I am back in Canada now, after a fantastic four months in Dubai. I had a great time, saw some amazing things, and made some good friends. The next task is to get over my jet lag as quickly as possible, hopefully in time for the visit from my two young nephews tomorrow.
On my last Saturday in Dubai, I decided to visit the Aquarium in the Dubai Mall. I had some 2-for-1 coupons, but nobody to go with. I thought I would just get in line for tickets and find someone there that could share the savings. The main tank for the aquarium is visible from public sections of the mall. The tickets allowed you to go inside, through a tunnel in the tank and into the Underwater Zoo. I am not a big fan of zoos, because I don’t really like to see animals caged. However, I don’t have the same problem with fish in aquariums. When I tried to find someone to share the coupon, I discovered that the coupon was for the most basic package. There was a “platinum” level package that included a behind the scenes tour, and an “ultimate” package that included a glass bottom boat ride. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to do the most basic tour, so I gave up trying and decided to take the platinum package myself.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the tour. The inside view of the aquarium tank didn’t give me much more than the outside view. There was one section of the tunnel which was set up like a cave, and the sharks were hovering around that area. I did like the opportunity to see the sharks from underneath, but overall I was not really impressed. The Underwater Zoo was ok, but not great. I liked the otters, water rats and penguins the best, but at the same time I didn’t like to see them in a relatively small enclosure. At one point, I was trying to take a picture of a penguin, and I was waiting for it to turn around. All of the sudden, it started running away. I noticed all of the penguins in the enclosure hopping up onto the rocks. It was dinner time, and they knew it as soon as the staff member opened the door. I also got a chance to see the water rats at feeding time. The behind the scenes tour was fine, but not great. I didn’t think there was much to see, and I didn’t think that I learned much more than what I could have found out on their website. The best part was when the guide showed us a shark egg. She said that her favourite display was the progression of shark eggs over time. I asked her where that display was and she told me it was near the penguin exposure. I had missed it the first time I walked by, and I was glad I went back. It showed live shark eggs at 10 days, 40 days, 80 days, and 120 days (if I am remembering properly). For the later eggs you can see the embryo pretty clearly moving around. I am sure that other people would enjoy and find value in visiting the aquarium, but overall I was underwhelmed.
That afternoon I had made plans with some of my colleagues to take a water taxi from Dubai Creek to Dubai Marina. The taxi service has several drop off and pick up points, with set prices between stops. However, you can also rent the taxi for an hour for 400 dirhams, which is about $120. The taxi has room for 10 passengers, and we filled it: me, my colleague Giovanni and his daughter Cristina, my colleague Surya and his wife Amy, and my colleague Eric with his wife and three daughters. The boat has an enclosed area with seating for 10, that I think is air conditioned. You can also stand or sit outside at the back of the taxi. I spent the entire trip outside. The route follows the shoreline of the Arabian Gulf (also known as the Persian Gulf – but the name depends on where you are in the world), so we got a wonderful view of the city from the water. I took lots of pictures, but the quality of the photographs is not great. There were two problems: first the ride was pretty bumpy so many of the pictures are on an angle, and second the city itself looks hazy from a distance. The hazy look to the city is common, and I have been told that the effect is usually from the sand blowing around. It is not something I notice when I am walking around, but I definitely notice when looking out at a distance.
The best views we saw were of the Burj Al Arab and Atlantis. As we drove by those hotels, the taxi driver slowed down, so we got a really good view and had a chance to take some pictures. Overall, I really enjoyed this trip. I would recommend it to anyone, especially if you can get a group of 8 or 10 to share the cost.
After the ride, we stopped at a restaurant in the Dubai Marina for a snack/dinner. There are many places to eat there, and they all had staff, ready with menus, trying to coax us to sit down. Giovanni negotiated a free pizza for us at one of restaurants. They didn’t have a table outside that was big enough for 10 people, so we split up. This is a really nice area for dining, with a view of the marina. You can’t see the Gulf from here the way you can from restaurants on Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) Walk, but here there is no noisy traffic to distract you. After the snack, we headed back to the hotel on the metro. Surya, Amy, and I decided to go to the Bahri Bar in Madinat Jumeirah. It was a very nice bar, with a fantastic view of the Burj Al Arab. We sat and had a couple of drinks and some appetizers. At one point a man came in with his family, and a staff person told him that the kids were not allowed to stay. As he left, he complained that this policy was ridiculous, which I thought was silly – it was a bar after all.
On my last Monday in Dubai, I went to Aquaventure with my colleague Giovanni. I had wanted to go to one of the water parks in Dubai before I left. Aquaventure is beside the Atlantis Hotel, which is on the man-made, palm-shaped island. I had 2-for-1 coupons for the water park which saved us 200 dirhams for the all-day pass. I knew a little bit about about Aquaventure, because it was highlighted on an episode of the Amazing Race. For fans of that show, they will remember a challenge where the contestants had to slide down “The Leap of Faith” waterslide (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSv5u3LgDWM). The Leap of Faith is a slide that drops 27 metres, at an angle that is close to 90 degrees. I would say that the shots from The Amazing Race do not give an accurate impression of how steep the drop is. When it flattens out at the bottom, you go through a tunnel in an aquarium that houses sharks and manta rays. Giovanni was very excited about that slide, and he said we should go there first. I was planning to go down it, but I can’t say that I was excited. I could feel my heart beating faster while we climbed up the structure, shaped like a temple, which was the centre for all of the water slides. I am not particularly afraid of heights, but I am a klutz. I didn’t think that I would die going down this slide, but I was afraid I might get tangled up and break a leg or something. When we got to the top, there was not much of a lineup. After the two people ahead went down, it was my turn. I sat down, and immediately pushed off. I knew that I didn’t want to sit there for any amount of time, and think more about the drop. I think I might have closed my eyes as I went over the edge. When I opened my eyes, I couldn’t really see anything, since water was rushing over my body – even as the slide straightened out. I am not sure if I kept my legs together as I went down; if you cross your legs it might make it possible to see more. The ride was over in a second or two. I got up at the bottom and turned around to watch Giovanni. I was incredible how quickly he appeared at the bottom. As we walked out together, I was definitely shaking, but not nearly as much as I was after riding the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World. Giovanni said we needed to plan to go down at least two more times during the day. I told him that once was enough for me.
For the rest of the slides, you needed to ride in an inflatable tube, that fits either one or two people. You can find the tubes all over the park, but the best place is to look at the lagoon area of the Torrent River. The river winds its way around the park, and you can float on the tubes. There are some sections that have a pretty slow current, but there are some sections that have rapids. Giovanni and I took a trip around the river, and I did enjoy the rapids in particular. There were some sections where the current was not particularly strong, so it was easier to get out and walk. I have to say that the park employees were really great. For some of them it was their job to redirect the tubes if they were floating off course as you enter the rapid sections. I saw the same people there all day, and they always had a big smile and a friendly greeting. I can’t believe that is an easy job, standing in the water all day pulling people around.
After our tour on the river, we took our tubes and headed back to the top of the temple (known as Ziggurat). Each in our own tube, we went down The Surge, which started at the same level as The Leap of Faith. The first drop was pretty steep, but what surprised me on the ride is that most of it is inside a tunnel, with no lights. I was just holding onto the handles of my tube, not knowing which direction I would be moving next. Once I got used to the idea that it was going to be dark, I felt better, but it was a bit of a shock to begin. After going down this slide, we were back in the river. This time instead of going down the rapids, we took a turn back to Ziggurat. It took a bit of time, but we ended up at the bottom of a conveyor belt, which took us to the first level. There was a choice to go left or right, and we chose left – The Stinger, and then the next time we chose right – The Falls. At this point, I would say that The Falls was my favourite ride, because it had more outside in the light than most of the other rides. After these two rides, Giovanni decided to go down The Leap of Faith again, before we headed for lunch.
We had a nice lunch at the Shark Bites restaurant. I was a little surprised that they sold alcohol in the park, but I guess since it is associated with the Atlantis Hotel, I should have expected it. I didn’t have anything to drink, but I did have a pretty good cheeseburger and some curly fries. When you enter the park, you are given a plastic wrist band that is in the shape of a watch. You need to wave the wrist band at a scanner to let you through the main gate turnstiles. You can rent a locker, and the locker is also accessed by the wrist band. You can also put money on the wrist band at the ticket counters, so you do not need to carry it with you around the park. When we paid for our lunches, we just waved the wristband in front of a scanner. At the end of the day you can cash out any money you have left on the wrist band. I thought this was a great system.
After lunch we tried a couple of waterslides we had not done yet – Shark Attack and The Plunge. The Shark Attack slide was like most of the rest of them, except at the end, you float through a tunnel in the shark and manta ray aquarium. I was a little disappointed with this, because it was hard to see the fish swimming around, even though you moved pretty slowly, because the natural light was too bright. At this point we were winding down for the day, and thought we had done all of the slides. However, my colleague Peter had told me about a slide that pushes you with water, up the temple. I had not managed to find the entrance to that slide, but I thought I spotted the exit at the same level as The Plunge. I asked an attendant where the start of the slide was, and he just said it was at the bottom of the temple.
Giovanni and I decided to do one more loop on the river with the rapids. I was going to look for signs that would indicate where the start of this other slide was. When I approached the first set of rapids, the attendant pushed my tube towards the entrance, but I drifted to the right. I was about to hit the corner of the wall, so I pulled my feet back so I wouldn’t hit them on the concrete. Unfortunately, that shift in weight, along with the rapid current, flipped me backwards out of the tube. The water was quite shallow, and I banged my head on the concrete bottom. When I came back up to the surface I was heading down the rapids without the tube. I didn’t panic, and just sat in the water with my feet in front of me, until the current slowed down enough for me to stand up. A few seconds later, my tube came floating down, and a grabbed it. There are life guards all along the river, and one of them blew his whistle. At the bottom of the rapids, another attended came towards me to see if I was ok, and if I needed medical attention. I said I was fine, but the bump on my head was pretty sore. By the time I got through the next couple of rapids and back to the main lagoon area, I told Giovanni I was done for the day.
We had to climb back up the Ziggurat to get Giovanni’s shoes. When we got to the middle level, I again asked where the start of the slide whose exit I could see. This time we got a more complete answer. That slide was called the Shamal, but you had to go on it with a two-person tube. The attendant said the best way was to go down The Plunge, and then just ask the attendants at the bottom how to get to the entrance to the Shamal. To get to that entrance, you have to exit the river, just before you get to the conveyor belt. Then you walk around in a section that seems deserted. There was nobody in line for this ride. It was as Peter had described, a ride that pushed you up to the middle level of the temple. There were some drops as well that made it like a roller coaster. It turned out to be my favourite ride. When we got to the top, the attendant recognized us and gave us a thumbs up. He said that the slides were going to close in 15 minutes, so we went back down one more time, and the up the Shamal. I was really glad that I got a chance to do that slide, despite the relatively large goose egg that I could feel forming on the back of my head.
I had a really good time at Aquaventure. There are other things to do there, especially for younger kids. It also has a beautiful beach with lounge chairs. It was a really good choice for my last tourist adventure in Dubai.