My first trip to Dubai was in the summer of 2008. I was expecting a lot of change as the region continues to grow and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It truly was a fantastic vacation. Dubai was as grand and luxurious as ever, the beaches and crystal clear water were gorgeous and the temperature was perfect. The hotels, restaurants and bars were all amazing!
I went to visit a good friend of mine so I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with her and her partner. I knew she lived at the Fairmont Residences on the Palm but she hadn’t disclosed that she in fact stayed in a huge 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom Penthouse apartment so I had my own spacious room, bathroom and walk in wardrobe! Living in the Residences you get to enjoy the beautiful beach and swimming pool areas of the Fairmont too, which was wonderful.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Dubai however for airport transfers and day excursions I was taken care of by our local onsite partner, Arabian Adventures and I was welcomed at the Airport by a personal host who gave me my itinerary documents and took to me my private chauffeur- definitely the way to arrive in Dubai!
Visiting in February, it was Dubai’s “winter” but a far cry from a Canadian winter. The weather hovered around 25c with a light breeze and was utter bliss! I flew with Air Canada to celebrate their newly launched direct route from Toronto to Dubai (around 13 hours). It was on the brand new Dreamliner 787 and was a lovely flying experience. I flew on Economy on the way out, and was happy to be in Row 12, which was the bulk head and meant extra leg room which really helped. On the way back I flew Premium Economy and I would definitely recommend this! I got a restful sleep as had plenty of leg space, decent recline and a hearty meal served on china with a nice glass of red wine. You also get the hot towels and amenity kits when enjoying Premium Economy- well worth the money on a 13 hour flight such as this! If budget allows of course the spacious Business Class pods would be the ideal way to travel.
THINGS TO DO
There are truly endless activities available when you visit Dubai. In my usual travel style, I crammed in a lot during my 7 night stay, I have listed some of the highlights below as well as suggestions for a future trip!
The adventurer in me ensured I had planned an active day out on the dunes. Having remembered trying my efforts at sand boarding on my last trip to Dubai in my head I had visions of driving over crazy steep dunes and screaming with excitement- unfortunately for the high expectations I had, it was not as adrenaline fueled as I had hoped however I would still really recommend the experience! Our preferred onsite partner takes safely very seriously so I did appreciate having to go slower at times. I did the Passenger Experience so it was the driver and I in the front of this 4 seater off road buggy. We strapped in, had safety helmets and a balaclava to cover our nose and eyes from the sand. One word of warning- have a very light, or no breakfast at all as it is very windy so easy to get motion sickness even if you don’t usually! I saw wild desert gazelle and camels in the dunes and there were no other cars in sight so it definitely was a unique experience!
Visiting the Souks
There are a few Souks in the region but we chose to visit Souk Madinat at Jumeriah Beach as it was surrounded by waterways and outdoor dining options. Inside the souk reminded me on a small scale Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with shops and stalls selling local arts and crafts.
This display was so huge it made the fountains in Vegas seem small. We booked dinner at the Rivington Grill which had a terrace which arguably the best view of the fountain display. Performing every 30 minutes we watched a number of shows and they were fantastic. A highlight had to be the final show which was perfectly timed to Lionel Ritchie’s classic, “All Night Long”.
World’s Tallest Building
Rather than pay for the viewing deck, my friend suggested we went for cocktails at Atmosphere, this was the bar on the 123rd floor of the Burj Khalifa- the world’s tallest building. The view and the drink prices are certainly not for the faint hearted however it was well worth it. We went in the evening as I love seeing cities lit up at night, however no doubt the daytime view would be impressive as well. It was probably the most expensive cocktail I have had to date (around $40) however considering the walk up rate for the viewing deck is about $50 anyway I felt like I had my money’s worth.
Famous Weekend Brunch
This was probably one of the things I was most looking forward to- the world famous Friday brunch parties- we opted to go to Saffron Restaurant at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm as it was meant to be the best one. Again this does not come cheap at around $200 per person however it is definitely worth it for the special experience! Imagine 200+ dishes, live cooking stations, branded drink stations (imagine Malibu infused pineapples, Tequilla filled Watermelons , Absolut Vodka strawberry slushes) and free flowing prosecco with the waiters topping up your glass after practically each sip! There was a live DJ and the crowd was buzzing it was so much fun! We opted for a table inside- as a word of warning- you can smoke in restaurants (outside or terraces) and in the nightclubs here- that is one thing I did not enjoy as it was hard to come back not smelling of smoke.
Fantastic Restaurants & Bars
New restaurants and bars are opening every week in Dubai and there is truly so much to choose from. Here are some that stood out from my visit:
40 Kong was a beautiful rooftop bar at the H Hotel. Delicious cocktails, intimate but buzzing atmosphere and stunning design.
We went to 360 bar at the Jumeriah Beach Hotel. You take a golf cart to the end of the pier where this beautifully lit up circular bar awaits. It was open air and surrounded by clear glass so you can see the waves crashing and look back at the towering Burj al Arab- the world’s only “seven star” hotel.
Another restaurant/bar I would recommend is Atelier M at Pier 7, this is by Dubai Marina Mall. This was also a very impressive, stylistic design which was open air but had with towering steel linear bars round the curved layout which overlooked the downtown business district. I had a fantastic cocktail, smoked some double apple and mint shisha and enjoyed a delicious black truffle pizza.
Dubai is renowned for its Ladies Nights, typically on a Tuesday but you can often find deals most nights of the week. We went for dinner at the China Grill at the Westin Dubai Marina. Here Ladies received 50% off their total food bill and free drinks all night (wine or prosecco)! As you can imagine it was full of beautiful looking women, so the men (paying full price) followed suit. The hotels here don’t miss a trick!
On Saturday night we went to this amazing rooftop nightclub called White at the Meydan Racecourse. Another incredible design with a fun crowd. Ladies got in free and free drinks all night….If you hadn’t got the drift yet, it is definitely way cheaper to enjoy Dubai if you are female!
Naturally outside of all of these places were parked up Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s….
There are two main waterparks in Dubai. Wild Wadi and Aquaventure. Wild Wadi was closed for its annual maintenance so I ended up going to Aquaventure and the world famous Atlantis Hotel. This waterpark was fantastic and a great day out for both families or playful adults.
We purposefully planned a spa day for my last day in Dubai. After an action packed week and before a long journey back to Canada this was the perfect way to start the day. There are hundreds of amazing spas in Dubai- the options really surround location and budget. We opted for a mid range spa at the Nassima Royal Hotel. Spa Zen was small and peaceful. I actually had one of the best massages I have ever had here so that was a huge bonus!
On my next visit these are some other activities I would make time for:
Overnight Safari Experience
An overnight safari is a true experience of Arabia’s many fables - rosy dawn and fiery twilight, sand dunes towering high, valleys bathed in numerous hues and great expanses fading into the distance. You enjoy a 4x4 dune drive into the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, a camel ride, and watch a falcon display.Barbeque desert dinner includes grilled meats, fresh salads, delectable sweets and hand-picked beverages. Complimentary shisha is also included.Hot breakfast is prepared. You get to stay in a luxury private tent and hot water and bathroom amenities are available. Sounds amazing!
Day Trip to Abu Dhabi
Just over an hour away by car, the capital of the United Arab Emirates is a fascinating mix of tradition and progression, from the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the traditional Heritage Village to the magnificent Emirates Palace Hotel. I would do a city tour and even try squeeze in the Ferrari World to see something a bit different!
In recent years, the Gulf region has emerged as a major international golfing destination. Dubai has some award winning golf courses which host a number of international tournaments during the year. In the cooler winter months they are a joy to play during the day but during the boiling hot summer I am told they are all floodlit so golfers enjoy playing at night!
WHERE TO STAY
During my stay I made sure to visit some of the best hotels out there as I wanted to get a feel of the true opulence Dubai oozes. There are so many spectacular, luxury hotels to choose from. There are also 10 hotels in the Virtuoso network meaning we can secure VIP amenities and status for our guests. Here are the ones I had time to visit on my trip:
Fairmont the Palm
I had breakfast here and true to the Fairmont standard it was fantastic. This is a lovely hotel- it has only been opened 2 years. All rooms have balconies which many facing the beautiful blue ocean where you can see parts of Dubai Marina skyline in the distance. They had a large Gold floor Lounge and even the entry level rooms were very spacious!
One and Only, the Palm Jumeriah
This hotel was a stunning property. We enjoyed a fantastic lunch here on the outdoor deck and enjoyed some afternoon sun relaxing on their comfortable loungers by the pool- where the waiters served complimentary fruit sticks to help keep you refreshed!
We saw one of their Ocean Front Junior Suites with a Private Pool- the room design was absolutely gorgeous and the bathroom was to die for with a large standalone tub. Your butler can order and serve dinner on your private patio too with an ocean view.
Even though the hotel was sold out when I visited, the pool area and restaurants were very quiet- it was very peaceful. They also had a beautiful spa.
Jumeriah Zabeel Saray
This has to be one of the most impressive hotels I have ever seen. The lobby was so opulent and had gleaming towers of Golf Leaf everywhere. They have Royal Villas which are ideal for family groups or groups of friends travelling together. There were separated into mini mansions with private entrances and a private lagoon swimming pool. There were also beach front and ocean view villas as well. The main hotel was just very unique- the hallways looked like art gallery not standard corridors. The 1 bedroom suites were also more modest but still wonderful.
This hotel is on the far end of the Palm, so as it is a bit isolated they have truly worked the magic to create a resort in itself. They have 10 restaurants, an infinity pool, beautiful beach, a screening room where they show free movies daily with popcorn and sodas, the largest spa in Dubai and a row of boutique shops.
Another thing that impressed me was that if you go for the half board option at any of the Jumeriah hotels (there are 9 in Dubai currently) you can actually enjoy lunch or dinner at any of their restaurants (42 in total) which means there is no chance of getting bored as you can enjoy various restaurants and locations throughout your stay!
It was a fantastic vacation and I really think it is well worth the long journey- ideally from Canada a 10 day trip would probably be best. They are seeing more and more Canadian tourists going to Dubai. The number one market for Dubai continues to be the UK with its shorter 7 hour direct flight.
Whilst it definitely is not a cheap destination as the food and beverage is more expensive than Vancouver, the hotels are actually very competitive in price and often offer free half board if you book far enough in advance. If you want more information or help planning your own trip to Dubai don’t hesitate to get in touch!