It’s hard to imagine that a mere 30 years ago Dubai was mostly desert! Astounding growth has turned Dubai into a sort of Las Vegas on steroids. It’s an interesting place, but don’t expect any sense of history or much culture. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find an “authentic” experience of the Middle East. Having said that, there are so many crazy things to do that it’s worth the trip.
Everything is very spread out in Dubai, and the traffic can be horrendous. There is a metro system, but it’s fairly limited. Rather than pay for expensive taxis, I rode on the Citysighting Dubai hop-on hop-off bus. It’s inexpensive with several routes that go just about everywhere!
The highlight of my trip was a helicopter tour with Helidubai. It was my first time in a helicopter, and wow, what an incredible place to see from the air! It was breathtaking to see the Palm Jumeirah and The World islands from the sky. You can’t truly appreciate these man-made islands and archipelago from the ground. It was also fun to see all the crazy Dubai architecture from up above.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m NOT a mall type of person. But, there are two malls in Dubai that can’t be missed. They are true destinations in themselves with spectacular surroundings. These malls have something for everyone and are open as late as 2am!
The Dubai Mall is the size of over 50 football fields with 1200 stores and more activities than you can imagine! The aquarium and underwater zoo is higher than a 2-story house and almost a third of a mile long with thousands of aquatic animals. You can even watch people scuba diving in there while walking by! There’s also an indoor ice skating rink complete with disco sessions and an Emirates 380 flight simulator. Just outside is the Dubai Fountain. This water and light show is 25% bigger than the one outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas!
The Mall of the Emirates is smaller but still interesting and beautiful to explore. It is home of Ski Dubai, an amazing indoor ski resort. It’s absolutely surreal to leave the desert heat and walk into a chilly winter scene. After renting everything I needed including a ski jacket and ski pants I was ready to go! There is a quad chairlift and 5 different runs including one “black diamond”. I think it could get boring pretty fast, but for a few hours it was a blast. They also offer snowboarding, a zip line, and even a ski school!
Arabian Adventures is a great tour company for booking excursions out of the city. I booked their Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari online, and it was very entertaining. There were five of us in a 4-wheel drive, and the rollercoaster ride over the sand dunes was a real adrenaline rush. Don’t do it if you get motion sickness though – they don’t hold back! We stopped for sunset and then had a delicious dinner at a Bedouin-style camp complete with camel rides and belly dancers. The night ended with all the lights being turned off and we were able to do some stargazing…it was stunning!
No trip to Dubai would be complete without strolling through the dazzling Gold Souk. I’ve never seen gold in so many shapes and sizes! There are hundreds of retailers under covered walkways. They not only sell gold but silver, diamonds and other precious stones as well. I didn’t price anything, but I’ve read that it’s cheap and you can barter. The nearby Spice Souk has narrow passages selling every spice and herb under the sun. It’s a colorful and aromatic experience, and It’s not hard to find, just follow your nose!
The last thing I would highly recommend is a tour of the Jumeirah Mosque. Their motto is “open hearts, open minds”. Don’t forget to dress modestly (as in all of Dubai), but they will provide you with garments if needed. My tour was lead by an Englishwoman, which I didn’t expect. She guided us through many aspects of the Islamic faith, starting with the ablution ritual done before prayer. Inside the mosque the dome, minarets and call to prayer were explained. Then she spoke about Ramadan, the pilgrimage to Mecca and the five pillars of Islam. Afterwards there was a Q&A session. It was a great cultural experience!