RISING OUT OF THE DESERT, framed by the world’s tallest building and another built like a giant sail over the sea, Dubai dumbfounds the first-time visitor. The eyes see a phoenix, a contemporary city of the future, while visitors tour canals in abras, traditional wooden boats. Not far away, men dressed in white attend a camel race. It seems at first like Disney’s latest and greatest project. How did this city get here, and who built it?
There’s an easy answer: The ruling family of a tiny Middle Eastern country, the United Arab Emirates, wanted to build a great city by the Persian Gulf, making a bold statement of their success and contributions to the Arab world and beyond. In doing so, they wisely chose to reflect on their past as well. Arab culture and history remain in place in working neighbor- hoods, souks, canals, outdoor shopping arcades, restaurants, food stalls and in museums unlike any you’ll find anywhere else in the world, especially if you love gold and spices.
The most efficient means of getting an overview of the city is to put the whole family (including friends, relatives and business associates) on the hop-on/hop-off Big Bus Dubai with commentary in 10 languages, or board the amphibious Wonder Bus, which takes passengers right into the water. These tours, along with a metro card and some cash for taxis (buses are comfortable but slow), will enhance your planning. After your tour relax, have a cold drink (only certain hotel restaurants and bars are approved to sell alcohol) and a snack along the canals and get out your city map to plan your days ahead.
Business travelers come to do business and enjoy the pleasures of meeting in some of the newest upscale facilities in the world. The term “no expense was too great” hardly makes the point. After 5 p.m. there’s more to see and do than in almost any other center of commerce on the planet. But the streets also teem with families and children from around the world, and they’re here to play. LGBTQ+ visitors should know public displays of affection are taboo, so discretion is strongly advised.
Several souks, mosques, kids’ attractions, beaches and water parks, and sights such as the Burj Khalifa deserve a visit and will appeal to almost everyone. Others, such as the golf club, Old Town and history museums may cater to more particular tastes.
When the kids hit the beach, adults can enjoy a guided tour of the Jumeirah Mosque, the only one open to all faiths (except on holy Fridays). Seating 1,200, it treats visitors to a local snack after the tour (re- member to dress conservatively). Then head to Etihad Museum to learn the history of the United Arab Emirates. Later, join the kids at the JBR Beach and then float the clean canals of the Madinat Jumeirah Resort and stay for dinner, choosing from a collection of 50 restaurants. Treat the kids to a night ride on the Ain Dubai Ferris wheel at JBR Beach.
Time to rest for a morning visit to the world’s largest mall, Dubai Mall, with some 1,200 stores, restaurants, an ice rink and the Dubai Aquarium. It’s the ultimate shop-till-you-drop experience for all. Sunset makes the perfect time to ascend the Burj Khalifa to the observation room on the 148th floor. For a laid-back dinner, The Irish Village welcomes kids who can enjoy their own private playground and garden. It’s a good place to meet some Europeans and trade stories over a shepherd’s pie and Guinness.
No one in the group should miss the chance to snow ski in the desert — or at least watch the scene at Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates. The facility provides all clothing and equipment and serves hot refreshments. Drop the kids at the mega water park, Wild Wadi, so the adults can visit the souks in Old Town, see the gold and spice vendors and get a taste of Old Dubai, where the city actually was born. On the way home, stop for a look at the Dubai Fountain, the largest choreographed fountain in the world.
Before leaving the U.A.E., friends and family have to gather for the most memorable desert experience — a safari on the dunes. While the ski slopes, malls and amusement parks offer great fun, a real taste of Bedouin culture will never be forgotten. You can book any of a selection of safaris, from a brief Jeep ride to an all-day or overnight stay. But most include some dune bashing, quad biking, camel riding, shisha (hookah bar) and an Emirati dinner with belly dancers under the tents. It’s an adventure no one forgets. After all, Dubai defies description.
JUMEIRAH AL QASR HOTEL
Indulge in Dubai-style luxury with outstanding amenities including palatial guestrooms, a private beach and dining alongside the canal, plus complimentary access to Sinbad’s Kids Club.
Madinat Jumeirah, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street $$$$$
MEDIA ONE HOTEL
This unpretentious hot spot with nine restaurants and bars attracts a young and hip crowd and party atmosphere to its contemporary style.
1 Al Falak St. $$$
PARK HYATT DUBAI
Refined luxury lives here with a staff to match. Enjoy the lush gardens and complete amenities, including golf access.
Dubai Creek Club Street $$$$
AL SARAB ROOFTOP LOUNGE
Enjoy romantic dining in the desert under the stars. A full European menu plus Middle Eastern specials, personal service and live music combine for a spectacular night out for business or pleasure.
Bab al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, Qudra Road
Aseelah offers the best spot to sample traditional and con- temporary dishes and compare and contrast the flavors of Emirati food and décor.
Radisson Blu Hotel, 476 Baniyas Road, Dubai Deira Creek $$$
Find the perfect answer for a family or group, where attentive service and lovely décor accompany a buffet of foods from around the world. Consider the Thursday seafood extravaganza at dinner.
Sheraton Grand Hotel, 3 Sheikh Zayed Road $$$$
INFO TO GO
Most of the world’s largest airlines serve Dubai International from major hubs. The airport is also home to several Middle Eastern carriers such as Emirates and Etihad Airways, offering direct service to the United States, Europe and Asia. U.S. citizens (and many others) can purchase a visa good for 30 days upon arrival at the airport.
Upon arrival, take the red line metro train to the city center and then a cab to your hotel. Purchase a Nol card at the airport for use on the metro and bus system. Taxis wait outside 24/7, and bus service runs about once an hour. All public transport is clean and comfortable with good air-conditioning.
Another alternative is to cruise to Dubai, especially as the number of ships visiting the United Arab Emirates expands. Some even give passengers a day in Abu Dubai, which many visitors rarely get a chance to see. Schedules often change in the Middle East, but cruise lines planning to offer stops in Dubai in 2020 include MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Silversea, Azamara, Costa and Norwegian Cruise Line. Always check with a cruise agency for the latest schedules.
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