Show-off holiday post: Dubai

I’ve recently returned from a five-week trip with my family. We decided to trade our Aussie summer for a white Christmas – more on that in forthcoming posts because our first stop was Dubai.

Travel from Australia to Europe usually involves refuelling in either Dubai or Singapore. As it was the kids’ first long-haul flight, we decided to break it up and stay in Dubai for two nights (it had the desired result – no jet lag when we eventually got to Munich).

It was my first visit to Dubai. Based on what other had told me, I expected heat, lots of buildings that were the ‘biggest and the best’, and a huge mall.

We didn’t get heat – the friends that had warned us of insane weather in Dubai had been there in July when it averages 41°C. December is the best time to visit – it’s ‘winter’ (although I think locals divide the year into two seasons – ‘hot and hotter’) and we enjoyed a pleasant 27°C.

We did get a big building though. On our first afternoon, we visited the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa (note that towers will be a theme in these holiday posts).

The view from the top was incredible, the other skyscrapers appearing like a toy town below. Oddly, when you’re at ground level, the Burj doesn’t dominate – I think because it is so tall, you don’t often look way, way, way up. Of course, we did look up for the evening Burj light show.

The next day we took a Yellow Boat tour for views of the Dubai waterfront and of the seven-star Atlantis Resort. Our guide gave us all sorts of insane facts about the resort – 400 chefs; an ATM that dispenses actual gold (why?!); that it’s the fourth most Instagrammed hotel in the world (see my totally un-Instagram-worthy pic below) ; 24K gold-flecked guest soap; and so on – if there’s a way of out-doing what has been done previously, you’ll probably find it in Dubai.

Naturally my kids asked why we weren’t staying in one of the underwater suites at the Atlantis and the guide helpfully provided a rough outline of the rates (which shocked even the children) – the penthouse is US$35,000 per night, minimum stay three nights and the underwater suites start at US$15,000 a night – we’d need two because we’re a family of six!

We swapped the sea for the desert and spent the afternoon on a tour of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. On the way to the dunes, our driver pointed out a huge mountain of rubble that he said was left-over from various land developments around Dubai. Engineers had decided to ‘build’ a mountain in the hopes of changing the micro-climate to bring more rain to Dubai. The environmental scientist in me was alarmed… I can only assume they had the best and biggest advice before starting that rubble mountain?!

The desert was beautiful (and quite different to desert I’ve seen in Australia). Very fine sand, endless gentle dunes and the sun setting in a pastel sky. We spotted an Arabian oryx (which was on the brink of extinction before the Reserve was established in 1999) and some birds of prey.

We finished with dinner in the dunes. We drank Arabic coffee that was bitter and deliciously spiced, served with sweet dates. We ate tasty chicken shawarma and had a beetroot hummus that was perfection.

And that was our introduction to Dubai. I would certainly go back to see the older and more traditional parts of the city. I won’t be staying at the Atlantis though because by the time I return the newer, better and bigger Royal Atlantis will be open 😀


21 responses

  1. Sounds fantastic – you are the first person who has actually made me want to visit Dubai. Hitherto I’ve always seen it as a shopping and gambling destination. And I hate heat, so … not on my travel list.

  2. Like Alison, I’ve never fancied seeing Dubai but you’ve tempted me now. The desert and conservation reserve sound amazing. In the city I think I’d be wandering round lost for words – gold soap!

    • I think a few days as a stopover is ideal – not sure I’d go there for a week because shopping is not my thing, so the mall with the ice-rink and rollercoaster doesn’t hold much appeal for me.

      • The mall has a zoo (!) which was quite interesting, and an amazing waterfall sculpture. It is also fascinating for people watching. At one point, we stood on a mezzanine level looking over the haute couture section and watched the black clad women walking in and out of shops with their brand label shopping bags. When do they wear those clothes we wondered? When the visit their women friends? We didn’t buy anything besides food there – as mostly the shops were the mall shops you see anywhere – but it was cool, and I loved the people watching.

    • Most flights from Australia to Europe take approx. 22 hours, plus layover time, so you’re really looking at 25 hours+. I have always done it in one hit but having had the stopover in Dubai this time, I would certainly do the same again because the final six hour leg to Munich was easy.

      • Yes, our last trip we stopped on the way over but not on the way back. In future we will stop both directions! Perhaps in Singapore on the way back – or go over the pole, via Japan!

  3. The attempted mountain reminds me of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen! Dubai has never appealed as a holiday destination, but I think I would have really enjoyed the desert reserve (and that meal).

  4. Our last trip to Europe was in 2013 and we decided to do what you did – spend a couple of nights in Dubai (en route to Madrid for us). That was mid to late August and it was HOT – around 42°C I recollect! We therefore didn’t do the dunes tour – but a bus tour of the city, a day in the mall (where we spent nothing except on food and the zoo inside there), and wandered about the old souk area at night. It was a good and memorable experience. I’d love to go when you did – but then, I don’t ever want to be in Europe again in winter, so that’s that then. Haha. (Must say that my first trip to Europe was in winter, and one of our stops was Munich – it was very pretty. But, I was younger then!)

    • I guess most Aussies go to Dubai in August because they are catching the European summer! would certainly have another few days there, it was good to break up the trip.
      We didn’t get to see the old souk area (or the old ports and fishing village area) – something for next time!

  5. Yes, you are a show-off. Half your luck to have something to show off about! It’s interesting to speculate on Dubai as a ghost city in 50 years when the world has stopped buying oil (and sea levels are already up a metre).

    • Very interesting when you see how much construction is going on – building going up everywhere. I wonder if the city will somehow re-invent itself (further inland!)?

      • My BIL is a construction manager in the UAE. He’s built lavish hotels, huge shopping malls and massive apartment complexes. The government is focusing on tourism as a replacement for oil… but I’m not sure that many people want to visit!

  6. I’m so excited to see your posts. We try and travel regularly, but it’s still at the point where it’s a bit of a chore. To imagine a point where extended travel is feasible again is lovely. Dubai has never been on my least either, but breaking up travel does sound very beneficial.

  7. My sister lives in Abu Dhabi so I’m a regular visitor to this part of the world because sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to Dubai, an hour down the road, and she comes to pick me up. I usually go in Januarybut one year I visited in May and the heat nearly killed me. It must be unbearable in July. I was in the UAE just a week ago… spent 9 days there. It’s not a place I would choose to go, but I love spending time with my nieces and enjoying some winter sunshine. Interested to know what you thought of price of food and drink…?

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