Costa Firenze Postcard #4 – Abu Dhabi, UAE

I was awake early again this morning so set about trying to review last night’s events. Once we had unpacked our cases it was about 8:20 pm and with dinner at 9:00 we had lost any chance of seeing more of the ship at that time. So, we went in search of a bar for a quick pre dinner drink. We found somewhere on deck 5 outside the speciality restaurants called Bella Bar and were quickly served. It was only a short walk from there to our dining room at the aft of the ship and is called Ristorante dei Medici, it is the larger of two MDR’s onboard with the other not open on this cruise. Social distancing is very obvious with the seating arrangements and our table for this cruise is 431 on the upper level. Our two waiters Bryan and Melvin are from the Phllipines, both very engaging and attentive. The food was excellent and as expected, Nicole also had her own vegan menu to choose from. The centre area of the dining room is quite stunning as you will see from photos below

After we had finished our meal we made our way to the atrium which is called the Piazza Della Signoria and ended the evening there with a few drinks. At one point before the theatre kicked out, there were 14 bar staff with only 13 passengers to serve.

There is no issue at all getting served so far that’s for sure.

To get off the ship in Abu Dhabi, you have to take an official excursion so we decided not to bother today, however we are getting off tomorrow and going to Al Maya which is described as an exclusive beach Island just minutes from Abu Dhabi. We had to book this using the Costa app as the excursions office is closed under the Covid restrictions onboard. It’s the same with Guest Services as well, all communication with them is to be done over the phone. Another area that is closed is the gym which was a bit of a disappointment for Nicole. Another thing we have not seen with any of other cruise lines we have been on since Covid is Costa have a mandatory temperature check to be done daily before 3:00pm and there are machines dotted around the ship at various locations to enable you to do this. Talking of machines, they also have other points around the ship where you can register your credit card for final payment of your onboard account.

The weather wasn’t the best first thing today, it started off overcast and windy and never really improved that much until around 2:30 when the clouds cleared to provide some welcome sunshine. The morning did however give us a great opportunity to explore the ship and get a feel for it. We started on the upper decks and worked our way down, checking every possible area available. It’s an absolutely beautiful ship, it still has the Costa feel but a lot more refined than others we have been on.

One thing evident to us was the amount of places to sit, there are options available everywhere. After a lunch in the buffet, we made our way to an outside area of the Lounge Della Moda at the aft on deck 5, where as I mentioned earlier, the sun started to break through around 2:30 and it was really nice to sit outside. Today we have completely relaxed and after the run up to boarding now feel totally chilled.

The rain returned around 5:00 so being as dinner wasn’t until 9:00 we went to the buffet to grab a couple of sandwiches. So, that’s it from me today, hopefully I can find time tomorrow to bring you up-to-date with how our island excursion went.

Costa Firenze Postcard #3 – Dubai & Embarkation

Embarkation day tends to be very busy but I will endeavour to provide as much waffle as I can today.  Another excellent nights sleep but awake at 5:30 so spent the time adding the video of the Drone Show to yesterday’s post.  After breakfast we took a long walk along Jumeirah Beach almost right to the end and back. We got very close to the ship and could just about make out our cabin. With the weather slightly overcast and with a nice breeze it was actually really enjoyable plus a great way to kill some time. We had to check out from the hotel at midday but had an embarkation slot of 2:30 so sat out by the pool until it was time to go. The cruise terminal was only a 10 minute drive from the hotel so we didn’t have far to go.  What happened when we reached the cruise terminal beggars belief.

No cars, nothing other than 2 other passengers stood outside the terminal building. To say it was deserted is an understatement. We were met by a young lady who checked we had all the correct paperwork then ushered us up to the next level to check in. This next area was also deserted so we walked straight up to the desk and within 7 or 8 minutes had completed check in. All this time we had not seen another passenger getting on.

We had a 10 minute wait while the air bridge was adjusted but after that we were soon onboard.  What a totally unique boarding experience!!!

Once onboard, the first thing we needed to do was to locate our cabin and pick up our Costa cruise cards. Our cabin is compact and very functional and will make a great home for the next 7 nights. For the first time, a proper shower cubicle and no clingy curtain.

After attending the English speaking welcome meeting we made our way back to the cabin to see if the luggage had arrived which unfortunately it hadn’t.  It is very obvious that Costa are taking Covid very seriously with lots of additional measures on board. We have also been informed that passenger capacity is 4232 – 5078 but on this cruise there are around 1000 or so we should have plenty of space.  One thing I will need to get to grips with is the WiFi, it is looking like I can only use one device so transfering photos may become an issue. I can write on my phone but most of my photos are on the camera and tablet. I will find a way!! Muster was at 5:30 and conducted in your muster station and wearing your life jackets.  At least this is now conducted inside and not out on the prom deck lined up in rows with the shortest at the front. However, in true Costa style we had this in 6 languages and it took an incredible 45 minutes. In 7 previous Costa cruises, I have never known it take as long as this before.  We eventually made it back to the cabin at 6:20 to find our cases still not there. They eventually arrived at just after 7:00.

Being so close to the Drone Show start we decided to hang around in the cabin. Once again we have not had an opportunity to explore the ship on day one.  We are on second sitting for dinner tonight so I will catch up with how that went on my next post. 

Costa Firenze Postcard #2 – Dubai Pre Cruise

We stayed up until around 9:45pm to try and help our body clocks get synchronised with the local time. We both slept really well, I awoke around 6:15 while Nicole said she was roused after hearing the call to prayer from the nearby mosque. After breakfast we went out for another walk and headed towards Jumeirah Beach, we spotted a huge ferris wheel last night through the skyscrapers so thought we would investigate. When are reached the beach we not only spotted the wheel but Costa Firenze too.

I had no idea the cruise terminal had been relocated because the last time we boarded here it was right up the other end of Dubai.

Mask wearing is mandatory here both inside and outside, the only exception is if you are sat to eat and drink. I would say most people are abiding by the rules with about 10% ignoring the rules. After we returned to the hotel we received emails with our negative PCR results which means we are now clear to embark tomorrow. It has been a much more relaxed day and one we have spent much of out by the hotel pool. As soon as the sun had passed by the end of our hotel bringing shade to pool area we went for an early evening meal with the intention of walking more in the evening.

With dusk falling, we set off for the beach again. This time to see how it different it looked in the evening.

What we didn’t expect to see was a drone show followed by fireworks. It apparently happens every night until the end of January. It really is something quite remarkable and fascinating to watch. I have found time to add my phone video to YouTube so you can see more of the show.

When it had finished we carried on walking to the Bluewaters Island where the big wheel is but stopped short of doing anything more because of how busy it was. Something to come back for another day. Every now and again it is very easy to forget Covid is still with us and twice today we have forgotten to put our masks back on.

We eventually made our way back to the hotel after what has been a very enjoyable evening. Embarkation day tomorrow so we should see the drone show from a completely different angle tomorrow night.

Just an observation, we have not seen a policeman, a dog or a cat since we arrived here. There is no graffiti and everyone just seems to get on with life.

Costa Firenze Postcard #1 – The Journey to Dubai & Pre Cruise

Having done as much preparation as we could possibly do, we set off for Heathrow’s T5 for our British Airways flight to Dubai. It was a very strange feeling being back inside an airport and I don’t know if it was the time of day or whether it’s just like that all the time at the moment but it seemed eerily quiet for such a large terminal. Security was deserted and a breeze to navigate and airside wasn’t that much busier. It felt like something was missing which I suppose is people really. Checking in at home proved to be a waste of time and effort, British Airways encouraged the use of a third-party app called Verifly, I followed all the instructions including the uploading of the PCR test results. They were approved by someone at Verifly but when I tried to check in, BA kept telling me that I wasn’t ready to check in and that certain documents were missing. Everything was rectified at the check in desk but in my opinion just another case of phone technology not fit for purpose. 

Our plane, an Airbus A380 had everyone onboard very quickly which was mainly due to the lack of fellow passengers and we found ourselves in cabin only about 10% full. People were soon jostling for better seats with more room to stretch out.  Our scheduled departure time was 8:40pm and we were in the air not too far off that, no queuing or waiting at the end of the runway, just taxi to the end and then straight up in the air.  It was this part of the trip that I was least looking forward to, being in plane in close proximity to lots of others but in the end it worked out really well for us. I got talking to one of the stewards just before we got off and he said the plane had flown at just under 50% capacity.  We were really quick getting off the plane in Dubai too, the first thing we needed to show was our pre departure PCR test results. From there it was testing time again,  another PCR which was managed really well. The whole process taking under 15 minutes and that included the walk to the testing area. Immigration was also swiftly dealt with and once we had collected our luggage we located our transfer to the hotel. We landed at 7:40 and were checking in at the hotel at 9:45 so not bad going.

The only downside to all this was once we had entered our room, we had to stay there until our PCR results came through. They did say that we could go and get breakfast before going up which we did.

We are staying at the Wyndham Dubai Marina and have a room on the 29th floor overlooking the marina itself. It’s quite a view from up there.  And because it’s a certain persons birthday this week, we have been upgraded to a Club Room which are located on the top 4 floors of the hotel. Unfortunately due to Covid restrictions the Club Lounge on the 31st floor is closed so it won’t be making a big difference to a normal room albeit a bit higher.

At just after 1:30pm we received the results from our entry PCR which were both negative, a bit of a horrible wait but at least could then go out and explore area a bit.

We ended up walking around the waterfront at the marina so nothibg too energetic.  We also booked the PCR test to get us on the ship, the hotel recommended a local company who will come to your room to take the test then email the results back within 24 hours. The guy was about 40 minutes later than scheduled but super efficient and done in under 10 minutes. That’s 2 PCR’s in one day!!!

Tonight we took another walk around the marina to take in the spectacular evening views with the buildings illuminated. 

Costa Firenze Dubai and UAE Preamble

After taking three ex UK cruises during 2021 and with the world slowly opening up again, we decided that we were now feeling a little more confident to try a journey a bit further afield. I had been noticing a lot of extremely tempting offers for Costa cruises so decided to investigate them in greater detail to find out what was on offer and also the implications of travelling abroad. We have not had a warm-weather cruise for a long, long time so when I spotted a 7-night cruise out of Dubai on one of Costa’s newer ships, Costa Firenze everything seemed to fall into place and before we knew it we had booked. Because of the Covid situation around the world, we made the decision to take this cruise as a package because in the event of something going wrong we would have suitable cover.

Above is the original itinerary map so doesn’t reflect the changes.

Date Location Arrival Departure
Saturday, January 15, 2022 Dubai, UAE 23:59 PM
Sunday, January 16, 2022 Abu Dhabi, UAE 9:00 AM 23:59 PM
Monday, January 17, 2022 Doha, Qatar
Replaced with Abu Dhabi, UAE
2:00 PM 10:00 PM 23:59 PM
Tuesday, January 18, 2022 Sea Day
Wednesday, January 19, 2022 Muscat, Oman
Replaced with Sir Bani Yas Island
7:00 AM 5:00 PM
Thursday, January 20, 2022 Dubai, UAE 1:00 PM
Friday, January 21, 2022 Dubai, UAE
Saturday, January 22, 2022 Dubai, UAE

Cabin selection was a simple process and we have bagged a cabin in a location we favour which is midship and somewhere between the upper and lower public decks, close to a staircase.

As with our 3 previous cruises, Covid 19 and the testing regime does add another dimension to the whole process but we have come to the conclusion that it’s going to be the norm for some time to come, it has therefore influenced our decision to try and commence foreign travel again, and by us not taking the plunge, it might mean we could be waiting for ages for things to return to what we consider normal. We have both had Covid and are triple jabbed so we feel as safe as we can be, hopefully, we should be swimming with antibodies by now.

Originally to gain access to Dubai we needed a negative PCR test within 72 hours of flying, but 13 days out, this was reduced to 48 hours and the general advice is to carry the printed certificate of the result with you until you get through immigration in Dubai. We then have some contradictory information, we have been told we also need to fill in a Health Declaration-e-form & Dubai Arrivals Quarantine Procedure Declaration Form from the Dubai authorities. However, we have also been advised to download the Covid19 – DXB Smart App along with the Alhosn App which we have done and registered our details on both of them too. We are not going to take any chances and are covering all bases for this trip and I’d much rather have all the forms and not need them rather than need them and not have them. It is unconfirmed but I have also read recently that since the Omicron variant has become more prevalent, all arrivals from UK to UAE are required to take a PCR test at the airport of which there is no charge.

Along with the above, we need to show evidence of being fully vaccinated (printed again) and then finally to be able to board the ship we need another PCR that has been done within 48 hours of boarding. Because we will be staying at a hotel for 2 nights pre-cruise we will need to find a local company to undertake this test for us. Watch this space to find out how we got on.

The Costa onboard protocol is much the same as the other cruise lines whereby you wear a mask while moving about inside but can take it off in your cabin and while seated in public areas. On the open decks, you are free to take masks off but are requested to put them on in busy locations.

At the time of writing, going ashore in Abu Dhabi does not require any further testing providing you are entering from Dubai which we are. Advice everywhere is always to carry your proof of vaccination with you at all times. There are suggestions we might need to take a PCR onboard ship to be able to get off so will deal with that if and when it occurs.

While in Doha and Muscat, we would only have been able to go ashore exclusively with Costa excursions but both ports were actually removed from the itinerary in the 3-week run-up to departure due to the spread of the Omicron variant. Doha was replaced with an extra day in Abu Dhabi and for Muscat, it was Sir Bani Yas Island. It’s just as well we are only going for a bit of sunshine as we aren’t going to be many miles over the 7 days.

This is our plan but only if the Omicron variant doesn’t put pay to the whole trip.

Up until 5th January, to return back to the UK, we needed a negative test within 48 hours of leaving and for this, a lateral flow was enough provided it is from a government authorised company. So in order to keep it simple and not too expensive, we booked a Randox double package which includes 1 x Lateral Flow (Antigen) test & 1 x day 2 PCR test and costs £64.50 per person. The plan was to take both tests with us and take the PCR immediately on arrival back in the UK, all that then needed to be done was to drop it off at one of their special drop box locations. However, on the 5th January, the UK government then decided to take a U-turn with regards to testing on return to the UK

Under the new rules:

  • From 04:00 GMT on Friday 7 January, people who are fully vaccinated and those aged under-18 will no longer need to take a test two days before travelling to England from countries outside the UK and the Common Travel Area. On arrival, they will have to take a PCR test but they will no longer have to self-isolate while awaiting the result
  • From 04:00 GMT on Sunday 9 January they will only have to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test on day two. But this test must be bought from a private test provider – free NHS tests are not allowed

I hope you are keeping up with all this because I have really struggled at times……

Our initial PCR tests have come back negative so we at least have the go-ahead to fly to Dubai. After that, we travel with optimism and our fingers crossed that nothing inconveniences our plans.. 🤞🏼🤞🏼🤞🏼