Back to the Emirates

Day 104 – Cruising the Arabian Sea – Find Insignia on CruiseMapper

Show of hands, please: Whose bucket list is topped by the United Arab Emirates?

The UAE certainly wasn’t at the top of ours. When Doris and Louis were growing up, today’s Emirates were a collection of sheikdoms known as the Trucial States. Bucket-list material the Trucial States were not.

But here we are in 2023, a little more than 50 years after the sheikdoms coalesced into an elective monarchy, and your Partout duo is fresh from our second trip to the Emirates in five years, already talking about coming back for a third.

What happened?

Abu Dhabi Happened

Our first visit to UAE took us only to Dubai. There, we did the usual marveling over the world’s tallest building, the bizarre indoor ski slope in a mall and all the zombie restaurants that died elsewhere but live on in Dubai’s tax-free zone. Most memorably, we made our way into the desert to see camels race, an outing that produced one of our most-read Partout reports ever.

Docked this time in Dubai’s Rashid Port, we hailed a cab an hour after sunrise one day and headed for Abu Dhabi, the nation’s capital city and second-largest state located 90-odd miles away.

First stop was the jaw-dropping Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the most expensive mosque in the world. Words fail even Partout, and you all know that’s saying something. Well, almost fail us. Louis kept muttering the mosque was the most beautiful building he had ever seen, anywhere. Given how much of the world Louis has seen, that’s quite a statement.

It’s hard to know where to start with illustrating the awesomeness. Is it one in one of courtyards tiled with natural stones and white marble? During prayer hours, the surfaces are but blanketed with handwoven carpets to accommodate more than 40,000 worshippers.

Is it with one of the seven German chandeliers, the heaviest of them weighing 12 tons?

Perhaps it is 1,096 six-sided columns running the length of all the mosque’s outdoor arcades, each clad with white marble panels inlaid with intricate floral patterns of semi-precious stones and crowned with a golden capital representing the date palm.

Any of the parts alone would be breathtaking. The sum of them is astonishing.

Saadiyat Island

But the grand mosque is just the beginning, a baby step. Next stop was the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, a natural island where the emirate aspires to create the single greatest cultural district from Morocco to China. Launched in 2007, just in time for a worldwide financial crisis, the island’s development may be a decade behind schedule, but its ambition and groundbreaking design are already on full display.

The Louvre is the first and only one of the four planned Saadiyat Island museums already open and thus the one we visited. It is designed to evoke an Arabic village.

The roof is a dome of layered glass panels and aluminum to represent the thatch that traditionally covered tribal homes. It appears to float over the village.

Inside the museum, the collection traces human cultural development chronically with an emphasis on art revealing connections between different civilizations that might at first seem to be distant in time and geography.

Two equestrian statues illustrate the similarity and differences in French and Ottoman armor.

First-century Roman and Gandhara statues have similar realistic characteristics, right down to the folds in the clothing.

Why Go Again

Because the clock ticking down on our sailing from Dubai, we skipped the Abrahamic Family House, which opened March 1. The interfaith complex aspires to incorporate the similarities of the three Abrahamic religions in its architecture, which includes a mosque, a Christian church and the UAE’s first dedicated Jewish synagogue.

Still under construction are three more future Abu Dhabi icons:

– a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, the Arabic answer (bigger) to the iconic Gehry Guggenheim in Bilbao;

– the much-delayed Zayed National Museum, a memorial to the UAE’s founding president and an exploration of the history of the emirates from ancient times to the present; and

– a Natural History Museum, designed as a “14-billion-year journey through time and space, from the earliest origins of our universe to a thought-provoking perspective into our Earth’s future.”

The Guggenheim is considered on track to open in 2025. Officials are mum about the opening of the Zayeh, but its breathtaking profile is already in full view. The Natural History Museum is reported to be about 25% complete.

The Guggenheim and Abrahamic House alone are enough to entice us back to the Emirates. For the others, perhaps a once-unimagined fourth visit lies on the horizon.


An editing error stole a critical “no” from our reflections on the first three months of our world cruise. In our discussion of the surprise about to learn the routes religion traveled to Africa, “we have been told there is no warring among the religions.”

Another Question Answered

Polly asked, “Grim as it sounds, do they do a burial at sea as in the movies or ????”

Given that five people have reportedly died on our world cruise so far, this is a relevant and pragmatic question, Polly. The short answer is no, there are no burials at sea any more, at least from cruise ships.

Instead, all cruise ships are equipped with morgues where the dead are stored until the ship reaches a port where a body can be disembarked. When the number of dead outstrips the capacity of the morgue, bodies get stored in other refrigerated locations onboard. A neighbor in San Diego says he was on a cruise where a dozen people died and some ended up in the floral refrigerator. That might sound like the floating equivalent of an urban myth, but a Florida woman just filed suit against Celebrity Cruises for allegedly storing her dead husband’s body in a cooler, where it decomposed.

Our takeaway from stories like these is … don’t die at sea.

Where’s Snowy?

Snowy was unable to come to Abu Dhabi with us because rules that barred her from the mosque worried us that she could be confiscated.

However, she did get to cavort at an Arabian night under the stars in the desert outside Dubai. Can you find her?

Coming Soon!

Fellow Travelers: The Nonagenarian

3 thoughts on “Back to the Emirates

  1. Fascinating, beautiful, wonderful, etcetera. THANK YOU. Terrific travel journal. Mowed my backyard today, first time this year. Yours isn’t in need quite yet. k


  2. Still enjoying every word
    Again thank you for taking us along on this fantastic trip
    And I’m positive they stored the over flow bodies in the flower refrigerator


  3. Amazing photos as always! Thank you for continuing to share your fantastic voyage!

    Once again, I am unable to distinguish Snowy among the folded napkins. Unless she is the bit of “fuzz” to the right of the gentleman who is to the right of the lady in the flowered blouse (back to camera).

    Regardless, continue to enjoy your trip!


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