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.


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