Well, we made it back to the ship from our India excursion. What a trip that was! Sensory overload for sure! The return trip was not an easy one, beginning at 5:00 a.m. and ending 5:00 p.m. We flew first from Jaipur to Mumbai and then from Mumbai to Dubai. There were countless security checks of both our luggage and our persons. Also there were more than a few hiccups including the check-in process at Jaipur where we were told that basically all baggage had to be checked and that we had to give over our passports (which of course everyone was reluctant to do) so they could do a "group check-in" that ended up taking forever to accomplish. Then, in Mumbai, we were told one gate and then a different one and we had to pass through a long security line (into which people were regularly cutting) and finally at Dubai where we faced another long line (also with plenty of cutters) this time at immigration only to be told at the counter to "Report to Office One" because the agents could not "see" our visas on their computers. Fortunately, the Office One fiasco didn't take that long to resolve but once we made it through we got on a bus that bottomed out on an albeit large speed hump. After turning the bus on and off repeatedly -- presumably to restart the air ride system and having no luck -- it began to look as if we might need to switch buses. Fortunately, the problem was solved by backing up and taking the speed hump at an angle and then we were able to continue on to the ship where we were greeted by the head of Hotel Services, a "Welcome Home" sign and razor wire encircling the entire Promenade deck of the ship.
I must admit it was quite a culture shock to arrive in Dubai and see men dressed in Arab garb complete with head scarfs and long white robes. Also the weather was rather strange. I had expected it to be clear and dry here but it was instead hazy (pollution? sand? fog?) and humid. Nevertheless, it certainly felt good to be back on board and have dinner in the dining room and a "Grande decaf soy milk latte with a pump of chocolate" afterwards. We finished the day by getting into bed at eight thirty!
Today the weather continued to be hazy (but a little less so than the yesterday). Also it was less humid but still warm (low eighties). We had an excursion this morning. It was entitled "Dubai's Architectural Wonders" though it might just as well have been called "Dubai Highlights" because the guide had no special knowledge of architecture and the tour included a visit to "Ski Dubai" which I hardly think qualifies as an "architectural wonder".
Our first stop was the Burj Khalifa which is the tallest building in the world. It pretty much looks like an upside-down icicle. It's hard to make a building that tall look right. It's the architectural equivalent of a seven and a half foot tall man. Interesting and perhaps even useful but at the same time strange and unnatural. We took the elevator up to the 124th floor where there is an observation platform (both inside and outside). The view was better than I had expected that it would be given the hazy conditions. We posed for some silly (and expensive) photographs in front of a green screen. Later the photos were edited to make it look like we were climbing the outside of the building or falling off it. You know, stupid stuff but you kind of have to do it. Or at least we do. I am sure you wouldn't being the more reasonable and self-controlled individuals that you are.
Second stop was a drive to a suburban beach for a photo shoot with Burj Al Arab. I am sure that you will recognize this building. It is quite well known. What I did not know is that it is the world's most expensive hotel with seven stars and rooms going for, get this, four to seven thousand dollars a night! Yikes! And we were told that it's completely full -- no rooms available. Sorry. I know you wanted to go but you'll just have to satisfy yourself with one of the dozens of five star hotels available.
The third stop was also a photo op but more elusive. The intended target? Palm Island. You know the totally artificial island shaped like a palm tree with the main access road being the tree's trunk and the palm fronds/housing developments jutting out in gracefully arched pairs. I have to say I was not impressed with this at all. You really probably need to view this from above. All we could see from the ground were ugly and cheap-looking condominium buildings and the Atlantis Hotel which is located very near the top of the palm tree, straddling the main road, and is a complete monstrosity.
Our final stop of the tour was Ski Dubai which is a skiing facility located inside the Mall of the Emirates. I was expecting some rinky-dink glorified sledding hill but this place is very nearly the real deal. I couldn't see the top of the trail but what I saw was pretty impressive with people riding chairlifts and slaloming down the trails. Very odd but I suppose an effective ploy to get people into your mall. It worked for us and I suspect it might work on you too.
Mall of the Emirates
Which brings me to shopping malls. This seems to be the most notable characteristic of Dubai -- lots and lots of shopping malls including, naturally, the world's largest with 1,200 stores (and they are expanding). That and the fact that all these "architectural wonders" have been built during the last fifteen years. I mean what can you say about a place where shopping malls (plural) top the list of must-sees and nothing (or very nearly nothing) is older than fifteen years? It's not India -- which has been a continuous civilization for six thousand years -- that's for sure!
R and I left the tour at the Mall of the Emirates. We did a little shopping there before we headed via metro to the Dubai Mall which is, as I mentioned before, the world's largest mall. Not that we explored the whole thing. Indeed I think we went into only a few places but it was enough believe me. I got to shop at Bloomingdales (the only branch located outside the U.S.) which is one of my all-time favorite department stores. And this was a really good one. R was very patient with me despite the fact that his tooth was hurting him badly (he has had recurring tooth pain throughout the trip and unfortunately it seems to be getting more serious). He also picked out a pair of seriously cute Kenzo shoes for me that I can't wait to show you.
The ship leaves in a few minutes (at 11:00 p.m.) and our next port of call will be Oman.