From Durham to Dubai

A new year, a new holiday.  After an excellent night out last night at our local pub to see in 2018, we woke up this morning with a new excitement – today we were setting off for another cruise!  😊

This time, however, there was no leaving the house in the early hours of the morning; we were not due to fly until tonight, so we didn’t leave until 2.30pm for the three-hour drive down to Manchester Airport.

The weather was crisp and cold, about 5˚C, but it was certainly better than it had been on Friday, when we’d had a thick snowfall.  The milder weather over the weekend, however, had seen the last of the snow melt and, despite heavy rain showers most of the way to Manchester, we negotiated the run down to the Skyparks long-term parking place in good time.

We booked the car in and were pleased to see it was a multi-storey, so our car was under cover at least, in the case of any more snow.  But we didn’t have to worry about snow where we were going, because we were jetting off to Dubai, then getting the coach for the hour-long ride to Abu Dhabi to join our ship, the Celebrity Constellation.

We hadn’t been on that ship before, so we were looking very much forward to our 12-night cruise, taking in the delights of Arabia and India.

The voyage we had to look forward to

We got the mini-bus to Manchester Airport and made our way, via several lifts and travellators, to Terminal 1.  As we were flying on one of the giant A380 Airbus aeroplanes, there were 12 check-in desks open for Emirates flight EK20, and the zig-zagging queue moved fairly quickly.

Once we’d checked in our bags, it was off to the Escapes executive lounge, where we enjoyed some hot food and a few drinks while we watched the departures board.  We had about an hour and a half to while away in there before the board announced that we were to make our way to Gate #12.

Once again, the queue to have our boarding passes checked moved quite quickly, and we didn’t have too long to wait until our section was called.  We were allocated seats 43J and 43K in Zone F.  Zone F!!!  The aircraft is so huge that it has “zones” in it.

I had been watching flight EK20 all week on FlightRadar 24, and it has never taken off on time all week.  Tonight was no exception, and we took to the skies half an hour late which wasn’t too bad; on Friday when we’d had all the snow, the flight was over three hours late taking off.  We were given an approximate flight time of just under seven hours, not bad.

The Airbus A380 is a gigantic aircraft indeed, dwarfing even the Boeing 747, or “jumbo jet”.  The aeroplane holds over 500 passengers over two decks; we were allocated the lower deck near the front.  We were disappointed to see that there was no more legroom or seat-width than any other aircraft however (at least not in cattle class).  😊

En route, we enjoyed a couple of drinks and a 4-course meal of aeroplane fare, although to be fair we have always said that Emirates in-flight meals are always fairly substantial, so we had no complaints there.  Our only concern was the lady who was sitting in the aisle seat next to Trevor, who was clearly not very well and spent the entire flight cough, cough, coughing.  I hoped I wouldn’t go down with anything; long-haul flights are notorious for recycling germs.

We tuned our AVOD systems to the SkyMap so we could keep track of where we were, and I passed the seven hour flight reading my Kindle, playing on my laptop, reading the in-flight magazine and dozing.  The flight was, on the whole, quite smooth with only slight turbulence. At around 5.00am I looked out of the window and saw a deep maroon glow in the sky just above the horizon, and Trevor and I watched as the sun came up in a blaze of reds, oranges and gold against a flawless blue sky.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Despite the 30-minute delay in taking off, we managed to make up the time and we landed in Dubai at 07:49 hours local time.

The most tedious part of the journey started now, however.  We joined the colossal queue through Arrivals and had our passport and other documentation checked, before making our way to the baggage carousel, where we collected our cases more or less immediately.  Then it was through customs and outside to the waiting coaches, which were there to take us to Abu Dhabi.  We were advised it would take about an hour and a half.

Long and boring story short… we arrived at the cruise terminal, joined the inevitable queue and eventually made our way up the gang-plank of the Celebrity Constellation just after 1.00pm.  Alongside us in the port was a huge TUI ship, Mein Shiffe 5, and an AIDA ship.

After we’d had our cruise cards scanned to welcome us on board, we were met with a complimentary glass of something (I think it was Vermouth) before we could go to our cabin.  The queues for the lift were massive, so we decided to get some exercise and walk up the stairs to Deck 6, and our allocated balcony stateroom, 6098.

Cabin 6098 is airy, spacious and very pleasant; in fact, it reminded us of our recent cruise on Arcadia as it was very similar in size and layout.  There was a queen-sized bed as well as a settee and table, dressing area with vanity unit and stool, and large balcony with a couple of reclining chairs and a small table.  The bathroom had a shower stall, sink, WC and the usual selection of complimentary toiletries.  There was also a fridge with some soft drinks, bottles of water, beer and some half-bottles of wine.  We felt we would have a very comfortable stay on board the Constellation.

We weren’t as tired as we thought we’d be (despite the 4-hour time difference), so we went along to the pool deck and enjoyed a couple of freezing cold beers and a light lunch; Trevor had a hot-dog while I just partook of some fresh salad vegetables.  Afterwards we wandered around, exploring the ship, before we arrived at the Sunset Bar at the stern of the vessel, where they had a huge array of spirits and mixers; we were told it was an “International Bar” so just about every spirit/cocktail imaginable was available.

We enjoyed a couple of cocktails each, indulging in small talk and banter with our fellow passengers as well as the bar staff.  Then the jet lag started to catch up, so we decided to go back to our cabin and see if our luggage had arrived.

No sign of our luggage when we got back, but I thought I’d have a long, refreshing shower.   Afterwards we just sat out on our balcony for a while, then had a long-awaited afternoon nap.  Then the cases arrived and we spent some time hanging everything up neatly, before getting washed and changed for dinner.

There is no set dining, or no allocated tables on the Constellation, so we just made our way to the restaurant and advised the waiter that we wouldn’t mind sharing (which is all part of the fun).  So we found ourselves on a table with two other British couples, one couple from Wales and another couple from Portsmouth, which is actually where I was born and where I spent my formative years.

The evening passed in pleasant and interesting conversation, punctuated by the arrival of delicious food.  I had a beetroot salad with feta cheese to start with, followed by a home-style pork chop and vegetables, all washed down with prosecco.  I passed on the dessert, just opting for coffee instead.

The service was quite slow in the restaurant, so it was after 9.00pm when we left.  We thought the later show started at 10 o’clock but the theatre was closed when we got there.  After pottering around for a bit and looking in the shops, tiredness caught up with me, so I decided to go back to the cabin, whereas Trevor said he’d go to the show, which was actually on at 10.30pm.

When he came back, we settled down for the night and slept very soundly, after a long and, at times, tedious day.

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