Dubai has become a global city from its roots as a fishing settlement on the banks of a water inlet. This estuary, now called Creek, existed from times unknown. Some even argue that it once extended as far as Al Ain.
A Dhow Cruise through these sublime waters is a trip that lets you witness the antique charm of Dubai up close.
The history of modern Dubai began when the Bani Yas tribe settled near the creek. Reminiscent of their early settlement is still seen here.
The creek divides between Deira and Bur Dubai — the two cities that witnessed Dubai’s boom from day one.
What is a Dhow Cruise
Dhows are large wooden boats native to Arabia. Today, they are a throwback to Dubai’s pearling and fishing heritage. They helped the region thrive in its earliest days. Now dhows are replaced by modern fishing boats, and pearling is nearly extinct as a business.
The method used for the construction of dhows is also unique to itself. Unlike other boats, their hulls are made of stitched together wooden planks.
Some of the dhows used for the tourist cruises are repurposed old ones while others are purpose-built.
Dubai Creek Dhow Cruise experience
A dhow cruise in Creek is a 2-hour sail on a traditional boat from 8:30 to 10:30 PM. Dhows are docked on Deiraside near Radisson Blu hotel.
Deira has fantastic connectivity from anywhere in Dubai. But if you plan to drive there, start early because of the heavy traffic and scarce parking spaces.
Guests are welcome on board half an hour before the actual cruise. Just as you board the dhow, you will start appreciating the hospitality. The warm welcome, plentiful refreshments, and Arabic coffee are enough of an energy boost for the rest of the trip.
As the engines fire up and the boat starts moving with a faint hum, and the cityscape wafts by the boat, you can enjoy the nostalgic scenery. Both sides of the creek are lined with historic buildings.
On the Bur Dubai side of the creek, heritage sites stretch for about two kilometers. This development, which was earlier called Bastakiya, is now renamed Al Fahidi Heritage District. Though some of these were constructed recently, it was developed on the sites where the earliest settlements in Dubai existed. It is said that Prince Charles of England advised Dubai government to preserve these sites when he visited Dubai in the early 1980s. Indistinguishable from the heritage site is the textile souk which has existed there for over a century.
Next to the heritage village is the modern-looking Al Seef. It is the voguish rendition of the medieval marketplace in Dubai. Yachts and speed boats dock here, completing the look of the highlife.
Up until now, the creek and the adjacent city are called Old Dubai for the right reasons. But it is soon going to change. The creek harbor is a massive development that is underway. It will bring a new face to the whole area.
The biggest attraction in Creek harbor will also be the tallest building in the world once it is completed. Though we don’t know how tall it will be, the creek tower will surpass Burj Khalifa in height by a long shot.
While Bur Dubai’s side is the blend of modern and medieval, Deiraside is right in the middle. Most of the buildings in Deira were constructed in the 60s and 70s. Most notable are the Rolex twin towers, Deira Creek tower (not the Creek Tower), and the iconic National Bank of Dubai building. It is also where Spice Souk and Gold Souk are.
Watch the fishing boats sailing up the creek from the sea after a good catch from the dhow. There are boats carrying cargo docked near the souk. These boats are the main lifeline that keeps things moving in these busy markets. Abras criss-cross across the creek, ferrying men onboard them. The government now runs these Abras to keep up the tradition and transport people at a nominal price.
The dhow sails towards the sea at first until Shindaga turns inwards towards the creek. Then it is time for dinner. The food is just as good as the experience, if not better. You will not run out of options in this five-star gourmet dinner but maybe get a bit overwhelmed. Start with appetizers and savor through the main course up to the assortment of delicious desserts.
As the icing on the cake, the Tanoura dancer will be ready by the time you finish. Tanoura is a dance form traditional to the Middle East which originated in Egypt. In it, the dancer twirls from beginning to end, putting on a marvelous display of his heavy and colorful skirt. In between, he performs tricks with his props and lights the skirt with brilliant lights.
Deira wharfage is the furthest point inward Creek the dhow goes. From there, it sails back to the starting point, and the journey comes to a happy end.
Dhow Cruise Dubai Creek vs. Marina
‘Which place should I pick for the cruise?’ is a question often asked by visitors who are fresh to Dubai. But, unfortunately ( or is it?), there is no clear-cut answer to it. There is no hands-down winner between the two of them. Instead, they are just different.
Dubai Creek Dhow cruise is a visit to the past glory of Dubai. Those near the creek are the first skyscrapers in Dubai. And the most upscale place in Dubai some forty or fifty years ago. Bur Dubai and Deira were developed around a naturally formed waterway.
On the other hand, Marina showcases the most modern face of Dubai. It was planned and built from scratch over a decade ago. And it is full of pomp and glitter.
The creek is populated by ex-pats who can be seen going about their daily lives. Either side of the Creek is also the central marketplace in old Dubai. Therefore, the air there is more about people’s everyday lives except for some places like the heritage village and Al Seef, which are relatively new.
Marina is the exact opposite of that. People come to Marina to chill and enjoy. Most people you may see on the bridges and promenades are out there to have a good time away from their daily routine. Mostly you will see local Arabs, tourists and European ex-pats in and near Marina. So the hustle and bustle in Marina is anything but mundane.
One more factor you might have to consider is the price. Dhow cruise Marina is costlier than their creek counterparts. This is due to the higher docking fees in Marina.
So, which one to pick, in the end, comes down to personal preferences and budget.