Many activities in life are easier than they look: learning to ride a bike, baking a decent soufflé, and sewing (at least according to Time Out’s deputy editor). Yet some things are a lot trickier than you’d expect: paying a utilities bill, persuading an estate agent to call you back – and learning how to manoeuvre a Segway. I find this out one sunny Wednesday morning after arriving at The Pavilion on Emaar Boulevard in Downtown Dubai. My aim is to whizz around the area by Segway with Steven Brown-Cestero, the 50-year-old American CEO of Vesta Group, which runs the ‘guided glides’, as they call them, at the Segway Experience Center.
Before we set off I’m required to sign a waiver, then I’m given a short demonstration by Steven – a man who has clocked up more than 22,000 kilometers on the two-wheeled electric vehicle. After handing me the mandatory helmet (sorry boys and girls, helmet-hair it is), he hops onto his Segway. The instructors’ vehicles are set to a maximum speed of 20kph, while visitor vehicles are set to something called ‘turtle’ (to everyone outside the US, we think they mean ‘tortoise’), which means their maximum speed is a more amateur-friendly 12kph. Steven explains that Segways are ‘intuitive’ – apparently all I need to do is think about going forwards, backwards or stopping, and I will. Mounting my designated two-wheeler, I quickly discover it’s not actually as simple as that – the Segway can’t hear my thoughts. Instead, I have to lean ever-so-slightly forward, as I might if I was about to take a step forward, before I begin rolling. To move backwards is the reverse, naturally, but I have some trouble with stopping. ‘And… stop,’ Steven instructs. ‘I’m trying. It’s not working!’ I explain, my voice rising a few octaves in frustration. ‘Stand up straight,’ he instructs – and with that, I stop dead. My teacher is observant, however, and my nerves don’t go unnoticed. ‘Relax your hands – your knuckles are white. There’s no need to grip the handles that hard.’ Easy for Mr 32,000 to say. But he’s encouraging, patient and not a drop bossy – and his relaxed, gregarious nature puts me at ease as we head up The Pavilion’s drive, onto Emaar Boulevard.
I’m reminded that the Segway is slightly wider than my shoulders, so I need to allow more room than I expect for passing between bollards. We head towards the Qamardeen Hotel along Emaar Boulevard’s wide pavements, which encircle the Burj Khalifa, before crossing over and heading down a sloping, zigzag ramp into Burj Plaza – a small square bordered by Ara Gallery and popular café-restaurant Loui’s.
As we continue through Burj Park, Steven explains that the biggest problem he encounters on the glides is the language barrier – many of the tourists who take part don’t speak much English, which can be a problem for the instructors leading the tours. The second challenge is controlling people: as a result, the glides are limited to a maximum of five guests per guide, though larger parties can be organised as long as they’re accompanied by several instructors, and the company has organised a number of corporate trips and birthday gigs.
Steven also notes that women are often easier to teach than men and kids, who can sometimes be a handful (who’d have thought?) – challenging each other and thinking they know it all already. The good news is that the Segway guided glides at The Pavilion have an impeccable safety record, and even if you do topple off after losing your balance (which you’d struggle to do), it’s unlikely you’d walk away with much more than a bruise. In fact, you’re far more likely to come away with a fun memory, a light tan, and the story of how you mastered a new technology. And that’s far more impressive than baking a soufflé.
Dhs150 per person for 30 minutes, Dhs300 for 60 minutes. Open Tue-Sun 10am-7pm, closed Mon. The Pavilion, Emaar Boulevard, Downtown Dubai (056 146 4093).
Other unusual ways to explore the city
Dubai water buses and taxis
Introduced in 2010, water taxis have become an increasingly common sight along Dubai Creek. In the past few months, however, water buses have been stealing the limelight – particularly in Dubai Marina, where pick-ups outside the Marina Mall are growing in popularity.
Single fares from Dhs2 for water bus trips. For routes and timings, see www.rta.ae.
Explore Dubai with a dock-to-dock tour in a seaplane and take in some of the city’s top landmarks, including Palm Jumeirah, the Burj Al Arab and Dubai Creek.
Dhs1,325 for 40 minutes (silver package). Open daily 8am-5pm. Jebel Ali (04 883 2999).