I’M –– literally –– just back from a breathtakingly spectacular cruise in the Persian Gulf on Royal Caribbean International’s luxurious Brilliance of the Seas and was shell-shocked, almost speechless, at the sheer wealth seen and experienced in the oil-rich Middle Eastern statelets visited.
Remembering that 50 years ago (and I recall half-a-century ago easily!) now ritzy-glitzy tax-free havens like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Fujairah were bits of baking, arid, desert –– virtually pimples on the backside of undeveloped Arabia –– the changes that almost unlimited oil and gas reserves have brought is simply stunning.
Fifty years ago the people of the Persian Gulf –– it’s now politically correct to call it not the Iranian Gulf as might be expected, but the Arabian Gulf (however, no one ever accused me of being PC!) survived, barely, on trading, fishing, diving for natural pearls — before the Japanese learnt how to “culture” them — camel breeding and subsistence farming of palm dates, the only vegetable matter to exist in this inhospitable terrain.
Now your average Emirati is looked after by understandably fairly popular feudal leaders from cradle to grave, their marriage paid for and a brand new home, fully kitted out, as a wedding gift.
They seem to live and eat well, drive the best of German, British, Italian and Japanese engineering; marinas are bursting with state-of-the-art ocean-going craft moored on the translucent turquoise, calm, blood-temperature water lying above some of the world’s greatest coral reefs. These are just superb for scuba diving and snorkeling.
I’ll be telling you more about the seven night cruise on Bahamas-registered RCI’s Radiance class ship here and in our sister paper the Standard.
Much more if my suitcase finally turns up!
Lost by Ethiopian, an otherwise admirable airline, somewhere between Dubai, Addis Ababa and Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!) my suitcase holds –– or held –– most of my notes on the trip, a Press Kit from the kind folk who invited me: Tracey Krog, an English-speaker from Cruises in South Africa and CI Services, whose rep was Inge Cross, a bubbly Afrikaner, with a Mauritian e-mail address who lives in Kuwait!
Actually the whole package was originally put together by Fulela Dreams of South Africa, cruise specialists who recently took over Mitchell Cotts Travel Agents in Avondale.
The missing luggage also includes the voyage’s full a la carte menus for a week, a DVD of spectacular pictures, most of my summer-weight clothes, all my swimming gear, two wet packs, powerful bird-watching field glasses, a Swiss Army knife presented by the Mayor of Geneva a third of a century ago, evening suit and shoes and sundry headgear.
Air Zimbabwe have managed to lose my kit twice between Harare and Gatwick, but it’s always turned up intact within 36 hours, delivered free to my son or daughter’s homes. Currently my stuff has been AWOL almost 56 hours: last seen at a chaotic Dubai airport as unruly Angolans almost fought to cram the plane’s holds with (between them) literally tonnes of bargain basement household gear.
I witnessed one chap charged goodness knows what in US$100 notes for having –– can you believe it? –– 179 kilos excess baggage.
Over Christmas I was very miffed to be hit 63 Scottish pounds for being only seven kgs overweight on a no-frills, purportedly “cheap” BMI hop just from Edinburgh to Heathrow!
I’d previously sailed on Brilliance of the Seas’ very big sister ship Independence of the Seas, when she was the largest cruise liner in the world, through the Western Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Belize (nee British Honduras) and two Mexican ports.
But Brilliance was brilliant! She was a really friendly, happy ship, starring some of the most cheerful and efficient, crew I’ve ever come across, recruited from 65 nations: including a girl from Botswana, working in the duty free shops!
We met the captain: a young(ish) Dane, widely experienced in his country’s merchant marine service before joining RCI and a former officer in the Royal Danish Navy.
As far as I’m concerned the most important person aboard any ship is the food and beverage manager and ours was a graduate of the Swiss Hotel School (the world’s best). A German-speaking Swiss himself, Markus Zihlmann (54) has lived in Australia for 20 years. Under him is Kiwi born Mark Wilson executive chef.
He has an executive sous-chef, five sous-chefs, numerous chefs-de-partie, 105 cooks and 50 dishwashers from 45 nations who prepare, cook and serve up to 1 000 a la carte three, four or five course meals at each of two supper services, look after a spectacular international help-yourself buffet, several cafes and assorted eateries on the 13-deck ship of 90 090 gross tonnes.
They do a la carte and buffet breakfasts, 24-hour snack service, buffet lunch for 2 501 always hungry passengers, cater various cocktail parties and receptions and provide state room service to what we used to call cabins.
Brilliance entered service in July 2002. She’s 293 metres long (Independence is 393 metres with 15 decks; the new giants Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas each 362m with 18 decks: they each carry 5 402 guests.)
We were less than half of that, with 2 501 passengers supposed to be aboard (I heard several French Canadians had visa problems at Dubai and were turned away) cosseted by 859 crew who really care and patently love their work.
The ship’s beam is 32 metres with a draft of only eight metres, allowing much marine mobility; she can make 25 knots (46,3 km/ph).
Read more (especially if I get my notes back!) on Sunday in the Standard.