This was my second trip to Dubai and even though it was a short 72-hours, travelling on a planned itinerary with a group of first-timers, I was determined to do at least one thing different from my last visit just 14 months earlier. I asked the group what they’ve heard about Dubai and the common thing was that people they knew either loved it or hated it. I for one, absolutely fell in love with this Middle Eastern marvel in December of 2017 and jumped at the opportunity to go again. Someone once said to me that Dubai lacks the kind of charm and history you find in most European capitals. Well, of course it’s not loaded with centuries of architecture – it’s a desert – and what it lacks in charm, it more than makes up for in splendor. It is a spectacular version of the modern city. In 50 years from now, all modern cities will be just like Dubai – contemporary, sophisticated, multicultural and an experience to behold.
This award winning airline hosted us for our journey from Johannesburg to Dubai. We were booked on the ‘daylight’ flight, with a departure just before lunch. Their ICE inflight entertainment is packed with the latest movies, tv series, live sport, music and games to occupy the time but if you’re like me, I filled most of the time getting some sleep. How? Well the morning flights aren’t the most popular, especially during the low season and so I got a row of four seats to myself – my own ‘business’ class. As expected, the service, inflight dining and everything else on Emirates was world-class.
We arrived at around 8pm and our transfer was waiting for us. In case you don’t book a transfer, it’s easy enough to find a taxi. The taxi cabs are the beige (ugh) Toyota Camry’s (mostly) and if you prefer a smarter ride for a wee bit extra, simply download the “Careem” app – it’s the Uber of the Middle East and works exactly the same. Careem vehicles are likely to be a Lexus – much better.
This was our home for the night, and on arrival, within a minute we received our room keys. The hotel recognised our late arrival, and to make it more comfortable for us to settle in as quickly as possible, they pre-checked us in. The hotel is located at the base of Sheikh Zayed Road, the main road / motorway with up to 8 lanes in each direction that travels all the way to Abu Dhabi. While it may be located in close proximity to the Dubai World Trade Centre, it is often mistaken as a ‘business’ hotel, when in fact, it is perfect for both business and leisure. It stands 54 stories tall with a pool at the top offering spectacular views of the city. The pool deck has an awesome Jacuzzi which you’ve just got to try. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything about this hotel was supreme. From the spacious, comfortable and modern rooms, the sumptuous breakfast and delicious dinner, to the Soul Wellness & Spa – outstanding. I actually think the saying “OH MY SOUL” was created by someone who visited this spa. Low season rates from as little as R889 per person sharing per night, including breakfast.
Needless to say, on the evening that we arrived, I wasn’t tired at all (Thanks Emirates) and decided to go to La Mer Beach. In December 2017, during my last visit, it had just opened the day I left, so I had to see what all the fuss was about. I made arrangements to meet some friends for some coffee and sheesha on the beach – yup, sheesha on the beach is a thing. I guess you could say it’s the Dubai version of “Cake by the Ocean” LOL. A short and cheap Careem Ride took us from the hotel to La Mer Beach in just 10 minutes and AED 12.
La Mer is a beachfront development that provides laid-back fun, shopping and dining. The little streets around the promenade are bustling (even at 11pm) with activity and lined with contemporary restaurants, coffee shops and boutique stores. On the beachfront, you will find a waterpark and stalls offering all sorts of items.
TOP TIP: The main cobbled street that runs through La Mer Beach is a cool place to hang around, just to see the endless line of super-cars that come revving past. They cannot drive fast due to the speed limit and type of road – so you get to have a good look at these machines!
Our meeting point was Smoky Beach, an outdoor restaurant right on the shore where we ordered some snacks, coffee and of course, some sheesha. The perfect location to just chill, take in the eclectic surroundings while enjoying good company and the sounds of the ocean. After a few hours, it was time to head back to the hotel and at around 2am, just before I hailed a Careem Ride, I popped into a Filli Tea Shop (like a coffee shop, only better) and got me a cup of karak cardamom tea – you’ve gotta try it – it’s A-Mazing!
TOP TIP: At La Mer Beach, alcohol is not served, except for a place at the end of the promenade called Stars n Bars.
Contrary to popular belief, Dubai isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – it is super expensive. From a shopping perspective, the best time (and not many know this) is over the Dubai National Day weekend which is the first weekend in December. Over this time, you get 90% off sales – I experienced this in December 2017. The next best time is during the Dubai Shopping Festivals, where the discounts only reach about 75%. The Dubai Shopping Festival takes place during January each year and during this trip, we missed it by a few weeks. Nevertheless, I still had a few tricks up my sleeve.
The next morning, the first-timers in the group wanted to do some (cheap) shopping and I offered to take them around. A short 10 minute walk from the hotel, we got to the metro station. We got a day pass and took the metro to Al Karama which is a kind of shopping district where you can find the Karama Shopping Complex, as well as some quaint little stores in the side streets. You can find lots of souvenirs and stuff at reasonable prices. As for the rest, it’s pretty much the same stuff you get at any China Mall around the world. After a morning off bargaining and shopping, we got the metro back to the hotel to drop off all the goods before the group took me up on my suggestion to spend some time at La Mer Beach. We walked around the place, and even had time for some more Filli Tea and they all agreed – the best cuppu around!
After a delicious dinner (Thanks Marriott and Sheraton Grand) I suggested a quick trip to Global Village. It’s hard to describe what Global Village is but I will try. It’s located about 20 minutes from the city centre and is only open between 4pm-midnight during the winter months (November to April). In the evening, you can see it from the highway from even 10km away. The colourful lights illuminate the skyline and you can’t help but wonder what the heck it is. It costs AED 15 per person to get in, and once you’re in – the entrance is filled with people taking photos of the structures that resemble global icons like the Eiffel Tower, Burj Khalifa, Big Ben etc. My travelling group all said “WORTH IT” just at the entrance.
Once you get past the entrance, there are massive sections dedicated to different parts of the world and within each section, is a mini souk. For example, one of the first sections is Turkey – and inside, there are maybe a hundred stalls selling everthing ‘Turkish’ – from carpets to clothing, falafels and kebabs to lamps and other goods. And the best part? The prices – and you can bargain. In the Thailand souk, I got a bag originally priced at AED 200 for just AED 60. There is lots of shopping to be done, lots of global food options and even a grand stage with entertainment throughout the night. There is also a section dedicated to street food trucks and a carnival section with awesome rides. It may be possible to do Global Village in just one visit, but to do so, you would need to be there at 4pm when it opens and leave at midnight.
TOP TIP: The Pakistan Souk has awesome deals on genuine leather goods. You could get a biker jacket for just AED 70 (ZAR 280)
The next day we checked into the world’s tallest hotel – the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. Located a little further down Sheikh Zayed Road in the bustling downtown district on the banks of the Dubai Creek, this hotel is popular for it’s amazing restaurants and The Vault – an exclusive lounge located on the 71st and 72nd floor. From the moment we entered the hotel, we could feel the buzz and energy. If I am honest, the rooms were not as awesome as the Sheraton Grand, but at least it had the legendary Marriott bed – if you want to know what I’m talking about, try one.
We were treated to a dinner experience by our friends at Marriott and it began with a drink at The Lounge – located at the ground floor before being escorted to Izakaya Japanese Restaurant for starters. We got a taste of the best sushi in Dubai – for me, it was the best sushi in the world. For main course, we opted for Indian, and the award winning Masala Library by jigs Kalra was amazing.
Nothing like some spicy butter chicken, lamb karay and naan bread to wake you up. Desert and coffee at Prime68 – with stunning views.
The cheesecake was so good, I had three – yumm!
For those in the group who were up for it, we arranged for access to The Vault. We could see almost all of Dubai from up there, but didn’t stay long. The music was a bit all over the place, and the drinks were…. Mmmm expensive isn’t the word – ridiculous. A bottle of vodka was going for AED900 (R3,600).
TOP TIP: If you drink alcohol, buy a bottle – you’re allowed one – at Duty Free before you depart. The same bottle of vodka at The Vault was just R300 at OR Tambo Duty Free.
The next morning, we had some time before our next appointment and we decided to walk through Business Bay to the Burj Khalifa. It was about 30 minutes on foot but we got to see all the beautiful buildings up close and personal. En-route we stopped at a Filli Tea Shop – obviously and eventually got to Burj Park where you get the most amazing photos of the Burj. This building is truly a marvel and an architectural miracle. Photos do not do this justice – wow! We walked around a bit before catching a taxi to our next stop – Atlantis The Palm Dubai – just for lunch and a quick walk about.
The taxi ride from the Burj to Atlantis is about 30 minutes and is more expensive than the metro which takes about an hour longer. We were short on time, so taxi it was. It’s fair to say that as you enter the JBR, Atlantis The Palm dominates the skyline and the closer you get, the more excited you feel. It is an iconic landmark after all. The entrance of the hotel is lined with Ferraris and Lamborghinis – it smells like money. The lunch we had was good but not at the same standard as the night before so I won’t say too much about that. As for Atlantis, even though we didn’t see it all, it’s an awesome awesome hotel! The kind of place where you don’t really need or want to leave. It has so much to do – The Aquaventure Waterpark, arguably the best waterpark in Dubai , The Lost Chambers Aquarium, Dolphin Bay, the private beach, and like 20 world-class restaurants and dining options to choose from.
We rushed out of Atlantis to ensure we got to our next tour on time – this time, we were going to on a Desert Safari – a must for every visitor. It’s quite the experience but enough has been written about this.
The next day, we spent some time at Dubai Parks & Resorts which I’ve covered in my previous blog. I can share that there are a few new rides, most notably the Madagascar Mad Pursuit – this roller coast is truly Mad – If you like Adrenalin, you will love it. Being my second time at the parks, it is noticeable that it doesn’t actually get full at all – which is a good thing in a way – you don’t wait at all for any of the rides. However, the atmosphere is bit bland.
TOP TIP: To get the best value for money – I would recommend staying at Lapita Dubai Parks & Resorts. Your entrance tickets to the theme parks is included in your stay for each day that you’re there. Rates on Travel.co.za including breakfast and park tickets from just R1,350 per person sharing. Big Saving!!!!
It was time to return home and not bad for a quick 72-hours Arabian adventure. Lots of things done and my most memorable highlight was definitely La Mer Beach, Filli Tea, Global Village, Madagascar Mad ride and more Filli Tea.
During this short time, the thing that stood out the most was the freedom – the kind of freedom you experience when you have no fear. There is no crime in Dubai. You can leave your wallet & mobile phone at your table in a restaurant (I did this all the time) and no one would touch it. You could forget your handbag and money in a taxi and it will be returned to you – every last cent. You don’t need to hold onto your personal belongings in crowded places – you ain’t gonna get mugged. This was liberating and probably one of the reasons why I would return – and soon.
Hang on Dubai, I’m coming back!