Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 13th (at Sea aboard Brilliance of the Seas)

Have I mentioned how much I love sea days? I have tried to relax a little on this sea day, however; Mr. Diggle and I did a few video shoots today, and I’m planning to do more as the sun begins to go down. Today we past through the straight between Iran and UAE, a distance of only 34 miles separates the two countries. There is a lot of political unrest in recent days with Iran, so it’s somewhat fascinating to consider we are so close to this tension in the Middle East, enjoying all the fine dining and luxuries a cruise ship like the Brilliance of the Seas has to offer. Tomorrow morning we dock in Abu Dhabi and it looks like we will be participating in a city tour. The adventure continues when we get back to Dubai, and film the spectacular Burj Al Arab hotel, arguably considered the world’s most luxurious hotel. Then, tentatively we have plans to visit the QE2. Finally after disembarking from the cruise on the 16th, we have reservations to stay in a two-bedroom suite at Burj Al Arab.

January 14th (Abu Dhabi UAE)

This morning we arrived at Abu Dhabi, which was a very large city…I thought we were arriving back into Dubai. I’ve been told that Abu Dhabi has more money than Dubai, so the construction happening there is tremendous. It reminded me of China, where it seems there is also a massive phase of new buildings being built. Like China, the new large buildings are often very unique in design, pushing the boundaries of architectural and aesthetic genius. Today we participated in a shore excursion to see the incredible mosque, completed in 2007 and built entirely out of marble with inlaid mother of pearl. The massive interior structure includes one of the largest carpets in the world and the largest chandelier. It is a place of worship for Muslims from around the world, with rooms divided for men and women. Any female visitor or tourist must put on a black robe and cover their head in order to enter the mosque. No shoes are worn inside the structure. This mosque was the dream of a local sheikh ruler, who designed the structure, but died shortly before construction was complete. It took ten years to build the mosque and is larger than the Taj Mahal in India. This excursion was truly fascinating and our guide was very knowledgeable. The excursion also made a stop at the mall in Abu Dhabi and we saw the presidential palace and some other interesting sights. I enjoy going to the mall in Muscat Oman, and I must mention that it was fun for me to walk through the malls in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which are very modern. One particular mall in Dubai for example is larger than the Mall of America back in my hometown of Bloomington, Minnesota.

We departed Abu Dhabi to another amazing sunset in the Arabian Desert. I was up on deck when the sun came up today, and then watched from the deck as the sun went down. The temperatures during the day on this cruise has averaged about 78-80 degrees and sunny, which is very comfortable, however; at night when the sun goes down it can get a little cool, relatively speaking, to about 65 degrees. I say “relatively speaking” because I come from Minnesota where in the winter months, temperatures can easily reach -30 to -50 degrees below zero, incredibly cold temperatures that many who live in places like Florida or Dubai can’t even imagine.

January 15th, Dubai UAE

This morning we arrived again into Dubai. I was up early in the morning watching as we approached Dubai with the amazing city lights blazing. I could see in the distance the Burj Al Arab hotel where we will be staying the evening of the 16th. Today, however; the Brilliance of the Seas is our floating hotel in Dubai, because we stay one more night aboard this beautiful Royal Caribbean ship before officially disembarking the ship in the morning on the 16th. We have a very busy day planned today in Dubai. On the schedule is to visit Burj Al Arab and conduct our official tour of the hotel and produce our video content. Our appointment was at 8:30am however; our limo driver thought we just wanted to “see” the Burj Al Arab hotel, and he didn’t realize we had an official appointment to enter the hotel complex, which is gated and exclusively accessible to only hotel guests, so we were a little late and arrived at about 9am. Featuring the Burj Al Arab hotel in my video series was very challenging, because the hotel is very cautious and protective about any media content produced about their facility and require in advance our script and video shooting locations. Rather than try and “loosly” follow a script like I usually do, I had very limited time to get the shots done, so I tried something different and used my MacBook Pro as a teleprompter to make sure I get the shot done right with only one take. We shot video in the lobby, in one of the suites, and in the restaurant perched high up near the top of the building. I was instructed to not include any employees or guests from the hotel in any of my shots. The extravagance and opulence of Burj Al Arab is over the top and impressive. Doug and I were impressed with every detail this spectacular hotel, and our heads were spinning at the thought that tomorrow we will be checking-in as guests of this palatial and exclusive hotel. After a successful few hours of shooting video and taking pictures, our stretched, black, Chysler 300 limo was waiting for us at the entrance to the Burj Al Arab hotel, among a few other impressive vehicles like the latest Ferrari, several Rolls Royce Phantoms and a Seven-series BMW. Our next appointment was with the PR representative for the QE2 in an office at the Burj Kalifa which is the world’s tallest building down town Dubai. She had asked me to call when I was on my way, so I did, and when I reached her while we were enroute, she told me she couldn’t meet with me as planned, however; she would send our names to the QE2’s gangway so we could board the ship. With our sleight change of plans we had some time to meet with the owner of the Dubai Exotic Limo company at his request. We were thrilled to meet with Mr. Izzat Rustom, the owner of this fine limo company.

Our meeting with Mr. Rustom went well and we learned more about his company and his vision for futher development of not only a luxury limo service, but also yacht charters and luxury condominiums and escorted tours. As we talked with Mr. Rustom, we decided to take a few pictures of his stretched limos in front of the QE2. Mr. Rustom got on his iPhone and instructed all his drivers to meet at the QE2’s location for a photo shoot. As a photographer, I’ve specialized in professional portraits and of course love taking pictures of cruise ships, but this was a new one for me to take portraits of a fleet of eight stretched limos. We tried arranging the cars in a couple different positions, but capturing the length of all these cars together was a challenge. If I were to get the best possible shot, I was going to need a ladder to be positioned higher to capture the depth and length of this fleet of stretched vehicles. There was no ladder in sight, however; I did notice a few workers hanging out as we took pictures of these cars. I thought the workers were from the cargo ship docked nearby and talked with them briefly to discover they were actually responsible for a large truck with a crane built into it. I asked them, matter of fact, if we could use their truck to get a better picture, and they were thrilled to be able to help. So now I had something better than a ladder, I coordinated a crane to be moved into position to achieve the best possible photo of the limos with the famous QE2 as a backdrop. After sketching out on paper what I thought would be the perfect position for these limos, the work began to direct eight limo drivers to park their vehicles at the perfect angle to get the best portrait of this fleet of luxury cars. It was an epic event. All the drivers, the owner, Mr. Rustom and my colleague, Doug, were thrilled at this unique opportunity to produce such a great promotional photo, which I’m happy to say the picture turned out great!

Sadly, our appointment to board the QE2, even after many emails and phone calls, did not turn out as planned. I had planned to feature the QE2 on my talk show for my viewers and listeners, but without going into detail and because of a breakdown in communication, access to QE2 was not going to happen. You can imagine my disappointment after coming all this way around the world to re-visit this iconic ocean liner, and then not being able to board the ship. The last time I boarded the QE2 was in 1993 while she was in San Pedro, California, not too long after I had worked onboard the ship as Stage Manager. Regardless of my disappointment, however; I was thrilled at the chance to see the ship again, even if it was to gaze up at her from the dock.

It was a very successful day, packed with great memories, lots of photos and video, but now it was time to get back onboard our floating hotel for the evening, Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, and rest. I was tired after today, because I put so much energy into the videos and photos at the hotel and of the limos. After dinner onboard the Brilliance of the Seas, Mr. Izzat Rustom, invited us to meet with him downtown Dubai, and he sent our limo driver to pick us up. I was ready to call it a night, because I was very tired, but I thought it was important to meet with Mr. Rustom in a more casual and relaxed, unofficial visit. Izzat was a wonderful host! It was great to spend some time with him socially and see the city of Dubai at night. The nightlife in Dubai is very international and upscale with residents and tourists from all over the world. The scene near the base of the tallest building in the world has a large man-made lake, with a spectacular dancing water show that rivals Las Vegas, and a giant mall with upscale restaurants and a delightful promenade, with palm trees light-up with twinkling lights….it reminded me of Fashion Island in Newport Beach or Rodeo Drive in California.

January 16th Dubai UAE

This morning we packed our bags and had a little breakfast before disembarking the Brilliance of the Seas. We were among the last passengers to leave the ship, made our way to the pier and waited out front for our beautiful, black, stretched limo to pick us up and transport us to the dreamy Burj Al Arab hotel, arguably, the world’s most luxurious hotel. We had a taste of what to expect yesterday during our video shoot, but this time we arrived as guests of the hotel. Special doormen who opened our limo doors, assembled our luggage and escorted us to the front revolving door of the hotel. We said goodbye to our limo driver and entered the hotel. There was a line of hosts waiting for us in the lobby, one offered us a cool scented towel, the next offered us a delicious and sweet date, and finally we were given a sample of Arabian hot coffee. A young woman greeted us, and escorted us to our suite on the 12th floor. It was as if we were the only guests arriving that day with servants scrambling to carry our bags and practically carry us to our suite in a cloud of luxury. Both Doug and I just looked at each other in amazement upon entering our two-bedroom suite which was nearly identical to the one we photographed yesterday. After the young woman Concierge showed us our suite and how to use some of the electronic features, she introduced us to our private butler who was there to take care of any further needs we may have during our stay.

It was at this moment I wish my wife, Terri, could be there with me. Without question, this was the most luxurious, extravagant hotel room I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. The 335 square metres two-bedroom, two floor suite was made for royalty, and for the day, we lived like royalty. The lower-level of our suite had a large lounge area, dining table for six, a smaller lounge, a kitchen with a separate entrance for the butler. There was a small office, which included a computer, printer, stationary and everything you would need in an office. The upper-level of our suite had two bedrooms, one with a large twin bed and a master bedroom with a king-size bed. Each bedroom had it’s own separate bathroom facility that was equally luxurious, and stocked with full-size Hermes bathroom products. The large floor to ceiling windows looked out at the famous Palm Island. Doug and I sat in the living room and just started to laugh in amazement at how fortunate we were to be there in such luxurious accommodations. Doug had never experienced what it was like to have a butler at our service, and wasn’t sure what a butler did, so I gave him a demonstration and asked the butler to draw me a hot bath in the master bedroom’s bathroom. It’s a large tub with jets to soothe the muscles, which I needed after the past week of scrambling to get photos and video. Doug went to the pool and explored the hotel, while I slipped into the hot bath with sea-salts added to the churning water. After my hot bath, I put on a luxurious cloth rope and slippers, opened-up my laptop and went online to check my emails. I wanted to take a nap, but how could I justify wasting the time sleeping when I have such a short stay in this luxurious suite. Unfortunately, my flight out of Dubai was at 1:45am that night, so I had to leave the hotel at about 11pm to get to the airport. What a shame I couldn’t experience the comfort of sleeping in that king-size bed with a mirror on the ceiling. I did, however; take the time to visit the spa in the hotel, which had an awesome steam room and sauna and a spa attendant to give us cold bottled water or a cool scented towel.

Our brief stay at Burj Al Arab was a treat that will be difficult to top. I look forward to editing my video footage of the hotel and the whole Dubai cruise experience. We certainly experienced the rich life on a luxury cruise with Royal Caribbean, stretched limo transportation throughout our visit to Dubai and accommodations at the world’s most luxurious hotel, Burj Al Arab. I take back with me on the long journey home, fantastic memories of the cruise aboard the Brilliance of the Seas, lots of video and photos and Burj Al Arab. It was a successful trip, and I think my travel colleague, Doug, also thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Muscat, Oman Visit

January 12th Muscat Oman

Sorry, in my previous posts I have been mis-spelling the city calling it Muskat, when it is actually spelled Muscat. Today we had two interviews, one with the ship’s doctor and the other with the Food & Beverage Manager. The interviews went well and I captured a unique perspective of the medical facilities available onboard the Brilliance of the Seas. This is such a unique itinerary for a cruise ship. This little town of Muscat doesn’t see many cruise ships or tourists visit, so it’s one of those rare opportunities to see a culture unique to this region. There are a lot of Indians living here and doing business in Muscat, which is fascinating, but one thing I have learned over the years is that people from India are not open to bartering, and they are very strict with the pricing they set in-place. There’s very little negotiating because of the shrude business style if the Indians. Also, much of the trinkets and product for sale is from India, England, or Germany, and you really have to search for items made in Muscat Oman. It was amazing to see this mall or market in Muscat which was filled with shops that carried the same stuff…lots of useless trinkets, jewelry and silk made in India. As a foreigner, wanting to buy something for my wife and my son back home, it was really tough to find something unique to Muscat. There were many vendors that sold the same items, and a massive volume of trinkets, the big challenge was to find something that represented the area and region.

I must comment on this region and culture. We explored this town of Muscat and walked the streets with many who live here. It seems like such an ancient culture here, and yet most of the locals have the latest cell phones and technology. I’m not sure how the Indians co-exist here and what faith they follow, but this is a society deeply connected to the Muslim faith. The Muslim prayers are broadcast on giant speakers throughout the city just as I heard in Dubai. The only people running the businesses in Muscat are men. Very few women are seen in public areas, but those women that are visible in public are covered in the usual black garments, and all you see is the face. I saw some women who even covered their face except for their eyes. And one woman had her face completely covered with a black veil. I’m not sure I understand the intricacies of the Muslim faith and reasoning behind the suppression of women in this culture, but I have gained a respect for the dedication to follow their faith-principles to such an extreme level. This is what sets this culture apart from other’s world-wide, which is their strict adherence to the rules of their faith.

Today we went into the town again to shop in the fascinating mall or market we discovered yesterday. Then, we made our way back to the Brilliance of the Seas to rest-up for dinner in the specialty restaurant onboard called Portofinos, the Italian restaurant.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Muskat Oman

January 10th, 2012 (Fujairah)

Today we were docked in Fujairah, however; we didn’t go ashore in this port, rather, we stayed onboard and brainstormed, and planned out our schedule for producing videos. We were still adjusting to the time difference and I wasn’t feeling 100% so it was a relaxing day. At one point we did go out on the pier to take a couple of pictures to also do some commentary, but I noticed the battery in my audio device was dead, so we couldn’t proceed until I put new batteries in my audio device. Both Doug and I sat up in the Windjammer and also the Viking Crown Lounge area to discuss our plans for this trip, to maximize the time we have onboard. We also talked about some future ideas about how we can collaborate together once we return from the cruise. We were originally set up for late seating at dinner, but it was too late for us to eat, so we asked to be switched to early seating. Tonight, on January 10th, we went to our new dinner seating time of 6:30pm. We discovered the passenger mix on this cruise is primarily, British, many from Russia, Norway, Germany, Netherlands, and some other European countries, but there are only 149 Americans onboard. I always enjoy being out on deck as the ship departs. I’m usually scrambling top-side to get the best views and pictures, but this time Doug and I sat at an out door cafĂ© to watch as the Brilliance of the Seas left the port of Fujairah.

January 11th, 2012 (Muskat Oman)

I got out of bed at 7am to watch as our ship, the Brilliance of the Seas made its arrival into the next port of Muskat Oman. I stood out on the bow of the ship and enjoyed the subtle breeze, the weather was perfect and I was intrigued by the fascinating jagged, mountainous shoreline. Much like in Fujairah, there were many tanker ships anchored out at sea awaiting their turn to dock. As we continued to approach the port, I noticed some fascinating structures. After we docked, Doug and I again spent some time on video work, then had lunch before heading off the ship to see what Muskat has to offer. There was a massive yacht docked not far from us, in fact I think this is one of the largest yachts in the world, owned by a Sultan. We took a shuttle bus from the ship to the entrance of the port and began our walk. We must have walked six miles exploring the shops, an ancient castle fortress on top of a hill, and another strange structure that looked like a giant birdbath. The city’s waterfront walkway is very nice , with granite walls and tiled walkway with intricate designs. The street lights were black with gold trim, the grassy areas were immaculately cared for like a fine golf course, and the views were fascinating. One element to the design of the buildings here in Muskat, even the homes, seemed to have no windows and the design was more inward-focused. Late in our walk around town we discovered a marketplace or Muskat version of a mall, and found this to be extraordinary. There were hundreds of vendors and little shops selling mostly products made in India or Germany. I was surprised at how many Indians were here selling products. What was truly fascinating about this mall was that it was seemed to go on and on with no end, and there were alleys and corridors that split off from the main mall area to more shops. It felt like an underground labyrinth, and I could possibly get lost in there. Back home I love going to the mall, but this particular marketplace was exotic and ancient; it’s like this mall has been here for hundreds of years. There were shops selling herbs, incense, frankincense, and ancient spices. We also saw many vendors selling the typical Muslim, Omanian clothing and exotic linens. If you like antiques and nick knacks, you’d absolutely love to walk through this labyrinth of shops.

After our adventure in Muskat, we headed back to our ship the Brilliance of the Seas, so have dinner. We made our way up into the spa area to steam and clean up after our adventure and exhaustive walking around town. Tonight was an interesting event onboard called the Arabian White Party where a few passengers, including us, wore the Arabian headdress that we purchased in Muskat. It was a wild party with the band playing some great dance tunes and an obscene buffet of chocolates, desserts and ice sculptures. After this very busy and full day, I called it a night at about 11pm, went to my stateroom and went to bed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Arrival into Dubai

Arrival into Dubai Sunday, January 8th, 2012 8:00pm

The flight from Washnigton DC to Dubai was about 17 hours. I was lucky enough to get a window seat, however the guy in the middle seat was a big guy like me, so it was a little cramped. I was thrilled to get a chance to ride in a Boeing 777, which has the largest most powerful twin engines on any other intercontinental jetliner. I watched at least four in-flight movies but after the first hours, I slept for about 8 hours. I had to excuse myself only once during the long flight to get out of my seat in the corner. Actually I was in the very last seat in the back of the plane. Overall, considering the cramped conditions, the flight went very well. It was exciting as we began to land in Dubai, especially when I got my first glimpse of the tallest building in the world, which is the centerpiece of downtown Dubai.

Upon exiting the aircraft, it was a long walk to the baggage-claim area and the way out of the airport. Customs was simple, not a word was spoken. Dubai Exotic Limo was suppose to pick me up at the airport and transport me to my hotel, the Royal Falcon Hotel. I saw al the limo guys with signs up and walked through the line several times, but didn’t see my name of the Dubai Exotic Limo company. I waited about a half hour and found someone willing to make a call phone call to the limo company. I was told that the big stretched limos are not allowed into the same area where the other guys were, so I walked across the street and saw a black stretched limo with the name DubaiExoticLimo on the back. I knew I was getting a ride but wasn’t exactly expecting a stretched limo. I’m getting spoiled now as nearly every time I travel a stretched limo picks us up. The Royal Falcon Hotel was not too far from the airport, and I arrived at about 9:00pm. I checked in and was escorted to my room. The room was decent but no Hilton, or Comfort Inn for sure. After that ling flight, I needed to try and adjust to the ten hour time difference, so I took my sleeping pill and went to bed. I forgot my travel alarm clock, so I powered up my cell phone which has a travel alarm ap. I’m getting personal here, I guess, but I sleep every night with a C-Pap machine for spleep apnia, but I didn’t use it tonight because A….I didn’t want to unpack it, and B….I the power outlet is different here. I did just fine, however, and slept comfortably.

The air conditioning didn’t seem to work in the room, so I slept with the window open all night which was fine, however; I was awakened by a strange noise outside. I got out of bed and when to the window and discovered it was morning prayers being broadcast throughout the city from several different directions. I cleaned-up a bit, and wandered down to the lobby to see if there was any breakfast. This hotel does not offer a breakfast, which is fine. I may take a little walk when the sun comes up to see if I can get a light snack for breakfast. My limo driver is showing up here at 11:30am to bring me back to the airport, where I will meet up with my travel colleague, Doug, who’s flight gets in at about 12:20pm. I’ll pick him up in the limo, then we are off to the cruise terminal where our ship, the Brilliance of the Seas awaits us. It will be nice to check-in aboard the ship and get settled in. Then I will unpack my suit and hang it up, along with my other clothes. I’m proud of myself for the compact packing I did. I’m traveling around the world for ten days with only one carry-on piece, my brief case, and a narrow bag for my tripod. I just don’t like the idea of checking my bags with the airlines. I’m always afraid they will lose my luggage, and feel much more comfortable with everything in the overhead compartment. I’m sure Doug will get a kick out of being shuttled around in a stretched limo. Hey, it’s the only way to get around when in a strange and exciting place like Dubai. So now I have a couple of hours here at the hotel, before we head to the airport again to pick up Doug, so I may venture to an eatery somewhere to get a morning snack. I’m feeling good, and plenty rested. My throat has that slight sore-throat feel, but I think it’s mostly because I probably snored heavily much of the night, since I didn’t use my C-pap machine. It’s Monday morning here in Dubai right now, and 8:45pm Sunday evening in Minneapolis, so I’m wondering if Terri and Jacob made it to our LifeGroup meeting which we attend every other Sunday night. Our LifeGroup are friends from our church, and every other Sunday we meet at someone’s home for great conversation and fellowship.

If you haven’t “Followed” this blog, I hope you click on that option so you don’t miss any of my updates. This is going to be an adventurous and I want to share with you. That’s all I have for now…stayed tuned.

Dubai First Day, January 9th

My limo transport arrived at the Royal Falcon Hotel on time at 11:30am. I was picked up and taken to the Dubai airport to meet up with my colleague and traveling companion during this trip, Mr. Douglas Diggle. After meeting up with Mr. Diggle upon his arrival into Dubai, we got into our stretched limo and headed to the ship. On our approach to the harbor where the Brilliance of the Seas was docked, my heart skipped a few beats when the QE2 came into view. What a sight! Having followed the history of the QE2, I did a crossing as a passengers and even worked on the ship as Stage Manager back in 1992. QE2 was retired from Cunard Line about three years ago. I called up to our limo driver and asked him to drive alongside the QE2 which was a treat to see this historic ship close-up again. She looked good after being static for three years. Obviously the current owners put a lot of care into maintaining the ship and keeping her cosmetically shipshape.

Boarding the Brilliance of the Seas was a breeze. It was nice to finally check-in to tour stateroom, which will be our home for the week. The weather and temperature was perfect, about 80 degrees and sunny. Brilliance of the Seas, in the usual Royal Caribbean fashion is spotless, even though she is one of the older ships in the fleet. Our stateroom is 4536, an ocean-view room with a large round window. There seems to be few Americans onboard this cruise. The passenger demographic is mostly European. Getting to Dubai from the U.S. is very tiring, and the time-difference is about ten hours from Minnesota, so there is certainly some adjustments your body goes through. It’s frustrating being so drained and tired, when you want to be more active. I had the benefit of sleeping one night in a hotel after arriving into Dubai so I was feeling ok, but Doug was very sleepy, and it was tough to stay awake and make it to late sitting dinner at 9:00pm. Boat drill was at 5:15pm and the Brilliance of the Seas departed Dubai at 6:00pm. It was truly a magical and surreal experience to see the amazing skyline of Dubai with it’s incredibly tall building as the focal point and the elegant QE2 resting quietly nearby. The moon was full, hanging over the city of Dubai and glistening over the ocean like a painting . It was at that moment, particularly, that I wish my wife, Terri, was with me to experience this incredible sight. Of course it’s tough to take pictures of this because the ship is moving and it’s a very low light condition. We gutted it out and stayed awake till 9pm to meet our table mates, then called it a night at about 10:30pm.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dubai Adventure

Check back here often or better yet, "Follow" this blog because I'm about to embark on an adventure to Dubai. At this moment I'm sitting in the airport in Minneapolis waiting for my flight to star boarding. I'm traveling for the next 23 hours or so and loose a day. From Minneapolis I fly to Washington DC then connect to a United flight to Dubai. I've never been to Dubai, but it has been on my bucket list for a long time now. On this trip I'm meeting with a colleague who will co-host this series of adventures in Dubai, including a cruise aboard the Brilliance of the Seas with Royal Caribbean, a visit aboard the QE2 which has been docked in Dubai the past few years, then finally, a stay at the "World's Most Luxurious Hotel" the Burj Al Arab. So this trip will fulfill several "bucket-list" experiences. Follow me here on this blog or on Facebook.