Battle of the tour buses

We hop aboard Easytour and Big Bus Tour buses

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1/8

Now that a newcomer has arrived on Dubai’s bus tour scene, we decided it was our duty to put the fledgling Easytour and long-standing local stalwart Big Bus Tour to the test. In order to form an accurate opinion, we ventured out on a Wednesday afternoon and each hopped on our respective buses at 2.30pm to test a two-hour trip. The length of time you stay on the bus is up to you, but the longest non-stop journey is four and a half hours on the Big Bus Tour, and four hours on Easytour.

2.30pm
Easytour:
Things are off to a chaotic start at the BurJuman pick-up point for Dubai’s newest bus tour, Easytour.ae, which has been operating since October 2011. Despite the similarities between the company’s logo and that of Stelios’s famous orange budget airline, we’re assured by both the tour guide, Sajid, and the company managing his bookings, Wonder Tours, that the two companies are in no way connected. Hmmm.

2.35pm
Big Bus:
Where in the world is my hair tie?’ That’s the first thought that pops into my head (or is rather violently blown in) as we mosey on down Sheikh Zayed Road on Dubai’s open-topped double-decker Big Bus. Hair flailing like Fabio’s, I suck in my stomach and try to wrap my cardigan around myself twice to keep warm. It doesn’t work. But my brief fling with frostbite is soon overshadowed by the city’s sights. After embarking at Mall of the Emirates on the blue route (which travels down Sheikh Zayed Road to Wafi, then up Beach Road and around the Palm), the sight of a dishevelled sightseer is nothing new to the rugged passengers already occupying seats on the top level. It’s at this point that I realise why there is a no-food policy on the bus: it’s to prevent you from unintentionally sharing your lunch with the person behind you… and those behind them.

3.15pm
Easytour:
Our bus is 45 minutes late for the pick-up, so we’re yet to leave BurJuman mall. It’s a relief when the luminous vehicle finally moves off, but I let out a silent, internal groan when our guide picks up the microphone to introduce himself as ‘Tom Cruise’. On many bus tours (rival Big Bus included), a recorded guide means you can plug in your headphones and choose whether to tune in or not, and no-one tries to engage you in desperate, fumbling banter. No such luck on this trip. Breezing along on the open-topped bus at 3.30pm in the afternoon, the sun warms a cool breeze, but if you’re not wearing sunglasses the wind can be a little overwhelming. Along the way, the dubious fact-dropping begins. ‘We have the smallest history in the world,’ claims Sajid. ‘It only goes back 60 years, when Dubai was a fishing and diving village.’ The first stop is a mere five minutes down the road, at Dubai Museum, where 30 minutes are set aside to enter the museum (tickets are included in the bus tour cost). If you’ve already visited the museum you can instead wander around the nearby souks (old and textile), though during the afternoon tour many of the shops are closed.

3.30pm
Big Bus:
By now I’m too absorbed in the sights around me to notice the gale (there’s something liberating about viewing the Burj Khalifa from an open-air moving vehicle). Pre-recorded tour commentary is supplied via the earphones that conveniently plug into the seat in front of me. However, at first attempt I find I have a dodgy connection that makes the commentary sound like a Martian trying to communicate from underwater, so I move seats to get back to earth. Quite impressively, the audio manages to stay in almost exact synchronisation with the landmarks around the city, so it’s easy to understand why the staff are adamant about sticking to the tour schedule (stops are five minutes at the most and you can hop on and off as you please – buses come along every 20 minutes). Conveniently, the man on the voiceover also prompts you to ‘get your camera ready’ for good photo ops. The facts are interesting for first-time tourists as well as residents, and I’m glad to hear the guide explain facts about Islam and UAE national dress. There are a couple of jewels of wisdom that catch my attention: did you know Dubai World Trade Centre was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1979, or that Dubai’s pearl trading disintegrated when the crafty Japanese began culturing pearls in the 1930s?

3.45pm
Easytour:
Our bus continues down Beach Road towards the next stop, a five-minute photo opportunity at Sunset Beach next to the Burj Al Arab. Though we’re covering a lot of ground, the longer stops of 30 and 40 minutes can be too lengthy if you just want to see the sights. It’s here that Sajid shares his most believable fact of the day, as we drive past the date palms on our way to Atlantis. ‘You don’t want to drive into a date tree; the fine is Dhs10,000 if you do,’ he warns, adding that hitting a camel with a car comes with an even heftier price tag of Dhs100,000. After a vaguely inappropriate joke about the number of motor accidents involving different nationalities, we pass Dubai Zoo. ‘Dubai has the smallest zoo in the world,’ he explains, with questionable accuracy, ‘but we have lots of animals.’

4pm
Big Bus:
When we arrive at Wafi, I decide to switch buses to the red ‘city’ route, which traverses Deira, Bur Dubai and the creek, passing sights including the souks, Shindagha Tunnel and Deira Fish Market. Despite the chattering of Spanish tourists, I hear the creek’s waters amusingly described as ‘emerald’.

4.30pm
Easytour:
Once we’re at the beach, the wind is up and after a few seconds snapping the scene, our fellow passengers begin looking for covered seating before headscarves start to take flight. The journey to The Dubai Mall (a 40-minute stop before returning to BurJuman) is peppered with yet more interesting musings, including a declaration from Sajid that the pink hotel at the top of the Palm is ‘the most beautiful building in the Middle East’. Whether this is true or not is up to the individual, as is whether the Easytour is for you. Our opinion? We think we’ll be sticking to Big Bus until Easy have ironed a few things out.

4.35pm
Big Bus:
I decide to alight at BurJuman, where guests have the option to switch back to the blue route for the two-and-a-half-hour journey up Beach Road, stopping at Sunset Beach to view the Burj Al Arab, and taking a tour of the Palm and Atlantis. Staying on the bus for the entire round trip involves a journey of about four and a half hours. It’s a great way for tourists to see the city and I’d highly recommend it for new residents without cars looking to find their bearings. In the cooler months, pack some warm clothing if you plan on getting the world’s most thorough blow-dry up on the top deck.

The Verdict

Easytour
Good for those on a budget, and people who enjoy interaction with an actual tour guide.
Dhs140 for adults, Dhs70 for children, Dhs350 for family (two adults and two children) for up to four hours. Tours start at 9am and 2.30pm at BurJuman. Two-hour night tours are also available at Dhs100 for adults and Dhs60 for children. www.easytour.ae (04 331 1399).

Big Bus
Best for new residents eager to see the sights and looking to get clued-up on Dubai in less than five hours.
Dhs220 for a 24-hour adult hop-on, hop-off ticket; Dhs100 for children, Dhs540 for a family of four. Includes a dhow cruise and trip on the RTA water bus. Buy tickets and join the bus at any of the Big Bus stops, including Mall of the Emirates, BurJuman and Wafi. www.bigbustours.com (04 389 1600).

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