Sunday, January 31, 2010

Arrival at JFK

After 15 hours in the air we have arrived safely at JFK. The flight
was very nice, but I couldn't seem to fall asleep even with the
wonderful "lie flat" seats. We are just awaiting our flight to CLT. I
am guessing we will both fall asleep on that one! We had some
McDonalds in the airport which tasted so good to us, though we're not
exactly sure what meal it was. We are so confused as to the day and
time especially since we talked to Dad before we left HKG and it was 6
pm Saturday night, but was 7 am Sunday morning to us. I wonder how
many days it will take to get us straightened out.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Last Day in Dubai and on to Hong Kong

As one might expect, today’s plans were slightly different that initially planned. Mom was extremely sore, especially her right hand which is bruised through to the palm. I had considered going skiing, but then was afraid I might fall and hurt myself and then we’d really be in trouble! Instead, I saw was a gorgeous day we had in store – no clouds or haze and just a slight breeze. Mom and I did go down to get a little bit of breakfast from the massive buffet, but again, that was difficult for her. We returned to our room and I did a little organizing of our suitcases before heading out to the pool. It really was fantastic. Mom opted to stay inside and read her book since there were several steps to negotiate getting down to the pool.

I spent a few hours out there enjoying a new book, but the sun was quite warm. Soon one of the pool attendants brought a damp cold towel by and then a lime slushy – you can’t beat this kind of service! I went up about 2pm since I knew we needed to start getting our things ready. We had a 4:00 pm checkout, but there was still a lot to do. We both showered and managed to get ourselves put together by the time the bellman arrived. We didn’t really get out of there until about 4:45, but all things considered we did well. We walked around the grounds of the hotel and then found a nice little corner where we could sit and relax.

We went to another Italian restaurant on the grounds and had a very nice dinner. We finished up around 9:00 pm so we had just enough time to get our luggage and meet our driver. It was about a 30 minute trip to the airport, but the traffic was crazy, much worse than during the day. We arrived at DXB to a sea of humanity. It was such a jolt to all of the senses. We had to first put our bags through x-ray before we even went to get our tickets. I will say that once we got to the Cathay Pacific counter, they took very good care of us and had a wheelchair ready for Mom almost immediately. It is a good thing that we had that for her as the airport is enormous, much larger than I had anticipated. It seemed as though we walked for miles. The nice part about having her in a wheelchair is that we do get to bypass many of the long lines at security, immigration, etc. Since we were quite early we went to the British Airways Lounge to relax before the flight. They had all kinds of food and drink for us to enjoy. It was not long before it was 12:15 am and they came back to get Mom. We were taken to the gate and taken down below. The plane was about ½ mile away and you had to go up stairs, so instead, they have this type of large hydraulic box lift to take up those in a wheelchair.

It was the funniest thing to be lifted up on the opposite side of where everyone else was boarding. The gentleman who was taking care of Mom was great, he made sure we were totally taken care of and even got her all the way to her seat. The plane boarded extremely fast and orderly. This is one of the new Airbus planes with the herringbone set up for business class. The only con is that you cannot talk easily to the person you’re travelling with - it is definitely designed for the solo traveler. We just loved it. You have your own space and access to the aisle. We were in the air right on schedule and it was such a smooth take off that you hardly even noticed it. They brought around beverages and our amenity kit and were getting ready to serve a meal. We both opted to sleep. They have really nice pillows and comforters and of course the seats that go completely flat. It was fantastic. Mom and I both had a great night’s rest and agree that was the fastest 7 hours ever!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mom Fell for Dubai

Well, today didn’t go exactly as planned. The day started off really nice – the winds had calmed slightly and it was a little warmer. The beds are the hotel were so comfortable that we didn’t even want to get up, however, we wanted to make it down for breakfast. Neither one of us has ever seen such a spread – they cover every type of cuisine imaginable from sushi to dim sum to salads to eggs and of course 3 styles of every meat. The coffee here is extremely strong, but not at all bitter. After we’d had our fill we went up to decide what to do today. We found out that the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) started today and that all of the stores are having big sales, so shopping is what we decided to do. There are so many different malls here, but we opted for the Mall of Dubai which is the world’s largest mall and it also is attached to the Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building). We knew we had to get tickets and since it is so new we might have to get them for tomorrow. Our driver took us over there around 11:30 so we could spend plenty of time. En route we could see the Burj from a distance.
As soon as you walk into Dubai Mall you realize that this is unlike any mall you’ve ever been in. Though it’s only 4 stories high it covers acres and acres of land. There is one of every store you could ever imagine including every store in the US that I’ve ever been to and an aquarium.

There were definitely deals all around us, but we wanted to check out the tickets for the Burj first. We walked ½ mile just to get to that part of the mall and saw a very long line and a sign that said tickets sold out until Friday, so I immediately go into line. When I finally got up to the desk the only tickets available were for 11:00 pm Friday night, or we had the choice of an “immediate” ticket which is 4 times as expensive. We figured that this is our one and only change to go up, so we went for it. As you entered you were able to look up through a glass skylight and look all the way up the building.

Then we walked a ways through these corridors where you could see the timeline of it being built and lots of pictures. We were finally in the queue for the elevator. The elevator was one of the smoothest, quietest elevators I’ve ever been on – and of course I had to take a video as we went up.

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The observation deck or what they call “At the Top” is at the 124th floor of the 160 story building. We had a fairly clear day so the view was amazing. The skyscrapers that we could see below looked like toys. It just doesn’t look real.

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We spent quite a bit of time just enjoying the view, and the crowds weren’t bad so you really could see all you wanted to see. There was a TV crew from Croatia up there that interviewed us for their news channel! They wanted to know what we thought of the building, what brought us there, etc. Then we ran into a couple from the QM2, we hadn’t met them on the ship, but they had on a shirt. We chatted with them and found that they were from Nantucket, so we enjoyed chatting. At one point we realized there were hardly any people outside so we went back in and realized they were all in line to go back down. The line was extremely long and without anywhere for Mom to sit we got right in line, but it still took another 15 minutes for us to get the elevator down. It was again such a smooth and quiet ride down. We exited the elevators and then had to go through a revolving door to get out and that’s when the bad portion of the day started. We’re not sure what happened, but as Mom was going through the revolving door she fell down and did a face plant on the marble floor. It was awful. I was behind her in the next slot so I couldn’t even get to her. I managed to get out and around to help her up and of course she is bleeding and she is absolutely dazed and confused. A very kind Arabic couple came up and gave us some wet wipes to help clean her up but we both had blood on our shirts. After a few minutes the head of security (Andy, who is from the UK) took us through areas that are still under construction to an office lobby. We found out later that it’s the HQ of the Burj. Needless to say, we have seen places in the Burj Khalifa that no one else will ever see. I have never seen so many people trying to make sure she was ok. We found out that she is their first “incident”. Leave it to Mom to make her mark – literally! We sat there for about 30 minutes to get her calmed down and just make sure that she was ok to get to the doctor. I wasn’t sure how all of this was going to work, but turns out there is a medical facility attached to the Mall of Dubai. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like, but he assured us it is a top of the line facility. They arrived with a wheelchair and Andy himself (and some other escorts) took here through a maze of beige hallways without any markings, but came out and showed us the rest of the exit tour that we had missed. We had to go out in the mall to take an elevator up to the 3 floor – funny thing is it came out in the bookstore, which is by far the largest bookstore I have ever seen. Before we knew it we had arrived at the Dubai Mall Clinic.

It was more like a 5 star resort. We were greeted with warm towels and mint infused sparkling water. It was just moments before she was taken back to a triage room. Her blood pressure was through the roof as to be expected. Mom thought she may have broken her nose, but it was just mashed and she cut the bridge of it with her glasses. They took her back to x-ray her hand which was already swelling and turning pretty colors. This all took less than an hour. They had also cleaned her face up and put some butterfly strips on her nose. While we were waiting for the x-ray results we had “high tea” in the lobby. They had asked if we wanted some tea, so we said yes and thought we would get a mug of tea, but not here. Next thing we know they are bringing out a teapot and cup for each of us, and even had hot steamed milk. There were also some biscuits for us to snack on. Only in Dubai would you have tea served in Wedgwood china in a medical facility. It was not much longer until we met with the doctor and fortunately she did not bread anything. He gave her prescriptions for pain meds that were filled by the on-site pharmacy. The clinic’s Concierge (yes, they have a Concierge desk) got in touch with Raja to tell him where he can pick us up. He arrived promptly to take us back to the hotel. Mom was exhausted from the day and we were both hungry since we hadn’t had much of anything since breakfast. We went down to the Pizzeria that is at the hotel and had dinner. Since it is accessible by stairs only, they took us back to a service lift so that Mom didn’t have to take the stairs. I will say everyone has been so kind here. We really had a most enjoyable dinner under the circumstances. Mom had the calzone, which was large enough to feed 3 people and I had the Pizza Bianca. Strangely enough, you can even see her battle wounds in the photo.

After we’d had our fill we went back to the room where they had delivered a birthday cake which we had for dessert. It was late enough on the East coast for us to call Dad and tell him what happened. Not the call he wanted to get. Thankfully she is basically okay, but is going to be black and blue, especially on her face and her right hand. I think having the right hand out of commission is going to be the hardest thing for her. We are calling it an early night, but as we did, National Geographic channel had a show on called Big, Bigger, Biggest and it showed the Burj Khalifa, so we did watch a bit of that, but then to sleep.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Leaving "Home" and Arrival in Dubai

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We have arrived! We are in Dubai. We managed to get everything that was left packed up and we were out of our room by 8:20 am. It was time for breakfast in the dining room and we were fortunate enough to run it to some of the usual folks before they left. We had eggs Benedict for breakfast, some of the best we’ve ever had. By 9:30 we finished and went to wait disembarkation instructions in the Queen’s Grill Lounge. I still had some internet minutes to use, so I burned the rest of those, but then it was time to pick up our passports. I did arrange a wheelchair for Mom since some of these ports are so large and require a great deal of walking. However, it did put us much later in the queue and we did not get off of the ship until almost noon. Fortunately our driver, Raja, was still there holding a sign with our name and the car was extremely close. We soon realized what a “find” we had in Raja. He was not only a great driver, but spoke excellent English and knew a great deal about the area. The trip to the hotel consisted of an overview tour of Dubai. We were both impressed at what a clean and modern city this is. There is a great deal of construction, much of which has been suspended during these tough economic times. After about 45 minutes we arrived at the Le Royal Meridian Beach Resort. We received such a warm welcome when we arrived including a hot towel, fresh orange juice, and dates. We were informed that our room was available and our escort took us up to make sure we knew how everything worked. Our room is nothing short of amazing. We have 2 rooms, an enormous balcony and a view to die for.

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The only downside to today is that they are in the midst of a “shamal” or very high winds, gale force, from the Northeast. This also means the views are hazy and the air is cooler. It was soon time to go to tea at the Burj Al Arab, which will be familiar to most as the flagship hotel of Dubai.

We had arranged for Raja to take us there and he was right on time. As we approached the Burj, the sight of it did not disappoint. It is really hard to put into words some of which we have seen. It is as though we are in a fairyland. We were slightly early so we took time for photos, no video in the lobby though.

Again, it doesn’t even look real even when you’re there. Next it was a quick trip up to the Sky Restaurant on the 27th floor.

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It is cantilevered out over the water with stunning views. Through the haze we could see the outline of the Burj Khalifa, now the tallest building in the world. We will see that another day. We could also see part of Palm Jumeirah and "the World" which is a new group of islands they are building. Today’s high tea was a 7 course tea that ranged from champagne with berries to sandwiches to scones and on to petit fours.

We were most surprised that they did not rush us through – it was as though we could take all of the time in the world. They even came out with a little birthday treat for me. We continue to see what warm and welcoming people are here. It was already 6:30 and time for Raja to pick us up and take us back to the hotel.

We entered the hotel and there must have been 1000 candles lit all around - it was beautiful!

We did sit out on the balcony for a while, but the winds were still quite strong. Since we have high speed internet we were able to make calls on Skype tonight, so that is mostly what we did. I'm sorry we weren't able to get through to everyone. It has been hard to be out of contact for so long. Somehow it is again midnight, not sure how we always stay up so late – I guess we’re just having fun and looking forward to what tomorrow brings! Good Night!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tuesday - Muscat, Oman

A very Happy Birthday to Salam and to Susan!

Since today was our last morning that we could do room service, we did exactly that and had a late morning breakfast in our room. The ship was very quiet as over 1200 passengers had gone into Muscat on various excursions. We had debated the issue, but instead we opted to just stay on board and enjoy the beautiful day. I will have some photos to post since Bob has graciously offered to send me a few. We went up to the sunning deck quite early as I was determined to finish the book I was reading to get it back to the library today. The deck was so pleasant because there was just the lightest breeze and not the gusty wind of days past. The scenery was also breathtaking as there were very steep mountains right up to the shore, not the desert scenario that we had anticipated. As you can see it is a beautiful area.

We also had the opportunity to see many of the “Dhow” boats which are the traditional type of boat in this area.

After spending several hours in the sun working on a tan we went to a late lunch where we had chicken meatball subs that were absolutely delicious, but VERY strong with garlic. The best was the dessert, pineapple fritters with rum raisin ice cream. What will we ever do without dessert two times a day! After lunch we did a little more packing and felt as though we were in good shape to have our bags out by midnight. We did decide to go to tea one last time even though we were still full from lunch. They really do have the best scones on board with the real clotted cream, we will miss that. I think we have spent a lot of time today reflecting on this trip and are truly sad to see it come to an end.

The ship left port around 5:00 PM and had to make quite a turn to get out of her berth. Below is a photo of us departing from Muscat that was sent via a comment (Thank you Arabesque)!

We readied ourselves for dinner, but first we went down to the Queen’s Grill lounge for drinks with our tablemates Bob, Marsha, Judy, and Jung. Bob and Marsha are also leaving the ship tomorrow to visit their son and his family who live in Dubai while Judy and Jung and doing the entire world voyage. It was really great to spend one last evening with our new friends. Dinner was bittersweet as we knew we will be leaving all of this tomorrow. We ordered off of the a la carte and had the most wonderful rack of lamb with mint sauce (hey, I haven’t talked food in days now!). After dinner we went down and enjoyed one last evening in the Queen’s Room with dancing. We said goodbye to Shirley earlier today, but went down to see Betty one last time. She ended up getting locked out of her room, so she didn’t get down there until quite late. Mom even graced the dance floor for a Bosonova!

Shortly after 11:00 pm we had to return to our rooms to get our luggage out. We had a brief scare, we thought we had lost Mom’s stateroom key, but it was just hiding in my purse. We are now getting ready to go on to bed as we do have an early morning and a big day ahead of us in Dubai.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday - Arabian Sea

Even though we’ve just recently lost 2 hours, we still managed to get up around 8:00 this morning so that we could go to the dining room for breakfast. We have decided that we are really going to miss all of the pampering that we’ve received on board and certainly miss all of the people that we’ve met. Breakfast was very nice and we were able to see the calm blue waters and beautiful blue skies. After breakfast we came back to the room and I opted to go do some laundry. As I have mentioned earlier, the launderette is a very interesting place where people get VERY territorial. After a couple of hours we had all of our clothes clean so that we could begin packing. First it was time to go down for dance class, but today wasn’t the typical class. Tonight is Burns Night where they celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns who is evidently idolized by the Scottish people. In honor of this we learned two Scottish dances, for which I cannot remember the names. However they were group dances and very fun and energetic. After class and folding laundry Mom and I went up to the dining room for lunch. We made it there for all three meals today – that’s major progress.

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The majority of our afternoon was spent packing, not the most fun part of a trip. I think we did a pretty good job and are about 90% packed at this point. We do have to remember that Wednesday is not the end of our trip as we still have several days in Dubai and then of course going to Hong Kong before going back to the States. We did spend some time out on the verandah just enjoying the afternoon sun and eventually sunset.

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We still had a bottle of bubbly and we couldn’t let that go to waste, so we celebrated what has been a wonderful trip. They were having a special Burns Night event explaining some of the traditions including addressing and toasting the Haggis.

For those who don’t know what this is - you don’t want to know, but I will tell you anyway! From what I understand it’s comprised of intestinal items all stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled!!! Any takers?? The crazy think is, they had this to sample at this event and the fools lined up like they couldn’t wait. Ugh. Needless to say, I was not one of them. We left the event early to go on up to the dining room before I totally lost my appetite. Then of course Mom went and ordered Haggis as an appetizer off of our menu. She is officially braver (or crazier) than I.

After dinner we went down to the Queen’s Room for the Tartan Ceilidh and dancing the Highland Flings and Scottish jigs. I’ll have to say it was a great time, but I think my knees hurt from all of the jumping in high heels. It was amazing to see all of the gentleman who were wearing their kilts – we even had a photo op with one!

We still find it hard to believe that tomorrow is our last day on board this beautiful ocean liner (with great stabilizers!). Tomorrow we will be in Muscat, Oman, but our plan is to stay on board and have a quiet day. That is about all from “Bubbly and Bloomy” our nicknames from our British friends.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday - Gulf of Aden

We struggle when we lose hours over night! Fortunately we had ordered late room service and then just cereal so it wouldn’t get cold. We thought ahead on this one. After breakfast we went up to the sunning deck. I think there was more wind today, according to the Commodore about 30-40 knots across the decks. We enjoyed the music that was coming from the deck below and they brought around some fresh fruit kabobs. On the Grilles Deck there is also water and tea, sandwiches, etc. and around 2:00 pm each day they bring around some ice cream. I skipped the ice cream today since I was very hungry and we were going to get some lunch. We ended up going to the Chef’s Galley where we had a cheeseburger (no finger bowl this time!). It tasted so good to both of us. We have had updates most of the day regarding the various warships that have been escorting us through pirate territory and there are constant lookouts by crew on the various decks. We have been covered by ships from the US Navy, the Royal Navy, and ships from Saudi Arabia and even Turkey. We have been moving at a high rate of speed – 26 knots. After we had lunch it was already late afternoon, so we went back and watched a little Fox News and took a nap. Prakasan woke us up (thankfully) when he brought in our evening canap├ęs.

We decided it was time for us to get ready for our last formal evening. It is hard to believe that we are almost to Dubai. Time has gone by very quickly for us on this trip. After showering I realized I had gotten a bit more sun on my back than I had realized. It’s funny how the sun has become increasingly stronger every day since we entered the Red Sea. This evening we are passing into the Arabian Sea and out of the Gulf of Aden. About 7:30 we had passed beyond the tip of Somalia, much to our relief.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday - Red Sea

Today was another beautiful day at sea. We had our breakfast in our room before heading up to the deck. It was really quite windy while we were up there and it was almost cloudy. It didn’t take long until the sun burned off the clouds and we had a gorgeous day on our hands. We soaked up the sun and read for several hours. The highlight of the day was seeing the US Farragut come along side of us. She is a warship out of Norfolk, VA.

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You could see crew on the front in their formation and the rest of the crew towards the back. The ships exchanged horns blowing and all of the sailors were waving as were we waving back. We came in about 3:00 to go and get a little lunch. We opted for the Kings Court to get a little salad and then went back to our room. Today we have to start taking “pirate precautions” in the evening by shutting our curtains and turning off the cabin lights. Around 5:00 Prakasan brought in all of these hot hors d’oeuvres for my “birthday”.

We could only eat a part of them since we had just had our lunch a few hours earlier. I did run up to Deck 11 to see the sunset – very pretty. Tonight was formal, so we needed to dress and go down to the dining room. We had preordered Steak Diane and it was absolutely delicious – one of our favorites so far. After dinner we went down to the Queen’s Room for a little dancing and sat with our friends Betty and Shirley, both from the UK.

We are losing another hour tonight, so we had to keep that in mind. Tomorrow we will be 9 hours ahead of EST, but that is the last time change until Dubai – thank goodness!