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Eating Out: Megalopolis of the Gulf

Plenty is the answer…. or as little as you feel like… or absolutely nothing at all, if that grabs you!

On my most recent cruise on Royal Caribbean International’s enormous, but enormously comfortable and welcoming Brilliance of the Seas, we toured much of the Persian Gulf on a seven-night voyage on the 90 090 gross registered tonne luxury vessel.

That included the first and last days of my working holiday tied-up at the cruise liner terminal at Port Rashid in Dubai.

While moored in a harbour, the international cruising convention is the on-board casino shuts (among other things it gives croupiers and dealers a chance to explore the port of call) as are the ship’s glittering duty-free shops.

I use the former not at all; the latter seldom and always urge caution over buying there. Certainly cigarettes and alcohol are much cheaper in High Street Harare than on board, but there’s a breathtaking range of products available.

On a Western Caribbean cruise a couple of years ago I really admired a camera popular with many crew members, which gave excellent results, but thought US$333 a wee bit pricey on an alleged tax and duty-free package deal.

A week later I bought an identical model in Argos, Oxford for £117,50, which was then about US$200! (And Britain’s by no means the cheapest place to buy such goods.)

On the Persian Gulf trip, a fellow journalist, an amiable Kenyan Muslim married to a delightful Kenyan Hindu, both with independent radio in Nairobi, admired my diver’s chronometer; when I said it was a Tissot 1853, he whistled, saying he’d always craved one.

“They have later models in duty-free here,” I told him at supper, “priced from US$800 but I’m sure you’ll find a better bargain in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.”
He paid nearly US$900 on board ship. I saw similar Tissots in Abu Dhabi a few days later from US$400. Mine cost the then Euro equivalent of about US$250 in duty-free at Sousse International Airport, Tunisia, in mid-2007: about $80 cheaper than retail (then) in the US.

All shopping is free of duty or tax in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and, by Jove, doesn’t the world flock there to buy?  Folk even snapped up knock-down kit Scandinavian furniture at IKEA in Abu Dhabi, taking it back with them to wherever they came from. Seemingly tonnes of the stuff were headed for Angola on the plane I caught from Dubai to Addis Ababa.

Had a quick mooch around IKEA and to my amazement found it almost identical to the branch in Bristol, UK, where my daughter took me for what I initially regarded as a rather bizarre excursion from rural Oxfordshire on New Year’s Day a year or so ago.

In both cases, literally thousands of people, from hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away, trooped round the giant store/warehouse examining home and office furniture, carpets, soft furnishings and the like. (I recall being torn between great fish and chips and excellent Swedish meat balls with pasta for lunch at the Bristol outfit,  bought a pair of good value Turkish towels and Adele invested in a blonde-wood room divider…or was it a ladder…or bureau?)

Dubai is jaw-droppingly breathtaking and — despite being badly hit by the recession — drips with wealth.

The largest and most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, it defies harsh, arid, desert surroundings with seemingly endless skyscrapers set amid lush, verdant, gardens and parks.

I hear the settlement has drastically altered each year since oil and gas were discovered 50 years ago; now even the place itself changes, with stunning land reclamation work.

Two shimmering architectural gems: Palm Island and The World have emerged from the balmy, warm, translucent, turquoise sea as some of the globe’s most sought after real estate.

A tiny, probably rather smelly, desperately hot in summer, Arab trading centre (then spelt Dubayy) has emerged over half a swift century to be the Megalopolis of the Gulf, starting in the 1960s when an influx of trade, investment, expats and publicity flooded the city to make it one of the most spectacular emirates  in the UAE.

It’s now one of the busiest destinations. Home to spectacularly successful Emirates airline, Dubai is fast becoming a major hub for north-south and east-west flights. Dubai airports will this year handle 50 million passengers, albeit many in swift transit, a rise of 13,1% on 2010.

The go-getter airline, which more than quadrupled its profits in the first half of last year, raking in more than US$1bn, currently has on order 90 Airbus A380 super jumbo jets and 30 Boeing 777-300ERs to enhance its ultra-modern fleet.

I found it a wonderful airline with magnificent planes and crew (but managed, somehow, to successfully board the WRONG Emirates flight from Heathrow to Dubai recently, making a mockery of security!) They even supply stainless steel cutlery in cattle class, for superb meals I’ll tell you about soon.

Dubai has more than 200 mainly competitively priced four- to seven-star hotels, including a Claridge’s, a Raffles, two Hiltons, three Sheratons, two Radisson Blus (soon climbing into bed with our Rainbow Towers), two Ritz-Carltons, two Ramadas, two Swiss-owned Moevenpicks, a Ke-mpinski, several Hyatts, Marriots, Crowne-Plazas, Holiday Inns and a whole host of others.

For more details on the Persian Gulf voyage, which starts at US$790, (a new cruise from Dubai to India, or any others world-wide) talk to Nancy Musanhi at Fulela Dreams (ex Mitchell Cotts) 81 King George Rd, Avondale. Tel 2917886 or 0772 380 580 or


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