Dear Cruise Diary
Day 31 – Dubai, United Arab Emerates
May 21, 2013
Disembarkation day is the worst way to end a cruise in my mind. First, the vacation (working or not) is over. Someone else will be sleeping in your cruise ship bed tonight. The process of leaving the ship never goes smoothly. Add on the stress of traveling home and it endangers all the benefits of a relaxing cruise. Someone could make a lot of money by figuring out how to make the process painless.
Fortunately, I had a day in Dubai and that made all the difference.
Pre-cruise, I had corresponded with a fellow cruisers on Cruise Critic about sightseeing in Dubai, but in the scurry of getting ready to go we had not made specific plans beyond making 5 pm reservations to go to the observation deck at the Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building).
When I then met up with Joyce and Darrell (St. Joseph, Mo.) on the ship, we thought we might take our luggage to the Dubai airport and store it in lockers, then taxi back to the city to sightsee on our own. As disembarkation got closer, I worried that without planning we would miss a lot. So just two days earlier, I emailed a reputable tour company and booked a car and driver for nine hours. At $100 each including tip, it turned out to be a great deal. Having our luggage securely with us was a bonus.
Our driver Shamsudheen met us at the cruise port and we headed to town, only to get there and discover that I had somehow left my camera back at security leaving the port. Thank goodness it was there when we went back! I had downloaded all the pictures, but didn’t want to replace my relatively new Sony NEX6. I had already lost my prescription sunglasses on the cruise.
A well-traveled friend had told me that Dubai was like Galveston but with Arabs (and taller buildings, I thought). It was night and day different than almost anywhere I had been. Tall buildings “grew” in clumps, separated by base desert sands.
We started at the Dubai Museum in Bur Dubai, the old part of the city near Dubai Creek. In an old fort, it was an excellent introduction, providing a good history of the area pre-oil discovery, when trading, fishing and pearl diving were the main economic activities. With that foundation, we boarded one of the dozens of abras that crisscross the creek and are mainly filled with locals. All along the shores were rickety dhows, many of which ply the Persian Gulf between “forbidden” ports in Iran packed with all manners of goods. We visited the Spice Souk and the Gold Souk with its hundreds of merchants. I wondered if they were just set up for the tourists, but regardless we had fun walking through them.
Next — wading in the Persian Gulf! We stopped at a beautiful public beach for a few minutes to enjoy the surf and the hot sand.
Snacking in the van so we wouldn’t need to stop for lunch, we then stopped briefly for photos outside the Jumeirah Mosque, in the chic district of Jumeirah that includes the seven-star Burj Al Arab, the hotel that looks like a sail. The whole area is full of high-class hotels and the Jumeirah Souk Madinat. It is built to resemble the old markets. I thought it resembled them about as much as Disney’s Epcot resembles China and France, but we had fun walking through to a good vantage point for Burj Al Arab photos. If I ever win the lottery big time, I will come back and stay there in style.
We kept moving up the coast, past beach estates of various members of the royal family, to Palm Island, the series of islands designed to look like a palm tree. I had seen pictures from the air and knew we would not get the overall effect from the ground. But what I didn’t expect until we drove through was the massive scale of the project (still more under construction). The Atlantis resort anchors the island, and because my first port of call had been Nassau, Bahamas, the two Atlantis resorts served as bookends for the trip.
We took more pictures in the Marina district with its seemingly endless stretches of high-rise apartment buildings. Then late in the afternoon headed back to the tower that had loomed over us all day — the Burj Khalifa. It is the world’s tallest building at 2,722 feet. The public observation floor is only at 1,483 feet, on the 124th floor, but the effect was still stunning. We spent about an hour “on the top” as they say, between indoor and outdoor observation platforms, ending with a top-down view of the Dubai Fountain in the man-made lake below (a lá Bellagio in Vegas).
I didn’t think I had said the word “wow” so many times in one day. It was an incredible visit, and because we had hired a driver, we saw much more than we would have on our own.
The next stop was the airport, where Joyce and Darrell were leaving about two hours before my flight at 12:50 am. I figured I slept five of the seven hours to Amsterdam, where I caught up on this blog during the four-hour layover before my 10-hour flight to Dallas.
Tomorrow: Day 32, back at home and no more blogging for a while!