Although it was my first visit to Dubai, I would have recognized that skyline anywhere. Like a conductor of a grand architectural orchestra, the “world’s tallest” Burj Khalifa takes center stage, pointing its baton skyward in a symphony of modern design. Buildings of imaginative shapes and creative configurations spread out in both directions. It’s a stunning sight when arriving by ship, and it’s especially remarkable when you think about Dubai’s relative newness. Many of the city’s landmark buildings were completed during the last twenty years.

The Regent Voyager was scheduled to arrive in the early afternoon, with an overnight in port before we disembarked the following morning. I had booked a private city highlights tour for the next day, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with this partial afternoon of time. Herb and I decided to join the ship’s independent Hop On-Hop Off Bus excursion. We figured we could get off at the Dubai Mall – not on our itinerary the following day – and then rejoin the bus along the rest of the route.

The Red Route

Dubai’s Big Bus tours run three different color-coded routes around the city. The first stop on the red route is the Dubai Mall. With the bottom level of the bus full, Herb and I found seats on the open-air second deck. We opted not to use the provided headset, thinking we wouldn’t need any commentary for just one stop.

We clearly had no idea what was about to unfold.

Our bus driver pulled out of the parking lot and quickly made his way onto an eight-lane highway. The wind was whipping through the top deck as we picked up speed. An enormous vertical rectangle came into view. “That’s the Dubai Frame!” I shouted to Herb, grabbing my camera, suddenly realizing we had stumbled upon front-row seats to a prized architectural show. From the vantage point of the open double-decker bus, it felt as if we were entering an amusement park ride, engulfed in an architectural wonderland.

The perspective was a feast for the imagination – and for my camera! Between this experience and our journey on the road to Luxor, this had been a trip where buses offered an extraordinary and unexpected window to the world.

The Dubai Frame, completed in 2018, features observation deck views of Old Dubai on one side and “new” Dubai on the other.
Traveling down Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s largest highway.
Surrounded by Dubai’s legendary skyscrapers, including the Gevora Hotel, the world’s tallest hotel.
Looking up…

Although different heights, the matching Emirates Towers contain a similar number of floors and were once the two tallest buildings in Dubai.
The Museum of the Future, a stainless steel “eye” adorned with Arabic calligraphy, is scheduled to open this year.
The Burj Khalifa soars in the background.

The Dubai Mall

Our driver parked the bus in the designated “Tourist Bus Pick-up” area. Passengers were either staying on board, transferring to another Big Bus line or stopping at the mall. We headed inside, with the main goal of finding the Burj Khalifa viewing deck.

The Burj Khalifa opened in 2010 and is the tallest building in the world.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the mall, with no particular purpose except to take it all in. We passed the Aquarium and Ice Rink and stopped for a tea and a late afternoon snack. The Dubai Mall turned out to be a great place for people watching, and as the day grew later, the crowds grew larger.

The Aquarium & Underwater Zoo…
…and the Dubai Ice Rink.
The Divers at Dubai Mall Waterfalls, fiberglass sculptures that float through the mall’s four-level water feature.
Tea and scones at TWG Tea.

Dubai Architecture After Dark

It was early evening and well past sunset when we made our way to the Big Bus for the ride back to the port. The city was dazzling, aglow with vibrant colors. We took the stairs to the second deck, this time taking care to find seats that would showcase the views. I captured quite a few photos, but as the bus picked up speed, my limited night photography skills combined with quickly moving targets proved to be a challenge!

The Burj Khalifa, bathed in blue.

Peeking through a pink Dubai Frame.

In a way, I almost prefer the blurry images. They remind me of that wonderful night – a visual metaphor for Dubai’s crazy, creative, over-the-top architecture. Like fireworks exploding through the sky, they are the orchestra’s grand finale.


  • From time to time I see incredible deals for a short trip to Dubai. Enjoyed your article and now I will put it on my list!

  • Thanks, Janet! Dubai is fascinating and definitely list-worthy 🙂 There is a lot to take in, and we were able to cover quite a bit in just a day and a half. It was interesting to learn that the airport is such a popular layover stop that tour companies offer half- and full-day tours for people just passing through!

  • I have been reading your blog with great interest. We did this trip in 2016 on Voyager in the opposite direction. It was my favorite voyage of many. Although I wasn’t a big fan of Dubai, your photos changed my perspective. Thank you for ride along!

  • Jennifer, Thank you! I’m happy to have you riding along 🙂 This truly was a dream of an itinerary and a favorite as well. It’s interesting what you said about Dubai. I wasn’t quite sure what I would think, especially after spending time in such ancient places as Luxor and Petra. I’m glad our windy double-decker bus ride offered another perspective!

  • Mary, I can’t say Dubai is my kind of place either, but your wonderful photos remind me of the spectacle. One just can’t help but be awe struck by the sheer chutzpah of the city! Thank you for taking us along for the ride.

    By the way, next time you’re in London, grab the two upstairs front seats on a number 11 or a number 15 bus and have your camera ready for another great sightseeing tour 😉

    • Gill, I love the description of Dubai as sheer chutzpah! Throw in a pinch of audacity, and I think you have the perfect recipe for the city. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts – and for the tip on London by bus. That’s a terrific suggestion for the travel file!

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