Cruising Dubai – Cape Town: Highlights, Part One

by artfuldiner on March 27, 2024

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Travel

Although our cruise from Dubai – Cape Town began officially on Saturday, November 25th, we arrived in Dubai late in the evening of November 20th to participate in a Silversea sponsored Pre-Cruise Excursion. This included five nights and four days of sightseeing in and around the Dubai area. And, if memory serves me correctly, there were only a total of fourteen (14) people, plus our guide, which made for an infinitely more personal and intimate experience than the usual busloads.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: To call Dubai a land of extravagance would, of course, be a gross understatement. To think that in just a quarter of a Dubai - Skylinecentury, the city has gone from being a sandy desert to becoming one of the top five cities in the world with the most buildings over 100 meters (328 feet) tall is absolutely awe-inspiring. In 2008 alone, forty-one of these incredible skyscrapers rose from the ground.

Proof of the country’s daunting financial health is the abundance of luxury cars. It is rumored that the local pound is stocked with abandoned luxury vehicles; and even the police drive supercars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis… including an Aston Martin One-77 with a list price of a whopping 1.79 million dollars.

But even more important than the extravagance of the car itself is the license plate… The fewer the numbers, the more important is the driver. Just a few years ago, the number plate “1” was auctioned off for a cool 14.5 million dollars.

Yet another measure of Dubai’s immoderation…? Here you can find ATMs, not for banknotes but for gold. And it is certainly no coincidence that 40% of the world’s gold market passes through the city’s precincts.

Raffles the Palm, Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Located on the West Crescent Palm Jumeirah, Raffles the Palm is a 5-star hotel with beautiful pyramid-shaped architecture, tropical gardens, and one of the most stunning beachfront properties in Dubai. Our home away from home for five nights, it is Dubai - Raffles the Palmdefinitely worth a visit in its own right.

Raffles the Palm, of course, is constructed on one of Dubai’s human-made archipelagos – Palm Jumeirah – with others at various stages of development. These islands are made through a kind of “land reclamation,” a process that involves dredging sand from the Persian and Arabian Gulf’s floors. The sand is then sprayed and “vibro-compacted” into shape using GPS technology for precision and is surrounded by millions of tons of rock for protection.

The process is labor intensive… and expensive, which is why many of Dubai’s artificial islands have yet to be completed. And, as you would undoubtedly surmise, construction of the Palm Islands has had a significant impact on the environment, resulting in changes in area wildlife, coastal erosion, alongshore sediment transport, and wave patterns.

As a result of dredging and redepositing of sand for the construction of the islands, the crystalline waters of the Persian Gulf at Dubai have become severely clouded with silt. Construction has damaged the marine habitat, burying coral reefs, oyster beds, and subterranean fields of seagrass, which threatens local Dubai - Palm Islandsmarine species and other species dependent on them for food.

These environmental disturbances have attracted the attention of environmental groups such as Greenpeace. In 2006 the World Wildlife Fund announced that “(The) UAE’s human pressure on global ecosystems (its ecological footprint) is the highest in the world. The country is supposedly at present five times more unsustainable than any other country.” It also mentioned that the construction from the start-up date had caused many visible ecological and environmental changes that threatened the future.

Palm Jumeirah was built entirely from sand and rocks; no concrete or steel was used to build the island. And one of the risks of such a tremendous undertaking, as well as the above-mentioned environmental issues, is the very real possibility of sinking. Is Raffles the Palm destined one day to disappear beneath the waves…? Only time will tell.

Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club: This is quite a beautiful facility; and our guide at the Club, a woman from New Zealand – who is the CEO and chief Dubai - Polo Equesttrian Clubtrainer – was both charming and informative. She gave us a quick glimpse of horses in general, their different breeds – polo ponies, thoroughbreds, Arabian – and their specialties and needs, as well as the equipment utilized. She guided us through the Club House, polo pitches, equestrian training facilities, and the stable, where we had opportunity to get up close & personal with the horses.

Following our tour of the stables, we enjoyed a first-class lunch at outdoor tables overlooking the exercise track. My chicken breast sandwich was excellent… ditto my traveling companion’s lobster roll. Dessert was a shared rich chocolate cake garnished with vanilla ice cream. And, seemingly like everything else in Dubai, portions were prodigious.

Al Sahara Desert Dining Experience: After a few hours of relaxation at our hotel, our group set out again on what was billed as a Dubai Dinner Safari. To quote the description: “As a perfect end to the day, you’ll be presented with a luxury 5-star banquet dinner. To accompany your dinner, you’ll Dubai - Al Sahara Belly Dancerhave the opportunity to see a live belly-dancing show, a spectacular fire show, and various other entertainment that is traditional in Dubai and the surrounding region. Sit back and relax, watching the sun set softly over the desert horizon, and reflect on a day well spent.”

… Well… yes, and no. The entertainment was outstanding. The belly-dancing was great and the fire show quite spectacular, indeed. But, in my opinion, the food was just so-so. It was an outdoor buffet… and you had to walk a goodly distance from where you were seated to adorn your plate.

In addition, we didn’t exactly “watch the sun set softly over the desert horizon.” The Dubai traffic is, in a word, formidable. And since our travel time was infinitely longer than expected, it was quite dark by the time we eventually arrived at our desert destination.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi: Located in Abu Dhabi, Capital of the United Arab Emirates, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world’s largest mosques and a massive architectural work of art that intentionally blends different Islamic architectural schools. It features 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24-carat-gold gilded Abu Dhabi - Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosquechandeliers, and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. The main prayer hall is dominated by one of the world’s largest chandeliers. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan built this mosque to convey historic consequence and to embody the Islamic message of peace, tolerance, and diversity. He intended that the Grand Mosque be a living reference of modern Islamic architecture that links the past with the present and creates a place of Islamic science and learning that would reflect genuine Islamic values. Constructed at a cost of 1.4 billion dollars, it is capable of accommodating 141,000 worshippers.

To enter the mosque, you must take an escalator down to an underground mall that is filled with souvenir shops and a plethoric variety of retail stores & restaurants. I doubt that I have ever seen a more commercialized religious enterprise. Having run the gauntlet, you are confronted with a type of staging area, where you are scrutinized with regard to proper attire. Shorts and otherwise bare skin are strictly prohibited… ditto transparent & tight-fitting garments; and women must cover their heads with a scarf or shawl.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai: The Burj Khalifa (originally known as the Burj Dubai prior to its inauguration) is indisputably the world’s tallest structure. With Dubai - Burj Khalifaa total height of 2,722 feet, or just over half a mile, it has been the tallest structure and building in the world since 2009, supplanting Taipei 101, the previous holder of the status.

The construction began in 2004, with the exterior completed five years later on October 1, 2009. It officially opened on January 4, 2010.  The building was designed by a team led by Adrian Smith of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the firm that designed the Sears Tower in Chicago, a previous record-holder for the world’s tallest building.

 Burj Khalifa was designed to be the centerpiece of a large-scale development to include 30,000 homes, nine Dubai - View from top of Burjhotels, 7.4 acres of parkland, 19 skyscrapers, the Dubai Mall, and the 30-acre artificial Burj Khalifa Lake.

The Burj contains luxury homes, global companies, and the swanky Armani Hotel. Only the 124th, 125th, and 148th floors are open to the public. And as you can well imagine, the view – especially from the 148th floor – is truly spectacular. (pictured).

 Final Evening of the Pre-Cruise Excursion: This, of course, should have been the highlight of our pre-cruise junket. Instead, it turned out to be something of a mixed bag,

The evening started out well enough, as we attended an intriguing rendition of Cirque du Soleil’s Water Stage at the La Perle Theater in the Hilton Hotel. Following the performance, we went upstairs to the Babiole Restaurant for our 8:00 p.m. dinner reservation – and this is where the anomalies Dubai - Babiole Restaurant Viewbegan to pop up.

The food wasn’t bad at all – my Burrata and my traveling companion’s Beef Carpaccio, for example, made excellent starters… ditto her main course of Seafood Risotto… and other members of the party seemed more than satisfied with entrées such as Wild Mushroom Ghocchi and Chicken Milanese – unfortunately, there were a number of other contributing factors. My entrée, for instance, was simply MIA, missing in action. I had ordered the Baked Salmon with quinoa and olive crust. What appeared, however, was the Risotto. I informed the server of the mistake, and he promptly returned it to the kitchen. And I waited… and waited… and waited. By the time the salmon finally materialized, everyone else had completely finished their entrées, so I simply handed it back to the waiter and we all moved on to dessert.

Then, of course, there was the noise issue… Instead of being seated in the restaurant’s cozy dining room, which, at the time of our arrival, was completely devoid of human habitation, our party of fourteen was plopped down at a large table in the bustling bar area. And while the view was spectacular (pictured Dubai - Babiole Restaurantabove), there was a speaker situated almost directly above our heads; and, as the evening wore on, the piped-in music became louder and louder. Carrying on a reasonably intelligent conversation became completely impossible.

Complaints were made. The restaurant manager wasn’t exactly helpful, simply noting that this was “Ladies’ Night” (I mean, there were all of three unescorted ladies seated at the bar), that the music was always loud on such occasions, and that a representative of our group had been informed of this fact at the time our reservation was originally made.

Neither a particularly satisfactory conclusion to a highly-anticipated pre-cruise excursion, nor a very auspicious prelude to what proved to be a very enjoyable and illuminating cruising experience.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!


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