Traveling from North America to the UAE involves at least one leg of the journey taking 14 hours or more…and that is for those using an Eastern gateway (we had a flight time of 14 hours from Toronto but, surprisingly enough, due to the flight path over Greenland, it takes longer from US gateways).
Due to its situation on the world map, Dubai serves as a hub for the six main continents, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia/Oceania, as well as North and South America. Based on passenger traffic, Dubai ranked 3rd behind Atlanta and Beijing in a report issued July 2016 with 78,000,000 passengers. Also, Dubai is one of the world’s most popular business hubs with more than half of the biggest global conglomerates operating offices in the city. Within any hotel, you could meet an array of people from virtually every ethnicity from countries around the world. As a result, the food options are many and even the breakfast buffet at our hotel had selections of pork, which you would not expect in a Muslim country. English is spoken virtually everywhere and is the second language; virtually all advertising and road signs are in English. The local currency is the Dirham and at the time of our travel had an exchange rate of 2.8AED to the Canadian dollar and 3.7AED to the US dollar. As a result of its International nature and variety of guests, the hotels offer fair exchange on most world currencies.
Generally, things in Dubai are expensive, as is general with all large cities. Depending on activities at the time, hotel costs will average $US300/night for a basic room, but paying upwards of US$1,000/night at the premium hotels can be expected. Bear in mind also that this is a Muslim country that adheres to very strict codes and one must pay heed to some do’s and don’ts while there. They also censor Internet activity, which bans pornography, politically sensitive material, all Israeli domains, and anything against the perceived moral values of the UAE. All or most VoIP services are blocked. As an author trying to promote one of my erotica books, I was unable to access some of the sites I was trying to. However, there is a work-around for this if you sign up to a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Weather in Dubai can vary extensively throughout the year and the best time to travel is during the winter months. Average temperatures from November to March range from a high of 24 – 30°C (75 – 86°F) and a low of 14 – 20°C (58 – 68°F). Average temperatures during the summer months hover in the 40°C (104°F) range and can approach 50°C (122°F).
Dubai is the most populace city in the UAE with over 2,700,000 inhabitants. What is also surprising is the ethnic mix; 53% Indian, 17% Emirati and 13% Pakistani with the remaining 17% comprised of various nations, mostly Asians…Americans account for only 0.3%! (About 8,000).
Another surprising fact is that less than 5% of its revenue is derived from oil; the western-style business driving the economy with tourism, aviation, real estate and financial services. Dubai is also a place of extremes and they boast the following:
- Highest building in the World – the Burj Khalifa
- The largest shopping mall by area – the Dubai Mall
- The largest water feature – Dubai Mall
- World’s largest indoor aquarium – Dubai Mall
- World’s largest flower garden – Miracle Gardens.
- At Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi:
The first three of these can be seen in virtually the same place,as the Dubai Mall and the
fountains are at the base of the Burj Khalifa. Plan to spend at least a day in this area to take in all the splendours it offers. A must-see is the ‘At the Top’ feature with an elevator ride to the 124th and 125th floors of the Burj Khalifa to the observation area. For additional cost you can proceed to the 148th floor, which is the highest publicly-accessible outdoor observation area in the world. We combined our trip with a dinner at the Rooftop Restaurant located on the 3rd floor of the Burj with an excellent view of the fountains (and, I might add, one of the best beef filets I have tasted).
There are many attractions in Dubai for the tourist and a visit would not be complete without trips to the ‘souks’ (markets). There is the spice souk, where you can Inhale the delicate aromas of the spices, and the gold souk where merchants will do their best to ensure you don’t leave without them showing what they have to offer.
Another major attraction is the dessert safari with ‘dune bashing’, culminating in a dinner and show at a Bedouin camp. After about an hour’s drive into the dessert, we mustered at a small camp where one had the opportunity to try some dune buggy rides. At the appropriate time, the driver reduced the air in the tires and we were off to an exciting experience ‘bashing’ the dunes. A word of caution: this is not for the faint of heart. After a while, we had to ask the driver to slow it down a little as some of the passengers were getting upset. The resultant ‘reduced’ ride was still exhilarating as we watched the sun sink in the sky for a beautiful sunset. This is a major tourist attraction and brings in substantial revenues – there must have been upwards of 50 white Toyota Land Cruisers at the particular staging point we grouped before the dune bashing, each one loaded with up to seven tourists. It appears that there are 47 Bedouin camps involved in the program and each one entertains up to 200 or more people. At about US$70 per head…you do the math.
The dinner and show at the camp was excellent! We opted for the VIP treatment (at extra
cost) whereby you had a table and chairs to enjoy the meal and show as opposed to sitting on cushions. Also, our meal was served to us instead of having to join the line-ups for the buffet. There were three shows; a belly dancer, a tanoura dancer and a fire dancer, all very entertaining. At the end of the show, we made the slow trek back to town through the ever present heavy traffic. Even for the non-smokers, a puff on a Hookah (or shisha) can complete the setting. A traditional Arab pastime, it involves drawing tobacco smoke through water using an elaborate contraption consisting of a water bowl, a container for the tobacco and a long tube with a mouthpiece. Although I personally did not try it, I did find that the second-hand smoke from the hookah was neither as pungent nor obnoxious as cigarette smoke.
There are many great places to eat in Dubai, but one must bear in mind that the alcohol laws prohibit the serving of alcohol except in hotels. Hence, many restaurants do not serve alcoholic drinks. One can drink at home, provided you obtain a permit. Most of the upper-tier restaurants are within hotels, so if you must have that before-dinner drink or wine with dinner, make sure you choose a place within a hotel. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Dubai on Shiekh Zayad Road that boasted 12 restaurants. During our stay there, we were able to sample the Brazilian and Italian restaurants and the Western Steak House.
One of the attractions of Dubai is its magnificent architecture. You don’t see glass boxes like we do in many parts of North America. There is an aura of style and design that is a testament to what is possible when budgets are less restrained. Of course, office space is expensive as are hotel costs (ranked as second highest in the World), so the market will support the high building costs. Dubai is also one of the world leaders in creating artificial islands, which they have done for the impressive Palm Island project. Although criticized by environmentalist the project, by its shear nature, is an amazing accomplishment, adding 78 km of coast line to the City. The area is considered an address of distinction for residence and it houses the impressive Atlantis Palm Hotel at its ‘tip’. As is common though in Dubai, hotel prices are high starting at about US$450/night for a basic room.
Another attraction is the Dubai Miracle Garden…an impressive showcase of flowers
formed into various shapes and figures. The largest (of course) natural flower garden in the world, it comprises over 100 million plants and in April 2015, the garden was bestowed the Moselle Award for New Garden Experiences of the Year by the Garden Tourism Award 2015. More recently, through a collaboration with Emirates Airlines, a life-sized Airbus A380 was added and covered with over 500,000 fresh flowers and living plants.
If you have time, a worthwhile trip is the 90 minutes or so it takes to visit UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi. It is the second most populace city in the UAE by a close second to Dubai and is also the capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the UAE’s seven emirates. (An emirate is a political territory that is ruled by a dynastic Islamic monarch styled emir). Also famed for its architecture, there are some particular attractions worth seeing. The Grand Mosque is open to tourists and women must have proper attire, which is obtainable from the screening centers. A head scarf is essential and you will be required to wear an abaya (provided) if you have exposed skin on arms and legs. Touted as one of the largest mosques in the world, it can accommodate an astonishing 40,000 worshipers!
Another iconic landmark is the Emirates Palace hotel, which is the second most expensive hotel ever built at a whopping US$3 billion (yes, with a ‘b’). It was completed in 2005 and built to showcase Arabian culture. Surrounded by lush landscaped gardens, the palace boasts 302 superior rooms and 92 magnificent suites. Emirates Palace features 14 food and beverage outlets, where cuisine from all cultures meet and come together to create a blend of exotic flavours. If your budget will allow such extravagance, there is no better way to experience the Arabian culture and superb service (‘budget’ room will run around US$600/night, but if you really want to be extravagant, try their 7,000 sq. ft. 3-bedroom Palace Suite for US$9,000/night…it includes free Wi-Fi).
Just south of the City is Yas Island that, in itself, has three major attractions:
- Yas Marina Circuit – host of the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
- Yas Waterworld – spans an area of about 15 football fields and has 43 rides, slides and attractions.
- Ferrari World Abu Dhabi – the world’s first Ferrari theme park.
Attached to Ferrari World is Yas Mall featuring 400 of the world’s top fashion and food brands, a 20-screen cinema and the region’s largest family entertainment zone.
If you are a car enthusiast, as I am, Ferrari World is a must-see. Along with a showcase of the company’s most extravagant offerings (different versions of La Ferrari, for example), you get the opportunity to experience several amusement theme areas that provide both a history of the famous marque and current production techniques. There are also the various rides included in the admission. They have three grades of admission to the park, Bronze, Silver and Gold. Essentially, the bronze will grant access to all rides, but the Silver and Gold provide Fast Passes for front-of-the-line access to the rides (3 for Silver and unlimited for Gold) as well as some additional privileges. Basic Bronze entry fee is US$68 with Silver at US$95 and Gold at US$142. At the time I was there (end of January) it was not very busy and the line-ups for the rides were not excessive, although with the limited availability of seats on the rides, it still took a long time to get to the attraction. If you plan to take multiple rides all day, buy the Gold pass and go to the front of the line each time. If it is really busy, better to get the Silver pass to access the most popular rides at least once.
Beneath its gigantic, iconic red roof it houses numerous high-adrenaline rides including the spectacular new Flying Aces ride, featuring the highest rollercoaster loop in the world and the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa, with a top speed of 250 kph in 4.9 seconds. The park also features numerous Italian restaurants, state-of-the-art simulators, electric-powered go-karts, live shows and an inspiring treasure of racing memorabilia!
Dubai has been compared to many other of the world’s large cities, but it really stands on its own. It lacks the deep cultural background of cities like London, Paris or New York, where one can more freely express themselves in public. Dubai also lacks the entertainment venues the other cities offer. However, when it comes to shear extremes, then Dubai is your city as it boasts the tallest, largest, and fastest in many categories.