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Arabian Sea & Suez Canal Cruise on the Celebrity Constellation

4/22/18 to 5/7/18

Muscat, Oman

As the ship entered the Muscat harbor area, I was pleasantly surprised to see a totally different landscape from the flat desert area we had experienced in the UAE.  Although only about 250 miles east of Dubai, the land was covered with rugged mountains.  It is quite a lovely port to enter.  In addition to forts on the hill, there were royal yachts docked nearby.

   

   

We had been told that we would need to take a shuttle bus to the terminal, since we could not walk through the port area.  We were taking a tour with Teresa and Jonathan from England, who we had previously cruised with in the Baltic.  We didn’t realize they were on the cruise till we began looking for others to share the tour with us.   We were so glad to get reacquainted with the lovely couple.

We met in the atrium, so we could leave together for the tour we were taking with Sunshine Tours (http://www.sunshinetoursoman.com).  As we left the ship, we boarded the shuttle bus.  The bus started to move and then a few seconds later it stopped.  The driver told us we had to exit the bus.  I took the below photo after exiting the bus.

We were at a small building that was just in front of our ship.  It would have been a lot easier to just walk the few steps there.  We went into the building had our bags checked and we left on the other side where our bus was waiting for us.  This seemed really silly; but then the bus did take us through the port area, which did need to be done on a shuttle.  We again exited the shuttle and walked through the small terminal where there were many guides with signs with their client’s names on them; as well as quite a few that were trying to find clients they could take on tours.  It was interesting that they were all dressed alike and wore the same type of hat.  Throughout the day, it seemed like this was the normal dress of Omani men.

We easily spotted our tour guide, Khalfan with our name on his sign.  We really lucked out with him.  He was just a pleasure to spend the day with and his SUV was most comfortable.  He was able to tell us all about Muscat and tried to make our visit there as pleasant as possible.  He succeeded in doing that.

   

As we left the port area, I was fascinated with the terrain.  It was so different from where we had been the prior days and totally different from where we live in south Florida.  I also liked the fountain outside of the port.

   

We just drove a few minutes, when Khalfan pulled into a local market.  He said we needed to visit there first, since it closes early. 

The main attraction is the fish market; but there were lots of fruit and vegetable vendors there also.

   

There was a large variety of freshly caught fish.  In some areas they were being cut up for sale in smaller quantities.

   

We didn’t stay long and were soon on our way to our next destination.  In addition to the beautiful mosques and other buildings, I liked the ornate street lights.

   

There were just so many interesting things to see.  I was snapping away. 

   

   

   

   

As we approached our destination, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Khalfan stopped along the road so we could get photos of the mosque from a distance.  I was so glad he did since we were able to see flowering bushes all around the mosque.

We pulled into the parking lot, which was a pretty good distance from main mosque building.  Carol and Teresa put on their head scarfs and we were on our way.  We had to walk through the grounds, which were quite pretty by themselves.  There was so much beautiful granite and marble used at this site.

   

   

The first building we visited was the ladies building.  We took our shoes off and went in.  It was pretty, but nothing like what we would see in the main building.

   

   

Leaving that building, we walked along a marble pathway where we got a view of the dome.  The whole place was just gorgeous.

   

Khalfan told us that we had to go to the Muslim welcome center before going into the main building.  Once again, we had to take our shoes off.  The room was totally full of other visitors, so we had to wait until that session was over before we could sit down for the presentation.  Once seated we were offered Omani coffee and dates.  Both were quite good.  One of the women told us briefly about the Muslim religion and passed out some small information books that we could take home with us.  We read them later when we got back on the ship and they were quite informative.  The women also showed Carol and Teresa the proper way to put the scarf over their heads where it stays in place.  The ladies there were very sweet and a pleasure to be around.  We had to take a photo of one of them to remember the experience.

   

We continued walking around the grounds looking and taking in all there was to see and photograph.

       

   

When we came to the main mosque building, we once again removed our shoes before entering.  I wish that I had brought loafers instead of shoes with laces.  When we walked in, we could see why this mosque is a must-see place when in Muscat.  It is breathtaking.  Although the chandelier is smaller than the one in Abu Dhabi, I thought it was prettier.  I have put a lot of photos below of this mosque to show the fine detail that can't be seen in the wider angle photos.  It is just an exquisite place and more like a fine piece of jewelery than a building.

   

   

   

   

   

On the floor is the 2nd largest single piece carpet in the world measuring at over 45,000 square feet and weighing 21 tons.  So now we had seen the two largest carpets in the world in less than a week.

   

Everything about the room was just so beautiful.  Khalfan, took a photo of Carol and I to remember our visit. 

I took so many photos since it looked different from every angle and the lighting was quite challenging.  This was a special place.

On our return to the parking lot, we got to enjoy the view of the beautiful grounds again, but from a different angle.

   

Our next destination was to see the Muscat Royal Opera House.  On the way there, I kept busy snapping photos whenever I could.  Everything was so pretty or interesting.

   

   

We parked at the Opera House Mall parking lot.  Khalfan wanted to show us the mall, since it is right next to the opera house.  He pointed out that the shops were all high end and quite expensive.  That probably explained why the mall was pretty much empty except for us and a few other people.  But it was an attractive mall.

   

We walked out of the mall at an entrance closer to the opera house.  The walkways and colonnades were all marble.  We would see a lot of marble and granite during our tour of Muscat.

   

The opera house lobby was very nicely done.  I particularly liked a large inlaid table near the entrance.  It was a most impressive room.

   

   

When we entered the auditorium, it was almost a shock not to see marble or granite; but I assume that the rich wood being used was better for the sound.

   

The stage area was quite deep and there was a large pipe organ in the back of it. 

   

When we left the opera house, we continued to enjoy the sights of the city.  We pulled into a lot to take photos of a large beach area.  Although there were very few people there when we visited, Khalfan said that it is quite popular.

   

Since it was lunch time, Khalfan took us to a small snack shop called the Tea Corner.  Sunshine Tours normally takes their clients to the owner’s house for tea and Omani bread; but with him being out of town, we were going to this shop instead.  Khalfan recommend that we get the rgag bread with cheese and honey.  He then ordered us some Omani tea.  The tea came first and was so good.  I could get used to that stuff.  When the main course came out, the bread was similar to a crepe.  We weren’t real sure how the cheese and honey would taste; but the combination was delicious.  We all cleaned our plates.  It was a perfect light lunch.  We enjoyed trying the Omani food.

   

   

After lunch we went to a scenic viewing spot over a housing development set up for an oil company’s employees.   The contrast of the stark barren hills with the rich green golf course in the middle of it made us appreciate what a difference water can make.  As in the UAE, most of the water comes from desalinization plants.

   

We headed back toward the port area.  I continued to snap photos of all the interesting sights.  It was fascinating to see the lush green areas along the roads in this desert environment. 

   

   

I saw a sign with a sheik’s picture on it.  I asked Khalfan if that was the Sultan Qaboos.  He said it was.  I asked him when he died, and he told me that he was still very much alive.  I guess that since so many places in Muscat were named after him, I just assumed he was dead and they were honoring him.  Bad assumption on my part. 

We were stopping at the Mutrah Souk for a short shopping break.  We couold see the Constellation in the distance as we approached the souk, which is in the port area. 

   

It was a busy and interesting place.  There were many paths that could be taken, which could get us lost, so we stayed on the main ones to be safe.

   

   

After exiting the souk, I enjoyed walking around the port area.  There was just lots to see, especially the two very large royal yachts.

   

When we left the souk area, we saw different sights since we were going in a different direction.  The unusual looking tower called the frankincense burner was different from any I had seen.  We were thoroughly enjoying just looking around the beautiful city.  There was so much to see there.

   

   

We passed through the gate to the old city where our next stop would be.

We pulled in to the Bait al Bagh museum.  In the entry area were colorfully painted goat statues.  They were quite interesting looking.

   

   

   

Since we weren’t allowed to take photos in the cultural museum, I didn’t take any.  They had many of the same types of items as we saw in Abu Dhabi’s Heritage Village museum.  There were outfits, rifles pistols, sabers and daggers.  They had some nice pieces and we enjoyed the short visit.

We then drove to the Royal Palace area.  If it seems like we were going to a lot of places, we were.  I don’t ever remember getting in and out of a vehicle as many times as we did on this tour.   I’m glad we did; but in a city with so much to see in different places, it had to be done.  The palace itself is a rather unusual looking building.  This is the old palace and has been replaced by a new one; but this one is still used for many functions.  They had a nice royal seal on the gate.

   

The area immediately around the palace was quite nice with all the marble and granite features.  Carol pointed out that she had never seen granite curbs on streets before.  Kind of a nice royal touch!

   

   

We got back in the car and took a short drive around to the back of the palace to see the forts on both sides of the water.

   

   

Driving to our next destination, we saw more mountains and mosques.  I think mosques are so pretty with their domes and minarets, so I can’t resist taking photos of the really pretty or unusual ones.  I continued to be amazed at how rugged the mountains were.  As I looked at them I couldn’t imagine how they had been able to build roads and towns through them.  It is a lot easier in Florida.

   

On the way to our next destination, we took a quick stop to see a marina area.  There was a massive boulder just outside the breakwater.

Khalfan wanted to show us the Barr al Tissah Resort and Spa.  There are three main resorts there.  He let us stop and look at the lobby of each of them, having us note how each one was a higher class one than the previous one.  I won’t put photos of each of the resorts; but the general area was quite nice, so I have put these photos below.

   

On the way back to the port, I had to take photos of the terrain to help remember how unique and beautiful it is.

   

The previous day we had received an invitation to enjoy sail away from the ship’s helipad.  With the port area being so pretty, I was thrilled to do it.  I have done this in several ports and always enjoy the view from the very front of the ship.  With the sun behind me, it made for a perfect photo opp.

   

   

   

We had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Muscat and were also quite exhausted from the very active day.  We would now have five sea days to recover.

           

Cruising the Arabian Sea

The evening we were in Muscat, we received a letter telling us about the LOVE procedure we would have for the next 3 evenings.  LOVE stands for Lights Out Virtually Everywhere.  Since we would be traveling through the Gulf of Aden, which is bordered by Yemen and Somalia, they have this procedure in place as an additional protection against piracy.  With the ship traveling at full speed, 24 mph during the whole time, it would discourage piracy; but they also had additional security on the ship in case there were any encounters.  I will put a copy of the letter below, since it is interesting what was done.  I had read the procedure when researching this cruise and was pleased they had it in place.

With our going full speed, I was surprised at how smooth the sea days were.  Even though we had a lot of wind, the seas were very calm.  The temperature was very mild and unlike the heat we had expected.  On the third day we reached the southeast tip of the Arabian Peninsula, where the Gulf of Aden ends, and the Red Sea begins.  We could see the desert and beaches of Yemen, even with a heavy haze.

   

The cruise through the Red Sea was pretty much like cruising any major ocean, since we couldn’t see any land most of the time.  I did see a huge pod of dolphins swimming alongside the ship; but I only had my iPhone with me, so I couldn’t get any closeup shots of them.

 

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