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Immerse yourself in the exoticism, fascinating history, and resplendent architecture of Istanbul, where Europe meets Asia along the bustling Bosphorus Strait. You’ll step into the world of Ottoman sultans at the Topkapi Palace, marvel at the towering domes and minarets of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and roam the endless passageways of the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market, teeming with colorful carpets, leather goods, jewelry, and lanterns. Your three nights in this intoxicating cultural capital is the perfect way to round out your ocean expedition.
Fly to Istanbul
Transfer to the Athens airport to board your flight to Istanbul, Turkey’s exotic capital straddling Europe and Asia. You’ll arrive in time for an orientation walk around your hotel before a festive dinner. Cultural Discovery: Tonight's Turkish dinner is sure to be both delicious and unforgettable! Head to a local Turkish restaurant and enjoy a unique folkloric performance that will welcome you to this fascinating city where East meets West.
Royal and cultural splendors of Istanbul
After breakfast, head to the Fatih district, home to the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Begin your explorations at the Topkapi Palace, once home to Ottoman sultans and today a magnificent museum. Your guided tour leads you into some of its many chambers, including the Harem Apartments.
Cultural Discovery: After lunch in the Topkapi Palace, continue to the spectacular Blue Mosque, named for the countless blue Iznik tiles that adorn its vast interior. Conclude the day among the teeming stalls and passageways of the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s historic marketplace.
Spectacular Sultanahmet on foot
Stretch your legs this morning during a walking tour of the Sultanahmet district. You’ll stop at the 6th-century Hagia Sophia, built as a church and later converted into a mosque. It has been a magnificent museum since 1935.
Cultural Discovery: After, follow your nose to the Spice Bazaar, where mounds of colorful turmeric, saffron, and countless other spices vie for your olfactory attentions. Be sure to sample some Turkish Delight, the nation’s favorite sweet, while you’re here!
This evening, gather for a Farewell Dinner with your fellow travelers.
Head to the Istanbul airport for you flight back to the U.S.
Soak up a little more luxury by adding 3 extra nights in two of the Emirates’ most glamorous playgrounds. First, you’ll experience a different side of Emirati life with three nights in Abu Dhabi, where high-end luxury meets sophisticated culture. Here, modernist architecture is taken to new heights with gorgeous buildings that seem to defy gravity, while the old, tribal traditions of Arabia are still expressed in the atmospheric souks, Arabesque houses, intricate mosques, and stunning desertscapes. Abu Dhabi has also become an art mecca, with the fantastic new branch of the famous Louvre, whose design is as visionary as the artwork inside. Then, enjoy a day in Dubai, where a highlight will be your visit to the observation deck of needle-like Burj Khalifa, the tallest building on Earth! You are already traveling this far…Why not spend a little extra time to let yourself be truly amazed?
Fly to Abu Dhabi
Today you’ll fly overnight to the United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi, arriving on Day 2.
Arrive Abu Dhabi, UAE
If you purchased your airfare from Vantage, upon arrival at the airport a Vantage representative will meet you and arrange transfer to your centrally located hotel, where you'll enjoy a guaranteed sea-view room. Abu Dhabi is a sparkling metropolis set on a T-shaped island. Settle into your luxurious hotel, which boasts its own beach and a variety of world-class shops, restaurants, and pools. Dinner is on your own tonight.
See the jewels of Abu Dhabi
After breakfast you’ll have a briefing in the hotel, then set out to explore. Cultural Discovery: First up is the majestic Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque. Its bulbous domes may remind you of the Taj Mahal, but officials say the mosque “unites the world” because it incorporates design motifs and materials from scores of countries. The prayer hall boasts 96 marble columns inlaid with mother of pearl. It is not only the most imposing landmark in Abu Dhabi, it is arguably one of the most important modern architectural treasures in the Arabic world.
Cultural Discovery: From here, proceed to the Emirates Heritage Village, which re-creates a traditional oasis town. In addition to the goat hair tents, falaj irrigation system, and campfire area, there are workshops where traditional craftsmen demonstrate their skills.
Back at the hotel, you can rest before our Welcome Dinner at Le Vendôme in the luxury 5-star Emirates Palace hotel.
Go inside Abu Dhabi life at a falcon hospital
After breakfast you’ll visit the fascinating Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, a unique avian veterinary center that treats about 6,000 of these revered raptors every year. Cultural Discovery: You’ll learn about the falcon’s importance in Emirati culture, observe the lab and intensive care units where birds are being treated, see some falcons flying freely, and have the chance for a photo opportunity with the birds. You’ll also learn about the other veterinary programs offered here, including a shelter for the rare Saluki breed of dogs.
You’ll return to your hotel in time for lunch on your own and an afternoon at leisure. Perhaps you’ll peek into the new Louvre Abu Dhabi or poke around the food souks on Al Mina Road.
On to discover Dubai!
After breakfast you’ll check out of your hotel and transfer to Dubai along Abu Dhabi’s spectacular Corniche and Yas Island. Crossing the border, you’ll enter Dubai from the south, getting a good view of its futuristic profile. More views await at the Al Dawaar revolving restaurant, where you’ll enjoy lunch. After checking into your hotel, the afternoon is free for you to enjoy the city on your own. You may not want to leave your hotel, where we've secured guaranteed creek-view rooms, and whose rooftop pool overlooks the Dubai Creek and city skyline.
This evening you’ll visit Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It rises 2,717 feet into the sky, clad in 26,000 shining glass panels with a spire that can be seen 60 miles away. Its double-decker elevators will whisk you to the 124th floor at a speed of 22 miles per minute. You’ll be entertained by a multimedia presentation on Dubai’s history, then have time to explore the Dubai Mall, the largest in the world. Across the way is Souk Al Bahar. With a multitude of different eateries, it’s the ideal place for dinner on your own.
Tonight marks the start of your main Arabian peninsula cruise tour. Throughout the evening, your fellow cruise tour travelers will be arriving. You’ll meet them tomorrow (see Day 3 of your main program), when you attend a morning Welcome Briefing.