DUBAI // The Dubai skyline fitted perfectly in the camera frame from one of the comfortable seats, even capturing the majestic Burj Khalifa without causing a neck injury. Such was the spectacular view from one of the city's new state-of-the-art water taxis yesterday, when The National took four tourists for a ride to get their verdict.
The taxis are the Roads and Transport Authority's newest form of public transport. Groups or individuals can hire air-conditioned boats for a seaborne tour linking downtown landmarks with uptown hotels. Viviane Letelier, a retired manager of a French security company who is visiting Dubai for the first time said: "I'm impressed. It's like an airplane inside, very comfortable. It's better than the Metro or a taxi. For a tourist, sea is better than road." Ms Letelier laughed as she pushed a button to recline her seat. "Like an airplane, but with the bumps of the waves," she said.
Her friend, Philippe Leclerc, a French engineer based in Riyadh, is on his second trip to Dubai. "The boat gives you a feeling of freedom," he said. "I would recommend it for all people to do at least once. Even a small tour is good." As a tourist, he would budget up to Dh250 for a one-hour ride. "To rent a boat like this is marvellous, it has an open view." When the boat pushed into the sea from our pick-up point at Jumeirah Open Beach, the air-conditioned gold-topped frame pitched and bounced in the crosscurrents.
The first reaction of the tourists, save Mr Leclerc, an experienced sailor, was: "Is it safe?" Ahmed Musmujeono, the boat's Indonesian captain, sitting in front of the GPS controls that plotted our path, replied: "Yes, yes, very safe." Mr Leclerc said the safety equipment inside made him feel secure. "I didn't think a small boat could be so good. But I can see a fire extinguisher, life jackets. I feel safe."
For Fatima Agha, from Pakistan, it was her first time on the Arabian Gulf. "I truly enjoyed it." Her daughter, Mariam, has been on wooden dhows that take tourists on cruises along the marina and creek. Both women are frequent visitors since they have family in the emirate. The highlight of their water taxi ride was the clear views of the white beach strips bordering the Palm villas and the Atlantis hotel.
"If you own a yacht and can see Dubai, great. If not, then this is good," said Mariam Agha, a business student. They suggested a video that points out attractions. Apart from the obvious structures of the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab, the tourists frequently asked: "What is that building?" Small screens behind every seat currently play pop videos and give safety information along with details about Dubai and the Government.
Each water taxi seats 11 passengers, plus the captain and an assistant who helps to dock the boat. Dubai residents are already taking it up. Capt Musmujeono has ferried families with children who booked rides along Jumeirah Beach and then extended it to the Atlantis. "People like the boat, like the sea. Nobody comes at you because it's open sea, it's free," said Capt Musmujeono, who has 23 years' experience sailing ferries in the Far East.
The water taxi service also runs past the historical sites of Old Dubai and through Festival City. The minimum fare is Dh50 for a ride across Creek Park, from Bur Dubai to Deira. Trips must be booked in advance. Our two-and-a-half hour ride cost Dh580 and took us to the Atlantis, then we turned back to stop at Dubai Marina and returned to Jumeirah Beach. While some say a water taxi can be expensive, our tourists said it was worth a trip with family or friends. The bottom line is that if you plan your route well and split costs, it is worth the ride.