A part of Dubai that’s worth drop­ping by

Ma­rina area com­ing to­gether as mul­ti­cul­tural play­ground

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Adam Schreck

DUBAI, United Arab Emi­rates — First-time visi­tors are of­ten sur­prised to dis­cover that be­yond Dubai’s at­mo­spheric creek­side bazaars and rows of sky­scrapers lead­ing up to tallest-of-them-all Burj Khal­ifa lies yet another dense clus­ter of ul­tra-high ar­chi­tec­ture shim­mer­ing like a mi­rage in the dis­tance.

That wa­ter­front city within a city, known as Dubai Ma­rina, is fi­nally com­ing into its own af­ter years of seem­ingly end­less con­struc­tion work. There is still build­ing go­ing on — this is a never-stop boom­town af­ter all — but now is the best time yet to romp through this mul­ti­cul­tural ur­ban play­ground, even if you’ve never set foot on a yacht.

Like so much of Dubai, fa­mous for its palm tree-shaped is­lands and in­door ski slope, the Ma­rina is a man­made cre­ation that chal­lenges pre­con­cep­tions of what the Mid­dle East looks like.

Hewn out of the desert and con­nected to the Per­sian Gulf by chan­nels at each end, the 3.5 kilo­me­tre (2.2 mile) U-shaped canal would be an en­gi­neer­ing marvel even with­out its skyline.

Six of the world’s 10 tallest residential build­ings are clus­tered in one Man­hat­tan-like cor­ner. They in­clude the 101-story Princess Tower, Dubai’s sec­ond-tallest sky­scraper af­ter the Burj Khal­ifa, and the ar­rest­ing Cayan Tower, which el­e­gantly twists 90 de­grees from bot­tom to top.

An eatery-lined walk­way wind­ing along the canal pro­vides plenty of chances to gawk at the high-end yachts on dis­play. The Ma­rina’s de­sign as an in­land har­bour clev­erly leaves room for a full sandy beach along the Gulf shore it­self.

New shops, cafes, food carts and beach lounges have trans­formed the palm-lined beach. Get there early to take ad­van­tage of the public run­ning track and work­out equip­ment be­fore the mid­day heat makes ex­er­cise un­bear­able.

The Ma­rina is a treat for culi­nary ex­plor­ers.

Reem al-Bawadi, ar­guably Dubai’s best-known Ara­bic res­tau­rant name, draws mezze and mixed grill fans to a branch with a com­mand­ing wa­ter­front view at the north­ern end of the Ma­rina. The hum­bler Geddy spe­cial­izes in Egyp­tian com­fort foods like fava beans spiced with cumin, and the fill­ing hodge­podge of mac­a­roni, lentils and rice known as kushari.

Mid­dle Eastern food isn’t your thing? There are plenty of In­dian, Ital­ian, Ja­panese and Mex­i­can op­tions, and even Ro­ma­nian, Rus­sian, Thai and Turk­ish ones. Amer­i­cans miss­ing a taste of home will find a sur­pris­ing num­ber of U.S. out­posts, from Krispy Kreme to P.F. Chang’s.

A bal­cony-ringed tur­ret ris­ing from the wa­ter known as Pier 7 of­fers, as the name sug­gests, seven dif­fer­ent restau­rants stacked one atop the other. One worth try­ing is The Scene by Bri­tish celebrity chef Si­mon Rim­mer, which serves pret­tied-up pub grub and a sur­pris­ingly good range of lagers and ales in a funky and airy jum­ble shop-style space.

There’s plenty to keep lit­tle ones busy out­side, like the quay­side play­grounds tucked neatly un­der­neath bridges span­ning the Ma­rina.

Over­heated kids can douse them­selves in side­walk foun­tains that send spurts of wa­ter jump­ing out of the ground, then dry off while spin­ning on an old-fash­ioned merry-go-round nearby.

There is also Splash Pad, a tod­dler wa­ter park by the beach that runs 60 dirhams (about $16) an hour, and a float­ing play­ground that in­cludes in­flat­able slides and tram­po­lines for 50-70 dirhams ($14-19), depend­ing on age.

The Ma­rina is un­usu­ally well-served by public trans­port, es­pe­cially by car­crazed Dubai stan­dards.

The driver­less, mostly el­e­vated metro sys­tem makes two stops along the edge of the Ma­rina.

From there, visi­tors can con­nect via air-con­di­tioned plat­forms to a tram line that opened in Novem­ber. It loops around the Ma­rina and snakes past ho­tels along a coastal road, with stops that in­clude one con­nect­ing to a mono­rail that runs up the cen­tre of the fa­mous Palm Jumeirah is­land.

City-op­er­ated fer­ries link the Ma­rina with the charm­ing creek area at the heart of old Dubai (50 dirhams one way). Those with a lot more cash to spend can char­ter a wa­ter taxi, party barge or even one of those pol­ished white yachts bob­bing among the sky­scrapers.

KAM­RAN JEBRELLI / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Boats nav­i­gate the Dubai Ma­rina as res­tau­rant-go­ers dine out at the Pier 7 build­ing to the left.

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