Thursday, March 31, 2011


Thursday, March 24 – Dubai for the Ensemble Experience and Big Bus

Dubai! The land that marketing built. This is our third visit and we are still amazed at what can be created with such vivid imaginations. The architecture is incredible; hours could be spent just glancing upwards at the tall structures and wondering about the shapes and colors and materials and learning the reasoning behind such creativity. Turban-style, glass tubes between buildings, incredible heights…the buildings have created a city like none other. Dubai is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf. The government’s decision to diversify from a trade-based but oil-reliant economy to one that is service and tourism-oriented has made real estate more valuable, resulting in a property boom. It is unusual in that is population is comprised mainly of expatriates with the Emiratis constituting the minority.

The Ensemble Experience was held in the Bastakiya district – in the sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. We were welcomed in to the mosque for an explanation, allowed to ask any questions we wanted, wandered around the community and had a lunch of salads, hommous, hakhboos of fish and chicken and lugaimat (fried dough balls drizzled with date syrup).

We headed back in to the city on the Big Bus (they are also in Philadelphia!). They offer an incredible service with included walking tours, two bus routes covering the highlights of the large city (one loop takes almost three hours), all with a running commentary. Our stop at the Wafi Mall was fascinating; it is an incredible Egyptian structure and we took the walking tour of the Khan Murjan Discovery Walk/underground souk (market) to the Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, Egyptian and Moroccan sections. It was incredible ornate with colorful doors and glass-stained windows BENEATH the regular mall! Beautiful shops; really should be advertised more.
We wound our way around the loop and took the 5:30 PM evening dhow cruise on the Dubai Creek. It ended up at the mouth the creek, near the sea, passing many more of the architectural wonders of the city as we sat on cushions on the floor at dusk. (included in the price of the 24 hour bus pass).

“I could not at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on. Life was meant to be lived. Curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn, his back on life.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, March 25 - Dubai – “At the Top” and along the beach route

Friday is a holy day for Muslims so many museums and stores are closed. We were tired from working late but got up early enough to get the Big Bus for the other route they offer. We headed out on a nice sunny day enjoying the top deck of the Big Bus as it went along the beach road past the rich sheikhs’ homes and fancy hotels; past the Burj Al Arab 7* hotel, the water park at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, onto the Palm, past Atlantis hotel (you would think you were in the Bahamas!) and got off at the Emirates Mall to see the ski slope again. The malls are LARGE and LONG, full of every type of store you need or don’t need. The Arabic women were their black abaya (black cover-all gown worn in public) and you can see their western-style clothing underneath. The men wear all white – the dishdasha is their ankle-length white robe which never seems to get dirty! I loved riding the upper deck on the bus and we stopped next at the Dubai Mall, the home of the Burj Khalifa observation deck (tallest building in the world –, the Olympic ice rink, gold souk, aquarium with glass panels at least three stories high and the dancing fountains (just like in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas). So much to wander around and enjoy; we were lucky to see a dress rehearsal of the dancing fountains to music and they must be spectacular at night!

We hurried back to the Dubai Museum to take the walking tour through the spice souk, gold souk, rode the abra (water taxi across the Dubai Creek with no railings or seats – just a bench on each side of the “captain”), and past three Iranian mosques and through the textile souk. We ended up near the large dhows which have traveled thousands of miles with their manufactured goods which they are selling in Dubai’s “tax free” zone. As there is virtually no crime, they can leave large piles of refrigerators, rice, tires, baby formula, pocket books, etc., on the docks – covered only by a cloth – and their items are not stolen. When they are sold, they are removed and the old (and I mean OLD) dhows make their way back to the native country. Fascinating. Hard to imagine these very small old dhows sailing through rough waters heavily laden – we even saw one with trucks and cars! The waves must surely crash up onto the decks of the dhows and soak absolutely everything in sight.
We tried the new air-conditioned water taxi across the Dubai Creek (approx. 10 minute crossing) and it was fantastic – just costs a little more to go first class! Theatre-style seats, large floor-to-ceiling windows and no one else on but us made for a fun crossing! (RTA Water bus) We were back on the bus for a return to the ship, late dinner, show and working in the terminal – by practically everyone on our ship!! So the internet access was slow and limited so we decided to give it up, take a nap and return early in the morning – what we won’t do for free internet!!

Re-thinking our time in Dubai, I would spend more time in the textile and spice souk areas and at the Dubai Mall – but we enjoyed all we did. Two days are not nearly enough to see and do it all. Entertainer was KUBA, a wonderful multi-instrumentalist we have seen before.

Saturday, March 26 – left Dubai and in the Arabian Sea
We were up at 4:30 to get to the main terminal to get online with the free WIFI before the rest of the world woke up! The sun rose and were worked away…But we were never able to get online with Skype to make our million phone calls. We ventured across the parking lot to the Queen Elizabeth 2 and walked around her. She has been there for 2 years and four months and now there is steam coming from her funnel. We found out a crew of 42 are living onboard her and they are in the process of renovating her to become a floating hotel, probably to be docked near the Atlantis hotel. We were able to get onboard in to the lobby area with security. Found out the Captain has his car right in front of the ship, but under a car blanket – guess he does not get out much! The “Southhampton” has been whited out on the back of the ship and it now shows “Port Vila”, which I have to look up to find out where the ship is now registered! But she looked good - much better than she did two years ago.
We wandered over to a Dubai Navy destroyer and then to two nice yachts before finding the Pacific Princess had docked in front of us. We were onboard our ship by 9:15 for a 9:30 sail away. A beautiful, hot day sail away as we viewed a sand-covered Dubai – not nearly as clear as it had been the last two days.

We were now “at sea” and we collapsed for a nap. Waking up, we felt like the day was extra long – attended Chorale rehearsal and enjoyed dinner with new tablemates from CA and Michigan. We’ve been hearing about the other ships in the area and air strikes in Israel and there is some concern among passengers about our route. We’ll see what happens in the next few days; all decisions are made by Holland America’s Seattle office and their first interest is for our and the ship’s safe passage. Entertainment was MagiComedy cabaret of John Ekin.

Since Hong Kong, we have traveled 5162 nautical miles.