When Brilliance of the Seas reaches Abu Dhabi on Saturday morning I will be jumping in a taxi and racing to Yas island to visit the Ferrari World theme park. Next day in Dubai I’ll be taking a bus tour of the city and a trip up the Burj Khalifa tower, tallest building in the world.
A couple of days ago I was riding in a 4WD LandCruiser on a thrilling dune-bashing expedition in the desert, and for the past few days I have been exploring Muscat, the capital of Oman, courtesy of Panorama Tours (more of whom later).
The opportunity to do something new and different, to see new sights, to meet new people, and to savour unfamiliar food and drink are all part of what makes a cruise holiday so enjoyable.
The sights, sounds and smells of Muscat’s Muttrah district are less than 10 minutes walk from the dock gates, along the elegant Corniche with its polished marble paving slabs and pink granite walls.The road is full of taxis; the pavement is thronged with smiling men in their cool white dishdashas, and women whose expressions are invisible behind their black veils.
On one side is the sea, teeming with literally millions of fish swimming tightly together in a shimmering ball to protect themselves from predatory gulls.
On the other are gleaming white, balconied villas (above) redolent of a more relaxing age; a sprawling mosque and community centre, and the bustling alleys of the souk, its shops piled high with pashminas and perfumes, frankincense and . . . framed scorpions.
Some of the stalls offer what may well be genuine local trinkets and antiques, saffron from Iran – and the frankincense can only have come from Salalah in the south-west of Oman. In one section of the market was a store selling some of the biggest aluminium cooking pots I have ever seen. Conveniently next door another dealer did a line in giant gas rings.
But many shopkeepers are haggling over sales of plastic tat shipped by the container load from China; hair adornments, toys, and the ubiquitous inflatable toys. They must make a living, but I’ve no idea who buys this stuff
Half- way between the ship and the shops is the local fish market, where not an eyebrow is raised as the occasional curious tourist photographs the fresh catch lying on slabs and the small army of stallholders chopping and filleting their produce.
At the far end of the Corniche, between a giant incense burner perched on top of a bare outcrop of rock, is a park filled with funfair rides which wouldn’t seem out of place in Brighton or Blackpool.
I could go on – all this has been part of the enjoyment of a two-day stop in this gentle capital, where it felt just as safe to walk at night as in the heat of the day.
Not for some people, apparently. It’s obvious from the number of passengers occupying sun loungers on Brilliance that many see the week’s cruise in the Arabian Gulf as little more than an opportunity to get away from a chilly winter back home and bask in the heat at a bargain price.
And the results of a survey of cruise passengers released this week show that as many as one in five never bother to go ashore when their ship ties up.
The study, for CruiseCompare.co.uk, asked more than a thousand regular cruisers about their travel habits and found that of those who said they stayed on board, almost a third said it was because they would have to spend more money to visit a mainland attraction. Others said there was plenty to entertain them on the ship, and some said it was because they did not like foreign food.
A third of those surveyed said they always left the ship, with half of them saying that experiencing different cultures was an essential part of their holiday.
A sensible 60 per cent said it “depends on the location” whether or not they leave the cruise liner when it docks.
On this week-long scoot around the Arabian Gulf, I certainly rate meeting the locals and savouring the atmosphere of different cultures far higher than the opportunity to slather on the sun cream and sleep on a deckchair. And I’m pleased to discover that most passengers agree with me.