Burj and breakfast anyone? Touring the innovative city of Dubai.
Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is a holiday destination fit for any wannabe globetrotter’s bucket list. The vast contrast of climate and topography, religion, cultural diversity and man-made wonders can easily take you a week to absorb and enjoy.
For Australian first-timers, the stark difference to Australian living is obvious from the moment you step off the plane. If (like 90% of my visits there) you arrive on the red-eye in the dead of night, don’t expect to have to “cooee” to attract attention as Dubai International Airport is anything but dead at 4am! As the third busiest airport in the world – with more than 78 million passengers in 2015 – every turn of the head is rewarded with a visual treat of people from all walks of life, religions and cultures – all proudly mixing in their national dress to create a colourful insight into what it must look like during times of congress in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations.
Which airline you choose will have a significant impact on your first impression of Dubai. If you are lucky enough to enter at the relatively new Emirates Terminal (Terminal 3) then you have hit an airport jackpot filled with immigration and baggage efficiency that rivals Hong Kong and Singapore airports. However, arriving at the older terminal (Terminal 1) can provide you with your first valuable lesson on travelling in the Middle East – practicing patience! Longer queues and a much more relaxed pace of efficiency can certainly test the most patient of travellers at 4am, especially during Ramadan when most of the customer service personnel are fasting. My advice is to make sure you have a fully charged phone so you can connect to the free WiFi and check your Facebook notifications and newsfeed while you slowly trail through the bottleneck towards immigration.
Handy tip: If you like a tipple on your holiday, make sure you stock up on duty free alcohol if you haven’t already done so. Alcoholic drinks are expensive and it is not uncommon to pay AU$25 for a gin and tonic in a hotel bar.
UAE’s currency is known as the Dirham (AED) and at the time of writing AU$1 = AE$2.75. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly stronger Australian dollar against the Dirham. Dubai can be expensive so if it is your first trip to UAE I recommend you carry a pocket calculator for conversion prior to dusting off your credit card.
When to visit:
Dubai’s temperatures can vary significantly and room rates, shopping sales and tourist attraction prices adjust accordingly. If you don’t mind the heat in order to enjoy a more affordable holiday then, without doubt, the best time to visit Dubai is during the summer months of June, July and August. Not only do you escape the Aussie winter but you also get to enjoy accommodation rates that can be as much as 70% cheaper than if you visit in Dubai’s cooler months of December – February when large affluent Arab families (generally from other Gulf countries) holiday for weeks at a time forcing room rates to sky-rocket as high as the Burj Khalifa.
My favourite thing in Dubai (or any Islamic country for that matter) is listening to the call to prayer. The Islamic call to prayer is a loud, mesmerizing Arabic pronouncement broadcast across the city on powerful speakers to summon Muslims to prayer five times a day. It is a wonderful ritual that often evokes my own mindful spiritual reflection. For mums and dads it is also a great way to teach kids the differences in religions and cultures.
Regarding other Islamic cultural sensitivities, my advice is to do a bit of research prior to arriving. Nude sunbathing and drunken or unruly behavior, for example, will not be tolerated and will be sure to attract the eye of local authorities. If you have seen Sex in the City 2 you will know what I mean J.
Where to stay:
There are dozens of amazing hotels in Dubai. By far my favourite is Jumeriah Beach Hotel (JBH), located on Jumeriah Beach slightly south-west of the CBD. JBH has exclusive beach access and all rooms have a direct view of the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel and the Persian Gulf
Jumeirah Hotel Group does not have a presence in Australia (yet!) but just as Shangri-la Hotels pioneered China, Jumeirah has pioneered the Middle East and could be considered the leader in providing superior guest accommodation in the region. JBH is one of three Jumeriah hotels located along the Jumeriah Beach strip. There are more than 100 food and beverage outlets between the three hotels and the Madinat Jumeirah Souk – which all allow you to charge to your room – it is a great, convenient business model.
Food and beverage savings:
Food and beverage can be expensive in UAE and my advice is that when checking in to any 4-5 star hotel, ask for the special package only available upon check-in to include club lounge access.
Depending on the hotel calibre, club access will cost you upwards of A$100 per room per night but will almost certainly provide you with a significant saving. Most reputable hotels in Dubai have amazing executive club lounges that provide breakfast, all day fresh coffee and snacks (some offer light lunch) and a generous happy hour. Many offer baby-sitting services entertaining the kids so mum and dad can relax and unwind after a day in the heat.
JBH, for example, has two club lounges. The first is child friendly and located on the ground floor with a large outside terrace overlooking Wild Wadi Waterpark – a Dubai must for families. It has a generous buffet area for breakfast, lunch and happy hour. There are computers and printers available as well as a games room and trained staff whose sole purpose is to entertain the children.
If romance is your thing, then JBH has the right alternative. You can enter the adults-only 24th floor Executive Lounge overlooking the Burj Al Arab and sip champagne at cocktail hour whilst the sun drops elegantly into the Arabian Sea.
Things to do:
An ideal amount of time for first-timers to Dubai is about a week, particularly when you factor in the first day or so to adjust to the new time zone and also the heat which can slow you down. Here are my top four activity picks, which is by no means exhaustive, but will help you get started on your itinerary and ensure you have a few top-notch dinner stories to tell back home:
You guessed it, the tallest building in the world has the tallest outside observation deck in the world and at 555 metres above the ground, provides you with the perfect litmus test to see if you are prone to vertigo. On a clear day you will see the Arabian Desert, Arabian Sea and the long stretch of Dubai dwarfed below you. An absolute must do! Book your tickets online well before you decide to go as there is a strict number of sales at any given timeslot and the tallest building in the world is a very hot item among tourists. In my opinion, the best time to go (and probably the most popular) is late afternoon so you can see day turn to dusk.
If you have a spare A$50,000 to splurge on a one of a kind purple ostrich leather designer handbag, then may I present you with The Dubai Mall as your shopping Mecca. As the largest shopping mall in the world by area, The Dubai Mall offers you an enormous selection of affordable, expensive and the simply mind-boggling shopping. It also has movie theatres, an aquarium, food courts, restaurants plus some world class people watching.
The Dubai Fountain is impressive to say the least. With 6,600 WET Superlights and a repertoire of 35 songs, you will witness water dancing in time to some of the best known operatic tunes.
My tip? Start your day touring the Dubai Mall, pop up to the observation deck and finish at one of the many restaurants for dinner in front of the fountain show. It’s a great full day activity that will have you pining for your bed by the time your return to your hotel.
As the activity suggests, create your own walking tour in the oldest, original part of Dubai. Spices, gold, henna, silks, semi-precious stones, cheap eats and cultural diversity will greet you here. You can easily spend the best part of a day here but my suggestion is to go after 5pm when it is at its most vibrant and take your time wandering around the many souks (markets). Haggling is not only accepted, it is expected! Take a bottle of water
Bab Al Shams Resort and Spa Arabian desert getaway:
Located just 40 minutes into the desert outside of the city of Dubai, Bab Al Shams Resort and Spa offers you a genuine mirage-like experience right out of the storyline of Ali Babar and the Forty Thieves. This low-rise fort-style resort is a great overnight getaway and something unique to add to your itinerary.
In addition, the outdoor Al Hadheerah restaurant and show, set among the desert dunes of Bab Al Shams, offers you a varied taste of Arabian flavours in a massive buffet while you enjoy a three hour entertainment extravaganza of falconry, camel caravan, Arabian horse show and the pièce de résistance; the kitschiest, campest, most hilarious twirling technicolour indigenous Tanoura dancer known to man (including photo-op!). If this doesn’t get your toes tapping and your sides splitting, nothing will!
Atlantis The Palm public areas
This is yet another impressive example of innovation that this great city has to has to offer. Atlantis the Palm is a massive hotel and entertainment complex located on a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree located at the southern end of the city of Dubai. This enormous structure is well worth a look even if you are not staying at its hotel. Find your way to the free-to-the-public underwater aquarium viewing areas and then grab some nosh in one of the many good restaurants (they have a Nobu too!). Alternatively, stop off at Dubai Marina when you leave The Palm for a stroll along the marina, home to some of the most impressive nautical homes you can imagine! Dubai Marina is located at the base of The Palm.
There you have it! A little kick-start to help you on your way to a holiday in one of the most eclectic, innovative cities on the planet.
A little about the writer:
Dean White cranked up a few hundred thousand air miles during six years as a jet-setting hotel consultant. He travelled to dozens of countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North and Central America staying at world-class five and six-star properties. Included in these exploits were Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Russia, France, Greece, Sweden, Egypt, Nigeria, Israel, South Africa, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and United Arab Emirates – to name just a few!Tags: #bucketlist, #Dubai #travelblog #Holiday #vacation #traveltips #shopping, #escape #hellome #flying
July 29, 2016 6:39 am