I recently went to Dubai for a winter sun getaway.
Dubai is a destination where it really is what you want to make of it. It can be a real glamorous affair of cocktails, party dresses, swanky restaurants and nightclubs; a sun and beach holiday full of relaxation; an explorer’s treasure trove; or a long weekend shopper’s paradise.
In fairness, we included all of the above aspects to our trip.
Dubai is expensive, especially alcohol, so I would recommend that before you travel there, you think about what type of holiday you want and how much spending money you will need. When we arrived, we also realised how much better the exchange rate was out there. Had we known, we would have changed up our English pounds for some Dubai Dirhams when we arrived.
We stayed in Sofitel The Palm Hotel, a luxurious 5* beach resort we called home for the week. Even though, beware…we were asked to make a £1000 ‘secure deposit’ which would be held between the hotel and your bank in case you incurred any additional costs during your stay. Thank god for the credit card!! I would recommend checking with your hotel if this is a charge they apply to guests. As long as you do not order extras and pay cash throughout your stay, the £1000 will never been debited from your account.
The Palm is a great ‘island’ to stay on during your trip to Dubai. For those days that you want to sunbathe and even stroll along the beach, this is the place to do it away from the hustle and bustle of the main City. Most hotels offer shuttle bus services every hour to the main shopping malls and The Atlantis Hotel. Dubai also offers a Metro train service which is reliable and reasonably priced (cheaper than taxi’s for sure!) and also stops at all of the main stations near the attractions that you will want to see.
I would note that we did want to visit The Atlantis Hotel, but unfortunately, unless you’re a hotel guest, you are not permitted access into the main hotel, view the aquarium etc. If you book a dinner reservation at Nobu etc within the Atlantis grounds, there is a separate entrance, lobby and area around 200 yards down the road!! It was taxi central when we visited!
Top Ten: Dubai
- The Burj Khalifa: World’s Tallest Building. Definitely book this before you are in Dubai, I’d say even book it as soon as you have booked your holiday. There is a standard ticket which takes you up to level 124 and a VIP ticket which takes you to level 125 and 148. When we arrived in Dubai, we only just managed to get the last tickets for the last time slot available 4 days in advance and low and behold, the VIP tickets were the only tickets left for sale which resulted in us being hit with a very hefty price tag. But it was an experience we could not miss; we were up in the clouds!
- Ski Dubai: Located within The Mall of the Emirates. A really great experience to try especially in a hot country! There are 5 ski slopes including a beginner’s slope with instructors and then intermediate and advanced slopes. For those of you with children, they have a penguin attraction where you can pet, feed and have your photo taken with the penguins. Prices range from GBP £10-£30pp depending what package you purchase. Hire equipment is included in the price.
- Friday Brunch: ‘The thing to do whilst in Dubai’. We were told by many people to go to Brunch on a Friday afternoon as that is the start of Dubai’s weekend. All of the large hotels in Dubai offer a Brunch menu which is also open to the public (even though I would recommend that you book in advance!). This experience can come with a hefty price tag. Brunch menus in the large hotels can range from £50-£200 per person and that is not always even including drink, so check before you book! Also depending on the venue you choose, it can be quite a dressy affair, think Saturday night on the tiles in the UK but instead you are heading out at midday/1pm on a Friday!
- Burj Al Arab: Also known as the most expensive Hotel in the World. They say it can cost £25,000 per night to stay in the top suites. Like the Burk Khalifa, I strongly recommend booking to visit the Burj Al Arab as soon as you book your trip, for two main reasons, 1. You are not permitted into the Hotel, entrance or its grounds unless you have a confirmed reservation; and 2. Popular slots such as sunrise/sunset will be booked months in advance (we learnt the hard way). Most people like to experience drinks or the afternoon tea in the Skyview Bar or even for a special occasion, a restaurant reservation with a fine dining experience. And if you have the time, its customary now to get your photo on the beach next to the Hotel as the building has become a symbol of Dubai.
- Atlantis Waterpark & Dolphins: If you want a fun day out (couples or family time), then visiting a waterpark is a great choice. Plus with the Atlantis Waterpark, not only do you get to experience life on The Palm (if you are staying elsewhere in Dubai), but you have various other activities to choose from such as Dolphin Bay, Sea Lion Point and a choice of Diving and underwater courses.
- Desert Tours: Some of the best experiences in African/Middle East countries are Desert Tours and there are so many activities and companies to choose from. Dubai offers 4×4 Safari, Dune Buggies, Sandboarding, Camel Riding etc. Each activity is going to appeal to different persons, so the one thing I would advise is do your research on TripAdvisor and review travellers comments, photos and feedback before you book.
- The Emirates Mall: I definitely preferred The Emirates Mall to The Dubai Mall as it was not too big to find your way around. It houses Ski Dubai; a large supermarket at very reasonable local prices; a good choice of restaurants; and just the right mix between high end and high street branded shops.
- The Dubai Mall: Dubai Mall is a great base for the day when you decide to visit the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountains, Aquarium and Ice Rink etc. The Entrance to the Burj Khalifa is situated on the lower ground floor of the Mall, the Ice Rink and the Fountains are just outside the Mall and in front of the Burj Khalifa (but note that they only have a light show in the evening) and the Aquarium runs through the centre of the Mall through all floors. The funniest moment of our holiday happened in The Dubai Mall, as we noticed that the Malls in Dubai offer a shopping centre smaller friendlier version of a Bentley car, which comes equipped with its own chauffeur, electric power, all the room you could desire to store your shopping bags, and it transports you to every shop you wish to enter. I was in shock and heaven all at the same time. Imagine that in the UK shopping malls!?
- Karama Market: The home of the ‘fake goods’. I heard a little about Karama Market over the years from friends that had visited Dubai and as I am a lover of handbags, accessories, shoes etc, it was somewhere that I really wanted to visit and see items and the quality myself. What an interesting experience it was…they thought me and my Hubby were the Police; basically from what we were told, Dubai Police have cracked down on the whole district and banned the rights for sellers to sell ‘fake goods’. This means that shops are currently only allowed to stock Mulberry handbags, purses and so on, at the front of their shops (which is good if you are a Mulberry fan). If you want other designer items, a shop keeper will make a judgement on whether they find you suspicious or not and if they see you favourably, they will take you through secret passages, the back room, or like we discovered a taxi ride away where there was a whole two storey shop of ‘fake goods’. I did do a lot of research before I visited the Market. I wanted to look at reviews for the best shops within the market, the best quality, and also tips from other travellers. It was mentioned quite often on TripAdvisor that you could be asked up into a flat where they stock an array of items. We had to visit Karama Market two nights before the locals trusted us, and even then it took some coaxing for them to take us to these secret apartments. It was very surreal, you are not wrong for potentially feeling unsafe for a moment (and I was with the Hubby so this is for the girls in particular), but you are being taken into a very dingey set of flats, a tiny grotty lift, for it to open to a front door…but once that door opened, the flat is spread across the whole width of the block, its full of other tourists (that they probably didn’t think looked like the Police as much as us haha!), lots of local women, and various shop keepers we’d seen from the night before. Everyone was bartering and I have never seen so much choice. All the latest designs and colours for your choosing. My kind of Heaven. They are generally made out of real leather and you can tell the really good quality items versus the OK knockoffs. I had a list of the items I wanted so it was easy for me to find but as this treasure trove got bigger from room to room, you could easily spend a whole evening and a fortune in there. For a decent real leather handbag, I’d say expect to pay £80-£100 which is about what I paid in Thailand too. I have seen knockoffs bought at a cheaper price but you can tell they are fakes. I always have my handbags mistaken for the real deal so I think investing that little bit extra means you are paying for the quality that lasts for longer. And hey, think about it, a bag you may want here, say a Prada Tote, is £2-£3k in the UK, versus a cool £100 in Dubai. It’s a no brainer!
- Aquarium: The Aquarium is one the of the biggest in the World. It houses over 140 species of aquatic animals and over 300 sharks. I would recommend the Researcher Experience package. Its the cheapest package but its actually just about everything you may want to explore. Early in the morning there are no queues, so this may be a good time to go! Its a fun experience for couples and all the family, and again, its one the most popular photo opportunities in Dubai to get papped in front of the giant Aquarium tank.