7 Great Things about Dubai
Leah Walker March 20, 2013

Having been in the oil & gas industry in Houston, I’ve heard a lot about Dubai. Every week someone I know is jetting off to the UAE always returning with mixed reviews. It’s a giant sandbox. It’s so fascinating. I can’t wait to return. I’ll never go back. As a traveler I want to go everywhere and rarely do I let others opinions sway me too much one way or another. The same goes for Dubai. Since Emirates offers flights to Dubai from Houston daily, I know I’ll get there one day, but until I do, I’ll just live through my friend, writer, and fellow Texan, Kristin Shaw of Two Cannoli, and her experience. Take it away, Kristin.

Imagine a cross between Disneyworld, Monaco, and Las Vegas. Now imagine that combination times ten, and you have Dubai. It’s all of the superlatives in the world in one glittery, sparkling, one-of-a-kind place. The tallest hotel. The tallest building. The only man-made archipelago of islands. Some of the largest malls in the world. Indoor skiing. A seven star hotel. It all makes me wonder if the radio volume doesn’t go up to 13 (I didn’t check).

Dubai

I had no idea what to expect, but frankly, the 10-page document my company sent to me to prepare for this business trip frightened me. Swearing in public can result in a fine or jail time. Eating in public during Ramadan can result in a fine or jail time. Public displays of affection can result in a fine or jail time. The headlines online screamed out “UK woman detained in Dubai prison one month!”

So I packed carefully, dressed conservatively, kept my voice down, and moderated any four-letter-words from spilling from my lips. And had a blast. The people were friendly, the weather perfect, and the food outstanding. I had to choose between a trip into the desert to ride dune buggies and camels or explore the city, and I chose the city – this time. There is so much to see.

Since Dubai seems to fall in the category of Seven Wonders of the World, I picked seven of my favorite things:

The Souks

Dubai has an incredible array of wares to purchase, and the glittering gold market is a must-see. The entrance proclaims “Dubai City of Gold” and you’ll walk past shop after shop of beautiful bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and other baubles. The gold is gorgeously shiny and enticing, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll have a hard time walking away… even when you ask the price of the exquisite cuff you just tried on, and it’s nearly 30,000 dirhams (roughly $10,000).

Dubai

As you stroll through the gold market, vendors will stop you frequently and ask you if you’re interested in designer purses and watches. If you’re interested in a great knockoff, they have them all. I passed them up in favor of the pashminas and housewares. We enjoyed haggling with the shop owners, and they seemed to enjoy it too. Don’t accept the first price; they are eager to sell and will do the best t hey can to meet your price, if it’s reasonable. In one shop, I wanted two pashminas and a beautiful hand-painted table runner, and his first price was 650 dirhams. I gave up one of the pashminas and talked him down to 200 (about $65) for two out of three items I wanted, and we were both happy.

Dubai UAE

Don’t miss the spice souk for a celebration of scents, sights, and promises of exotic saffrons and crystals of frankincense and myrrh. And for a unique adventure, jump on one of the “water taxis” across the creek for more market fun. It costs only a single dirham to cross the creek in what amounts to a wooden raft with a motor, and it’s great fun.

Dubai uae

The Service

Dubai is known for stellar service – they opened the very first “seven-star” hotel, after all – and I was still surprised at the level of care displayed by the employees at the JW Marriott in Business Bay, the tallest hotel in the world. The hotel opened just a couple of months ago, and starting from the moment you step out of your taxi and walk to the front door, you will feel like royalty.

Dubai UAE

Coming from someone with an allergy to tree nuts and peanuts, the service was especially appreciated when it came to the dining room. They take allergies very seriously, and when I alerted a member of the staff for each meal of my allergies, they took the time to show me dish by dish what I needed to avoid. Even more impressively, they didn’t have to consult an ingredient list – they knew it by heart. Prashant, one of the pastry chefs, made my day every day when he would prepare a plate filled with tiny desserts that were safe for me, and when I was in a meeting, he sent up four dishes of my favorite: baked yogurt with blueberries and gold flake. (Yes, gold flake!)

Dubai UAE

The Food

I’ve already mentioned the gold flake on some of their desserts, and that is impressive by itself (you really don’t taste it, by the way). At my hotel, the buffet was, of course, huge. Whether you want Indian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, or even American food, you can find it here. Breakfast was pancakes and miso soup and an omelette station and fruit, among 100 other things. Dinner was the smoothest, tastiest hummus I’ve had anywhere, along with dolmas and shawarma (in this case, marinated chicken and French fries in a wrap) and two chocolate fountains.

Dubai UAE

The Beach

Even in conservative Dubai, woman show up at the beach in bikinis. I visited the public beach near the Burj Al Arab to shoot some photos, and the sunset reflecting in the sea was as gorgeous as any beach I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Dubai UAE

Dubai has plenty of beachside scenery, and I didn’t get a chance to see the archipelago The World or the palm tree formation, but when I see it, I’d like to see it from the air first. Since all of the flights from the US arrive at night, next time I’ll have to figure out a route arriving in broad daylight.

My two colleagues and I met a new friend visiting from Los Angeles, and we joined her for lunch near the beach near her base at the Sofitel. Outdoor cafes beckoned us to dine al fresco, and every possible type of food was represented, from the obviously American Red Lobster to local specialties. We tried a Turkish restaurant with interesting juice combinations and tiny pickles as appetizers, and relaxed near the sea.

Dubai UAE

The Malls

Can you talk about Dubai without mentioning the malls? The two largest – The Mall of the Emirates and the Mall of Dubai – defy imagination. Pick a brand – any brand – and you’ll find it here. Need a camel milk break? Got it. Pinkberry yogurt snack? Got it. Couture fashion? Got it.

Dubai UAE

Inside the Mall of the Dubai is a huge ice skating rink, a respite from the searing heat most months of the year. Within the Mall of the Emirates is an incredible ski-resort wonderland, with a toboggan run for the kids, a hill to ski down and a chair lift up, and plenty of manufactured snow. It is something to behold.

Dubai UAE

Just outside the Mall of Dubai is the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world – and a bustling outdoor area in which tourists and locals eat, see, and be seen. The water show is at least twice the size of the one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and at least five times as beautiful.

The Cars

As a big fan of fancy, sporty, fast cars, this city is a mecca for people like me. Anywhere you go, you’ll see a Ferrari parked next to a Mercedes next to an Aston-Martin. Lamborghinis fly down the highway, and taxi drivers do their best to keep up, driving like racecar drivers. Keep your seat belt on and eyes closed. Scratch that – keep your eyes open, or you’ll surely miss something. Just keep your seat belt on.

Dubai UAE

The People

I’ll admit I was nervous about how I would be treated as an American in the Middle East, but all of the advice I received from those who had visited before was spot on: the people are lovely and friendly. Even in the middle of the souks, which is a tourist attraction but very much in the middle of the local culture, Emiratis are welcoming and open. I didn’t feel threatened or unsafe at any time.

Dubai UAE

That said, no matter where I travel, I keep my eyes open and travel with friends and colleagues as much as possible. I read a harrowing story about travelers in Peru recently, and this was fresh in my mind as I traveled; I also know this is a rare occurrence.

I would return to Dubai someday, when my son is a little older, to explore the area again. And maybe ride a camel next time.

Dubai UAE

 

Booking.com

Kristin Shaw is a marketing manager by day, writer by night, a full-time wife and mother of a preschooler. She grew up in the RV capital of the world — Elkhart, Indiana — and is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati. She enjoyed several years in Atlanta before the mother ship called her Texan husband home to Austin. Her favorite things are family, airports, classic cars, sports, Italy and dessert; not necessarily in that order. You can reach her via Twitter @AustinKVS or her blog http://www.twocannoli.com, where she writes about relationships, motherhood and love.

Leah Walker

Leah’s a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that’s in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah’s thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don’t extend to speaking French. Yet.

43 Comments

  1. Sounds like a blast, Kristin!
    My husband has been to Dubai several times for business, and because he didn’t really explore the sights, wasn’t a big fan of the place.
    I know however, that I will see it with different eyes. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Alison! It’s a pretty amazing city. I’m all about the food and service, and it really was stellar in Dubai.

      1. Great post! I live in Dubai for almost 7 years now and love it here. Reading this kind of post makes me look at Dubai in tourist’s eyes once again.

        Hope you can come back with your family and have a relaxing time at the beach. It’s amazing. Just don’t come in the summer! 🙂

  2. I’ve heard wonderful things about Dubai from other people that have visited. The malls remind me a little of Singapore. Whenever you ask someone in Singapore what they do for fun, the first answer is always, “shop.”

    1. I’ve become good friends with a colleague in Singapore, but I’ve never been – someday, I’d love to see that.

    1. Thank you, my friend! You know how nervous I was to go, and to fly so far away from home. It was an amazing sight to see.

  3. Really cool. I would like to visit one day but as it is not in the cards anytime soon, I appreciate a view more realistic than the latest Mission Impossible film. The spices look amazing! Thanks for sharing.
    🙂
    Traci

    1. Traci, you would love it! Your eye for beauty of all kinds would appreciate this city, and knowing you, you would make tons of new friends.

  4. Fascinating! I would love to visit there but something tells me I never will. I will live vicariously through you. 🙂

    1. I hope both of you get to see it someday. Leah, Robin lives in Halifax, which is one of my favorite places in the world!

  5. I think I did everything you did.. Amazing.. ( My deal is shopping mostly) the one thing which was just too much was the extreme temperature change. Outside was so hot ..50 degrees and inside was usually less than 16 — I remember shivering in the Mall – Where your fur inside! 🙂

    1. I was lucky to go in January, and the weather was perfect – a little chilly one day, in fact. And the hotel temperature was quite pleasant in the ballroom where our meetings were taking place – surprisingly so. Maybe it was because His Royal Highness himself attended our meeting for a short time and he needed to be comfortable. 🙂

    1. That is true, Leah. Otherwise, I definitely would have snapped some photos inside the Burj Al-Arab. Just being close to it was stunning. The Jumeirah is also gorgeous inside.

  6. I am not sure about Dubai, to be honest, but I am curious! And it can be a great stop enroute somewhere else.. happen to be planning one, right now! Great post, it really gave me a taste of what to expect!

    1. I’d love to read your perspective, Mrs. O. I follow your adventures online and they always have such a wonderful touch of class.

  7. I’d never really considered Dubai before but this got my attention –> “Imagine a cross between Disneyworld, Monaco, and Las Vegas. Now imagine that combination times ten, and you have Dubai.”

    1. It is really something else, and not much like any of these cities but a mix of all of them. I’d love to hear what you think, when you go.

    1. One of the coolest dudes I know, that’s who! Had a great time – thanks for hanging out (and negotiating) with us.

  8. I have a couple of friends who have lived in Dubai who tell me that I must visit so it has been on my radar for a while but I don’t think I have actually seen photos before apart from a couple of the famous buildings. I loved seeing your photos of the things you liked best about Dubai – they made the city seem more like a place than a skyline!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I was pleasantly surprised on so many fronts. The food was amazing, which to me, makes any city better!

    1. Ah, Terri, you understand fully, then. I have been all over Europe with this allergy, and the only place that came close in terms of being empathetic and offering that level of service was the Intercontinental in Athens, Greece.

    1. Amy, Dubai was on my bucket list – I never expected to get a full-ride opportunity for work, but I am thankful that I did. Thank you so much for reading.

  9. I had the opportunity to travel to Dubai in February but opted out. It looks like I’d be okay there after reading this. I’m just struggling with being somewhere that women might be treated drastically differently. I think I’d end up arrested because these rights are so engrained in me. On another note, indoor skiing – that’s crazy!

    1. I felt the same way, and to be honest, I didn’t see many women at the market or on the streets, but I did see quite a few in jobs at the hotel, and it felt just like I was in any European (or US, for that matter) city in terms of respect. It was scary knowing the laws and venturing out in public, at first, but it was fine. I stuck with small groups and didn’t go out after dark at all except on a bus with all of my colleagues, so admittedly, some of my experience is limited…
      You’d have a blast, L!

    2. This is Dubai (UAE) and not Saudi Arabia. You’ll only get arrested though for indecency in public like that lady who was drunk and had sex at the beach and assaulted the police officer. Other than that, Dubai is a very liberal place for ladies. You can even wear a bikini at the public beaches and it’s ok!

  10. I have been fascinated with Dubai for years – I have zero interest to go any where else in that area – and your post made me want to go even more. I love that you took the time to take in local culture – like the water taxis and the souks. Thanks for sharing it with us and thanks even more for linking the article up to Friday Daydreamin’! Thanks Kristin & Leah!!

  11. I just saw a piece on Dubai last weekend. The whole time I kept thinking why didn’t I visit when my favorite older cousin was there? She lived there for 30+ years and loved it! You’ve reminded me that I need to put it on my list. Thanks!

  12. It’s been a while since my last visit to your blog. Looks like you had lots fun in Dubai.

    It’s always a great way to travel, when your company pays for the expense. I am not a big fan of shopping, but I would love to get my hands on those beast of super cars and the tallest building in the world.

    I am also not sure if eating those gold flake will kill you eventually. 🙂

    Good read! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Nah, surely gold flake has lots of good nutrition. 🙂
      The cars are amazing – I’m a big car fan and I was very excited to see so many gorgeous machines in one place.

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