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Cruising the Persian Gulf: Oman it's beautiful

10 January 2016 - 02:02 By PEARL BOSHOMANE

Pearl Boshomane discovers the splendour of cruising on a seven-night voyage to Oman, Abu Dhabi and Dubai Going on a cruise can be intimidating for a first-timer for several reasons. Firstly, do you ever get off the ship during the cruise? (The answer is yes, thank goodness.) Does one get cabin fever? Are cruises anything like they are on The Love Boat? Is there anyone on board who is under 40 years old?These are a few of the questions I had before going on a seven-night cruise aboard Royal Caribbean International's Splendour of the Seas in the middle of December. The destination? The Persian Gulf, namely Oman, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where my cruise experience began and ended.This was to be not only my first cruise but also my first trip to the Middle East.Getting to the ship was a mission (is the admin part of travelling ever fun?) but once I settled in, I had some important business to take care of, namely booking as many shore excursions as possible so I could enjoy each destination to its fullest.story_article_left1After everyone was on board in Dubai, the ship sailed to its first destination, Khasab in Oman, which has been dubbed the "Norway of Arabia" because of its rugged landscape. There were only three shore excursions to choose from in Khasab, the least of any destination: a dhow cruise to the Omani fjords (I'll forever regret missing this), a safari to Jebel Harim (the Mountain of Women), and a half-day tour of Khasab.Sadly, I spent that day in Khasab in my cabin, too ill to venture out.Fortunately, our next destination was Muscat, the Omani capital, where we would be spending two days.There were plenty of excursions to choose from this time: walking tours, dhow cruises, 4x4 adventure drives, dolphin watching, night tours, beach breaks, and big-bus sightseeing tours. So many options, so little time.I decided on a four-hour walking tour of Muscat's oldest parts.It was love at first sight for the city and me. From the time we docked at its port and I caught a glimpse of its coast through my cabin window, I knew I would love this place - and I wasn't wrong.The coastline could be a filming location for Game of Thrones. When George RR Martin thought up settings such as Braavos and the other Free Cities, he was probably thinking of places like Muscat - not its streets, but rather its rugged, almost ancient beauty seen from the ocean.The mountains, looking out to the sea, are decorated with old castle towers that blend in with the earth they're built atop. Pearly-white buildings with touches of blue standing against this stunning backdrop give the Muscat coastline the look of two completely different worlds that have come together and learnt to co-exist.The feeling in the city is somewhat different. It's less grand than it looks from a distance but that doesn't make it any less beautiful.full_story_image_hleft1Our guided tour started at the local fish market before we headed to the tiny but beautiful Bait Al-Baranda Museum, which tracks Oman's history, showcases its culture and also gives a glimpse into life in modern-day Oman.From there we headed to the Muttrah quarter, stopping outside the stunning blue-and-white Al Lawati Mosque before visiting the souk.When one thinks of markets (not the fancy types you find in Woodstock or Braamfontein), you imagine a crowded space that's perhaps stinky and definitely dirty. But the Muttrah souk - and everywhere in the country, really - is incredibly clean.The souk was crowded and a lot of the vendors were selling the same clothes, jewellery, perfumes and trinkets, but it was quite a fun experience perusing all the beautiful objects on offer.One of the most striking things about Muscat - aside from the utterly beautiful bus stops with golden roofs - was how racially diverse it is. There were people of all skin tones walking the streets, which is great for a black girl because it means I don't stick out all that much.story_article_right2After soaking in Muscat, I spent the next two days familiarising myself with the cruise ship. Brunch was at the Windjammer Café, a dining room with views of the ship's surroundings, and a buffet with everything from DIY hamburgers to pasta to choose from. Dinner was always at the King & I, a beautiful restaurant with a different themed menu each night.As I was on the cruise alone, I'd made friends with another solo traveller days before, a delightful 78-year-old British woman named Georgia, who had no filter when she spoke, just like any person above a certain age. At one point, Georgia had spent at least five minutes arguing with our Chinese waitress about the name of a river in China, insisting that this poor young woman was naming the wrong one. In actual fact, they were both saying the same thing - just pronouncing it differently. "That's not how we pronounced it when we were in China," Georgia said.During one dinner at the King & I, we shared a table with some Brits, an Aussie and a Japanese woman. The British couple told me about the company they'd started five years before, supplying antibacterial keyboards to public hospitals in England. The Australian man and his Japanese partner were also entrepreneurs: their company makes gigantic inflatable theme parks, which travel to various locations in Japan.On the fifth day of the cruise, our only full day at sea, I was relaxing in one of the pool areas when I heard, for the first time since leaving South Africa, some Zulu being spoken. I might have clutched at my chest and wept a little with joy.It was a group of South African women who were in one of the hot tubs, living their best lives. I eventually plucked up the courage to walk up to them and have a quick chat. It felt like I was back in Joburg, minus the traffic and grumpy folk.full_story_image_hleft2Our next destination was Abu Dhabi. The shore excursions catered to every taste: a city tour, a day in the desert, high tea at Emirates Palace, a panoramic city drive, kayaking, and a tour of Ferrari World. As a massive Formula One fan, my initial pick was seeing the Yas Marina circuit, where the Abu Dhabi GP takes place. I eventually decided against it though since there'd be no racing to see.I took the guided city tour instead. The drawcard? It included a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is one of the most magnificent structures I've ever seen.Wearing a beautiful black abaya and headscarf which I'd bought in Muscat, I explored the incredible building along with many other tourists. Everything from the carpet to the pillars, chandeliers and even the bathrooms was a sight to behold - and don't get me started on the objects in the curio shop.Before I knew it, it was time to head to Dubai, our final port of call. One of the most famous cities in the world, this celebrated shopping destination doesn't do anything by halves. Everything is bigger, better and faster: the cars, the houses, the buildings, the clothes, the jewellery...Those who built and continue to build Dubai want to hold all the records known to man: tallest residential building (recently surpassed by one in New York), tallest hotel, longest gold chain (yes, this is an actual record set in the city), most expensive shoe ever sold, most expensive cocktail ever drunk . it's as exhausting as it is amusing.After going on a night bus tour of the city - two hours of being told how much everything costs and how long it took to build - it was back to the ship for one last sleep and the long trek back to the so-called City of Gold.- Boshomane was a guest of Cruises Internationalsub_head_start IF YOU GO... sub_head_endTHE CRUISE: There will be more seven-night Arabian Gulf Cruise departures between January 11 and March 28 2016. Fares start from $465 (about R7,300) per person, rising to $2,429 (about R38,000), depending on cabins and departure dates. For bookings and information, contact Cruises International on 011-327-0327 or see cruises.co.za. Cruises International represents Royal Caribbean in South Africa.THE SHIP: The 90,000-ton Splendour of the Seas is 965 feet long, cruises at 25 knots and can carry 2,110 passengers at double occupancy and 2,490 passengers in total. There are 891 crew members. It has 12 passenger decks, more than 900 cabins - including 17 specialised rooms for the disabled - 10 bars and lounges, two pool areas, a spa, an outdoor cinema, duty-free shops, a fitness centre, a jogging track and an 18-hole miniature golf course. There is also a nursery for the kids and a teens-only hang-out area.ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES: There are various fitness classes led by trained instructors, including yoga, pilates and spinning as well as pursuits such as rock climbing. Those looking for more sedentary pleasures can relax in the ship's large library, which also has cards and board-games rooms. The Explorer Academy offers passengers courses in jewellery making, ballroom dancing, cooking demonstrations by renowned chefs, wine tasting and language classes.For younger passengers, the ship offers its award-winning Adventure Ocean youth programmes, with age-appropriate activities that aim to provide education and fun. There are also two exclusive clubs for teenagers and a 24-hour nursery to care for infants and toddlers.WHAT'S INCLUDED: Although meals on the ship are included in the fare, you pay extra for most drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic...

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