Dubai: Visitors this Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) are keeping dhow cruise services busy and buoyant, tour operators said.
A cruise manager said most clients appeared to be tourists and shoppers in town for the festival. Tour consultant, Dennis, from North Tours, said bookings can peak 70 per cent during December and the DSF season compared with the relatively slower summer months.
Meanwhile, Sunil Pawar, business development manager at Al Khaleej (Gulf) Floating Restaurant, said they see an approximately 25 per cent increase in passengers during DSF.
Dhows, traditional Arabian Gulf sailing vessels, are cultural icons in the UAE and neighbouring countries. The wooden ships have long been used for fishing, trade and travel. More recently many of them have been motorised to cater to leisure passengers taking a mini-cruise of the historic Dubai Creek.
Sources estimate the number of such cruises or “floating restaurants” to be roughly 35 on Dubai Creek. These dhow trips feature dining mixed with sightseeing and on-board entertainment performances while navigating creek waters.
The cooler winter months combined with the DSF fanfare attract scores of visitors to the dhow cruises, docked on both sides of the creek, along Deira wharf and the Al Seef Street side.
While many clients are hotel guests with reservations, several make an on-the-spot decision to hop on-board. The daily DSF fireworks over the creek and stalls on Al Seef Street draw scores of visitors every day.
“DSF markets Dubai so much, the visitors say ‘we come to Dubai to buy.’ There’s an influx of visitors and shoppers and that only helps us serve more guests,” Dennis said.
Pawar added: “A dhow cruise is synonymous with Dubai tourism, it’s right up there with shopping malls, resorts, and desert safaris. And because of DSF our bookings are almost full.”
The rates hover between Dh150 to Dh250 per head on average, based on a snap survey of the two-hour dhow cruise option on the larger vessels.
Al Khaleej seats about 140 people when fully booked. Gulf News was welcomed on-board recently for a cruise tour.
The dhow is a gentle giant, and you barely feel the tug as the engines kick in, leaving the wharf with a smooth start. The lower deck is air conditioned and enclosed, offering creek views through oversized windows.
For many, most of the fun — the cool winter breeze, the sights and sounds — is on the open upper deck.
Cruising at around three knots (about five kilometres per hour), the dhow hardly makes any noise as it travels up the creek. Unique views of both sides of the creek come clearly into view from the front or back end of the deck.
There’s the bustling Baniyas street, swarming with cars and trade dhows on its wharf. The older buildings on the creek remind you of Dubai tourism postcards from the 1980s.
On the other side on Al Seef Street, the DSF carnival can be seen as lights from the stalls and rides bounce off the creek waters. Further up, the Ruler’s Court, the Bastakiya heritage area and old souq arrive in the frame, as if being brought in on a conveyer belt of sorts. It’s like seeing Dubai in rewind, the modern buildings disappearing from view to make room for Emirati architecture on the creek front.
And all around on the creek are other dhow cruises, decked out in lights, giving a sense of a festive flotilla and spirit.
When the weather permits, the dhows go out on the open sea near the shore, offering views of the Dubai and Sharjah skylines. The darkness of the Arabia Gulf is pierced by the city lights and dhows as they head back to dock.
The DSF is an annual month-long promotion of sales and entertainment which has been running for 18 years.