x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai fireworks: Bangs don’t get any bigger

The show is being organised by the New York company Fireworks by Grucci, which was established in 1850.

The fireworks at the grand opening of Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai in 2008, which are about to be relegated to a small bang by the world record attempt planned at the hotel this year. AFP
The fireworks at the grand opening of Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai in 2008, which are about to be relegated to a small bang by the world record attempt planned at the hotel this year. AFP

As he prepares to host the biggest New Year’s Eve party in the country there is only one thing keeping the president of Atlantis, The Palm awake at night – rain.

“We won’t talk about it,” Serge Zaalof says, grinning.

But despite the smile, Mr Zaalof is very serious. Any talk of, or questions about, adverse weather are quickly shut down and the topic of conversation changed.

The hotel has been working on the New Year’s Eve celebrations for 11 months and rain is the only thing that could put a dampener on things.

The staff had just enough time to wind down from last year’s festivities when, in February, they received news that 2014 was going to be something extra special, something really big.

The hotel is holding a gala dinner for 3,600 people, with the Sandance music festival attracting another 15,000 revellers, and there will be at least 3,000 hotel guests.

The evening’s climax will be the six-minute fireworks show that, weather permitting, will enter Guinness World Records as the largest ever.

It is being paid for by a “group of entities” including the hotel, and will include more than 450,000 individual fireworks shipped in from the US.

The record is held by the 50th National Day celebrations in Kuwait in November last year, which trumped the display at the opening night of the Atlantis in September 2008.

Now Dubai wants its title back.

“It will be twice as big and twice as long as the opening of this hotel. We will beat the record, we want it back,” Mr Zaalof says.

The show is being organised by the New York company Fireworks by Grucci, which was established in 1850.

They are responsible for some of the region’s biggest displays – including the Atlantis hotel’s opening night and Kuwait’s 50th National Day with its record 77,000 individual fireworks.

A video on the Fireworks by Grucci tumblr site shows some of the preparations that go into organising a show of this type on such a large scale.

There are dozens of forklift trucks ferrying boxes; convoys of Maersk lorries arriving at various points on The Palm Jumeirah with police escorts; and men wearing high-visibility jackets with “Dubai World Record 2014” printed in large black letters building the infrastructure.

Phil Grucci, president and chief executive of Fireworks by Grucci, moved to Dubai from his New York home this month to make sure everything goes to plan.

“As a performer you’re always nervous to take to the stage,” Mr Grucci says. “If you weren’t nervous you wouldn’t be on your game, you wouldn’t be sharp. We need to be on top of our game to get this record.”

The fireworks are being set up at more than 400 different points across The Palm and The World islands, including 80 locations on the monorail track and 177 around the continents on The World.

“We were first asked to come up with a creative concept and that included breaking a world record,” says Mr Grucci. “Naturally we have to do something larger and more spectacular.

“What was obvious to me was to utilise the World Islands because of the size of the islands and the stage that we would have to work with. We have pretty much uninterrupted sky and stage to work with.”

Once the company signed up, it went straight to work making the fireworks. They filled 19, large shipping containers and it will take 200 pyrotechnicians to assemble on site.

“We have made some custom-design products including 600-millimetre shells, the largest in the Middle East,” Mr Grucci says. “We made them in our New York factory then we shipped the shell pieces here.

“We took them to the New York island of The World to finish them. If you connected each firework’s launch point to the next and strung them all together, it would be 95 kilometres long.

“That is a lot of fireworks.”

The 2008 display for the opening of the Atlantis cost about US$400,000 (Dh1.4 million).

Today, Mr Zaalof will only say that next week’s extravaganza is costing “millions and millions of dollars”.

“No, I’m not getting much sleep,” Mr Grucci says, laughing. “It’s a world-record attempt with a world-record effort, and hopefully seeing it will be a world-record payoff.”

Between seven and 10 helicopters fitted with film equipment will record the show in all its glory.

For Mr Zaalof, as long as all the preparations are in place, New Year’s Eve will be the least stressful moment.

“Once the fireworks button has gone, it’s nothing to do with me,” he says. “Once the food is on the buffet, it’s nothing to do with me. We all have a role to play. I’ll be sitting down having a meal with my guests.

“You must prepare yourself and think about Plan B and C, and whatever can go wrong or right. It’s like investing money in a business. You think first about the downside, you don’t think about the upside. It’s the same strategy here.”

The hotel is expecting more than 20,000 people on Tuesday and a lucky few – 3,600 of them – will enjoy a buffet that stretches for more than 250 metres, accompanied by a 27-piece band.

As with the fireworks show, it is the biggest gala dinner the hotel has organised.

“If you count the dishes, all the way from the Arabic mezze through to the last dessert, there are anywhere between 550 and 600 items on the menu, and 40 different varieties of cheese,” says Mark Patten, the hotel’s senior vice president of food and beverage who has 30 years’ experience as a chef.

“It’s a total package and experience that you have maybe once or twice in your life.”

Like a space launch that starts its countdown days before lift-off, the crew at the Atlantis began their run-up to the New Year’s Eve celebrations on December 15.

Every day, Mr Patten and his colleague Dirk Von Kries, the executive assistant manager of food and beverage, have a huge list of tasks. It has included ordering 3,600 Tiffany chairs, polishing 11,000 forks and ordering special shipping containers full of ice.

“The biggest thing is getting all the equipment over there,” Mr Von Kries says. “There are 300 tables and 3,600 chairs to set up on the deck, with another 300 as back-up.”

Such is his attention to detail that he knows the exact number of knives and forks (9,000 and 11,000) and glasses (almost 21,000) that need to be sparkling clean and on the tables in time for the arrival of guests.

“We count back from the 31st and work out everything that needs doing. Every day there is something that has to be finished or ordered or finalised,” Mr Von Kries says.

After the 9,800-square-metre carpet was ordered, the rest of the design came more easily.

“We get together with a florist and we give them the budget and ideas that we want. It has to be different every year. This year is white and purple.”

At last year’s dinner, which was only marginally smaller, Mr Von Kries walked almost 14km in a 15-hour day.

“We don’t stop to enjoy it. We’re working, we need to know what’s going on at every point,” he says.

munderwood@thenational.ae