Dubai (United Arab Emirates)
36 reviews from the community
Review of "Dubai (United Arab Emirates)"
As seen on TV
With our mother out of the country, and our "family Christmas" reduced to me and Big Sis, we decided to do the sensible thing, shun the UK, and head off for some sun at the end of last year. Sure, we might miss the White Christmas people were talking about, but I had faith in Chris Moyles when he said It's Never Gonna Snow At Christmas. And maybe, if I was lucky, any snow that did come would hold off until we were back in January, so we could enjoy it then...Even before their financial situation kicked off, there were some great deals to be had in the United Arab Emirates and for less money than a week in the Canaries, and more guaranteed sun, we were able to head off for Christmas week in Dubai. To put things in perspective, we paid £550 each for flights and 8 nights accommodation, from 20th - 28th December, a bargain if ever I found one. Here's how the week played out... Day One
Tired from travel delays and long haul flights and general travel fatigue, we decide to spend our first day in a rather lazy manner. We go out to FRENCH CONNECTION for brunch, since it was a place that had come up on my pre-trip research, and there's a branch just a couple of blocks away. They have a fabulous menu that boasts pancakes, waffles and French toast, along with all sorts of delicious looking baked goods, and breakfast packages for the two of us, including juice and hot drinks, come to less than £10 in total. We won't be doing it every day - we've chosen to stay at the GOLDEN SANDS apartments so we can cook for ourselves as well - but it's a fab start to the holiday. The branch has a tacky-to-the-extreme Christmas tree in one corner. It's as if, at the end of each season, all the stuff that even Poundland cannot shift is shipped out here and, probably marked up at a huge premium, sold as authentic festive fare from Europe. It's weird though - it's only a few days to Christmas, the sun is streaming in through the windows, palm trees line the streets, and we're sitting next to some tatty tinsel and a funny looking Santa who would surely be dying of heatstroke in that outfit.From here we wander on to Spinney's, a local supermarket chain that I'd located during our trip from the airport. I love foreign supermarkets, and this one does not let me down. It has a fabulous deli counter with more types of stuffed olives and humus than you could ever imagine, a bakery with some divine looking cakes and even a Pork Shop (for non Muslims only, the sign tells me) though as long-standing vegetarians, neither of us really feel the need to venture in. The shelves are well stacked but it's something of a struggle to find local versions of some items - instead we find everything Waitrose - Waitrose jams, Waitrose soup, Waitrose juice. It begins to tell me something about the wants and needs of the local expat population. We also find this year's McVities and Cadburys treats when we go down the sweets aisle - literally, the same tins and packets I saw in Tesco 2 days ago. It's supremely surreal.
We spend the rest of the day in the blazing sunshine by the apartment pool, recovering from jetlag, safe in the knowledge that we're staying more than twice as long as most people do in Dubai, so have time to kick back and relax a little. In the evening, we venture out to explore Bur Juman, our nearest mall. We're not really here to shop, but it's part of the Dubai experience. Except, once again, we're in for some déjà-vu. Two days ago we were shopping in Manchester, and used the Arndale to shelter after a trip round the Christmas markets. Now, having spent more than 18 hours either at an airport or on a plane, we seem to be right back where we started from. There's a Debenhams, a Next, a Body Shop...even a New Look. It's crazy - who wants to move to Dubai and still shop in New Look? Except...I have desperately been looking for some jeans and they've been out of stock back home. They sell them here, for pretty much the same price, so I am perhaps the first person ever to go to Dubai and have nothing to show for it but a pair of New Look jeans.
Day TwoRefreshed from a good night's sleep and our time recuperating in the sun yesterday, we decide to spend today sightseeing. We choose to walk down to the Creek, despite strict instructions from the TripAdvisor crowd that you cannot walk anywhere in Dubai. I had visions of pavement-less streets, no lights or crossings, and driving akin to that found in Rome. None of these materialise, and we easily make our way to our destination, as you would in any other city, arriving in one piece though, in my head at least, also with a newly acquired bit of colour. While Dubai might be too hot for many in the midst of summer, in December time it is a beautiful 30 C, without a cloud in the sky.
We are on the Bur Dubai side of the Creek, so start off with the Souk and the Dubai Museum. The BUR DUBAI SOUK is not what I imagined - I pictured something crowded, cramped and dusty, where you would have to elbow your way through. Instead, we find a pedestrianised path lined on both sides with small shop fronts, all selling textiles. There are not many people about, so we can walk down the middle, and see into shops on both sides at the same time and without having to go any closer, lest the shop owners think we're interested. We're not in the market for a local, handmade suit (first step: buy your material, second step: find a tailor), even if New Look hadn't been just round the corner, but it's interesting to see.From here we double back to head into the DUBAI MUSEUM, entering through the exit and being escorted out by the gift shop guard who then points us in the correct direction. The museum is housed in an old fort and shows the shockingly swift transformation of Dubai over the last few hundred years, from a vast expanse of desert to the business and financial hub it is today. The exhibits range from reconstructed houses to show how people used to live, to your standard museum staple of archaeological artefacts from many years BC.
Back out in the sunshine, we wander along the Creek and round the headland to see various Sheikhs' houses. We go into one - SHEIKH SAEED AL-MAKTOUM HOUSE - which is more interesting for its architecture and views than its actual museum content (stamps, photos, pictures and coins). Still, with our entrance fees so far being between 20p and 50p each, it's a small price to pay, literally.From here, it's just a few more minutes to the HERITAGE VILLAGE which my guidebook marks out as a must-see. Well, we see it, but it's not too impressive since most of the staff at this "living museum" seem to be living elsewhere. We can see where they should be weaving their cloth or producing their pottery, but the place is a little dead, aside from a couple of gift shops. Even the camels (for camel rides, of course) have vanished.
We walk back towards the Souk, slightly confused but going with the flow, and jump on an ABRA, a small wooden boat that whisks us to the other side of the Creek. We are the only girls on board, but then Dubai does run at a ratio of 75:25, men:women. I'm in a skirt, and as the breeze picks up as we chudder across the water, I'm more concerned with preserving my modesty than looking at the view. Good thing Big Sis is snap snapping with her camera, so I can see later what I might be missing.Having already realised that neither of our guide books provide very good maps, we struggle to locate the Souks on this side of the Creek, but soon discover that we have, unbeknown to us, just walked through the Spice one. Again, I was expecting an aromatic place, with dimly lit shops and housewives bustling around in their burkas, collecting ingredients for tonight, but the reality is a little different. The SPICE SOUK is again like the Textile one, but rather less focussed on what it is supposed to be selling. Sure, there are stands with all manner of ingredients, but there are at least as many selling (fake) designer handbags, shoes, toys and so on. It's not quite Gorton market but...
Conscious of the time (the Souks shut for a siesta) we plough on the find the GOLD SOUK, just a few streets away. This is more like it - the shiny stuff is being sold from shops rather than stands, but this makes sense given the value of the product. The windows glitter temptingly with the brightest Gold you've ever seen, though with things sold by weight rather than design, you can't really tell from outside how much they cost. If you are in the market for a new bangle or chain of some kind, a tip I heard was to ask the Concierge at your hotel of the price per gram of gold on the day you head out. Even in the Gold Souk, we are pestered by people selling bags - they whisper the names of brands to us as they loiter on the paths as if anyone would say, "Why yes sir, I can see you don't have a shop in the open, but I would love to follow you round the corner and into a dark basement to peruse your selection of clearly authentic designer bags at startlingly knocked down prices. That doesn't seem suspicious or dangerous at all..."Much to Big Sis's amusement/horror I find a good way to deal with the other people who call out to us - those who comment on their (potential) customers rather than their wares. "You want a bag - Gucci, Chanel? You are very beautiful" is met with a nod of the head and an earnest "I know". It's clearly not what they are expecting, and seems to work as while they process the response, we can move swiftly on, unbothered.
We are hungry - breakfast was a long time ago, and we've been walking (walking!) in the sun since then, so we look for somewhere to eat. This is not all that easy - the streets nearby are lined with shops but there's little in the way of eateries. Suddenly we happen across the ASHWAQ CAFETERIA which happens to feature in my guide book. It is also the only place within sight selling food, so we take one of the 6 small outside tables and look at the photocopied menu. It's a sandwich place, but if Dorling Kindersley recommend it then I'm willing to give it a go... We both order Falafel sandwiches which come in yummy bread with, rather randomly, chips inside with the salad. So a Falafel Chip Butty, if you will. The thing is, they're absolutely delicious, and we polish them off. We're slightly undercharged (perhaps because we're so Very Beautiful) and pay less than 10 DHS (£1.50) for two sandwiches and two drinks, plus (using the term loosely) "waiter" service. And people say Dubai is expensive.With most of our day's itinerary complete, we head back to the water and get an abra back across the Creek to our side, then wander home by way of the supermarket to spend another hour by the pool before the sun disappears. This is a life to which I could become accustomed. Day Three
Dubai is loosely split into city and beach areas, and though we're staying in the former, today we decide to head to the latter. Having looked at our maps we decide to take the metro to the Mall of the Emirates stop and walk down from there. The Dubai metro has only just opened, and only some stops are in operation. Luckily, the one nearest to our hotel is up and running, so we walk over there and just about figure out the ticket machines. It's like being back in Mexico, with separate carriages for women and children, but with the addition of a swish Gold section for those willing to pay more for comfier (and more plentiful) seats and "specially designed mood lighting". We decide to stay standard, and the trip takes maybe 15 minutes, passing bizarrely through various half-finished and not yet open stations on the way.The walk down to the beach takes longer than the maps would make out, but is reasonably straightforward since it's just one long road. We are in the area with the iconic, wave-shaped JUMEIRAH BEACH HOTEL and the massive BURJ AL ARAB tower, and have a great view of the latter from the free, public beach just to the north. The sand is golden and the sea crystal clear, and we lie back to soak it all up.
When we get hungry and I need the loo, we head back along the road slightly to the MADINAT complex, a dark, warren-like set up with various shops and stalls and restaurants, set alongside some man-made water ways. It's all very pretty, and a good find since it wasn't on my to-do list for the trip, and they too have Christmas decorations, including wicker angels, a Polar Express train circuit and, rather amusingly, what appears to be a drunk Santa slobbed under a tall tree.We walk by the water but then leave those restaurants behind to eat in DOME, a local chain, which is located near the entrance and decidedly cheaper than the places with a water view. Various eateries share a central plaza, and when we sit down they all run over with menus, so we can order from any or all of them. Dome suits us, though, and their local-style bread and butter pudding with cream and ice cream is to die for.
We spent another couple of hours on the beach and then begin the long trek back to the metro, this time heading over the bridge and into the MALL OF THE EMIARATES for a bit. We find the main attraction - Ski Dubai - at one end and marvel at the people skiing in the artificially chilled environment when it's topping 30 C outside. The mall itself is somewhere in between - not icy cold, but notably air conditioned. Still, it's not enough to put us off ice cream, especially when a MARBLE SLAB CREAMERY is calling our name. Their bespoke concoctions are incredible, and while they're a bit more than local ice creams, they still cost less than they would do in the USA. I have cake batter ice cream and cheesecake ice cream, combined with fresh cookie dough and chunks of Galaxy, nestled in a Butterfinger-dipped waffle cone. It's rather large - I decide it may be my tea for the night - but everso good.We get back home easily on the metro, but only later realise we have overpaid slightly. We bought red, tourist-class tickets for both journeys, but the literature I've collected tells me these are rechargeable, so essentially the initial 6.50 DHS cost for a 2 zone journey included a 2 DHS card fee. We didn't realise this at the time, so paid for new cards for coming back, when we could just have recharged the first lot and saved 2 DHS each. Still, we'll know for next time.
In an attempt to recreate the travel chaos caused by the infamous 'Hello Boys' Wonderbra advert, I go out wearing a vest top. Ooh, daring. I spend a few moments debating whether it is better to wear a fancy strapped bra (since it will be on display anyway) or something more demure, but decide since I'm going for it, I may as well go all out. We head for breakfast at 3NITY ("trinity") which has a dubious location at the entrance to Spinney's, but an appealing menu. Their "local" breakfast includes grilled Haloumi, something that appears to be a cross between Feta and Philadelphia, olives, salad and Arabic bread. It sure beats a greasy fry up. Set for the day, we walk down to the water and over to CREEKSIDE PARK. This takes almost an hour, with a few detours thanks to our increasingly useless maps, but for the most part there are pavements (always a bonus) and we don't get too lost until we end up at the courthouse with little idea how to get from there into the park it borders.
We can see the cable car - my raison d'être, or at least my raison d'être ici aujourd'hui, seeing as how I love a good cable car - and follow its path to one end only to find that it is a turning round station, but you cannot board it there. As we head through the park, keeping an eye on the wires over head, we get some great views across the creek and of the well landscaped park itself. We walk on, making it almost the entire 3km length until we locate the cable car station. The round trip takes 40 minutes and costs considerably more than all our previous museums combined but is totally worth it. The cars have holes in them, plus windows, so we don't get too hot though I wouldn't really want to make the trip in the height of an Emirati summer.Afterwards, it's time for lunch so we find a bench and dig out our picnic of fresh Focaccia bread with olives, and some nibbly things. We then spend an hour or so enjoying the park and the sunshine, before continuing our journey. There's nothing like plenty of time to turn a normally hurried city break into a nice, leisurely holiday As we exit the park by way of the toilets (free, but not all Western style, and with no loo roll) and the snack bar (drinks almost as cheap as the supermarket - quite surprising) we realise we should have paid to enter in the first place. Whoops. There is a clear entrance here, with a barrier gate, but there was nothing down at the Courthouse end (and we just wandered in - clearly jumping a fence or sneaking round the back would not be a good idea opposite a building full of judges - they'd probably cut off your hands for something like that in a country like this).
We want to go to WAFI, an Egyptian themed mall that we saw on the drive from the airport, and again from the cable car, but it proves rather elusive to find and, once we get there, there is no obvious entrance. We wander up a road that is fast becoming a motorway fly over, eventually get down safely, and enter through the back. This is clearly becoming a theme for us for this trip. The mall, though, is well worth the effort. Dressed up for Christmas, they have gone with a chocolate theme and sourced some dubious Willy Wonka displays for a contest they are running. They also have a massive tree decorated with lollipops and you can visit Santa in a Chocolate Factory - but of course. The rest of the mall is like any other, though, and though we nosy round a bit, we don't buy anything. The food court is a disappointment - what does a girl have to do round here to get an ice cream? - so we head on, this time leaving via the main entrance and grabbing a taxi to take us to our next destination.All the guides for Dubai say to take taxis everywhere, but this seems a little excessive. However, this one is our first (aside from the airport journey) and fairly cheap. The journey is short, but at least we get there without having to go and play on the motorway for a bit. We are heading to KARAMA, a less-desirable neighbourhood, which is, however, supposed to the *the* place to shop for souvenirs. 4 days in, we've seen very few except in a couple of museum gift shops, so it seems sensible to see what they have to offer.
We find the main street and it boasts a whole one souvenir shop, so we go in and happily find things to buy. We are also offered Pashminas "To make you more beautiful". Emboldened by my 'success' at the Souk on Day 2, I reply that to be more beautiful than we already are, in a country such as Dubai, would surely be asking for trouble, but this seems to get lost in translation, and we are told, in a shocked voice, that Dubai is not a dangerous place. It's not the time or the place to explain, so we just smile and pay, and wander home via a tatty little grocery store that stocks London Dairy ice creams. Despite the name, it's a local chain, so I feel I ought to try one of their offerings rather than the Galaxy stick that first catches my eye.
Christmas Day abroad is nothing new, but Christmas in Dubai is still rather cool. We have booked seats on the free hotel shuttle to the beach, so after a leisurely breakfast we head out. It drops us at the Jumeirah Beach Park, which is someway between a public beach and one of the swish hotels' private affairs. There is an entrance fee but it's not much - 5 Dhs - and is well worth it for the facilities. This is one of the better beach parks along the coast. The sand is soft and clean, and the water clear. In addition to the beach area, there are acres of grassy stretches and well maintained gardens. There are changing rooms and loos, lifeguards on duty, and umbrellas and sun loungers available to rent. There are snack stands, a few burger places with lots of seating, and even a smoothie bar, though they're out of smoothies, which does somewhat limit their menu. The place is scattered with quasi-life-sized horse statues. These we compare to the quasi-life-sized camels we saw near the other beach. It's like Manchester's Cow Parade all over again but, somehow, decidedly cooler.We spend the morning by the sea, then head back towards the entrance for lunch. The options are better than your average captive audience set up, and cheaper than we had expected: in addition to burgers (fish, chicken, beef) you can also find a random mixture of Greek salads, vegetable spring rolls and cheese toasties. We opt for a foot long mozzarella sandwich which is definitely big enough for two. Even the woman serving thinks so, though when she initially asks: "You want that I make it hot? You want that I make it two?" my mind momentarily flits to the idea that she might do a nifty magic trick and double the bread and cheese she serves up, rather than simply cutting it in half. It tastes good, and for only 16 Dhs is a nice Christmas day lunch. I follow it up with a slice of one of their many tasty looking cakes - it's a vanilla cream chocolate pie and it's the size of a brick. Safe in the knowledge that the day's bikini photos have already been taken, I dig in.
We catch the shuttle back, shower off the sand and head out for tea at one of the many places on the main stretch neat the supermarket. A loud party is going on next door, though the music is more Bollywood than carols. With no hint of irony, we have the Ramadan menu on Christmas day - it's one of the set menus on offer and includes two individual pizzas for pretty much the price of one. The whole feast, with drinks and sides, costs up about £7 - not bad for a slap up Christmas dinner for two.
Having done a lot of what we wanted to here, we decide to spend the whole day relaxing by the pool. The sun is up by 8am and so are we, bagging the best loungers for the rest of the day. Most of the tourists here are Dutch or German, and some days it feels a bit like being in Benidorm, albeit a slightly more conservatively dressed one. We swim, we snooze, we read a bit, and when it's time for lunch and the place is getting crowded, we picnic up by the pool, on salad, cheese, Arabic bread and olives. It's delish. I go for a walk to get a pudding and end up, ahem, in a Burger King in a petrol station, but their chocolate soufflé with ice cream and sauce cannot be faulted. And since it's not on the BK menu here, it too is 'local'. I'm all about the local food this week, y'know.In the evening, we head out to the DUBAI MALL. This has its own Metro station, but it's not yet open, so we get off one early and walk through the building site that is that part of town to find it, navigating by the BURJ DUBAI, the tallest building in the world that is handily located next to the mall. The Dubai Mall is our destination for dinner this evening, and their food court is vast, with far too many options. They have the usual burger joints, but they also have lots of local-style food, made fresh in front of you. Or not - we go for Lebanese, and while Big Sis's falafel is plopped on the tray immediately, we wait and wait for my spinach pie - and then wait some more as they remember, and start to make it. Ho hum. It's good, though, and Lebanon is local, right? It must be just up the road from the UAE.
Then, it's time to head downstairs, because what better way is there to spend Boxing Day evening than by ice skating? The mall has a huge rink in its centre, and we glide around for an hour of our two hour session before getting off the ice and hitting the shops. They too have a gold "souk" though this is definitely more Tiffanys than market stall, and is something of a maze to navigate. The best find, however, is Candylicious, a huge shop selling more chocolate than even I could ever want. It's amazing - apparently the largest chocolate shop in the UAE - and as we wander around I'm mentally calculating how much I can fit in with what's left of my luggage allowance. After we've stocked up on gifts for ourselves and others (and something for Christmas next year, with a freakishly long expiration date) we head to the till.The mall also has a branch of Waitrose. I'm not even going to dignify that with a comment. Day Seven
Our last day, and we decide to head out for breakfast again, this time at the Mall of the Emirates where we are getting the Metro to anyway. Though the building is open, most shops and restaurants don't open until 10am so we're a little early. PAUL, the French chain that also has branches in London, is open however, and serving up their usual fine patisserie. From here, we grab a taxi (only our third of our trip!) to get us to THE PALM. We had planned to go here earlier in the week but it seemed a little far, so got postponed. The taxi drops us off and we begin to walk. And walk. And walk some more. The Palm is quite large, and the part we're heading for - Atlantis - is right at one end. It's interesting to cross the 'fonds' though, and see the identikit residences on each of the streets. It's surprising, because the Beckhams have bought a place here, and I can't imagine them wanting to live in a building that looks just like their neighbours'.We eventually get up to Atlantis, only to discover that the only entrance is through a tunnel. And there's a big 'no pedestrians' sign at its mouth. They could have told us than an hour ago when we started walking... A monorail links the hotel with the entrance to the Palm, so we walk back to get that, except in true Dubai fashion, the stop we get to is not yet open. We've been walking a little too long by now, so I harang one of the security guards loitering at the entrance to a road, for advice on how to get there. He says taxi, and hails one for us, and soon we are arriving in style - though we could have arrived in similar style 90 minutes ago if our first taxi driver had taken us all the way to the top.
After all this, ATLANTIS is a bit of a let-down. Yes, it's a nice posh hotel, but though it attracts hoards of day-trippers, there's very little actually open to non-residents. There's a waterpark, a place where you can swim with dolphins, and an aquarium (NB these could be, but are not, all the same place. Each has its own entrance fees) and a small promenade of shops. And that's it. Feeling rather put-upon, we decide to head off, and explore the monorail but it costs an exorbitant amount for something that will only take us part of the way we want to go - and, as it turns out, taxi #5 of the week can take us all the way there for the same price as two single tickets for half the trip on public transport, which seems wrong on so many levels.Our final destination is the DUBAI MARINA, in particular Marina Walk which is, erm, a path along the Marina, lined with shops and restaurants. Or, as we discovered, lined with shop fronts and as yet un-occupied restaurants. We explore both sides but end up back at the entrance, debating what to do for lunch. The answer is a picnic from the rather oddly located branch of Spinneys which has even better stuff than our local one - we get freshly baked savoury pasties, and raid the salad bar before retiring to a seat by the fountains for our feast.
So, that was our week in Dubai, a place that proved rather different to what I had imagined or discovered from my research. It was cheaper, both to get there and to be there (we spent maybe £250 in total between us on entrance fees, food and transport for the week, and some of that had to be "used up" at the airport on various chocolate and biscuit items). The one thing I found odd was that most restaurants seemed to be located either in the malls or in the hotels, with fewer on the streets themselves, but we always found places to eat, and the supermarkets were great for our meals in.
Before we went, people told me how much they had either loved or hated the place, but all agreed that we were going for too long. I thought we spend a good amount of time there, because we had planned in advance to make it a city break/sun holiday, with time devoted to both aspects. To see everything there is to see, I think 3 days would be enough, but our 7 full days (with a day travelling either side) allowed us to slow down, explore slowly, and spend those all important days in the sun. We proved that you can go to Dubai and not shop all day (I brought back more chocolate than fashion...), that you can go to Dubai and not spend a fortune on accommodation or meals out, and that you can go to Dubai and explore on foot without grabbing taxis for every 5 minute journey. We also proved that Big Sis and I can holiday together without killing each other, but that's really by the by.The only thing I would have done differently knowing now what I do, is to skip the Palm all together - our best bit of it was the flight home when we had fabulous views of it from the plane. It's something best seen from above - when you're on it, you can't really tell it's not a normal shaped part of the mainland. Aside from that, I wouldn't change a thing. We had a fab week with great weather, plenty of 'culture', time to relax, an experience different to any of our previous trips and food to die for. If that's not a recipe for a great holiday, I don't know what is.
Dubai has over 40,000 hotel rooms available. While many people book flight/hotel packages, it can be much cheaper to do parts separately (though you may then not be covered for cancellations if your flights are snowed off...) Expedia is a good place to start, and then you can try Hotels.com or the places direct, to make sure you get the best rate. Getting from the city (Bur Dubai and Deira) to the beach (Jumeirah) and vice versa is fairly easy, but we liked our Bur Dubai location simply because it let us walk (!) to the majority of our stops.
You can fly to Dubai either directly or via places like Paris / Amsterdam, which can be considerably cheaper. We booked to go via France, got bumped to a direct Emirates flight (thank you snowy Paris) and came back as planned via Amsterdam.
Product Information : Dubai (United Arab Emirates)
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Listed on Ciao since: 12/07/2000