Travelling to the UK with my family we decided to break up our long haul flight with a stopover in Dubai after 14 hours of flying. We opted for 3 nights to explore this intriguing city but could have easily kept entertained for 5 nights or more!
Firstly I need to tell you about our amazing experience with Emirates. We splurged on business class tickets and were not disappointed. The 4am check in is a killer regardless of your travel class but the quick business class check in and glass of moet delivered upon boarding quickly makes you forget this. The food and service was faultless, your seat lays right back to be a flatbed so being comfortable to sleep was not an issue. The movie selection was so good the only dilemma for the whole flight was whether to enjoy some sleep or drink moet and watch movies! The A380 is super quite too.
Dubai is located in the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf. Known for luxury shopping and ultramodern architecture I was looking forward to experiencing this unique destination. Dubai is hot, it was not even summer and we experienced temperatures of 36 degrees. They are geared up for this though and the majority of activities are indoors in air conditioned facilities, taxis, the metro, buses and even bus shelters are all air conditioned. It is not humid though like Australia, but more of a dry heat so I found it tolerable when we were outdoors.
One of the first things to do is visit the stunning Burj Khalifa- the tallest building in the world. A visit to the top offers a jaw dropping view over the city- which resembles a scene from a sci-fi movie. From here you can see (haze permitting) the man made World Island, the Burj Al Arab and The Palms way off in the distance. You need to pre-book your time slot to visit the Burj as it is always busy. There are a number of ticket options ranging from general admission to drink and dining experiences. Sunset is very popular and books out well in advance.
At the base of the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall. It has 1200 shops ranging from affordable to very high end. There is a 2 storey aquarium in the centre of the shopping centre where you can cage dive with sharks! There is an ice rink, a cinema and it is beautifully air conditioned so very comfortable. I could have easily spent a day or two here shopping had time permitted….and this is only one of the shopping malls in Dubai!
For a more authentic Arabian shopping experience we head to the souks in Old Town where you can find loads of local treasures. We used the Metro rail service which is super cheap, very organised and air conditioned. A short (hot) stroll from the metro was a souk- selling an array of spices, scarves, lamps and other Persian treasures. Not recommended for the feint hearted this was the full crazy market experience. The sellers are all men and focused mainly on selling to males (big mistake, huge) so my hubby and son copped the brunt of it. It was very funny- my boys were not so amused though. After surviving the souk we took a quick ride on an Abra across the creek. Drivers offer for you to hire them privately to tour the creek if you wish- their English is very limited so it would really just be for photo opportunities.
I pre- booked in Australia for us to do a speed boat Tour, it was recommended to go just before sunset to avoid the heat of the day which was great advice! There are 60, 75 and 90 minute tours depending on what you want to see. We did the 75 minute tour which travels from Dubai Marina out around to the tip of the Palms to see the Atlantis Resort. It is a slow cruise out of the Marina (due to speed regulations) which gives you the opportunity to take in the stunning architecture and gawk at the size of the luxury cruisers- some bigger than houses!!! Once we reach open seas the driver alerts you to ‘hold on’ and ramps up the speed for a fun and bumpy ride. You may be ‘ocean sprayed ‘a little also but it adds to the fun! Once you reach Atlantis Resort they stop and allow everyone plenty of photo opportunities. This was a great tour to do if you have limited time and want to see Atlantis, the Dubai coastline and Marina area. We all had to wear a life jacket and I felt completely safe, the driver was quite skilled in minimising the bumps from the swell. There were children on our tour who absolutely loved it squealing with delight!
Even if you are not staying at Atlantis you can visit the Aquaventure Water Park and The Lost Chambers Aquarium which are linked to the resort and supposed to be a fabulous day out. Considering staying there? The Bridge Suite (the suite over the archway of the Atlantis Resort is only $47,000 per night with a 4 night minimum stay!!!! Michael Jackson used to stay there often.
For our last night we enjoyed a Desert dune safari and dinner- a complete contrast to the city experinces. I also pre-booked this from Australia as there are many dodgy companies that operate similar tours and I wanted to be sure we had a reputable one. You are collected from your hotel in an air conditioned 4WD. Your adventure begins with a short falcon show, followed by a ‘4WD bash‘ through the stunning red sand dunes, this is quite thrilling with some hair raising turns and plunges- our driver was very experienced and kept checking we were enjoying the experience. They stop mid desert for sunset photo opportunity, before heading for dinner at a Bedouin Camp with belly dancers, camel rides, henna tattoos, curios are for sale as well as professional photos they take along the way. We really enjoyed this tour.
There are a number of options for getting around Dubai. Taxis are quite inexpensive and are air conditioned. Drivers speak limited English so ask hotel reception for a card with your address in Arabic to assist getting back home! You can get women only taxis also. The metro is quick, easy and inexpensive. It is air conditioned at the station and on the train. The only negative is the walk to the metro station might only be 5 minutes but in sweltering heat that can be uncomfortable. There is also a hop on hop off bus which I know clients have enjoyed. The bus and the bus shelters are air conditioned also.
I was concerned about clothes prior to travelling to Dubai, being a muslim country I didn’t want to seem disrespectful wearing sleeveless shirts or dresses above the knees but that is most of my summer wardrobe. I found they did not mind at all what you wore except in Old Town and in Temples were you must cover shoulders and knees.
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Mall. It was a nice, comfortable hotel in a good location. Our interconnecting rooms were spacious and modern. The buffet breakfast offered a great selection catering for many nationalities. This hotel has a pool and a nice sports bar- not all hotels do as Muslims do not drink alcohol so keep that in mind if that is important to you! The room service menu costs were expensive- so a short 3 minute walk from the hotel were some local eateries where dinner and drinks for the family cos the same as one room service meal! Our favourite was Chalet Grill Plus, turn right when you exit the Hilton and it is on the next corner. The owner cannot do enough for you and the Arabian meat spices are delicious. Soft drinks only here though.
There is no central point in Dubai it is very spread out but I found this location was a good base to reach most things we wanted to see. If your budget permits I would stay in the Palms or Marina for the wow factor… but it will cost you!