical Emirates is indeed a land
of 1,000 veils.
Highs: Big resort ship catering for families with kids; lots of
activities; great shore excursions. A happening ship.
Lows: Quality of main courses a trifle disappointing, mediocre
Best suited to: Younger couples, multi-generational families
just for its fine
cuisine but also
for being the
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