Desert fun in Dubai
I recently had my first opportunity to sample a bit of Europe and experience a Dubai stopover in both directions at the same time. I flew Emirates on the non-stop service from Auckland to Dubai in economy and thankfully, the flight didn’t feel like it was 17 hours long! The crew were so attentive and always available, the aisles of the plane were wide enough to go for a nice little stroll and the in-flight entertainment system is the best I've experienced. With wi-fi available onboard, which was either free for 2 hours or the whole flight for a small fee, I could stay connected with family at home on my phone and I didn’t feel alone in the sky. After dinner, the lights were dimmed and the stars came out - literally on the ceiling! Both flights were empty enough that I got 3 seats to myself to lie down – pure luxury!
On our arrival at Dubai International Airport, we were met by Arabian Adventures before immigration and escorted to their transfer desk, where we were quickly loaded into our mini bus & handed chilled bottles of water before heading off to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Mall of the Emirates. After a huge buffet breakfast, we were again collected by Arabian Adventures for our day tours.
The first stop was Dubai Mall, which aside from lots of shopping also houses the Dubai Aquarium with over 33,000 marine animals, an ice rink, and must-see dancing Dubai Fountains - the world’s biggest choreographed fountain and lights show set to music! Connected to the Mall is the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, where within a minutes lift ride we were 'At The Top' on level 148 for amazing panoramic views of the city.
Back down on the ground again we were taken on a city tour of Old Dubai where we strolled through the Al Fahidi Historical Village, crossed the Dubai Creek by abra (water taxi) and explored the Spice and Gold Souks. Our tour finished at the Mall of the Emirates for dinner, before we made our way back to our hotel through the mall and past Ski Dubai.
On our second stopover, the flight landed early in the morning and again Arabian Adventures were there to greet us before customs and escort our group through. I found the guides to be very knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions.
We were in Dubai during Ramadan (May) and were thoroughly briefed on the rules surrounding this. Knees and shoulders were to be covered (t-shirt and knee length shorts would suffice), and eating and drinking in public is banned... in fact, if we required a drink whilst driving in our tour bus, we had to draw the curtains. Alcohol was also not served in the hotels until after sunset, and there are areas in the malls where eating is permitted and some restaurants remain open, so it wasn’t too much of an adjustment for us.
Tourist attractions over this time are much quieter, as are the shopping malls with plenty of bargains to be found during the Ramadan sales. We passed the day shopping and relaxing by the pool until the late afternoon when we were collected for our 'Dune Dinner Safari'. Driven out of town into the desert towards Oman by our driver ‘Krazy Khan’, who clearly loved his job & giving his guests an absolute thrill - all of us were screaming as we careened over the peaks of the dunes – it was such fun!
When we arrived at the desert camp, we spotted a wild oryx and got to see a display of a falcon in its training and hunting. Then we were off again 4-wheel driving to the sunset photo stop where many other vehicles were already waiting. All the tourists watched the sun drop behind the dunes and the Muslims drivers disappeared over a hill for Iftar, prayers and breaking the fast with water and dates. Off again for another dune bashing to the desert camp for our dinner where I rode a camel, held a falcon, got henna painting on my hand, did a little souvenir shopping and feasted on the amazing Arabian barbeque laid out before us. The night ended with a dancing performance and although belly dancing is usually the norm, with Ramadan we instead had a male Tanoura dancer. We were taken back to the city with one last thrilling ride over the dunes – in the dark this time! An absolutely amazing evening was had by all!
For our last day in Dubai, we were taken out to Dubai Parks; a collection of theme parks linked by Riverland, a free to enter themed dining and retail destination. Bollywood Park showcases Bollywood musicals laid out amongst the streets of Mumbai and rural India, Legoland is full of rides, building experiences and attractions, and is accompanied by Legoland Water Park. And Motiongate has a range of themed areas and rides from DreamWorks Animations.
Dubai is clean and safe and offers such a contrast of old and new. There really is something for everyone to enjoy & is a great way to break up that long trip to Europe!