I did it. I went to Dubai. It was everything I could have dreamed of. However, this trip was not budget-friendly. Accepting early that Dubai will be expensive is a great way to prepare for its luxuriousness. Also understanding that Dubai is an international city will help with the planning. While there are unique features of Dubai, it’s still one of the most developed and advanced cities in the world which means everything – and I mean everything – that you would find in the Western World can be found in Dubai. However, it is worth it and it won’t completely break the bank. For this post I’m going to highlight what I loved about the trip – because honestly there wasn’t much that I disliked – and provide a few tips on what led to a smooth experience.
I seriously cannot say enough good things about this airline. The 14+ hour flight from D.C. to the UAE was one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve ever had – and I was in COACH. The hype is real! Food = excellent. Entertainment = excellent. Seating = amazing. If you can afford it, take the flight. A few tips:
- Emirates always has sales. For a spring trip, I would try to book around the holiday season. There were flights for our dates for as low as $600. However, if you are expecting to see the $300 error fare that occurred a few years ago, I wouldn’t waste time waiting on this. Emirates corrected themselves and the prices will increase after the New Year.
- When leaving Dubai, get to the airport early because the Dubai airport is a site within itself. Complete with waterfalls, rolex clocks, every luxury designer imaginable, amazing food, the Emirates terminal at the Dubai airport was a perfect way to end the trip. Also, all of the cute trinkets that we didn’t pick up in the Souks we were able to find in the airport, plus more!
- I traveled with my boyfriend and we did not pay for our seats ahead of time. There were plenty of seat options to choose from during the free booking period. Unless you are going during a major holiday like NYE, save the extra money and wait to select your seats.
- Leave your pillow and blanket at home. Emirates provides this and more.
Dubai is a desert and it is HOT. If you like the water, I highly recommend staying on the Palm. The Palm is Dubai’s man-made island that is literally shaped like a palm. There’s a variety of properties including the famous Atlantis Hotel. Expedia has a wide variety of selections for hotels to accommodate every type of traveler – seriously it’s almost overwhelming. Selecting the perfect hotel took weeks! Cost and location were most important to me. I wanted to be on the beach but close enough to the city, so I stayed near the top of the palm at the Dukes Dubai and it was incredible. In addition to having our own private beach, rides to destinations in the city never exceeded $20. Also, the hotel was reasonably priced and included a huge complimentary, Vegas style breakfast buffet that went until 11:00 am each day. This helped save a lot of money on food!
Arabic hotels vs. Non Arabic hotels: If you’re looking to go to Dubai I’m sure you’ve researched the various laws that govern the UAE. While these laws are still enacted in Dubai, the city is by far the most lenient of its UAE neighbors. However, certain hotels still enforce the dress code, alcohol policy and other restrictions that we are not used to in America. If this is a concern of yours, book a hotel that is owned by a non-Arabic company.
We chose to stay in a British-owned hotel which allowed us to be a lot more relaxed when we were on the property. This was especially helpful when walking to the beach area. While certain items such as shoes and shirts for men were still required, I didn’t have to be worried about being fully covered.
Additionally, non-Arabic hotels serve drinks but still offer Arabic treasures such as Shisha.
The Dress Code
Does it exist? Yes. Is it enforced? Eh kinda. I saw all types of outfits while I was in Dubai. Again, it was HOT. There were some who chose to be completely compliant with the dress code and others who chose to dress as if they were on South Beach. It really is up to you but 1. I always believe in respecting the culture of the country that you visit and 2. don’t be taken aback if you receive less-than-friendly stares for choosing to go against the dress code.
I will not that at night when people were going out, the dress code was essentially nonexistent.
I chose to comply with the dress code and wore light fabrics and short sleeve blouses that could be easily paired with a blazer – it’s also freezing inside all of the buildings so you will need a jacket. Thankfully the desert is dry heat so wearing the blazer wasn’t too bad if I was walking a short distance.
Uber everywhere! The luxury car taxis are nice, but if you are trying to save money take an uber or at least check the cost of an uber and compare it to the cost that the taxi is requesting. Regular taxis and ubers were surprisingly the cheapest part of our trip. A 25-30 minute ride was only about $15 dollars; however, the luxury cars will try to charge you double this amount so be careful.
The Train: Even if you go two stops, take the train just to experience what its like to see your reflection on the floor of a train. Seriously, it was the cleanest station I’ve ever been in.
The Desert Safari
Dubai is in the desert and you should go explore it. Additionally, Dubai is a city built for business and tourism so there is never a shortage of tours. Some of the people in my group were like me and had all of their tours booked weeks in advance. Others arranged their tours the day of. They are all essentially the same and follow a similar route because – its the desert and you will get lost. Don’t get hung up on the touring company – Groupon is your friend – just make sure its reputable.
Without giving away too much, if you want to see the desert, experience a traditional Arabian dance performance and BBQ (camel), smoke shisha and ride camels while watching the sunset, this is the perfect experience for you. I’m oversimplifying it, but it was one of the highlights of the trip.
It should come at no surprise that Dubai is also a popular destination for yachting. Whether you are on a private charter or a dinner cruise, sailing around the palm is a great way to see more of the city and get up close to some amazing sites.
The tallest building in the world is a must-see and there are essentially three ways to do it. 1. Marvel at it for free from the outside; 2. Book a ticket on the website, expedia or a similar site for the chance to stand in a long line, ride to the top and look out from a peeping station; or 3. make a reservation at the restaurant or lounge for an amazing experience. Of course I chose the latter. *There is a minimum spend*
Dom Perignon, the largest fountain show in the world, and filet mignon, it was an evening to remember.
* We chose this option because we wanted to see sunset and experience the view both in the day and night. After comparing the price of a regular ticket during our desired timeframe and the minimum cost of a reservation at the lounge, the difference wasn’t significant.
The Malls and The Souks
Everyone talks about the Mall of Dubai and yes it is as spectacular as they say. However, I found the Ibn Battuta Mall, the world’s largest themed shopping mall, to be even more amazing. The mall consists of six courts, each of whose designs are inspired by some of the countries visited by the great Moroccan Berber explorer, Ibn Battuta:
Not only was the mall visually spectacular – featuring decor and items from each featured country – but it was an outlet mall offering amazing deals on some of the world’s biggest brands.
The Souks are also split into two. There of course is the ___ Souk located in the ___ district where you can also find 5 star restaurants, a beautiful river to ride on, and everything that is Dubai. However, if you travel 20 minutes to the outskirts of town you will locate the traditional gold and silk souks and this was a time! Think Canal Street on steroids. It was almost overwhelming. In the souks you can find everything from 10 carat diamond rings, silk softer than a baby’s skin, every fragrance in the world, and GOLD. Give yourself a few hours to browse and shop, you’ll them.
Because Dubai is such an international city, every type of cuisine in the world is offered here. Dubai has a broad culinary scene with options to satisfy any palate. Because we chose to spend money on excursions and other experiences we looked for more affordable ways to dine in Dubai and ate at more of the local restaurants. These did not disappoint and gave us an opportunity to try a range of Middle-Eastern cuisines from Lebanese to Pakistani. We even found a hidden Nigerian restaurant in the Souks that was amazing.
In a nutshell, Dubai is a city of luxury. When you go, do all of the “touristy” things that it has to offer. I was there for an entire week and I barely scratched the surface. However, it was one of the most fabulous trips I’ve ever experienced and I can’t wait to return!