I couldn’t even begin to describe Petra accurately as others are far more accurate and adept (such as Ros of course.....)
Like many others, we were up not long after 6am to see land not that far from our ship, so a hasty lightweight breakfast before nipping back to the cabin to pack what we thought we would need for the day. A bottle of cold water and one of lemonade (from the buffet) were wrapped in a damp flannel we had left in the fridge overnight. We weren’t sure about the potential for eating during the day so we lifted a couple of bananas and packets of cracker biscuits from the buffet. We expected to be out in the sun so hats and sunscreen were essentials and we both wore socks with our trainers.
Although the ship wasn’t docking until 10am, we agreed to meet Colin and Judy at the time suggested by Princess – namely 9:15am. With 1400 people going on the same tour, (including 150 staff I believe), at 9:15am sharp, we were allocated to coach number 22 – of 28... We then had to sit patiently in the theatre for over an hour, watching endless repeats of the DVD shot by the ship, of Salalah. Once you have seen this about 4 times you tend to fidget – well I do anyway, having a very short attention span and even less of an attention span when they could just as easily have shown the whole “Reflections” DVD s to date. Quite why we all had to be there at 9:15am anyway is somewhat questionable. Surely, knowing the ship was docking not before 10am, asking you to go to collect your group sticker from 9:45 would have worked just as well.
Tip for 2012 cruisers: If doing the Princess tours, you may just as well collect your ticket early and then go and watch the arrival, as you can amble back to the theatre once you hear that the ship has had a clearance. It also pays to research private tours, taxis etc. See the other blogs for details.
We boarded coach 22 with Basam the driver and Basam the tour guide. For the two hour drive to Petra, it was a non-stop lecture. This appears to be a common problem with many tour guides. Anyone who has had the misfortune to be either a teacher, trainer or tutor, knows full well that the attention span of the average listener is about 20 minutes. What was notable (for me) was the number of ‘unfinished’ buildings around, with reinforcing steel poking out all over the place, probably to facilitate extensions later. Just about everyone living in Petra is dependant either directly or indirectly on the tourist trade. The arrival at the town of Petra itself quite frankly was a blessed relief – in more ways than one as there was rush for the facilities, as most people hadn’t been for three hours. (However these modern coaches do have bathrooms, but I couldn’t find the light switch...)
Our stop was at one of several Movenpick hotels in the area (yes, the Swiss ice cream people) and so at 12:35 we sampled an excellent buffet meal until our 2pm Petra walking tour started. The buffet included hot and cold dishes including a whole lamb, on flavoured rice, where the chef grabbed a handful of meat straight off the carcase and put it onto your plate. Delicious. The hotel was probably a four star hotel with an impressive open area/foyer which 4 people decided to pollute by smoking. Two of these chain-smokers are in the cabin next to Col & Jude, with smokers on the other side too. Thankfully, Princess are making all cabins smoke free from (I think) January next year. Well done Princess.
The entry to the site is a massive $50JD – about $75US, included in the Princess fee.
Others will have described the history of this unique place but the relentless heat and a tour guide who wanted to stop, then describe every hollow, cave and stone and its history in minute detail, was just too much. Significantly, as we walked down the long trail, each tour group seemed to get smaller and smaller, as people just wandered down on their own. Some of our ‘Crazy Cruisers’ group had organised their own tour and arrived well before the coaches but they hadn’t had lunch, so they were heading up the hill as we were still heading down. Paula took a pic of one of the carts that carry people up and down , only to find a grinning pair of Dormers (Anne & John) happily heading back. These poor horses seemed to be driven quite hard and many expressed concern that they may have been overworked and under watered.
The walk is really in three phases going down. The first is totally out in the open, the second is between the rocks, with plenty of shade and the third, beyond the ‘Treasury’, is open again. What this really means is that when you get to the bottom of the hill, which we did by about 4pm, only a few hardy souls climbed the steps up to the right. We didn’t. We headed back and on the way, Paula bought her souvenirs of Petra from one of the many stalls.
It took a solid 45 mins of virtually non-stop walking to get back to the top. Note that if the first phase going down is in the open sun, so the last phase coming back is also in the sun – with an uphill slog. It was indeed too much for several people – and one overworked horse that keeled over apparently.
There is a cool bar attached to the Crowne Plaza (The Cave) but a glass of beer was about $10US! We opted for a can of iced tea at $2 from a stall. Many people felt that the sellers were a bit aggressive and unwilling to bargain, though Paula turned down the Arab headdress at $15 or even $12, at the lower end but a 9 year old boy at the top, was more than happy to take $6...
The Princess coaches were scheduled to leave at 6pm sharp, to get back to the ship at 8pm, but they were open at 5pm with the air-con switched on. Our total coach was aboard before 6pm but before we left, we were all presented with a ‘Movenpick’ boxed ‘lunch’, consisting of a fairly dry roll, a tomato, a whole small cucumber, an apple, a fairly dry muffin and a small bottle of water. A nice enough gesture, though most of us would have preferred an ice cream.. We noted that assistant cruise director Dave (who is supposed to be on a diet) didn’t get back to his coach until just after 6pm - and was seen busily demolishing an ice cream en route...
There appeared to be a protocol about the despatch too, so although we were ready for the off, we had to wait until we were waved away by the dispatcher. Thankfully, Basam (the guide, not the driver) opted to catch up on some shuteye for the return journey.
Once back at Aqaba (which appears to be a nice town – and is in fact a holiday spot that is growing), we had to wait yet again whilst the earlier buses had dumped their human cargo and were clogging the two gangplanks.
A quick shower (we felt very grubby and the fine sand was in all our clothing) and up to the buffet for a superb Indian meal, one of the best buffet meals so far, with many people taking advantage of the piles of spicy prawns. Out to deck 14 to find the rest of our normal dinner table getting stuck into a massive plate of hot chips! It was rather warm and my shoulder was aching so I headed back to the cool cabin as soon as the ship had turned 180 degrees.
A fascinating place Petra, but most would agree that with the Dawn Princess dumping 1400 people there in one hit, it was a busy crowded sort of day. Once again, the tour guides can make or break a tour. No humour whatever from ours though he was a nice enough chap. Clocks back yet again tonight and another couple of sea days ahead, one of which will be the Suez Canal.