Whenever I spot a boat-full of revellers cruising around Dubai Marina, I’ve always been struck with a pang of envy. It’s easy to feel jealous: hosting a party on a boat means no one can gatecrash the festivities, yet cruising up and down the heavily-populated marina exposes your frolics to everyone in the vicinity. It’s a bit like deliberately throwing an exclusive bash in a glass house, so the rest of the world can gaze in with jealousy.
I can’t have been the only one at Time Out to feel this way: when the team was offered the opportunity to step aboard the Gugu party boat for an evening of revelry, there was a unanimous ‘yes!’ Beats a Thursday night in the local, doesn’t it?
We set sail at 5.30pm, in time for sunset, from a collection of moorings at the west end of Dubai Marina, behind the Lotus Hotel. As the water glistens romantically around the boat, the first thing that strikes me is the setup of our vessel. Many of the local boat charter companies we contacted tried to sell us expensive cruise experiences and private hires, only reluctantly admitting that yes, some punters party along the way. In contrast, the six-year-old, Abu Dhabi-built Gugu boat is clearly born to host. The lower deck boasts a huge dancefloor, lined with plenty of sofas and Hawaiian-style thatched shades, with a professional DJ platform at the back of the boat complete with digital decks and mixing equipment.
None of us were aware of the boat’s DJ capabilities before boarding, so instead it’s left to a revolving selection of iPods to keep us entertained. But it’s worth preparing a suitable playlist in advance – shuffle alone does not a great party make. Transitions from Iron Maiden to Justin Bieber are laughable but far from seamless, and it’s worth realising that whenever you sail under a bridge, every pedestrian nearby can tune in to your eclectic selection. Some of our onlookers dance along comically, others gaze on with a mix of pity and disgust. Despite the reaction of those on land, other boat dwellers all become our friends for the evening. Being on water is apparently enough to induct anyone and everyone into some sort of elite seafaring class: inexplicable nods of recognition and respect are shared with every passing boat, small or large, from polite smiles to knowing, empathic waves.
Slowly dusk arrives, and I watch as apartment lights in the surrounding buildings flick on one by one, a buzz of expectation in the air. By the time we reach the vibrant north end of the marina, marked by a string of shisha cafés on the JBR side and restaurants and fountains on the mainland, dusk has turned to night, with bright neon signs reflected in the rippling water. Wandering over to our host, Gugu’s Nelya Shpychka, I detect a comfortable sense of poise. It’s a cruise she has clearly completed countless times before, encountering revellers far more troublesome than us. ‘We do everything,’ says the 28-year-old Ukrainian. ‘From big loud daytime parties to quiet cruises – I’ve seen it all. That’s why it works: it’s a private space, so people can make whatever party they like. There’s nothing else like it – it’s like a floating private nightclub.’
The upper deck hosts the most important part of any party: the bar. Stocked with a range of soft drinks, the vessel is also licensed (once it’s moving), so revellers can also bring on board more exotic flavours to consume. Amusingly, without a professional barman to serve us (surely an option for some), by the end of the two-hour cruise our gathering found itself centring around the edges of this rectangular bar, those on the inside dishing drinks to those on the outside. As we sailed reluctantly back to shore, it felt just like any other great party – people always end up congregating in the kitchen.
The Gugu Boat costs Dhs4,000 an hour to hire, with a maximum capacity of 90; a three-hour cruise works out at Dhs150 a head, with a full crew of four and soft drinks included. Gugu Party Boat, Dubai email@example.com (050 127 5873/ 055 174 3373).
More party boat options
You don’t need scores of mates to charter a boat and party on the waves, with single-entry spots available weekly on Hawaiian-themed catamaran cruises from Dubai Marina. Expect all manner of debatable fashion choices, tropical decor, a dance floor and live DJ, and a barbecue dinner. The three-hour cruise, run by Bristol Middle East, sets sail from Dubai Marina Walk every Thursday at 8.30pm, and cruises to the edge of the Palm at the other end of JBR before heading home. The company has a fleet of more than 20 vessels in total, including motor yachts, fishing boats and Arabic dhows.
Dhs400 per person for three hours, including barbecue dinner and soft drinks. www.bristolcharters.com/aloha-hawaii (04 430 9941).
Also based on Marina Walk, long-standing nautical firm Xclusive offers a range of yacht sizes for private charter, costing from Dhs1,200 per hour for a 12-capacity boat to Dhs3,000 for a vessel that can take 30 guests. For an even bigger bash, a house boat, with space for 65 revellers, costs Dhs4,300 an hour (that’s Dhs66 each). All boats come with a sound system and full crew, so soak up the sounds and leave the driving (or whatever you call it on water) to the pros.
Boat hire from Dhs1,200 per hour. www.xclusiveyachts.com (04 432 7233).