It is crazy to think that this was all dirt not that long ago. We arrived during a minor sand storm.
Getting there is half the fun — especially when you are flying in Emirates Airline business class. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dubai after my 14 hour non-stop flight from Seattle. Sure, I read the websites and literature I was given, but it is hard to get an accurate feel for a place, like Dubai, until you have visited it yourself.
I have to say I was shocked — but in a good way. It was not at all what I was expecting. I thought it would be a hot desert with many locals in traditional garb with some English here and there. I think the best way to describe Dubai as being like if Las Vegas and Singapore hooked up and had a child — and named it Dubai. There is no shortage of glitz and glamor that one might find in Vegas, but with the heat and subtle culture that one would find in Singapore.
I was only able to spend about four days in Dubai, but found some things that you might find interesting if you ever decide to make it out there. I very much enjoyed my trip and I look forward to returning soon. Here are some of the things you might want to consider, if you are able to vacation in Dubai:
It wasn't too difficult being in the middle of the desert. After sunset, the temperature became very nice.
It Can Be Hot!
Duh right? Well, I think the bigger shock is it wasn’t that bad during my visit at the end of April. I was told by more than one person that it would only be a bit longer until it got hot. During the summer months, the average temperature stays above 100 degrees F, where I had it around 80-90 degrees during my visit during the end of April.
Very few people do anything outside during the hot months of the year, where during the cooler months, it is still quite tolerable for a Seattle native, like myself. Just make sure to bring your sunscreen, hats and some sun glasses — you will want to use them.
Although Dubai barely sees a few inches of rain per year, I was lucky enough to experience a few short minutes of Dubai rain. Travel so far away from rainy Seattle for Dubai rain? Yee-haw!
I can never get away from Starbucks, no matter where I travel.
English is Everywhere
It is hard to tell that you are in a country half way around the world when English is so common. There were quite a few times where if I was placed in Dubai without knowing it, I would have a hard time thinking I was outside the US. I was kind of hoping for a bit more Arabic culture, but it sure makes it easier to get around.
I got to go to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding to learn more about the local culture.
The Population is Diverse
I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting Dubai, but I can surely say I was not expecting what I found — a huge melting pot of people and culture. Only about 20% of the population are native citizens, where the rest are from other countries around the world. Many people living in Dubai are from India, the UK and even the US.
Notice the lack of bars or security. Shops are rarely robbed, even in the Gold Souk.
Do Not Plan on Becoming a Citizen – Crime is Low
It pretty much boils down to you cannot become a citizen of the UAE. Even if you work in the country for years and have kids in Dubai, neither you nor your kids are able to become citizens. To stay in the country, as a non-citizen, you have to be employed. Those who are not employed are deported (you do have some time to find a new job if you are fired).
Because there are not many people wandering around without jobs, plus the possible punishment of being deported if you commit a crime, Dubai is very safe and crime is low.
When completed later this year, the Infinity Tower will be the world's tallest high rise building with a twist of 90˚.
The Town is New
Talk about growth. Dubai has pretty much gone from dirt and nothing to a large metropolis in about 12 years. And Dubai just keeps on growing; there are cranes everywhere you look. Many people think it is all from oil money, but Dubai really does not have that much money from oil. They have been building their infrastructure and have become very business and tourist friendly. Many world-wide companies have set up offices in Dubai and have pulled people from around the world to work there.
Ski Dubai is so unbelievable -- you just have to go do it.
Snow Ski in Dubai — Seriously
If you need to ask how much it costs to ski inside a mall in the middle of the desert, you are not living life! Okay, don’t worry, it is not that costly and what an epic experience. Ski Dubai is a must see (if you have the skills). The facility sets you up with everything you need to ski: heavy jacket, ski pants (because who would be bringing those to Dubai?) and either a set of skis or a snowboard.
There is only one lift and not too much variants in the routes you can take, but who cares, you are in frek’n Dubai! I haven’t skied in a few years, so it took a run or two to remember how to do it, then after that, it was a total thrill.
It was a little nerve wrecking skiing while being filmed for a segment of the Seattle based show Evening Magazine. Luckily I was able to make it work and somewhat look like I know what I am doing.
WATCH THE EVENING MAGAZINE STORY ON SKI DUBAI
One of the amazing views from the top of The Burj Khalifa.
Visit the World’s Tallest Building – The Burj Khalifa
It makes total sense that Dubai would be home to the world’s tallest building. I am willing to make bets that if some other building is taller someday, Dubai will just build another. That is just the attitude there — bigger and better. Anyhow, making the quick trip up to the observation deck on the Burj Khalifa provides amazing views of Dubai and the surrounding area.
The Burj Khalifa almost looks unreal and the views show how much construction has already taken place and how much room that Dubai has to still grow. Oddly, I did not get the great sense of height that I was expecting to have on the world’s tallest building — but the view more than made up for it.
You will only find alcohol in bars in hotels. Good thing there are a lot of nice hotels, like the Park Hyatt Dubai seen here.
Alcohol is Limited, But Exists
The country is not dry, but one is quite limited in where someone can drink alcohol. Unless you have a special drinking license, the only place one can drink is at a hotel. Do not worry, there are plenty of restaurants in and connected to hotels that will let you get your buzz on. Just don’t wander off too far from you hotel and make sure to read the next section before you decide to drive anywhere.
You can drink and let people drive you over sand dunes.
Do Not Drink and Drive
This is probably a pretty good rule to have no matter where you are . But at least countries like the US will let you have a bit of alcohol in your system legally (0.08%), but in Dubai there is a 0.0% tolerance. You will cut your trip very short if you drink anything and then drive, so just take a cab, public transportation or do not leave your hotel.
Gold Machine on Top of The Burj Khalifa.
Get Your Souvenir Gold
You know those machines where you put a penny in, turn a crank and get a souvenir coin? Well, that is for amateurs. Why would you want a souvenir penny, when you get get a souvenir gold bar? Starting at just $800.00, you can get your very own gold memento.
The machine shown above was found at the top of the largest building, The Burj Khalifa. I was tempted, but stuck to a few cheaper souvenir options.
You can take a classic water taxi across Dubai Creek.
Take a Water Taxi Across Dubai Creek
Even though Dubai is quite westernized, there are a few things you can do to get the cultural feeling. One of those activities is taking a water taxi, called an abra, across Dubai Creek. An old wooden boat (that looks like it maybe should have been retired a while ago) will take you on the creek and to a large street shopping area, called a souk. The fresh air (as long as you sit in front of the exhaust) feels good while watching aircraft take off and other people on their boats floating by.
The Meydan Hotel offers a unique feature; a horse track right outside your room. Only in Dubai.
Great Hotels to Choose From
I had the opportunity to stay in two hotels and view a few more during my visit. One of the most interesting was The Meydan, which has a horse track right outside your room. That’s right, a legit horse track (with high-end grass) in the middle of the desert — only in Dubai right? The race season was completed and I didn’t get to see any horses running around, but still the fact that I could wake up to a horse track was quite surreal.
The most impressive hotel was the Burj Al Arab (the world’s only 7-star hotel). Due to how exclusive the hotel is, only guests are able to get access to the hotel — no lookie-loos. I plan to write a separate story on this hotel in the future.
Sit down, shut up and hold on! Okay, it was hard to stay quiet during the sand dunes four wheeling.
Take a Safari Ride in the Desert
Make sure you have a strong stomach before embarking into the sand dunes in a Toyota Land Cruiser. We used the group Arabian Adventures (which is owned by the Emirates Group) and they did a great job of not only giving us an adventure on the dunes, but also a dinner and a show in the middle of the desert after our ride.
Rolling dunes and camels are a must-see located just outside of Dubai.
Make Sure You Ride a Camel
You can’t go all the way to Dubai without riding a camel. As part of my desert dune riding (see above), I also had the chance to ride a camel. They are a little bumpy when they stand up or sit down to let you on and off and a word of warning — when the guy tells you to lean back — do yourself a favor and lean back. There are certain parts of your body that will thank you later.
Water Fountains by the Burj Khalifa
Watch the Fountains
If you have never been to Las Vegas to watch the Fountains of Bellagio, make sure to go do that first. Because the ones in Dubai put the ones in Vegas to shame. Going every 30 minutes and synchronized to music, it is a wonderful (and free) experience. If you are looking for a bigger treat, make restaurant reservations along the fountain, get a few drinks, enjoy some food and get a free show.
The Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Island.
Head to the Palm Island and The Atlantis
Checking out the Palm Islands is a must, but don’t expect some crazy and unique experience. I had to bring up my map function on my phone to really understand where I was . While on the palm, it is not easy to tell that you are on a man-made sand structure, out in the water, that is shaped like a palm tree. Really, to get the full effect of the Palm, you need to view it from the air. That being said, it is worth the trip to check out The Atlantis Hotel.
Walking into the lobby, our guide was excited to show our group a wonderful glass sculpture. It was very impressive, but little did he realize that it was a piece by Dale Chihuly and since he is based in Seattle, I have seen quite a bit of his work.
The hotel also has a decently sized aquarium that you can check out for a few extra bucks.
From all angles, the world's tallest building, The Burj Khalifa, looks unreal.
In Conclusion About Dubai
You have to try and make it to Dubai someday. It is really hard to explain the energy and how unreal everything is there. In one day, I woke up beside a horse race track, then by noon I had already visited the largest building in the world. That was before putting on snow gear to check out penguins, throw some snow balls and then do a few ski runs. Finally, heading out into the desert to 4×4 on some sand dunes and ride a camel. This was all just one day. Where the heck else can you do that in the world? Only in Dubai — that is something you will find yourself constantly saying and that is not a bad thing.
ALL 94 PHOTOS FROM DUBAI
My Other Related Dubai Stories:
* Photo Tour of Emirates Airline Crew Training in Dubai
* My Review: Flying Emirates Airline Business Class to Dubai