I’m catching up on some travel blogs that I meant to write but never seemed to find the time when working. I wanted to try and track down my air miles history but unfortunately it seems the online records only go back to the beginning of 2016. So if anyone has any great ideas on how I could track it then let me know.
I suspect over the last 10 years I have been on around 1,000 flights i.e. roughly 100 per year. Most of them business but unfortunately we never really had time (children, dog etc.) to take advantage and use the opportunity to add on some private travel. However, November 2016 was an exception and we decided to enjoy a little winter sun in Dubai.
What can you say about Dubai that hasn’t already been said? Only the eccentric, the rich or perhaps a little bit of both would choose to build a city in the middle of the desert. I have been here before and each time I am amazed by how much new development there has been.
In essence Dubai is a Middle Eastern haven for expats as in addition to a large expat community it does not have all the same restrictions, notably alcoholic, of some of its neighboring states. Although there is still a requirement for caution.
So what is there to do in Dubai?
From the perspective of the inquisitive tourist I would say relatively little. Because Dubai has largely grown from the desert in the last 50 years (since the discovery of oil) there is no deep historical attachment to speak of and as the population is largely not indigenous there is little push for cultural preservation. So essentially you need to look towards Dubai’s four main attributes for entertainment, namely, shopping, sun, sand and sea.
Shopping focuses on the large malls which for a few years competed with each other to be the largest and most extravagant. You’re not likely to buy much while you are there as the shops cater to the luxury / high end and in comparison to the shops back home are likely more expensive. Dubai might be a low tax region but that attracts those with deep pockets! Nevertheless, the shopping malls are worth a visit and for me particularly Dubai Mall which is home to the Dubai Aquarium and also the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountains. Spending a day there is enough. The fountains are particularly impressive at night, are free and well worth a visit. You can also ride up the Burj to one of the observation levels for a fee and again it’s worth it. I was lucky a few years ago that an obliging pilot circled the Burj on leaving Dubai which was a fantastic spectacle. The other mall you might choose to visit is the Mall of the Emirates which has an indoor ski resort that feels like a magnificent excess when its 40 plus degree outside.
We stayed (comparatively) on the other side of town as Dubai Marina in “the Address” (TA Rating OOOOO). Dubai has so many hotels that boast of being five (or higher) stars that its often difficult to get an objective view. We were happy with the hotel and had a great view over the Marina which is also a good spot to pick up a boat trip around the harbor. There are also some nice shops, a Marina / beach walk and some decent bars.
Let’s talk about the sun and sand part of the equation. You need to be a serious sun-seeker to find Dubai comfortable. We were there in November and during the day the temperature was easily in the mid-high 30s which is too warm for me and therefore our time outside was limited (here’s where the Malls come into their own). So my advice is to plan you day with short bursts of activity outside followed by a period of cooling off indoors! There are some nice beaches that are mainly attached to the hotels but personally I couldn’t spend too long out in the sun. For those coming here with children the best advice might be to stay near the water park and possibly at the hotel Atlantis (our budget did not stretch that far) as spending a whole day at the beach is not likely to be practical. If you’re not staying at the Atlantis you should at least take a look either as we did for dinner or on one of the many boat trips around the harbor and surrounds.
We took a boat trip with the yellow boats (TA Rating OOOOO) which offers a range of tours on the water taking in the key sights of the Dubai coastline, notably the aforementioned Atlantis, the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah as well as not forgetting the stunning Dubai skyline. If you’re a first time visitor to Dubai I would recommend this as a must do. If you are taking an afternoon boat trip my recommendation is to round off your afternoon with a Happy Hour cocktail or two at the Observatory bar and restaurant on the 55th floor of the Marriott hotel. There are stunning views across both the harbor and the Palm and the bar seems to be a focal point for the local expats. Make sure you get there early to secure a window seat as the sun goes down as it gets pretty crowded.
The closest you’re likely to get to a local experience is booking a tour into the desert for some sand dune driving. We booked with Planet tours and Safari’s (TA Rating OOO). The experience is around five hours end to end and involves a 60 minute drive to the dunes, some enthusiastic driving (and photo opportunities) followed by a barbecue dinner and drive back to the hotel. Overall it’s not a bad day out but (almost) ruined by the fact of there being hundreds of tourists doing exactly the same thing. At the end of the day it feels like being in a theme park and if that’s your thing then you will enjoy it but for us it was just ok.
So at the end of a packed four days the question is “do we like Dubai”? Dubai has a lot going for it and for those who want a few days R’n’R filled with a little luxury and pampering in a climate that’s ideal to warm those chilled bones then it’s the ideal spot for a quick mid-winter vacation. We enjoyed our trip but overall it’s a little one dimensional and I can’t see that there are hidden depths to be discovered on a second trip but if there were the chance of a stopover on a long haul trip elsewhere then why not.