We were scheduled to arrive in Muscat at 8 am but by 7:30 we were tied up at the pier and people started to leave the ship. The temps were supposed to hit the high eighties but with the lower humidity it never seemed that hot especially by comparison with some of the scorchers we have had in some of the earlier ports.
There were two other ships in port today, the Splendor of the Seas and the Europa 2. HAL provided shuttle buses to take us to the center of town since this is an industrial port but there wasn’t much activity other than the three cruise ships. The Big Bus was allowed on the pier and that was another option to get into town. We had purchased a two city package while we were in Dubai so that would be our plan for the day. A little before noon we left the ship just missing the Big Bus, but the HAL shuttle was ready to leave and we were soon on our way.
Before we left the port we had to get off the bus and go into a small building where we walked thru a metal detector and had our bags x-rayed. We then got back on the bus on the other side of the building and headed out to the Mutrah Souk where we were they dropped us off in what is called the Corniche area right on the harbor. On one side of the street is a wide sidewalk that follows the harbor and the other side are many restaurants and shops that all have a view of the waterfront.
We decided to explore the Mutrah souk for a while and then catch the Big Bus for the 2 hour city tour. The souk was a nice change of pace from the markets in India and Sri Lanka where you were solicited constantly and aggressively. Here you could stroll down the narrow streets and window shop at your leisure. Prices would usually be quoted in Omani Rials initially but they would quickly quote you a price in dollars or euros when asked. Negotiating here was easier than in many places because there were so many shops selling exactly the same stuff so close together. Merely asking the prices and starting to walk off would result in a 30% price drop and you could usually get them down to 50% off the initial asking price with a few minutes of back and forth. But sometimes when you are buying something with an initial price of $4, you have to decide how much effort you want to exert to save $1. Once you get in the mood and the swing of the back and forth it can go fairly quickly.
Continuing thru the souk we finally came out on the other side where there were more standard stores selling items to residents with fewer tourist shops. On one street corner there was an Omani sitting on a carpet selling Dates and some other pieces of fruit. He quoted a price of 1 Rial, but it wasn’t clear if that was for 1 piece of fruit or an handful. I offered him $1 just to see what I would get, but he was completely disinterested in taking dollars or showing any interest in further conversation so I moved on.
After about 90 minutes of shopping we headed back to the Mutrah Souk where the Big Bus tours started. There was one getting ready to leave as we arrived so we only had to wait a few minutes until we were off on the Big Bus City Tour.
In a few minutes we left the port area and continued down a wide, modern, multi lane street. The terrain reminded me of parts of Nevada with brown and barren areas occasionally irrigated to a bright green against a backdrop of small, sharply edged hills with roads curving thru valleys in between. Oman restricts all buildings to a maximum height of 8 stories and they must be either white or cream colored. Unlike Dubai, Oman wants development to spread outward as opposed to upwards.
As we passed by a modern hospital we learned that it was built as a medical tourist hospital to support what they hope will be a growing medical tourism business. While the costs of certain procedures, for example a hip replacement, can be significantly cheaper here than in the US, there are obviously certain risks regarding quality and other issues that would have to be fully considered. One of the challenges facing Oman is convincing some of their wealthier citizens to seek medical care in Oman rather than going to Europe or the USA as this doesn’t help create confidence in your local hospitals when people who can afford to go elsewhere do go elsewhere.
Many cities seem to have car dealerships clustered together and Muscat is no exception as we drove by their Mile of Cars with dealers from many brands around the world operating showrooms here.
Continuing toward our turn-around spot at the Al Qurum Beach we passed a 4 story Children’s Library, a large modern Opera House and a 15,000 seat stadium run by the Police Department and used for Soccer matches among other events.
We paused for a few minutes at Hay As Saruj which is a bus stop right on the Sea of Oman. There were about 10 shops surrounding a central parking area for people who wanted to go to the beach. The beach was about 15 yards across and the Sea of Oman looked like a lake as there weren’t any waves but only small, wind driven ripples. We didn’t see anyone on the beach even though the parking lot was full of cars.
There were plenty of cars on the roads, but traffic flowed easily and everyone followed normal traffic rules. Up ahead we saw signs for the Qurum National Park which has rose gardens, a large manmade waterfall, a small lake and an amusement park.
Downtown Muscat was modern, with wide streets and a 141 foot clock tower that was built in 90 days back in 1991. Muscat is also home to the Omani Stock Exchange.
Our final stop was a view spot overlooking a Marina several hundred feet below where we stopped which is also the spot where the British Ambassador has his residence.
Two hours after we started we were back at the beginning on the Corniche. We missed lunch and we since we still had a few hours till all aboard, we decided to sample some of the local fare. There were two restaurants almost directly in front of us and we chose, “The Fast-food and Juice Centre” because it was a little closer. But once you make a move and showed any interest in a restaurant, the aggressive hosts from both restaurants would motion to you from some distance inviting you to an open table and expressing great enthusiasm at the possibility you might select their restaurant.
We each ordered a large glass of juice that was served fresh and a little whipped. I ordered the orange and Judy the mango and they were both very delicious. Fish and Chips and a beef burger were our choices for our meal and they were delivered in about 15 minutes. The fish was small breaded chunks a little bigger than a Chicken McNugget and were OK but not among the best we have had so far on this cruise. That honor remains with the restaurant near the pier in Melbourne Australia. The beef burger was heavily spiced and tasted more like a vegetarian burger than a beef burger. For a second I thought it may have been a veggie burger, but after closer inspection I determined it was a beef burger, no one in Muscat is threatening the USA on creating great burgers.
After our late lunch we were back on the shuttle bus and on our way back to the ship. We didn’t stop at security on the way back in as we did on the way out, but instead we headed directly back to the ship.
We had a special sail-away called the 1001 Arabian Nights with complimentary drinks and a wider variety of snacks. This was held by the Lido pool and was well attended. We wandered back to the Seaview pool to see the sunset and were surprised that there were plenty of people back there as well. Around the pool they set up carpets, complete with Arabian pillows and giant Hookas, that were used as back drops for some great snapshots.
Since we had eaten late, we ordered salads for dinner despite the menu offering Filet Migon with Grilled Shrimp as an option.
Ventriloquist Kieran Powell was the entertainer tonight and he was quite good and put on a very entertaining show. He did spend a little too much time making fun of late arrivals in the audience which detracted from his otherwise fine performance. He finished the show with an amazing performance with one of his characters where he ended up singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Tomorrow is a sea day on our way to Salalah Oman.
I forgot to mention that we had our 4th cruise critic meet and greet on March 29th. We only had about 15 people participate but it was a fun time nevertheless. We will have our final meet and greet on April 28th a couple of days before Fort Lauderdale.
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