To kick off my series covering our most recent vacation, we’re looking back at the first few days of our trip, spent in Dubai. First, it’s prudent to give a little history on how we got here. Our daughter graduated from college this year, and as both a present to her and a last hurrah before she goes off into the workforce, we decided to let her choose where she wanted to go for a graduation trip. Initially she was looking at Bora Bora, and at least once we were within a couple of clicks of booking a trip to that area on either a Paul Gauguin or Windstar cruise. She really wanted to swim with whale sharks, and once we discovered that it’s not really the season for that in the south pacific, we started looking elsewhere. Along the way, I came across some package rates to the Maldives, one of the few places where whale sharks are prevalent this time of year, so we started looking closer. As I looked at the various packages, I came across a solid deal on an 8-day Maldives trip that included a 4 day stop in Dubai first. We all fell in love with the idea of seeing this city, and in early April pulled the trigger on it!
The trip started off when we boarded an Emirates A380 from JFK to Dubai direct. The flight itself, while long (12 hours), was pretty uneventful. There’s plenty of legroom in economy on these planes, and while it was fairly comfortable, none of us slept all that much.
We arrived in Dubai around 8:30am local time Sunday morning and headed to our hotel. Being the offseason, and Ramadan, we got a great rate at the JW Marriott Marquis in what’s referred to as New Dubai. On arrival at the hotel, we decided to take them up on a pretty reasonable upgrade to a corner suite on the 61st floor, complete with a large living room, master bedroom, and good sized master bath. Click on those links and check out the 360 degree views of our room, A6106.
After cleaning ourselves up and grabbing a bite to eat in the hotel’s outstanding breakfast buffet, we decided to hop the Marriott’s shuttle to the Dubai Mall, one of the 56 malls in the city, and the one containing the huge aquarium and the entrance to the Burj Khalifa tour. After a bit of a walk around the mall (it’s huge), we decided to grad some lunch. Being Ramadan, almost every restaurant was closed, so our best option was the food court, as it was barricaded off, allowing those who weren’t fasting the ability to eat. The main food court in this mall is huge. Larger than any mall food court I’ve ever seen. We ended up eating Shake Shack, and which breaks our main travel rule of not eating anywhere we can eat at home, but under the circumstances, I was happy with the choice.
After some more mall walking, we headed back to the room to get some rest before dinner, as we had a busy day on tap the next day. We ended up eating at the hotel again, this time in the executive lounge. Executive club access is something we added for a pretty reasonable charge, and it was werll worth it, with the breakfast buffet included, along with snacks and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) included in the benefits. The small buffet in the executive lounge each evening had some delicious items as well.
Monday morning brought our first excursion of the trip. We’d booked a private guided city tour with Tours by Locals, and were picked up by our guide at the hotel at 9am. Our guide Sunil was outstanding, and this tour was definitely the highlight of our time in Dubai. We started off with the Dubai Mall, and since we’d walked that the day before, he just showed us a few of the highlights before we moved on to the Emirates office tower area as one of our first picture spots. The architecture in Dubai is amazing, and this was the perfect place to really kick things off:
Next up was Za’abeel Palace for another photo stop. This obviously isn’t a place where you can just walk up to the gate, so we hung out by the Mercedes police G wagon and took a few pictures:
Our next stop was a local fish market, which was really cool. We were warned before hand that the vendors selling would be on us as soon as we walked in, but would back off if we ignored them or said no thank you, and he was right. For those familiar with pushy vendors in Caribbean ports, this wasn’t even close to as bad as some of those can get, frankly it was pretty mild. Inside, there were a ton of fish lined up, but being Ramadan, the place wasn’t completely full of vendors. We walk through the fish area, the meat area, and ended in the fruits and vegetable area. Note that this isn’t for the faint of heart, as you do see things like cow heads in the meat area. All in all, I’m glad he added it to the tour, it was cool to see how a normal market worked in the area.
After a short stroll through the small attached mall, it was off to walk around a couple of the souks in the area! This was probably the highlight of the tour, and at times felt like something out of either the Amazing Race or Indiana Jones. He took us through a gold souk before giving us a little instruction, setting a time to meet, and sending us off on our own to explore. Again, the vendors will approach you, but nothing as pushy as some Caribbean ports, and they were always friendly. We did buy a couple of items, with Bayley picking up a hanging glass ball decoration and Jen getting a scarf. Our guide did help us negotiate the price of those two, these vendors will haggle. After walking a few streets here, we hopped on a water taxi to another park of the city to stroll through a few more souks:
After finishing up the time-lapse above, which was Sunil’s idea, we walked over to the Dubai Museum. While not overly large, this has various exhibits giving you the opportunity to learn about Dubai’s history. This was followed by a walk down a few more areas, including stops at a local art gallery, coffee museum and coin museum. From the time we started our initial walk through the first souk until we got back to the car, I think we were on our feet for around 2 hours. Considering the heat here, that’s a long time, but having hydrated before we got out of the car, it wasn’t a big issue.
I should take a minute to point out that while Ramadan prohibits eating or drinking in public during daylight hours, our guide did have water available for us in the car, so had we not brought our own, we would have been fine.
Following all of that walking, we had a bit of a break to cool off, as it was a bit of a car ride to our next stop, Jumeira Mosque. This is the only mosque that allows non-Muslims to tour the facility, however, they weren’t doing tours at this point, so we were just seeing the outside. On our guide’s recommendation, we did go back for the official tour on Wednesday, and I’d agree with him, it’s worth the time, very interesting and informative!
After a couple of other short picture stops to get views of Burj Al Arab, we headed in the direction of Palm Island. We had a couple of options, ride with them up to the end of it where the Atlantis is located, or take the monorail from the trunk to Atlantis. We chose the latter 😊. Riding the monorail is fun, and I highly recommend (on his recommendation, actually) being in the front cabin so you can watch the trip.
After the monorail ride and a short stop outside of Atlantis and one other spot along the branches for pictures, we headed back to the hotel quite happy with the tour we’d chosen. This is probably one of the best we’ve ever done, as both Sunil and our driver were outstanding. They showed us a large part of the area, ensured hydrated and fed even with Ramadan happening, and added stops upon realizing we had plenty of time for them along our 8 hour tour. I’d be more than happy to book with Tours by Locals again!
After cleaning ourselves up and resting a little, we decided to end the day by heading over to a spot Sunil recommended, Dubai Garden Glow. This is an awesome little place that packs three separate areas in to one facility, including and ice park, dinosaur land, and a while section with lit up displays to enjoy. You don’t have to do it all, as they sell tickets at varying prices that allow access to some or all of the park. Considering that we have no idea if we’d ever make it back to Dubai, we bought the full pass.
It was a fun walk through the whole thing, with the glow garden section being the longest walk. They’ve got a ton of lit displays, typically the kind of thing you only see around Christmas in the US. After a pretty lengthy walk through that area, I was ready to hit the ice park and cool off. Even though it was night, it was still pretty hot and humid out. Entering the ice park, you’re handed a coat and some gloves, and you head in to a large warehouse type setup with a bunch of ice sculptures. Most of it appeared to be landmarks from around Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa, some camels, and Palm Island. This is the shortest walk in the park, as it’s not really that big, but it’s definitely a good way to cool off while in the park. After leaving our icy detour, we headed into the dinosaur section, which is basically just a bunch of outdoor dinosaur exhibits you walk around. Here’s a look at some of the things we saw in the Dubai Glow Garden:
Our first full day in Dubai was tiring, but really fun! Next up on page two, a day of skiing, penguin hugs, and off-roading in the desert!