Post written by Laura
I recently spent 3 days in Dubai with my daughter Zoe while en-route to South Africa. This was a bonus kind of trip which is easy to do when booking flights with Emirates. Direct flights from London to Johannesburg cost pretty much the same as flying from London to Dubai to Jo-burg which means a ‘freebie’ Dubai add-on 🙂
Dubai is a city in the United Arab Emirates not far from Abu Dhabi which is the capital. Being the Middle East, temperatures at around 44 degrees each day are extremely hot in August. As you step outside from the air conditioning of a hotel, shop or metro station the heat engulfs you, similar to the heat you feel as you open an oven door.
Dubai was a sleepy fishing village in the 1950’s until oil was discovered in 1966. Huge development projects began in the 1980’s… in 1988 there was just 48 hotels but this expanded to around 600 in 2012. And Dubai continues to grow… there is still a great deal of building work…
Dubai is long and is spread along the beach bordering the warm seas of the Pursian Gulf. Both times I’ve stayed in Dubai (the first time being with Chris in Nov 2013) I’ve stayed in the Creek area. If you stay in the Creek you are close to the airport but have further to travel if you want to spend time in the Dubai Marina. Or vice versa… if you stay near to the Marina you have further to travel to the airport. So you choice of location may depend on whether you have an early or late flight.
With its efficient and clearly signposted public transport system Dubai is an easy destination to explore independently. There are two metro lines (red and green) and many bus routes. All signage is in English and Arabic, it is spotlessly clean and you can buy a NOL day pass for just 22 AED (£4.60) which gives you unlimited access on the air-conditioned metro trains and buses.
Some attractions are linked from the metro stops with air-conditioned walkways. Getting from the Burj Khalifa metro stop to the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa is something of a luxury in the cool air-conditioned walk-ways… in fact, you don’t even have to walk!
Many locals speak good English and are incredibly polite and helpful. Locals offered their metro seat for us and offered to help when we were buying our metro tickets. All is fair and above board and unlike many countries you don’t feel that everyone is constantly trying to rip you off. This is similar to the experience that Chris, James (my son) and I had in Tokyo.
These are some of the Dubai activities we got up to:
Burj Khalifa: pencil slim and elegant the Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the World. Following a 6 year build it opened in 2010 and is located next to the Dubai Mall. The lift is apparently the fastest lift in world and gives you a smooth ride to the top. We didn’t need to pre-book and just turned up at around midday to purchase our tickets for the next slot. The Burj looks particularly pretty at night with its silver white twinkling lights.
Dubai Fountain: this is one of the largest choreographed fountains in the World and is also located at the Dubai Mall, next to the Burj Khalifa. We watched the full spectacle which takes place at certain times throughout the day.
Dubai Mall (Downtown): the Dubai Mall is huge and as well as an impressive range of designer and non-designer shops (including UK high street chains such as Top Shop and Next) also contains a number of exhibitions such as the black and white photography images above.
Dubai Mall Souk is inside the Dubai Mall and contains the ‘DubaiDino’ which is an original 155 million year old diplodocus skeleton. The souk contains many stalls and eating places offering traditional spices, carpets, gold and other items for sale.
The Dubai Aquarium is located at the Mall and shoppers get an impressive pre-view as they wander past.
Dubai Marina: The Dubai Marina is located towards the Jebel Ali end of the metro red line. While quiet during the day the Marina comes alive at night with bustling bars and restaurants catering for tourists, locals and yacht owners.
Looking for somewhere high to ‘get our bearings’ we came across the Grosvenor House Hotel and found that it was happy hour time in its 40th floor sky bar! This meant a half price (or thereabouts) refreshing prosecco with complimentary nibbles.
Small ferry boats can transfer you between certain points of the Marina. As it grew dark the Marina lit up both with colourful lights and many more people. You could have dinner in one of several dinner boats as you cruise the Marina and alternatively it is lined with many stationary restaurants and bars.
The essence of Dubai is luxury which is apparent from the moment you step off the plane and transit through the immaculate designer shops through the airport.
For our second day (and with our forthcoming ‘camping in Africa’ part of the trip in mind) we decided to try a taste of the highlife (on a modest budget) so headed towards…
Yep… the Burj Al Arab… iconic sail shaped landmark of Dubai and said to be the Worlds only 7 star hotel. The Burj Al Arab is the third tallest hotel in the World and is built on a man-made triangular shaped island. Unfortunately we were not allowed in and the above photo (taken from a hotel next door) is the closet we got.
Our journey to the Burj Al Arab wasn’t exactly luxury… we took a bus from the Palm Deira metro station which took nearly an hour, stopped 30 times and I must admit this was a rather long and tedious way to get there…
Turtle Rehabilitation Project: one of the reasons for heading towards the Burj Al Arab was to visit the turtle rehabilitation project at the nearby Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel. This is located in a complex of hotels at the Madinat Jumeirah.
“The project was set up in 2004 and has so far seen the release of over 560 rescued sea turtles back into Dubai’s waters. In 2011 alone over 350 sick or injured sea turtles were treated by the project after being washed up on the regions beaches. This is currently the only project of its kind in the Middle East and Red Sea region.”
Many of these turtles are injured as a result of entanglement or ingestion of plastic refuse which has been discarded into their environment. There is usually several turtles in the conservation pool but unfortunately we didn’t see any as they had all been moved to a cooler location in the (inaccessible) Burj Al Arab due to the super hot temperatures in their usual sanctuary.
Off to our next stop… lunch!
From the Jumeirah Al Naseem we took an Uber, a 17 min journey for under £5, to Atlantis The Palm, another iconic Dubai hotel. The Uber drove us along the Palm Jumeirah and under the sea via a tunnel to the end of this man made palm shaped island where the Atlantis imposingly sits.
During breakfast I had made an online booking for lunch in Atlantis The Palm’s Saffron restaurant just so we could take a trip along this famous island and experience some 5 star luxury.
We arrived a little early and made our way through the hotel towards the pool and beach area. This is usually off limits to non-residents and reserved exclusively for guests. However the kind doorman did let us through for a short time to have a look…
The sea was shallow and therefore exceptionally warm however with the monorail stretching across the horizon the beach wasn’t the most scenic.
The extensive Saffron buffet lunch was awesome and consisted of a huge array of starters, main course dishes (Arabic, Chinese, Indian, European), desserts, breads and cheeses! Fortunately I had found a special offer from Mastercard which gave us 25% off the bill meaning the entire buffet was under £28 each. As we had arrived at 3 pm this covered us for lunch and dinner!
After lunch we had a wander through the hotel lobby and to the Atlantis The Palm aquarium. The aquarium was impressive however the lobby (as with the pool areas) was crowded, noisy and full of kids.
It was interesting to visit Atlantis The Palm for a delicious lunch and to experience the man made Jumeirah Palm island however if I were paying to stay in a 5 star hotel I would prefer something smaller rather than a massive ‘in your face’ resort.
Next up: Marriott!
For an over view of the Jumeirah Palm island, Chris and I happened to stumble upon the 52nd floor Observatory Bar of the nearby Marriott Hotel nearly 4 years ago. To finish off our lunch Zoe and I decided to revisit and as the previous day, we were in time for happy hour and strawberry daiquiri’s this time!
The Observatory Bar is well worth a visit and offers both a great overview of the Jumeirah Palm island and an amazing view of the Dubai Marina.
Dubai Creek: a little later in the evening and, following the metro ride back and closer to our hotel, the Dubai Creek, in a similar way to the Marina, also offers many dinner boat options.
Dubai Creek Abra ride: when Chris and I visited in 2013 we took an abra across the Creek to the Gold Souk. These are small taxi boats which hold about 20 people and cost a ridiculously small amount (I think around 20 p). The boats bob around as you get on and you then have nothing much to hold onto as you precariously balance on the wooden seat! But a great and authentic Dubai experience!
Dubai is a totally over-the-top indulgence of opulence and grandeur and a great place to visit if you enjoy intense heat, hotels and shopping! Even if this isn’t usually your thing, in a similar way to the likes of Las Vegas, I consider it well worth a visit at least once in your lifetime just to experience such a shameless abundance of glitz and glamour!