A buddy of mine, who I will secretly refer to as "Ross," used to love boasting about his old minivan and the "sweet ride" it provided. As great as it was, I suspect he'd be even more impressed with a trip on the Emirates A-380 that flies from Toronto to Dubai three times a week.
It was my first time on the plane last night (Wednesday), and it was something else. How on earth anything that big takes off is beyond me, first of all. I mean, take a look at that thing sometime, then add the weight of nearly 500 passengers and all that food and drinks and the water for the showers and it simply defies the laws of physics, Captain.
I bought a full-fare ticket and was lucky enough to get an upgrade to business class to see how the other half lives. Yeah, it's not bad. There's the usual pod-style seating area, where the seats tilt back and make into a flat bed. Similar to Air Canada in that sense. But they take things to a whole different level on Emirates, with a sleeping pad that you can put on top of your seat for a comfier rest, plus much more storage area than most biz class setups. There was a large shelf to my left, with a mini-bar (no alcohol) with two small cans of pop, a mango juice, plus fresh water and Perrier.
That was quite nice. The food was good, and they served alcohol to folks who wanted it. I had a couple glasses of Bordeaux, but wish they'd had a slightly larger selection. Four is fine, but I would've thought they'd have six or eight varieties. The TV/entertainment centre set-up was amazing; a huge screen with spectacular colour and a couple hundred movies to choose from, not to mention a whole whack of TV shows, documentaries and a ridiculous supply of music; classic albums such as Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and Harvest from our own Neil Young, great playlists for everyone from Sinatra and classical artists Tom Petty to U2 to the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond, Radiohead, Coldplay and Abba, and more.
It's a great way to pass the time. But what's really cool is the lounge at the back of the biz section. It's got curved benches on each side of the plane to sit about six people in all, and in the middle is a wide-open spot for folks to stand and mingle and then a curved bar with olives, sandwiches, snacks and a full bar. It was quite impressive, but it would be nice to see a bottle of Canadian whiskey on board a flight from Toronto.
I didn't get to use it, but the folks were nice enough to show me the first class section, which features even larger televisions, more storage space, a small desk and lamp and sliding panels so you can be almost entirely enclosed and private. It's quite something. But not as cool as the shower, which is about the size of a small Tokyo apartment; maybe 12 feet by five, with a full shower. Folks in first class get a half hour in the washroom per passenger, and five minutes of running water for the shower. And how great would that be at the end of a 10-hour flight?
My tour guide also pointed out how, when it's time for sleep on the plane as a whole, they turn down the regular moodlighting and put on lights that cast the shape of small stars on a deep blue background on the ceiling. Emirates has a dozen A-380's operating now and should have 15 by year-end. They have another 90 on order.
Right now they're stuck at three flights a week from Canada to Dubai. They'd like to go daily, but their entreaties to the Stephen Harper government have falled on deaf ears; Harper being more interested in protecting Canada's airlines, and their deep-pocketed owners, than he is in providing more choice for Canadian consumers. At least that's how I see it.
I got a charge out of the music on offer, including a bit where you can play all the #1 hits from the UK charts for all years starting with 1955 or so. Lots of Elvis and the Beatles, of course, but also some weird bits. Wandrin' Star, which Lee Marvin sang/mumbled for the movie Paint Your Wagon with Clint Eastwood, was a #1 hit in the UK for three weeks in 1970. Also making number one was I"ll Never Fall in Love Again, but not the Dionne Warwick version. This one was by Bobby Gentry, which was a surprise to me. Also weird that both Michelle and Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da made number one as cover tunes of the Beatles, but they weren't Beatles singles so didn't make the charts.
Anyway, thanks to Emirates for the sweet ride.
ARRIVING IN DUBAI
I was prepared, I think, for the Burj Al Arab and such, but I didn't for some reason think much about the Dubai airport before I stepped into it. Wow. All kinds of gleaming white and silver columns in a huge arrivals area that had to have 50-foot ceilings, plus mirrors and palm trees and fancy lighting.
Really, really awesome. Best part? Out in the covered parking lot/taxi area they have spraying fountains and fake waterfalls. In a parking lot. I can only imagine what the rest of the city looks like.
We passed a bunch of nice hotels on the way into town, including the Fairmont. Sadly, we also passed a Chili's, an Applebee's, a Tony Roma's, a Pizza Hut and two Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. If you didn't see the Arabic signs and the Turkish restaurants you might have thought you were in Miami.
I'm staying the night at the Madinat Jumeirah's Mina Salam Hotel, just a few feet from the Burj Al Arab. The lobby is stunning, with Arabic arches and lovely wooden furnishings, as well as a small fountain filled with red rose petals and floating candles. Quite beautiful. The rooms are enormous, with a lovely wooden desk I'm typing at now, a dark, polished dresser, a huge TV and a large sitting area with a very good-sized bathroom that features colourful Arabic tiles.
The guy at the front desk told me there are 42 restaurants in the complex, which features two hotels and a giant lagoon where they ferry you by boat from one part to another. Geez. I wandered about for a while and figured I really wanted a view. I stopped at a place called The Agency and had a glass of wine on the terrace. I asked for an antipasto platter, which had good cheese and olives and an eggplant spread but no meat. I also ordered a beef yakitori dish that was inedible, but they charged me for it anyway. I thought about arguing but I wanted to make the point that it's poor service to charge someone for something they wouldn't eat. So I guess I just did.
Anyway, it was warm (about 30 degrees) with a slight breeze and watching small boats ferry folks about in the lagoon in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab is not a bad way to spend a Thursday night. There were plenty of folks in Arab headresses and conservative clothing, but also a lot of European/North American girls in low-cut tops and tight dresses. That took me by surprise, although not in a bad way. I guess I thought that even tourists over here would dress a tad conservatively given the nature of the beast. Maybe they do when they're out in the city, but in a tourist enclave like this it seems like it's about the same as Toronto or New York or Bangkok.
I'll have something more on the hotel tomorrow when I can see it in the daylight. I'm also headed to a Jumeirah desert resort for one night just to get some sense of Dubai outside the city.