Greetings from Doha, Qatar

Good afternoon from Doha, Qatar. We’ve been on board the beautiful Seabourn Encore for a little over 24 hours as I type to you. We landed in Doha this morning around 8:00 AM and will be setting sail at about 5:00 PM and tomorrow will be our first (of nine) sea day(s). More about Doha in my next blog entry but, first, I thought I’d show you the ship.

Embarkation yesterday was easy as pie. Seabourn had provided us with a private transfer from our hotel in Dubai to the dock. Due to a little scheduling snafu, our car and driver showed up about 45 minutes early! Good think we were ready to rumble, so we just got on the road a bit earlier.

AAC embarks Encore
AAC, CPA about to embark Encore

Within 15 minutes of arriving at the pier to check-in, we were aboard. There was something akin to a receiving line at the gangplank – lots of Seabourn crew, introducing themselves and welcoming us aboard. It was extremely nice.

We were onboard at about 12:45 PM and were told that our cabin would, most likely, not be ready until around 2:00 PM, but that we were invited to visit the Colonnade for a lunch buffet.

A little ship tip: we’re often told that the cabin isn’t ready, although many times it is! Because we were carrying valuables and wanted to get them into our safe, we decided to take a look-see. Wouldn’t you know: the cabin was, indeed, awaiting us. However, we walked in on an Australian couple, traipsing about and taking pictures of our suite. We caught them red-handed, which was pretty hilarious. They told us that there were just having a look around, as they wanted to see what the suite was like. That was fine by us, and they made a quick exit, embarrassed by their pluck. We loaded up the safe, dropped off our carry-ons, and made a hasty retreat.

Funnily enough, as we were leaving our cabin, we ran into our stewardess, Simone, introduced ourselves, and warned her not to be alarmed, should she find our stuff in our closet. She took it all in stride.

On the way to the Colonnade, we made a stop at Seabourn Square, the central hub of the ship that provides, reception, concierge, computer and excursion services, as well as a barista and light snacks, pastries and gelato service.

We met with William, as we wanted to get our wi-fi accounts up and running. Then we wanted to see if we could make additional reservations at the Thomas Keller Grill, the only dining venue on the ship that requires advance planning. (Actually, the Colonnade has “special nights” that require reservations, too, but that’s another story.) Done and done and with a smile, if you please.

Then we really did make our way to the Colonnade, aft on deck 9 for some lunch. It was a lovely setup with lots of delicious food and sommeliers wondering around pouring complimentary wine and champagne, if you were in the mood to imbibe.

By the time we finished eating, our cabin was “officially” ready. Our luggage had been delivered so we got settled in. We’re lucky that our cabin has a walk-in closet with plenty of storage, as well as additional nooks and crannies in the living room.

I know what you’re really interested in is our cabin, right?

Take a gander and tell me what you think:

900 - Entry
Entry to our cabin

900 - Living Room
The living room

900 - Dining Area
Dining area

900 - Bar
Bar setup

900 - Bedroom
Bedroom

900 - Bathroom
Master bath (with jacuzzi, separate WC and walk-in shower)

900 - Closet
Walk-in closet

Balcony - AAC
AAC, CPA on our wraparound terrace. It’s so big!

Balcony
More terrace!

So that’s our home away from home for the 19-day cruise. Nice, right?

Once we were unpacked and had changed out of our traveling clothes, it was time to go exploring. In a word, the ship is gorgeous. Designer Adam Tihany’s concept is that Encore should feel more like a yacht than a passenger ship. And that’s how it feels. Nothing is too large but feels intimate and just right – inevitable, in fact.

Check it out for yourselves:

Encore Atrium
The famed atrium – extending 6 or 7 decks

Encore Seabourn Square - AAC
Seabourn Square – aft on Deck 7; gelato a-go-go

Encore Dining Room - 01
The Restaurant (main dining venue), aft on Deck 4

Encore Dining Room - 02
Another view of The Restaurant

Encore Card Room
The card room (for duplicate bridge on sea days)

Encore Thomas Keller Grill - 2
Thomas Keller Grill – by reservation only – aft on Deck 8

Encore Thomas Keller Bar - AAC
AAC, CPA checking out the bar at Thomas Keller Grill – see and be seen!

Encore Retreat - 01
The Retreat – rent a private cabaña for the day ($349!!)

So that’ll give you a bit of an idea about Encore. Our sailaway was scheduled for about 5:00 PM, so we came back to the cabin and hung out on our immense terrace. Just when the ship started to move, we popped the cork on our complimentary bottle of champagne and toasted the voyage and each other.

Sailaway - AAC - 01
AAC, CPA is ready to go sailing

Sailaway - 02
We’re moving now with the sun reflected in our cabin window

As we sailed out to open sea, we passed by an important piece of maritime history. Following its illustrious career as one of the last true ocean liners, Cunard’s QE2 was sold, in 2007, to an investment company in Dubai, whose plan it was to convert the famed liner into a floating hotel. Alas, the plan was never realized. Due to the 2008 financial crisis, and a string of bad luck, the liner sits in disrepair in Port Rashid. We snapped this photo as we passed by her while Encore sailed out to sea. In my opinion, the captain should have sounded the ship’s whistle as a sign of respect to a former beauty.

QE2 
A former beauty, QE2, destined to sit abandoned in Port Rashid

Oh well, on to happier thoughts.

As we passed into open waters, we sailed into another glorious sunset.

Sunset - 02
They certainly have amazing sunsets in this part of the world

More tomorrow, when I’ll tell you about our 1st dinner aboard and the short visit we made today in Doha Qatar.

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Greetings from Dubai – Day 2

Good morning, sports fans! It’s about 7:30 AM Dubai time as I share this entry with you. So I’ll try to be a bit brief – HAH! Do I even know the meaning of that word? – as we finish packing, grab some breakfast and then embark Seabourn Encore in just a few hours.

Before we do, however, I thought I’d tell you about the remainder of our visit to Dubai.

On Saturday evening, we had the pleasure of dining at Al Nafoorah, an excellent Lebanese restaurant, in the imposing Emirates Towers, another hotel located about 10 minutes from our temporary home, Raffles Dubai. It has been highly rated for both its food and service, so I thought we’d give it a go. And, besides, when in Rome, right?

Emirates Lobby
The lobby at Emirates Tower

Emirates Lobby - 01
Fabulous floral arrangement in the Emirates Tower Lobby

Al Nafoorah Dining Room
The Dining Room at Al Naforrah

Because it was a beautiful evening – only about 85 degrees, but very dry – we opted to dine al fresco on the restaurant’s terrace. Our waiter was wonderful and made sensible and delicious recommendations, as we’re somewhat unfamiliar with traditional Lebanese cuisine. He suggested that we try a sampling of hot and cold mezze and then see how it goes. We accompanied the food with a delicious Lebanese Cabernet Sauvignon.

Al Naforrah Hummus
Tasty hummus – not too much garlic for AAC, CPA

Al Nafoorah Chef Salad
The chef’s salad, with an amazing pomegranate dressing

Al Nafoorah Chicken Livers
Sensational sauteéd chicken livers with pomegranate sauce

We had a marvelous meal, but never got beyond the mezze – the portions were just too large. One of them, the sauteéd chicken livers in a pomegranate sauce, is a must if you go. We also enjoyed the labneh (cucumber/yogurt/olive oil), and the grilled halloumi. Again, the service was so good, and we really appreciated that the waiter realized – after finishing off the mezze – we had no room for more food (and told us so). However, he presented us with a complimentary dessert of incredibly fresh melons and pineapple, accompanied by a delicious Ashtha bin asail (fresh cream with almonds, honey and pistachios) – the perfect ending to our meal.

Al Nafoorah - 02
Al Nafoorah’s light dessert – perfect finish

DINING TIP: Al Nafoorah

In Dubai, the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Yesterday being Sunday, it was the first day of the work-week. We found that out as we Uber’ed over to the Jumeirah Mosque for a morning tour. For the first time, we had traffic issues, but that was OK.

The Jumeirah Mosque offers an English-speaking tour at 10:00 AM every day, except Friday, for a very nominal fee. When you arrive at the Visitor’s Center to check in, there’s also a complimentary buffet. The tour attracts a large crowd, which I’d estimate at close to 200 people yesterday morning.

Our tour guide – originally from England – was Latifah, also know as Terry. She was very engaging and approachable, and walked us through not only the 5 pillars of Islam but, also, explained how the Mosque (any mosque, actually) is used for the formalities that are a part of the experience, including the ritual washing before entering and the removal of shoes and, even, how one prays when inside. This particular mosque, btw, dates back to the mid-1970s, so it’s rather new, as mosques go.

In a way, the experience felt like a bit of propaganda, but in a smart and strategic way. Especially interesting is that, when Latifah had finished her remarks, she opened it up to questions and she said that nothing was off limits. The assembled crowed, however, was a bit tame, so the questions were mostly benign. All-in-all, it was 75 minutes well-spent with several takeaways for thought.

Jumeirah Mosque - 01
Jumeirah Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque AAC - 01
AAC, CPA inside the Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque - Latifah - Terry
Our tour guide, Latifah

Jumeirah Mosque - AAC - 02
AAC, CPA back in his shoes following our tour of the Mosque

SIGHTSEEING TIP: Jumeirah Mosque

Once we returned the hotel, we decided to visit the adjacent Wafi Mall, which was accessible through an interior entrance. While our visit the previous day to Dubai Mall was nothing short of overwhelming and created all kinds of sensory overload, the much smaller Wafi Mall was much less intimidating – and almost empty of customers!

But it was fun to walk through and see what was on display. Some of the big names were there, and some of the design elements were photo-worthy.

Wafi Mall
Exterior entrance to Wafi Mall Souq

Wafi Mall Interior
Stained glass ceiling, consistent with Egyptian design 

We happened upon a wonderful venue – Wafi Gourmet – where one could shop or sit at one of several counters and enjoy a meal or a coffee or a sweet. It combined both modern and traditional kinds of merchandise.

Wafi Mall Spices
Fabulous selection of fresh spices at Wafi Gourmet

FOOD TIP: Wafi Gourmet

Having concluded our expeditions for the day, we hung around the suite and relaxed for a few hours.

Dubai Sunset
Another perfect Dubai sunset, as seen from our terrace

We elected to stay in the hotel on our 3rd and final night. We started off with cocktails at the Raffles Salon, located in the lobby.

Raffles Dubai Saloon
Raffles Dubai Salon

Cocktails - AAC
AAC, CPA anticipates his bespoke cocktail, the Gin and IT

While we awaited our cocktails, we had a chance, once again, to appreciate the lobby decor.

Raffles Lobby
The Raffles Dubai lobby – imposing but very welcoming, too

I’d like to be able to report to you that we enjoyed our cocktails but, alas, they were the one thing that let us down at this otherwise superb hotel. My Gordon’s martini was sorely lacking in gin, and I wasn’t exactly sure what the barman did to it; AAC, CPA’s Gin and IT, a concoction of gin, Martini Rosso and Angostura (as close to a Negroni as we were likely to get) was marginally better, but disappointing. The olives, however, were a smashing success. Dubai does olives really well.

As we left the Salon, we noticed the tea service (below), which is quite elegant. Note, if you can, the 3 miniature sand-timers in the lower part of the picture – to brew your tea for 3 or 4 or 5 minutes. Cool beans.

Raffles Tea Service

We then headed up to Raffles Gardens for dinner. Once again, we elected to dine outdoors as the weather was perfect for it.

Dinner Tent
Raffles Gardens

Dinner Tent - AAC
AAC, CPA inside our tent and anticipating more food

As the night before, we had a great waiter who helped us navigate the menu. This time we elected to share a mezze platter and a mixed grill, accompanied by a lovely bottle of rosé, perfect for a warm night.

Dinner Tent - Wine
A little underexposed, but you get the idea.

Raffles Night Exterior
Another view of the hotel from our tent in the gardens

After enjoying our food and wine, we returned to the suite for some final packing and preparation for today’s transfer to the ship.

As I contemplate our visit to Dubai, I’m so glad we had the opportunity to be here, even for only 2 full days. We had been told, from friends who had already been, to lower our expectations, that Dubai was some kind of Las Vegas on steroids. (There is, in fact, some truth to that.)

But we arrived with open minds and were not disappointed. It’s pretty amazing to be in a city which, until about 20 years ago, was almost nonexistent. The amount of building and infrastructure that has occurred here over that period of time is mind-boggling. When I consider the two “touristy” things we did here – visits to the Jumeirah Mosque and the Dubai Mall – it perfectly describes Dubai as a city of contrasts: the traditional versus the modern; the sacred versus the profane. Dubai attempts to have it both ways and, in many ways, succeeds.

Okay, kids, it’s time to get organized and on our way. The next time you hear from us, we’ll be aboard Seabourn Encore!

 

Greetings from Dubai – Day 1

I’m writing to you from the 12th floor of the fabulous Raffles Dubai. We checked in last night around 10:00 PM. More about that in a bit.

Thought I’d finish telling you about our Etihad experience yesterday. It was flawless – you actually wanted the flight to be LONGER!

As I signed off yesterday (during the flight and after my first meal service), I became filled with ennui (and extreme fatigue) – perhaps the combination of jet lag and alcoholic intake. One of the nicest features of The Apartment is that one side can be converted into a very comfortable bed. Even thought it was a relatively short flight, I thought that a brief nap could do me no harm. So I asked the purser to make up my bed.

ETIHAD Bed
My bed aboard the Etihad A380 – doesn’t it look delightful?

I climbed under the covers and it was so luxurious and extremely comfortable. I’ve had the good fortune to fly on numerous flights that feature “lie flat beds”, but none came remotely close to the comfort level this one had. I closed the doors to my suite, was out cold in 5 minutes and slept for about an hour. How lucky am I?

Upon awakening, I felt that it was time to eat again. Why, I can’t possibly tell you. But I’d been told that the Etihad Steak Sandwich was a must, so I ordered one straightaway. In order to mitigate the damage, I invited AAC, CPA to join me and share the meal.

2nd Meal Service
Table for 2 at 36,000 feet

AAC wants food
AAC, CPA needs feeding

AAC happy
Etihad steak sandwich for 2 – AAC, CPA happy

The sandwich was accompanied by a truffled mayonnaise and warm garlic chips. And, of course, Eren (our food and beverage manager) paired the sandwich with a delicious Rioja. Somehow we devoured the sandwich in record time.

AAC, CPA wasn’t quite finished, however. He requested a plate of sweets to finish off the meal.

Dessert
Our totally unnecessary dessert – but delicious, nevertheless

By the time we finished stuffing ourselves, we were about 45 minutes from landing. Our flight crew – chef, food & beverage manager, purser and attendant – couldn’t have been nicer and we’ve never had better service in the air.

So thus say I: If you ever have the opportunity to fly Etihad in The Apartments, jump at it! We did it on AAdvantage miles – 110,000 each (BA from JFK – LHR; Etihad from LHR to AUH, tho’ after June 1st, nonstop Etihad award flights from JFK – AUH will be a bit more available due to the additional A380 daily flight for the same 110,000 miles). We would never pay for such a flight – the nonstop from JFK will currently set you back $15,881 PER PERSON!!!! – but the award is very achievable, provided that you can plan about 3 months ahead of your travel date, which is when the awards seem to appear.

TRAVEL TIP: Etihad Airways: Flying Reimagined

We had arranged with our hotel – Raffles Dubai – for a car to meet our flight and drive us to Dubai. We were lucky to be given “fast track” cards for border control, and we were sped through. Our luggage came up almost immediately and, before we knew it, we were met by a driver and hotel greeter and quickly en route to Dubai – about an 80 minute drive.

When we were about 5 minutes from the hotel, our greeter contacted them so that we’d be met upon arrival. As we got out of the car, Anita was waiting for us, whisked us through the lobby and took us immediately up to our suite to check us in.

We reserved one of the Landmark Suites, situated on the 12th floor of the pyramid-shaped hotel. It’s a sprawling space, with a huge living/dining area, wet bar, bedroom with separate dressing area, beautiful master bath with a jacuzzi and, finally, a powder room. Oh, and did I mention that we have 2 terraces?

An added benefit of being in the Landmark Suite is that you have access to the Raffles Lounge down on the 10th floor. It offers complimentary continental breakfast, afternoon tea and evening canapes and cocktails. It’s a nice extra.

Welcome to Raffles
Welcome sweets from the hotel

Living Room - Night
Our living and dining area with wet bar behind

Bedroom - Night
Our bedroom

It was well after midnight by the time we’d settled in, and we weren’t even really unpacking – we’re saving most of our things for the ship on Monday, and we’re just in Dubai for 2 full days. Finally, we passed out and got a relatively good night’s sleep.

We were up fairly bright and early this morning. We took our time waking up, as we’ve raced through 8 times zones since leaving New York on Wednesday night.

Dubai by Day
Good morning, Dubai – the view from our suite

Terrace - 01
Terrace #1 off the living room

Terrace - 02
Terrace #2 off the bedroom

Eventually we made our way down to breakfast at Azur, which features an extensive buffet of Eastern and Western dishes. If you book this hotel through the AmEx FHR program, breakfast is included, as is a $100 food and beverage credit. Thanks, Veronica!

HOTEL TIP: Raffles Dubai

Did I mention that it’s really hot here? During the day, the temperature climbs to about 100 degrees and barely dips below 80 at night. Although the skies are clear, there seems to be a haze around everything – not sure why that is.

Because of the heat, we were a bit concerned about getting around while we’re here. The hotel – lovely as it is – is not convenient to anything, so one would have to walk quite a distance just to find public transportation. We checked with the hotel’s concierge and found out that taxis and/or Uber are both viable ways to get around. We opted for Uber.

We decided to make a trip over to one of Dubai’s most famous destinations: Dubai Mall. For all of you mall-goers who shop ’til you drop, you may have think you’ve been to the mall. But not in your wildest imagination have you ever been to something like the one in Dubai. There are something like 1,200 stores, restaurants, cafes, etc., located in this one place. I’m not that much of a shopper, but I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the place. Oh, and if you want to put on the blades, there’s a skating rink!

Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall – Something for Everyone

Aquarium
Or maybe you’d like to visit an aquarium?

Ice Rink - 02
Or take a spin on the ice when it’s 98 degrees outside?

AAC - Garrett's
The Dubai Mall even has Garrett popcorn – a Chicago institution!

Shake Shack
Unlike in NYC, there’s no waiting here – step right in!

IHop
Or, perhaps, something very retro?

Diver Wall Sculpture - 02
Very cool art and so reminiscent of Rosa Mexicano in New York City

SIGHTSEEING TIP: THE DUBAI MALL

After about 90 minutes – when our eyes began to cross from all the different shops – we Uber’ed it back to the hotel. Oh, and entre nous, Uber is extremely affordable here and, so far, the drivers have all been great and very friendly.

Back at the hotel, we decided to sample the complimentary afternoon tea at the Raffles Lounge (which we needed like a hole in the head). But it was quite nice, as you will see below.

Afternoon Tea
AAC, CPA is happy again

After that, there was nothing else to do, except to laze on our terraces, which had just begun to move into the shade. While it was hot, it was also kind of dreamy just hanging around and taking in the sights. 

And then we passed out for an hour!

As I put the finishing touches on this entry, AAC, CPA is showering up in preparation for dinner at the beautiful Al Nafoorah Restaurant, located in the Emirates Tower. More about that later.

But here’s one last image for today – sunset in beautiful and exotic Dubai:

 

Sunset
“The sun sits low, (almost) as low as it’s going to go”
Wadaeaan al’an!

The Etihad Experience

Greetings from 36,000 feet. AAC, CPA and I are aboard Etihad Flight #12 from LHR to AUH (a/k/a Abu Dhabi). We are fortunate enough to be flying in the Etihad Apartments (their first class section on the A380), made possible with lots of AAdvantage miles we’ve been storing up. (See my recent post to explain in more detail.)

We boarded about 15 minutes late, no big deal. When we stepped onto the plane, there was a member of the crew who was waiting to take us to our “seats” – AAC, CPA in 3A and me in 4A. On the Etihad A380, you don’t get a “seat”, you get an apartment! 

Etihad A380 Apartment
The Etihad Apartment

Etihad Apartment 3A and 4A
Our apartments side-by-side

I cannot tell you how many attendants we have in our section (only 8 apartments), but I know that there’s an on-board chef, a food-and-beverage manager, and 2 other people who are here to show us a good time. They are extremely professional, very friendly, and not at all overbearing.

AAC checks it out
AAC, CPA checks out Apartment 3A. He likes it.

4-A
My digs – 4A – notice that the champagne has already been poured

After you get settled in, we’re presented with food and beverage menus with lots of options. It’s only a 6.5 hour flight (actually wish it were longer), and I’m hoping to have 2 meals to sample different things, but we’ll see about that.

Chef drops by to introduce himself and to see what you may want to eat and when. You can eat whenever you like. Nice.

Welcome Aboard Snack
Champagne, Arabian Coffee and Dates as a welcome aboard snack

All A380s are outfitted with cameras in the tail, so you can watch the plane’s movements, including takeoff.

In the queue for takeoff
Awaiting our takeoff

Food Menu
The lunch menu

Lounge Menu
The lounge and grill menu

Speaking of the “lounge”, have I mentioned that there’s a bar right behind our section? So if we want a change of scenery and, perhaps, a cocktail, it’s right over there!

Etihad Bar
The lounge aboard the Etihad A380

AAC, CPA decided to wait to eat, but I was somehow hungry. Here’s a look at my meal:

Meal Service - 01
Let the games begin!

Meal Service - 02 Amuse
An amuse-bouche – a bleu cheese croquette

Meal Service - 03 Mezze
Hot and cold mezze

Meal Service - 04 - Palate
Palate cleanser – a cucumber sorbet topped with aspic

Meal Service - 05 Lamb
Authentic Gulf Lamb Biryani

Eren, the food and beverage manager on our flight, provided the wine pairings, which he presented as a blind tasting. I did pretty well, too, identifying both the red and the white.

I was very, very good – ate only 1/2 of each course because, later in the flight, I’d like to try the Etihad steak sandwich, arguably the most popular item on the menu. But I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to handle that in a couple of hours.

Oh, did I mention that there’s a shower aboard? Everyone’s encouraging me to try it, and I think that I will. I’ll let you know about that.

AAC relaxing
While I’m stuffing my face, AAC, CPA is relaxing next door

In the meantime, for some unknown reason, I just got really sleepy. I may have to ask that my be be prepared and get some winks.

Buh-bye for now.

 

On the Road Again – Part Three

Greetings from the Concorde Room at JFK, which is the 1st class lounge for British Airways passengers. The great thing about this lounge is that you can have a lovely dinner on the ground before you board your flight. We’ve just finished a 3-course meal and have about an hour before we board our flight to London Heathrow (which you probably already know).

Before we got to the airport, though, here’s our intrepid AAC, CPA with the baggage (no, not me), whilst waiting for our car to arrive:

227
AAC, CPA with the bags

CONCORDE ROOM ENTRANCE
The dapper (and hungry) AAC, CPA arrives at the Concorde Room

The meal was quite delicious:

Artichoke
A grilled artichoke and frisee salad for AAC, CPA

Gravlax
A delicious gravlax with pickled fennel and lemon Greek yogurt for me

Sirloin
We both had the Szechuan Crusted NY Sirloin with Sauteed Baby Bok Choy

Mille Feuille
And we each had the Raspberry Mille Feuille with White Chocolate Ice Cream

Each course came with the appropriate wine pairings and we are both now very relaxed and satisfied. Can’t wait to board the plane and climb under the covers!

Getting back to business:

Now that I’ve told you about how we’re getting to Dubai and also about Seabourn Encore, I thought you might like to know our cruise itinerary. Although there are 9 sea days – the entire cruise is 19 days! – it is, especially for us, port intensive. And all of them are new to us, so it’s a good thing that we’ve done our homework and brought along sensible shoes!

We will sail from Dubai next Monday at approximately 5:00 PM. Here’s a look at our cruise itinerary:

Cruise Itinerary
Map courtesy of Seabourn

As you can see, our first stop will be Doha, Qatar. One of the things we were most looking forward to seeing was to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the renowned architect, I.M. Pei. As luck would have it, the museum is closed on Tuesdays which is, of course, the day we’ll be in port. (Grrrrr.) We will, however, most likely visit the famous Souq Waqif, the central market, which has served the city for many centuries. If falconry is your thing, the Falcon Souq is just next door!

Doha - Museum of Islamic Art - IM Pei
I.M. Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art – closed on Tuesdays!

Doha - Souq Waqif
The Souq Waqif – centuries old

Following our depature from Doha, we’ll enjoy our first day at sea (my fave!)

Our next port is Muscat, Oman, the “Pearl of Mystic Arabia”. Muscat is a city of untold riches, as personified by such sites as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the recently built Muscat Royal Opera House, which attracts many of the world’s finest singers. Unfortunately, there will be no performances while we’re in town, but we hope to take a tour and see the opera house for ourselves.

Muscat - Sultan Taymoor Grand Mosque
The fantastic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat - Royal Opera House
The Muscat Royal Opera House

Muscat - Royal Opera House Interior
Interior of the Opera House

Following another sea day, we land in Salalah, Oman’s ancient incense capital and an oasis of lush vegetation, unlike the otherwise arid landscapes of the Arabian peninsula. One of the excursions offered will include a visit to Job’s tomb: a sacred site of pilgrimage for Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.

Salalah
Salalah, Oman

SONY DSC
A sacred biblical site: Job’s tomb

Once we depart from Salalah, we will then have 5 full sea days, giving us a chance to become really well acquainted with Encore and its passengers and crew. Hopefully, we’ll have good internet service during those seas days so that I can keep you up to date with all of our on board adventures.

Our next port – and the highlight of the trip for us – is Aqaba, Jordan which, for those of you who are Lawrence of Arabia fans, played a major role in the Arab revolt during World War I. Nowadays, the port serves as Jordan’s only deep water port and, as important, is the place from which you can get to Petra, the country’s most important historical attraction.

Because we are in port for only 11 hours, it was necessary for us to book a private car and guide, as we wanted to visit not only Petra but, also, Wadi Rum, which was also one of the primary locations in Lawrence of Arabia. This excursion will be very intensive, but also very exciting.

Long considered the Lost City, Petra is one of the most spectacular sights in all antiquity, a city carved out of solid sandstone, and lost to all but the most intrepid Bedouins until 1812, and excavation of the site didn’t begin until more than a full century later. To get to the main city, you walk on foot (or via a horse-drawn carriage for hire) through a narrow gorge, a mile-long siq. We’re told that a vist to Petra is an experience that you will not easily forget.

Petra Souq
You walk through the extremely narrow siq to get to Petra

Petra Treasury
Petra’s most famous landmark – the Treasury, carved out of sandstone

Once we’ve visited Petra, we’ll return through the gorge to our waiting car. As time is so short, we’ll have a box lunch en route to our next site, the majestic Wadi Rum, about an hour away. Indeed, we’ll be transported back to the time of T.E. Lawrence, Auda Abu Tayi, Prince Faisal and the fearless Bedouins who particpated in the Arab Revolt.

Wadi Rum
The majestic Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum - TE Lawrence
Memorial Carving of T.E. Lawrence at Wadi Rum

Following our visit to Wadi Rum, it’s back to the ship. I believe that this excursion will be one of the most memorable we’ve ever experienced.

Another sea day and, then, the ship will transit the Suez Canal. Having already been through the Panama Canal a few years ago, it will be very interesting to compare and contrast the experience. 

Suez Canal opening
The Suez Canal opened to traffic in 1869Suez Canal Modern
A more modern look at the Suez Canal

The following day, we land at Ashdod, the largest port in Israel and the main gateway to Jerusalem. From the port, it’s about a 75-minute drive (in good traffic!) to this sacred city. Again, because time is short, we’ve elected to hire a car and guide/driver to take us from the ship through the Judean Hills to Jerusalem. I visited Israel many years ago (let’s just say not in this millennium) but AAC, CPA has never been. So I’ve chosen what I believe to be the most important sites for us to see: the Old City (in quadrants for the many faiths who live and worship there), the Wailing Wall (the holiest Jewish site in the World) and the Dome of the Rock (the holiest of all Muslim shrines). 

AShdod
The port city of Ashdod, Israel

Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount
Jerusalem

Thanks to our good friend, Yaniv, who has been so generous in suggesting things to do while we’re in Israel, we’ve also scored a reservation for lunch at one of the city’s finest restaurants, Machneyuda, adjacent to the world-famous Mahane Yehuda Market. It seems that Israel has become a place for foodies!

Machneyuda
Machneyuda for lunch!

Mahane Yehuda Market
The Mahane Yehuda Market next door

After our return to the ship, Encore will reposition over to Haifa, Israel’s primary port and located about an hour away (by train) from Tel Aviv. AAC CPA and I have decided that we’ll venture out on our own, starting with a train ride and then visiting Yafo (Jaffa), the Old City, much of which has become a cultural enclave and also has wonderful cafes and restaurants. 

Tel Aviv - Yaffo
Yafo

So we’ll spend our day in Tel Aviv strolling around the city and taking in the sights. Then we’ll get back on the train to Haifa and return to the ship.

Another sea day and then we’ll travel to the Greek Islands. We’ll visit two ports: Rhodes and Santorini, both of which have rich histories and are extremely picturesque. Although excursions are available, I think we’ll opt for “independent activities”, checking out the sites, taking in the cafes, and just soaking up the atmosphere.

Rhodes
Rhodes

Santorini
The magical island of Santorini

We’ll depart Santorini late in the afternoon – it’s our last port and we’ll sail over to Piraeus (Athens), where we’ll disembark after our 19-day adventure aboard the beautiful Seabourn Encore and transfer to Athens International for our flights home – and to reality – and to getting on the scale to see how much damage we’ve done. 🙂

How lucky are we that we get to travel to these fabulous places? Stay tuned for my reports as we experience them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road Again – Part Two

Greetings from a fabulously warm and sunny day in New York City. The last time I checked, the Fahrenheit was sitting at a sumptuous and dreamy 78. At least for now, Spring has sprung.

Our countdown clock now stands at about T-28 hours, which marks our departure for JFK, where we’ll catch our overnight chariot to LHR. As you already know, we’ll have a 22-hour layover and then catch a flight to Abu Dhabi and then we transfer to Dubai for a long weekend.

The reason that we’re jumping through all of these lovely hoops is that, on April 17th, we’re boarding the almost brand new Seabourn Encore, which launched this past January. AAC CPA and I are Seabourn newbies, but we’ve been told that it’s a superior line with excellent service and attention to detail.

The newest addition to the Seabourn fleet , Encore introduces a new class of ship (indeed, the “Encore-class”), and is about 26% larger than the three “Odyssey-class” vessels. Built in Italy at the famed Fincantieri shipyard, Encore carries just 600 passengers in 300 suites.

While the vessel has many of the familiar features and venues of past Seabourn ships, Encore has been totally rethought by famed designer Adam D. Tihany and, from what we’ve heard, the ship operates more like an elegant yacht than a more formal vessel. 

So far, all of our dealings with the line have been terrific. One funny thing that happened was that, the day after we booked the cruise, we heard from our travel agents that Seabourn had added an extra day to our cruise at no extra cost to us, which was quite lovely. This cruise – from beginning to end – will last 19 days (9 of which will be sea days), making it the longest time we’ve ever been on a ship. (We’ve already packed some trousers with elasticized waistlines, just in case.)

An important benefit of the Seabourn line is that it is all-inclusive (although excursions are an add-on) and, unlike Crystal or Cunard, every night is a casual night. We’ve heard that the ship will have 1 or 2 optional formal nights, but that will just be in the main restaurant. We’ve been able to eliminate one piece of luggage simply from not having to schlep the formalwear. 

Another innovation on Encore – which will be extended to the other Seabourn ships is the new partnership with famed California chef, Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame, as well as many other establishments). The Grill by Thomas Keller can be booked online one time prior to boarding and, as I understand it, there is no surcharge to dine there, unless you want to order from the premium wine list. We’re already set and will dine there the 3rd night of our voyage. 

One unfortunate and truly bizarre situation occurred in February when Encore was docked in Timaru, New Zealand. A sudden change in weather – high winds – caused the ship to lose its moorings, and the ship started to drift away (almost in slow motion) from its berth. Take a look at the following youtube video to see what happened next.

Seabourn Encore gets a boo-boo

We were all relieved to hear that, following a thorough inspection, Encore was cleared to depart on schedule and continued to its next scheduled port. The extremely minor damage was repaired very soon thereafter.

As this is just a preview and, since we don’t embark until next Monday, that’s all I have to say about the ship right now. 

In the meantime, I thought you might like to see some photos and renderings of the ship. It looks quite gorgeous and, rest assured, I’ll have more to share with you once we’re on board.

Seabourn Encore
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore

Atrium
The ship’s atrium – are we dizzy yet?

Observation Bar
The Observation Bar – high up on deck 11

null
The pool deck – there’s also a bar around there somewhere, as well as a casual restaurant

The Colonnade
The Colonnade serves up tasty buffets for breakfast and lunch

The Colonnade
The Colonnade also provides dining al fresco

Seabourn Square
Seabourn Square – the center of the ship

The Restuarant
Encore’s main restaurant – all open seating

The Retreat
One of the few add-ons: the Retreat – private cabañas rented by the day

Sushi
A new Seabourn dining venue: Sushi, open for lunch and dinner

Thomas Keller Lounge
Before dining at the Grill, stop by the adjacent watering hole for a cocktail

The Grill by Thomas Keller
After whetting your whistle, enjoy your dinner at the Grill by Thomas Keller

So now you have a bit of an overview for our home starting next Monday.

Next time, I’ll tell you more about the fascinating itinerary and the many unique places we’ll be visiting over the next few weeks.

To be continued!!

On the Road Again – Part One

Greetings from a slightly sunny and cool Sunday morning in New York City. Spring is trying to arrive in fits and starts. I suppose one must be patient.

I know we’ve been away a long time. We’ve missed you, but we’ve had a very productive winter, attending lots of theatre and opera and the like, dining out at establishments both new and familiar.

But now it’s time to get out of town and our upcoming trip will take us to some fabulous places and, perhaps, just a bit out of our comfort zones. 

The main event of this trip will be a 19-day cruise from Dubai to Piraeus (Athens). We’ll sail through the Middle East and the Suez Canal, to Israel and through the Greek Islands. It’s going to be quite the big deal, I think.

Our ship will be the 3 months old Seabourn Encore. As you know, we’re very loyal to Crystal Cruises, and this will be our first time aboard a Seabourn vessel, but everything we’ve heard augers well and we’re looking forward to trying something new. 

Seabourn Encore
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore

Spoiler Alert: If you look at the 2nd deck up from the jacuzzi at the front of the ship, the outdoor area on the right is the balcony for our cabin. We’re literally under the bridge.

More about the cruise later.

But first, we must get to Dubai to board the ship. And therein lies a tale and a bit of an adventure. 

It’ll be no surprise to you that we like to travel well and, most importantly, we like to get the best bargains wherever we find them.

We also like to tick off our “bucket list” items, one of which is to fly on Etihad Airways in the first class Apartments.

Oh – and we want to do it on miles, ie., for cheap!

So, for the past year, I’ve been looking to score 2 award flights from JFK to AUH (a/k/a Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates). There are 2 flights daily but, in order to fly in the Apartments, you must fly the A-380, which service is currently offered only on 1 flight daily. Awards in first class on this aircraft are impossible to obtain. The other daily flight is on a smaller aircraft and, therefore, doesn’t offer the Apartment. It’s always something, right?

(Wouldn’t you know – starting on June 1st, Etihad will offer A380 service on both daily flights from New York and, at that point, it’s possible to find award availability if you can book about 3 months in advance. Sigh!)

To cover ourselves, we booked flights on British Airways through Heathrow (London) with a connecting flight to Dubai. We were able to do it all on miles, but BA charges hefty taxes on awards flights. Even so, for a few hundred dollars each, we booked first class for both segments. These flights were booked last May and, ever since, I checked and rechecked award availability on Etihad, just in case.

BA 1st - 777
Our British Airways chariot from New York to London

BTW, we love taking the BA overnight flights to London Heathrow. If you’re lucky enough to be flying in first class, you’ll have access to the Concorde Room at JFK, which features a proper restaurant, so you can have dinner there (no charge for food and/or drinks) and, then, once your flight has taken off, you can climb under the covers and sleep for most of the light. Delovely!

Concorde Room JFK - 01
The Concorde Room at JFK

Concorde Room JFK - 02
You can enjoy a proper meal in the Concorde Room before your flight.

After months of frustration being unable to get that elusive Etihad award, I had – what Dorothy Kilgallen on What’s My Line used to call – a wienie! I remembered that Etihad has service to Abu Dhabi from London Heathrow. Would it be possible to find an award on that route?

The Etihad website has a very useful tool that allows you to find available awards and I hit the jackpot in finding exactly what I needed! Now, I wondered, would American Airlines allow me to rebook the 2nd segment (London – Dubai) over to Etihad (London – Abu Dhabi)? Only one way to find out.

The American AAdvantage rep couldn’t have been nicer: Not only was it possible, but we ended up saving several hundreds of dollars on the 2nd segment, because there were virtually no taxes! The whole thing took about 15 minutes and we were done! Woo-Hoo!

Etihad 380
The Etihad A380 – a beautiful piece of engineering

Etihad Apartment 3A and 4A
Our Etihad “Apartments”: mine on the left and AAC CPA’s on the right

Etihad Bar
If you want to be social, drop by the bar at 36,000 feet!

There was one small glitch, however: Because the Etihad flight departs London at 9:30 AM, we will end up having a 22-hour layover in London. Well, folks, I certainly know how to put a layover to good use!

Within 30 minutes of booking the Etihad flight, I’d arranged for matinee tickets to see Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Theatre Royal Haymarket, and made an early dinner reservation at one of our favorite London restaurants, Hawksmoor in Air Street. In between, we’ll swan over to one of our favorite hotels, The Corinthia in Whitehall Place, where we’ll enjoy a cocktail at the lovely Bassoon Bar.

Theatre Royal Haymarket
The historic Theatre Royal Haymarket

The Goat
Hey – recognize the guy on the left? He was Brody on Homeland!

Bassoon Bar - 02
The trendy Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

Hawksmoor Air Street
Great steakhouse and more: Hawksmoor in Air Street

Oh, and as we needed a place for the night, I booked accommodations at the Hilton London Heathrow. It was recommended to us by friends who know. And get this: the hotel is a 10-minute walk to Terminal 4/Heathrow, from which our Etihad flight will depart the next morning.

Hilton Exterior
The Hilton is a 10-minute covered walk to Terminal 4 at Heathrow

Hilton Room
Cool accommodations at the Hilton

Walkway LHR - Hilton
Hotel to airport – quick walk – how great is that?

So, our layover will be filled with fun things to do: culture, liquid refreshment, grub.

Oh, and from Terminal 4/Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus in Central London, we can take the Piccadilly line in just about an hour. How great is that?

Tube Map to London
How to get from here to there.

The flight from London to Abu Dhabi take about 7½ hours (wish it were LONGER!), so we’ll arrive in Abu Dhabi at about 8:00 PM local time. For the transfer to Dubai (about a 90 minute drive), we’ve arranged for our hotel – Raffles Dubai – to pick us up at the airport.

Dubai
Iconic Image – Dubai

Raffles Dubai
Our digs in Dubai – cute, right?

We’ll have 3 nights and 2 full days in Dubai before boarding Encore on Monday, the 17th.

There, in a nutshell, is the first 5 days of our trip. Another preview on the cruise will follow in a couple of days.

Enjoy!