Cruise Ship: Silver Cloud
Cruise Destination: Persian Gulf and Dubai
Cruise Dates: March 2008
Guest Contributor: E.F. Schlenk
VISITING PERSIAN GULF PORTS OF CALL ON YOUR OWN
GUIDEBOOKS - Having a good guidebook on any cruise will help you enjoy your ports of call. Even if you purchase a shore excursion, a guidebook will provide historical and cultural background and will help you decide which excursion to select. If you prefer to explore on your own, a guidebook with good maps is essential. For our Persian Gulf ports I highly recommend Lonely Planet's Oman, UAE, and Arabian Peninsula. For more detailed information about hotels, shopping, and trendy restaurants I recommend Time Out's Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE. Purchase and read these books in advance of your cruise since they list supplemental reading and resources you might enjoy, and they will help you with packing and other aspects of your trip. Photocopy specific maps and sightseeing information if you do not want to carry the entire book ashore.
MONEY - All of the United Arab Emirates use the dirham, but non-UAE nations like Qatar, Bahrain, and Iran have their own currencies. We used U.S. dollars for our few small expenses when UAE dirhams were not accepted. The Wall Street Journal or the FXconverter section of the website oanda.com provides current exchange rates. We did not use credit cards, but they should be acceptable in larger stores and shopping malls.
DUBAI (UAE) - The emirate and city of Dubai is not what one would expect to find in a desert. Fifty years ago it was a backwater fishing and pearl diving village. Today it is a futuristic metropolis with enough sights and activities to keep one busy for a week. Perhaps the easiest way to orient oneself on arrival is to spend an entire day on the Big Bus hop-on hop-off tour (bigbustours.com/eng/dubai). For about $50 per ticket one can ride for a day in an open-top double-deck bus on either or both of two tour circuits, one covering the historic city center and the other extending westward to the beach resorts and some major shopping malls. In addition, the ticket includes an hour-long boat ride on Dubai Creek (which can be done at a later date) and a short escorted walking tour of the historic district. There will not be enough time to enjoy all the bus stops, but at least this tour will give an introduction to the city.
One warning, however: the air in Dubai can be filled with dust and exhaust fumes. I recommend moving inside the bus when traveling on the expressways (to and from the beach and shopping centers). We stayed outside and coughed up pollutants for the next several days. Also wear adequate sun protection when riding in the open air. For those who enjoy cultural and historical sights, staying in the Deira or Bur Dubai districts rather than the beach resorts is best.
In Bur Dubai one finds the Bastakia Quarter, a historic reconstruction of old Dubai with narrow lanes and typical wind towers (the best way to cool homes before the days of air conditioning). This quarter now houses several modern art galleries, a few small hotels, and a branch of the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding, which provides an introduction to local food in its weekly lunches and provides an introduction to Islam in its tours of the Jumeirah mosque, which is some distance away. Also in Bur Dubai is the national museum, which is housed in the city's original fort and has an extensive underground display area. Adjacent to the museum is the textile souk (market) and not far away is the abra (water taxi) station for transport across Dubai Creek to the Deira section of the city. In Deira one finds the gold souk, the perfume souk, and the spice souk, among others. The gold souk is especially enjoyable since it is covered from the sun and has benches for people-watching in front of the numerous small jewelry shops.
A walk along either shore of Dubai Creek is enjoyable. The Deira side has numerous traditional dhows (Arab boats) being loaded with goods for outlying ports. The Bur Dubai side has several small parks with benches and shade. The abra (water taxi) between the two sides costs only one dirham (30 cents US), and the above described sites are all within walking distance for someone in reasonable shape. One can take a metered taxi from the cruise port to the old fort and national museum for about 20 dirhams (about $6) each way. For those who prefer to shop, Dubai offers endless opportunities. The shopping malls are on the periphery of the city to the west and south. The cruise terminal offers free shuttle buses to two of the southern ones - Deira Center and Wafi Center. We enjoyed the latter for its elegant shops, its over-the-top Egyptian décor, and its khan (a traditional market with carved wood screens and stained glass ceilings).
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