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 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.
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.
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!
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.