After walking up a little late and grabbing some breakfast at The Marriott Marquis tasty buffet, we grabbed a cab and headed to The Mall of the Emirates. The only actual excursion we had scheduled, the desert safari, wasn’t until 5:30, so we wanted to go check out this indoor ski facility everyone talks about. We’d actually seen it the day before during our day tour, but only from the outside, and we wanted to go in and check it out. We’d bought our passes for it the night before, and included with that Polar Express pass, we’d have access to most of the snow activities (except skiing), as well as getting to participate in their Penguin encounter!
On arrival we presented our passes, and were handed winter clothes (jacket, pants, gloves and socks). Once we changed, we headed in to the main snow area. After a short look around, we decided to start off on the snow tubes, each taking a couple of rides down
We did give the bobsled run a shot after that, but only once, as Jen and I got a bit banged up on it. It’s a fast run on hard packed ice, and I got thrown around pretty good, smacking an elbow pretty hard on one wall, while Jen’s head took a slight beating. After deciding we were done with that, we headed to the chairlift, since our pass did include one ride on that. It was cool to see the entire ski run (a part of me does wish we’d paid to ski, too) and after we finished that we headed back to the tubing area for a bit before heading out to the main area to the meeting spot for the penguin encounter.
Hugging penguins was something Bayley was really excited about. When they first take you in, they sit you down and give you a little talk on the two types of penguins they have, Gentoo and King. The first photo opportunity is with a Gentoo, and this isn’t the one you get to touch. You sit in a specific area, and they lead the Gentoo over to you. I should also note here that you can’t take your own cameras in, or anything else for that matter. They say it’s so as not to distract the penguins, but it does work in their favor, since the only pictures you’d leave with from this encounter would be the ones you buy.
Once the Gentoo encounter is complete, you move on to the King penguin. They bring you over to a set spot one group at a time and let you interact with the penguin, basically gently touching him, and finally giving him a soft hug for the camera. We absolutely bought pictures here, and while it wasn’t cheap, it was totally worth it to preserve those memories. It’s crazy to think that in the middle of a desert, there we were freezing in an icy building hugging a penguin!
After grabbing another fast food lunch in the mall’s food court (Shake Shack, nonetheless), we grabbed a cab back to the hotel to rest up for the desert safari. Our guide was scheduled to pick us up around 5:30 at the hotel. He arrived in a Land Cruiser with the rest of the people on our tour (6 of us in total, minus the driver), and we took a roughly 45 minute drive out to our first stop, the entrance to the dunes where we’d be off-roading.
This first stop really serves two purposes. It allows you to grab something to eat/drink, buy some trinkets at the little store, and even head out into the area around there on ATVs or dune buggies if you want, all while the tires on the Land Cruiser were sufficiently deflated for off-roading. Having already spent more than we planned in Dubai, we just hung around, got some water, and watched others ride around on ATVs. Looked like fun, but we just didn’t feel like spending more than we already had.
Once the truck was ready, we all piled back in and headed out. For Bayley and I, this was the best part of the tour. Our driver, while not very personable at all, is obviously skilled at this, and was sliding all over the place out there. I was having an absolute blast. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you should do if you’re susceptible to motion sickness, and a few minutes in, Jen was in bad shape, so the driver made a beeline for the break point on this part of the tour, the top of a dune where we could get out, get some air, and even do some sandboarding if we wanted. Bayley took him up on that and gave sandboarding a shot, as shown in one of the pictures i this multi-shot post:
After allowing Jen to get some air, our driver moved her up to the front seat so she could get some air on her for the ride back, and he definitely took it easy on that return trip across the dunes. There was still some sliding, but nowhere near the movement we’d had on the trip out. We had a few minutes back at the entry point to rest outside of the truck while he refilled the tires, which gave her more time to rest without any motion.
Our next stop was another desert location several miles away where we met up with a bunch of other tours for some dinner out at a little camp in the sand. While you’re eating, they put on a show that’s normally belly dancing, but being that this was Ramadan, that was replaced with a man dancing during the first portion, followed by a male fire dancer after the sun went down. The food itself wasn’t bad either, as it was a barbeque, complete with chicken, fish, and lanb. I had the chicken skewers, which were delicious. One other activity at this point was the camel ride, which Bayley did. She rode with the solo guy in our group (~24yo if I recall), who was just finishing off a 14 month trip around the world. He’d saved up a bunch of money, quit his job, and headed out with a friend to see the world until his money ran out. His travelling companion had run out of money not long before, so he was out here alone and was heading home to the Netherlands the next day. Sounds like he’d seen some really cool things along the way! Back on topic, it was crazy to think that in the span of a single day, we’d been both freezing in an icy tundra and sweating in a hot desert. This shot of Bayley pretty much sums it up!
As mentioned, our guide wasn’t all that personable, and I don’t really think we’d go with that company again, but we were really glad we did it. Everything in Dubai had lived up to expectations to this point. Ending the day by watching the sun set over the dunes was amazing, and this shot simply doesn’t do it justice:
Next up on page 3, our final full day in Dubai!