Monday, November 25, 2019

Abu Dhabi

Huge warning...the free wifi at the Abu Dhabi terminal is making my blog behave as if it's in Arabic  and it won't let me translate it
so things are big time messed up. It also doesn't like punctuation at the end of a paragraph so every  last sentence just hangs there,'s typing right to left. Oh.My.Gosh

Today's sunrise over Abu Dhabi
Today was our hop on hop off tour. We weren't sure how close the buses would be but they were really close
Picture taken from the Promenade Deck. See the buses back there
The terminal
Inside the terminal
We were a bit worried about the length of time the face to face immigration process would take but we were done super fast. The agent looked at the passport, stamped it, then placed it in a plastic bin. Ship's staff were collecting the plastic bins so I'm guessing they'll be keeping them until we leave the United Arab Emirates in Dubai tomorrow

Once on the bus we first took the red route

One of the things I noticed right off the bat was how people were dressed. I expected to see all traditional garments. But throughout the city there was a mix of both western and traditional. Ship passengers had been asked to cover knees and shoulders when out but in the city we saw ladies in tank tops next to ladies in burkas. Men also wore an eclectic mix of clothing

Another thing I found very interesting was the mix of architecture. Abu Dhabi is young and is in a shiny building phase, trying to keep up with Dubai
The Presidential Palace is huge

Look at this pair of buildings. On the one to the right, between the spot where the sunlight hits and the top of the building there are a few little dots
But look closer...those are window washers. They were high up there

The Abu Dhabi Mall stop is where you can transfer to the green route
Or shop, or use the restroom. I noticed there was also a prayer room right off the ladies restroom
Inside the Abu Dhabi Mall
The green route

The green route is the one that gets you to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the only one that non-Muslims can enter

 Hop on hop off buses ran frequently and there was also a shuttle at the Abu Dhabi Mall to transfer you back to the ship

Hungry anyone? Lots of choices in the city (and the mall) with signs in both Arabic and English
Can you guess this one
How about this one
Maybe some shopping at Ikea
There we are
We had a great day riding around on the Hop on Hop off bus. We didn't jump off the bus except at the mall, but that was plenty for E. He's napping now and I'm sitting on the Promenade Deck with my feet up typing this Arabic blog - right to left and no punctuation at the end of paragraphs. It is hard and probably will look a bit ugly once posted
And guess what? I didn't even have to go into the terminal to access their WiFi - I'm getting it right here in a comfy chair on the ship
A sticker as seen in a car's window today
Not sure love will solve today's blog issue
Tomorrow we're off to Dubai for another Hop on Hop off adventure

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sea Day, November 24

As the ship has turned and we’re making our way to the Strait of Hormuz
today’s sunrise, like last night's sunset, is also at the back of the ship.
Today’s blog post is more about some FYIs than anything else…

Today started just as every other sea day has. Early breakfast. Time on Promenade Deck. 

Sunning and swimming. Blog posting. Probably a nap. But today I had to add time to get ready for tomorrow. We’ll be in Abu Dhabi tomorrow and have a Princess shore excursion planned. We’re fond of hop on hop off tours so we have one booked.

Camera and phone charged? Check.
Tour tickets? Check.
Conservative clothing? Check.
Laptop charged? Check. (I’ve heard the terminal has WiFi so after our excursion I hope to get back out there.)
Passports and passport copies? Check.
Abu Dhabi immigration letter? Check.

A few days ago we received a questionnaire asking about our plans for Abu Dhabi.

Why did they need all this information? Because every person on this ship – passenger and crew members, excursion or not - is required to have a face to face meeting with immigration officials in the terminal tomorrow. If you don’t want to go into to Abu Dhabi and plan on just staying on the ship? Tough cookies. You still have to leave the ship to go through immigration in the morning. We were told at the Abu Dhabi immigration presentation it should take 1 minute to be processed. How much you want to bet the line itself will take 50 times as long? 

Some other immigration FYIs for this trip…
At the port in Civitavecchia at the beginning of this cruise, we had stickers placed on the back of the passports with our cabin number on them. We have a lot of countries this trip and lots of processing to be done with them so the cabin numbers helps make sure they get to and from the right place. Thankfully the ship takes care of most of our immigration processing, including our visa for Oman. (We did have to get our own visa for Sri Lanka which was super easy.) 

When we got to the cabin on embarkation day we received information about immigration in all of our upcoming ports. It spelled out clearly when we could keep our passports (Italy), when we needed to hand over our passports to the cabin steward so the ship could get them processed for immigration (Greece, Suez Canal/Egypt, and Jordan), when we were required to have a face-to-face meeting with immigration off the ship (Abu Dhabi), and what happened after turning them over to the UAE authorities. (They’d go back to the ship for processing in Oman, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia.)

Some other Princess excursions FYIs…
As tomorrow's hop on hop off company is contracting with the ship, the price you pay onshore independently is the same price Princess is charging. But if you had purchased the ticket online through the tour company you would have paid less. Now here’s another but...Princess has a price guarantee for their excursions. If you’ve booked a tour with Princess but find a lower price for that same exact excursion they will give you 110% of the difference in the form of onboard credit. Hop on hop off tours are easy to match online ahead of time and we did so for three different ports on this trip. We each received $20.63 for one tour, $5.39 each for another, and $7.04 each for another. It’s not a whole lot, but every little bit helps! (The paperwork for the price guarantee is easy to fill out. If you want to know more, let me know.)

Tonight is formal night and since Princess no longer is doing the balloon drop (for environmental reasons, of course) there is a Captain’s Farewell Party. Some folks will be leaving the ship in Dubai so the first leg of this cruise is almost over. So glad we’re sticking around for another one!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Sea Day, November 23

My billionth attempt to get this posted...the Internet has sucked these last couple days...

My days have pretty much fallen into a routine.
This morning's sunrise comes way of the covered Calypso Pool.
Up and at the buffet before 6 where plenty of seating is available.

The buffet is where I get my caffeine for the day in the form of a glass of ice tea. As I’m at the counter putting sweetener in my tea, I can’t help but think how Princess is only halfheartedly trying to show they care about the planet. Thanks to some bad environmental practices, they are now on a get-rid-of-single-use-items kick to prove their commitment. They’ve done away with sugar packets and gone with these weird, hard-to-use glass containers.
But with the sweeteners? Are they worried about the single use packets those come in? By the looks of the pile of sweeteners I get to choose from every morning, I think not. You can’t convince me the new practices aren’t more about cost-saving measures than anything else.

After my tea glass is empty, I grab the same thing every single morning - an omelet and bacon. On the Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess you can fill a container with your omelet ingredients. It was nice because you could pick from a wide range of fillings and could choose exactly how much you’d like in the omelet. But from our experience on the Royal, the person making the omelet dumps the container in the middle of the eggs. When you get the omelet you have to open it up, spread the ingredients out, and then refold it. There the omelet is fried on a flat top and therefore the eggs are really, really thin.

Here on the Sapphire there is a very short list of ingredients to choose from and they decide the amount to put in your omelet. It’s okay though. Because here they use an omelet pan and blend all the ingredients together throughout the omelet, resulting in a light and fluffy omelet with everything incorporated together.
Even though they have limited filling choices,
they taste 1000% better than the omelets on Royal Princess.
Since the buffet is relatively empty I usually wait for my omelet near the cereal section. As we don’t have boxes like these in the US they put a smile on my face as it reminds me we’re far from home.
No regular sugar packets but still plenty of single use cereal boxes.
I sometimes (okay, almost every day) check out the muffin section, too. The muffins on this ship are heavenly. Moist and chock full of yumminess, a very welcome change from the flavorless and dry muffins we’ve seen on the Princess ships over the last couple years.
Just look at all those blueberries!
After breakfast we head to the Promenade deck to sit and watch the waves. About 8:30 we head back to the cabin to watch a movie. Sapphire Princess has the on demand TV system which is great for as many sea days as we have on this cruise. (The satellite does go out several times a day, and our TV completely went out for a couple days. A new modem solved the black screen issue but the satellite reception continues to be a pain.) After the movie comes pool time for a few hours.

Then back to the cabin so E can have his nap and since I’m done swimming for the day, I have my shower then start a bit of work on the blog. Despite being a non-napper, the combination of the sun and swimming and writing makes me a bit sleepy. I wind up falling asleep at some point and then wake up in a panic when I look at the time. (5:30? Yikes!) I don’t know about you, but when I wake up in a start in takes me a while to get the adrenaline calmed back down. By then it’s 6:30 and neither of us really care about dinner. I read, he watches sports-news-sports-news, I tell him to turn the TV down, I get tired of the junk he’s watching and I make a run to the buffet. Decide I’m not really hungry and usually come back to the cabin empty handed. (Other than the occasional chocolate chip cookie in hand.)

My night ends there and in the morning another very relaxing day begins.

So if you're wanting to know about the shows or the dining room menu or the dress code on formal night, I can't help. At home I work all day long (way too much if you ask E) so this cruise, with my limited Internet minutes and an iffy connection, has been my time to relax. Really relax. It feels so good.

Tomorrow we have one more very relaxing sea day before we get to our next port, Abu Dhabi.
Tonight I think I took one of my best sunset at sea photos.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Sea Day, November 22

Our first cruise ever was on the Diamond Princess, the sister ship to the Sapphire Princess. Our second cruise ever? It was right here on the Sapphire Princess. This ship is one of the reasons we fell in love with cruising and it taught us what cruising was all about. Obviously it worked out well because here we are, some 85 cruises later, flying thousands of miles to sail on her again.
Today's sunrise from the Gulf  of Aden. Somalia is to the right of the sunrise.
There is so much to love about this ship. She’s reminded us of some things we’ve missed by sailing so much on the Royal Class ships. Here on the Sapphire Princess we are reminded:
  • The Promenade deck is great for both walking and sitting.
  • The atrium is a great place to listen to music without the noise level being way too loud.
  • You don’t need to have 50 crew members being robotic in their serving of drinks in the buffet. Since there are fewer passengers, you can have fewer crew members who can also be more engaged with passengers.
  • Covered pools are downright awesome in rainy and cool weather and the uncovered pools, at least on this itinerary, are relatively empty.
  • Riding an elevator doesn’t have to be a bad experience. The elevators here are empty, with me only once having to step into a full elevator. Think about how the Royal holds 1,000 more passengers than the Sapphire Princess - with the same number of elevators. Actually, the aft elevators here hold more than the Royal Princess' aft elevators. No wonder the elevators on the Royal are so crazily jam packed!

We’ve even seen a huge difference with the passengers. First of all, this itinerary has attracted a different kind of passenger than what we see in our 7-14 day Alaska, Mexico, and Caribbean cruises. It takes a special kind of person looking for a special kind of experience (with plenty of time on their hands) to visit places like Jordan, Dubai, and Oman, and also be okay with 15 sea days (actually 17 if you count our two days in the Suez Canal). It seems most of the passengers are in their mid-60s, adventurous, and so far, kind, polite, friendly, and relaxed.

When E found out the nationality make-up today, the numbers confirm what we've felt. Only 915 are Americans with the friendly and kind Aussies and New Zealanders, Brits, and Canadians totaling 1,511. This cruise is like a breath of fresh air and makes us so happy we ventured away from the US. (Jeannie, you were right about this ship, and Vickie I wish you and Bernie were here to feel the difference.)

No one seems to be bothered by the Promenade Deck being closed at night because of the crew on watch or the very high winds we are experiencing. (Gale force winds plus the ship having to travel at maximum speed through these risky waters make for very, very, very windy decks.) I haven't heard one person complain once about all the sea days and no one seems bored. And like I said, the elevators really are heavenly. 

I do love this ship. What don't I love? We have yet another time change tonight. Yep, another hour forward and another challenge to getting up before 6 AM on our way to another sea day tomorrow.