On 10th December, I flew out to Dubai from Birmingham International with Emirates ready to for my next upcoming cruise. After spending a few days exploring the fabulous destination – which included walking along The Walk, relaxing at Jumeirah Beach, exploring Dubai Mall, and travelling to the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa – I finally embarked Royal Caribbean International’s veteran Splendour of the Seas for her first sailing out of the Middle East on December 14th. I would be visiting Khasab, Muscat and Abu Dhabi during my 7-night cruise.
Once I had boarded the ship, I headed straight for my Balcony Stateroom. I was intrigued to see it as my cabin #6006 was originally an Outside Stateroom, which Royal Caribbean had extended into a Balcony during the ships refurbishment back in 2011. The cabin was a decent size and comfortable, although the vanity table was very small. The balcony was very spacious. Although some of the room had been modernised, such as the curtains, vanity table, TV and bathroom cabinet, most of the cabin had been left untouched. The bedside units were probably the same as when the ship was built in 1996 and they looked hideous compared to the rest of the stateroom. Although the wardrobe was very spacious, the cabin lacked drawer space, featuring only two small unoccupied drawers, as well as a small stand underneath both bedside units. The bathroom itself was OK. The bathroom cabinets and sink were modern, but the mirror was peeling away and the shower was fairly small.
After viewing the cabin, I began to become acquainted to the ship that I would call ‘home’ for the next 7-nights. Splendour of the Seas feels like a true ocean-going ship, especially for those who enjoy a more traditional cruise experience. The 1996-built ship perfectly combines the traditional aspects of cruising, with the WOW factors Royal Caribbean are known for, such as the Rock Climbing Wall and the stunning Centrum aerial performances.
The pool deck is spacious and features a small stage, movie screen and bar, which were perfect for the hot weather in Dubai and the other ports we’d be visiting on this cruise.
The Viking Crown Lounge is always a fantastic place to relax with a drink overlooking the pool deck and panoramic views across the sides of the ship. The Viking Crown Lounge, which hosts Boleros bar was very impressive and I was blown away by the beauty of the lounge the first time I saw it, with its glass chandeliers and plush velvet and gold seating. Towards the back of the Viking Crown Lounge and slightly raised up, Chops Grille is in a perfect location. With views overlooking the aft of the ship, this restaurant is probably one of the most intimate dining venues found in the Royal Caribbean fleet, excluding Chef’s Table.
On the top outside deck there is a jogging track, a mini golf course, a rock climbing wall, as well as the traditional shuffleboard. I loved the teak-decked stairs leading down onto the Spa terrace area. This is a nice little area for sunbathing and is usually quieter than the main pool area and forward observation deck. The Vitality Spa and Gym was quite large for the size of the ship and featured various treatment rooms and exercise equipment.
The Solarium is a great place to unwind. Although more suited for cooler climates, the magrodome still ensures the sun shines through and it’s a great place to cool off. The Park Cafe is located opposite the Solarium Pool and offers a variety of sandwiches and sweet desserts. It’s a great alternative to the Windjammer, especially if you only want a quick bite to eat.
At the heart of the ship is the Centrum. The R Bar, Guest Services, Latte-tudes, and the Photo Gallery surround this 7-deck high open space.
After exploring what Splendour of the Seas had to offer, I stopped by at the Boardwalk Dog House for a quick bite to eat. It was the first time I had eaten from there. I went for the Coney Island Dog. It was nice as hot dogs go, but I feel like they should serve a wider variety of food, such as burgers and chips, as the only thing on the menu is hot dogs and it takes up a lot of space just to serve them.
After exploring the ship, unpacking my suitcase, and completing the muster drill, it was nearly time for us to set sail. We departed Dubai shortly before 8 p.m., passing TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 2 and the former Cunard ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 which has been docked in the port since 2008.
After sail away it was time for evening dinner. I was on Royal Caribbean’s My Time Dining, which meant I could eat at any time that suited me, but I had reserved a table for 8:30 p.m each night. The King & I main dining room spans two-decks and features floor to ceiling glass windows. The decor has an Oriental theme, with a Chinese Dragon guarding the restaurant door! Food choices were the usual Royal Caribbean menu options. For my starter, I picked the Toasted Farro and Lamb Broth, followed by Beef Sliders as my main course, and finishing up with a light Strawberry Charlotte.
After an enjoyable dinner, I briefly spent some time listening to the live music in the Centrum and had a few drinks in the Schooner Bar, before heading up to the disco at Boleros in the Viking Crown Lounge for some cocktails.
The next day we arrived in Khasab in Oman. After a busy day previously, I didn’t surface until gone 11 a.m. That, along with the quarry-like landscape, tempted my to stay onboard for the day and enjoy all the offerings on the ship. Lunch in the Windjammer were the usual buffet selections found on other Royal Caribbean ships. It was busy, but I managed to find a seat on one of the breakfast bar tables, which overlooked Khasab. It was like sitting in a greenhouse, as the powerful sun glistened through the panoramic windows and even through the glass ceiling in the centre of the buffet. I was glad to get out of there and into the much cooler environment of my stateroom, where I spent most of the afternoon watching the fishing boats coming and going from my balcony. Also in the afternoon, I enjoyed a quick game of mini-golf on the nine-hole course, as well as completing my daily four laps of the jogging track.
Later that night, after setting sail from Khasab, it was the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Reception in the Centrum. After those guests who wanted a photo taken with him, Captain Yngvar Knutsen, from Norway, gave a little speech about the ship, our itinerary, and the different nationalities onboard. He revealed that the majority of guests came from the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and South Africa, so our cruise was a real mix of different nationalities. After his speech, the aerial artists performed their ‘Chandelier’ routine. This involved a giant chandelier, which lowered down into the Centrum. It was a spectacular sight to watch.
Once the performance had finished I headed straight for the dining room. I had a Caesar Salad to start, followed by a Strip Steak, and Chocolate Sensation for dessert. It was an early night, as I would be up early for my shore excursion in Muscat the following morning.
The next morning and day 3 of the cruise, Splendour of the Seas arrived in Muscat, Oman, where we would have an overnight call. I watched our 8 a.m. arrival from the balcony and the destination looked lovely in the early morning sun. Also in port that day with us were MSC Musica and Costa neoRiviera. With breakfast out of the way, I headed down to the 42nd Street Theatre on Deck 4 where I had to collect my excursion group sticker. I had booked the ‘Mystical Muscat’ excursion, which included a tour of Muscat as well as visits to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Mutrah Souk. It was a really fascinating day and it was a good opportunity to understand the Islamic culture and the traditions of the Omanis.
We got back from the excursion just after 2 p.m. I had a quick bite to eat in the Windjammer, before returning to my stateroom, where I sat on the balcony waiting for MSC Musica and Costa neoRiviera to depart at 5 p.m. The sun was just setting as MSC Musica slipped her moorings. Costa neoRiviera followed around 30 minutes later, as darkness was fast approaching.
After watching both ships leave, I went to the Diamond Lounge for a few drinks before heading to dinner. To start I had a delicious Crab Cake, followed by Chicken Cordon Bleu and a refreshing Jaffa Cake. After a scrumptious dinner, I had a quick drink in the Viking Crown Lounge, while I waited for the Arabian Nights Party to start on the pool deck. The deck was transformed into a fantastic party venue, complete with a Sisha tent and relaxing cushion area. The host taught us how to perform a traditional Arabic dance and some traditional Arabic music was played, but by the end of the night it had turned into more of a Latin party night. Nevertheless, it was still a great night and I was amazed to see so many guests making an effort in wearing the Dishdasha, traditional Arabic clothing.
The next morning, we were still docked in Muscat. It was boiling. I spent most of the day relaxing on the top deck and enjoying the quiet and cool surroundings of the interior venues, such as the R Bar. It seemed the majority of guests had explored Muscat on the first day, as there were plenty of people who had remained onboard, choosing to relax on the top deck of the ship. I could have quite happily sat in the R Bar watching the elevators ride up and down, but it was nearly time for us to set sail.
Just before departure, the Captain informed us that he would be taking us on a short sightseeing cruise past the Al Alam Palace and the nearby coast, before turning the ship around and heading for our next port of call, Abu Dhabi, which required a day at sea to get to. I’m not sure why he bothered as it was pitch black.
That night I dined in Chops Grille. Despite having been on over ten Royal Caribbean cruises, surprisingly I have never experienced Chops, usually preferring to dine at Portofino’s or the equivalent Giovanni’s Table. It was a fantastic first experience, and one of the best meals I have ever had! To start I had my favourite soup, French Onion, followed by a delicious thick piece of bacon, with a sweet and spicy glaze. The highlight of the meal was the mouth-watering 9oz Filet Mignon, which was served with Chops Grille signature Bearnaise Sauce, which was to die for and well worth the $30 cover charge! For dessert, I just managed to finish the Chocolate Mud Pie! After the fabulous dinner, I returned to my stateroom. I quickly popped onto the balcony, where I was instantly amazed by how clear the sky was and how beautiful the stars looked. I was mesmerised. I could not stop gazing up into the sky and I stayed on the balcony for around 20 minutes, just watching the stars twinkle, and the waves gently lapping the side of the ship as we sailed along in the darkness.
The next day was a sunny day at sea. Again, I didn’t surface until gone 11 a.m, so I went straight to the Windjammer for lunch. It was fairly quiet and I managed to grab a window seat, which offered an impressive view of the blue seas as we entered the Strait of Hormuz, which is a busy shipping channel between Oman and Iran. The day was spent walking around the open decks, relaxing on the sun loungers, and playing a few games of Shuffleboard.
As evening approached, I went down to the 42nd Street Theatre for the evenings production show. The Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers would perform various classic songs from the movies, such as Dirty Dancing. The show was abysmal. It was like they were performing in a care home and didn’t want to wake anyone up. The sound was so quiet, you couldn’t even hear what they were singing half the time. The dancing seemed wooden and showed no passion from the dancers. The only decent part of the show, was the music from the talented orchestra and the pre-show comedy sketch by the entertainment staff. It seemed a lot of passengers agreed, as plenty walked out half way through the show.
It was time for another evening meal. I had the Red Pepper and Corn Soup to start, followed by Thai Chicken Breast, Ivory Chocolate Mousse and Baked Alaska. After dinner, I had a few drinks in the Viking Crown Lounge, before heading to bed. As I got back to my cabin we were just passing Dubai and could clearly make out the Burj Khalifa.
The next day we arrived in Abu Dhabi. I had booked an excursion to visit Ferrari World, as it was somewhere I had always been intrigued by. Our meeting time was at 10 a.m. on the pier side, so I had a leisurely breakfast and stroll around the pool deck. On the pier side were some traditional folkloric dancers welcoming Splendour of the Seas to the port for the first time, as well as to the brand new cruise terminal which had opened less than a week before! The terminal still smelled brand new and the check in desk chairs still had bubble-wrap around them! The terminal was very impressive and features a lovely glass roof, as well as cool air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi.
We boarded the coach just before 10 a.m. The transfer time took just under 40 minutes. From the coach window, Abu Dhabi looked desolate and still one large building site. It seemed like Abu Dhabi was trying to follow in the footsteps of Dubai’s success, but failing. We arrived at Ferrari World. The building looked huge – almost a cross between the Arsenal stadium and the Millennium Dome. Our tour escort told us he’d take us up to the main entrance, where he would each hand us a ticket. We would have just over three hours there, before having to return to the coach at 3 p.m, ready to depart a 3:15 p.m. He soon dashed off to the ticket office, leaving most of us clueless as to which direction to head in. Eventually we noticed he had taken an escalator to the next floor. We arrived at the main entrance, where a small group from our tour was waiting. He was nowhere insight. The entire group stood at the entrance for over 15 minutes, still clueless as to actually where he had gone. A few from our group were beginning to get irate because of his lack of communication and direction. We remained waiting. Eventually he emerged with a single ticket in his hand. We eventually got in, but now frustrated rather than excited. It was desolate, much like the city itself. I headed straight for Formula Rossa, the fastest roller coaster in the world. There was no queue and I was straight on the ride. It was so fast that you have to wear eye protection! It was an amazing and thrilling ride. We walked around the eerily quiet building, which inside reminded me of the Butlin’s Skyline Pavilion. The time soon passed and during the day the place began to get busier, but still quiet in comparison to other theme parks. After spending the day being brainwashed about how amazing Ferrari is on every ride, we boarded the coach back to the ship. Our coach arrived back an hour before the all aboard time of 5:30 p.m. Once back on the ship, I went to grab a quick snack at the Boardwalk Dog House to calm my appetite until the evenings dinner. I had my trusted Coney Island Dog again, but realised I was much more hungry than I originally thought, so went back and tried The Smoke House.
Later that evening it was time for dinner. After pigging out on hot dogs, I wasn’t particularly hungry, so opted for some of the light dishes. To start I had a Mozzarella Salad, which was served on a bed of rocket and topped with diced tomatoes. The salad was followed by yet more salad in the form of a slightly bizarre main course of Calamari Caesar Salad. The dish didn’t work – the Calamari made the lettuce hot, but the salad made the Calamari cold, so it ended up being a bowl of lukewarm, dry, Calamari. For dessert, I had the Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Tart.
After dinner it was another performance by the amazing aerial artists in the Centrum. This performance was a lot more impressive than the first one I saw, and certainly very colourful! It also featured some of the Singers and Dancers, who sounded a lot better than in the theatre. After the show I headed back to the stateroom and spotted MSC Musica sailing past.
The next morning Splendour of the Seas docked back in Dubai. Although I still had one final day onboard the ship, it was sad to know that departure was fast approaching. I woke up just in time to see us arrive and sail past Costa neoRiviera. It was a really hot day, and although I was planning to head into Dubai, I chose to instead spend the final day onboard the lovely ship. It was a fairly relaxing final day and I enjoyed how empty the ship was. Lunch in the Windjammer was peaceful. I sat relaxing on one of the sun loungers, but soon had to go inside because of the heat.
Shortly before 5 p.m., I watched Mein Schiff 2 arrive at the port. Soon after the sun began to set and it was possibly one of the greatest sunsets I have ever seen. The sky turned blood red.
Later that night, I spent the evening in the Diamond Lounge, ahead of my final dinner onboard. The dining room was very quiet, but meant that the service was excellent and quick. It was my favourite meal of the week too with French Onion Soup and Lamb Shank on the menu. For dessert I went for a Chocolate Ice-cream.
The next morning was disembarkation day. We opted to self-carry our luggage so that we could stay on the ship as late as possible…which at 8:30 a.m., wasn’t really that late, but in comparison to getting off at 4:45 a.m., it was! I had a transfer booked to take me to the airport at 11 a.m., so I sat in the terminal using the free Wi-Fi. People already began to embark at 9:30 a.m.!
During the cruise, the crew were very friendly and helpful, although my Stateroom Attendant, Cecilia, was one of the worse attendants I have ever had. I went down for evening meal each night at 8:30 p.m., which on every other Royal Caribbean cruise, the attendant would happily come and do the room during my dinner, yet with Cecilia, if I hadn’t put out the ‘Make Up Room’ sign by 7:30 p.m., she wouldn’t do it. The first night, she even asked us to leave the room so she could make the beds and finish early.
I really enjoyed the cruise. It was fascinating visiting the various ports of call and it really changed my perceptions on the Middle East. Muscat was one of my favourite destinations on the cruise, especially the visit to the Mosque. Splendour of the Seas is a lovely little ship, and for a ship her size, she offers plenty of entertainment and dining venues.