Right at the end of the school summer holidays we booked a last-minute adventure to the United Arab Emirates. Having spent just 48 hours in Abu Dhabi the previous year, Dubai was on our ‘hit list’ of places to visit. I’ll be honest, people I spoke to didn’t seem impressed with our choice, saying we wouldn’t enjoy it. But we were determined to keep an open mind. Our only worry was the extreme temperatures … would we be able to zip around the city and visit all we wanted to in such incredible heat? Read on and find out!
Day 1: Initial exploration
Our flight landed at breakfast time and we hadn’t had that much sleep, so I wasn’t expecting us to do much – other than to settle into our hotel and make plans for the rest of our stay. Hoppa provided a seamless and stressless airport transfer to our hotel, The Form Hotel, and after a few initial problems of us not having enough beds in our room, we finally slumped out on our beds for an hour or so. By lunchtime we were ready to start exploring!
Directly opposite the hotel was a Metro Station (Al Jadaff) that could take us directly to the huge Dubai Mall. A patient ticket officer explained to us how the Metro works, and we were soon standing on the platform awaiting a train. We’ll talk more about the Metro in a separate post, as it’s a great way to get around.
The Dubai Mall
The Dubai Mall is quite a walk from the station – all inside, in air-conditioned walkways, with travellators. And yes, the Mall is HUGE. Overwhelming actually. In the middle of the Mall is the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. This has a really impressive glass front, so you could see all the fish (and rays, and sharks) from the shopping side.
We had 3-day City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off bus tickets that gave free entry to the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, so we walked out to the bus stop to validate and start our tickets, and then went back to visit the aquarium. We’ll write a separate post on this.
After the aquarium visit, we walked back to the Metro to take a train back to the hotel.
Day 2: Riding the City Sightseeing Blue and Yellow Routes
We had an early start today, and took the Metro train to Burjuman Centre, the nearest City Sightseeing stop to our hotel. Today our plan was to ride the bus to the end of the route, to swap to the Yellow route and go on to explore the Dubai Marina. We had timed bookings for a ride on the Yellow Boats early afternoon, along with a booking on the Flying Cup – both of these are located in the Marina area.
City Sightseeing Dubai
We love Hop-on Hop-off buses. They are a BRILLIANT way to explore cities, all around the world. Dubai, especially, because of the heat. At the top of a City Sightseeing bus there’s an enclosed, air-conditioned, section. At the front of the bus, near the driver, they have a cool box full of chilled water. This water was a lifeline – we drank so much of it!
Also located around the bus are boxes of earphones. Every seat has an audio socket where you can choose to learn more about the places you are passing; there’s a choice of 13 different languages.
Along the Blue Route we really wanted to stop at the Dubai Police Academy Museum … Toby was desperate to see the supercar Police cars. However, we were worried we’d be late if we got off the bus, so we’ve left that for our next visit!
The Blue route took us past the Etihad Museum, the Jumeirah Mosque, the amazing(ly famous and expensive) Burj Al Arab Hotel, the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, the Dubai Police Academy Museum, and the Mall of the Emirates (with its 700 stores and indoor ski resort!)
We only got off the bus to switch to the Yellow Route, which took us to the Dubai Marina.
We joined the Yellow route just outside the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. The bus then went to the Mall of the Emirates and then all the way up the Palm, to the incredible Atlantis The Palm resort. We then saw another impressive hotel (Fairmont, The Palm) before heading towards the marina district. We hopped off at the Dubai Marina stop, as we needed to head toward the Yellow Boats. Of course, we should have stopped on the bus to Stop number 30 – literally next to the Yellow Boats – but we misread the map! At least we got to see some of the marina, in 35 degrees heat (!) as we headed around and over bridges trying to reach the boats!
The Yellow Boats were amazing – more about this adrenaline-packed ride in a separate post 😊
After the Yellow Boats we took a cab to The Beach at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence). We then had a much-needed rest, refreshments and snack while riding the really fun Flying Cup. You get a great view from the top, but we’ll tell you all about this at another time.
After the Flying Cup we realised we’d missed the last City Sightseeing bus for the day, so flagged down a cab to take us back to the hotel. At the hotel we quickly changed into our swimming gear and headed to their amazing roof-top pool to cool down. As the sun set, and the city in the distance lit up, we watched a light show on the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper.
Day 3: Skyscrapers and Night Cruises
After breakfast at the hotel we headed to the Dubai Mall, via the Metro. Our first port of call was the ticket office for the Burj Khalifa, to book a timed visit to travel in a single elevator 124 floors up, to near the top of world’s tallest skyscraper. We didn’t have long to wait, and as we’d spotted a Costa Coffee close by, we used our Buy-one Get-one Free voucher that came with our City Sightseeing tickets. After the visit to the Burj Khalifa, we explored the Mall in more detail – there’s so much to see here, and so many shops!
From here we took the Red Route bus to the Burjuman Centre, where we caught the Metro back to our hotel. We couldn’t stay out too long today as we were booked onto a Creek Dhow Cruise Dinner.
As it was dark when we arrived for the cruise, and late when we returned (and we were all really tired), we used taxis.
Day 4: City Sightseeing Red Route
Today – our 17th wedding anniversary – we wanted to explore the Old Town of Dubai, so headed to Burjuman Centre to catch the Red route towards the Souks. This was the hottest day of our trip, I should mention!
Our first stop was for a complimentary 1-hour Cultural Dhow Cruise. This was enjoyable, but not overly exciting (the cold drinks were really expensive, and there was very little commentary); we thought we’d learn about pearl divers, but nothing was really said. It was nice and cool though 😊 Then it was back on the bus, and onwards to the Dubai Museum. Again, with the City Sightseeing tickets we received complimentary access. It was well worth stopping off to visit (more in another post).
The Spice Souk
We nearly melted waiting for the next bus, which took us to the Spice Souk (we decided to just visit one – we decided against the Old Souk and the Gold Souk). I’m afraid I expected lots of ‘instagram-worthy’ photograph opportunities … how naïve! As soon as we walked into what was, in effect, a long tunnel with shops on either side, we were literally pounced on by sellers trying to drape us in scarves, smell what we later discovered was dried lemon, and Toby was grabbed and pulled into a shop! Once we realised what had happened we found him being dressed up in full Arabian clothing! As we negotiated getting him out of the clothes, we had to keep saying no to other sellers determined to sell us scarves! My daughter found it really scary; I guess I did too (especially after temporarily losing Toby)!
However, my ever-lasting memory will have to be the last seller who – while we meaningfully marching towards the exit – said to me “Lady Boss, Lady Boss, come see – Slimming Tea!” I turned to him and said “You cheeky bugger!” to which he replied: “yes, yes, come in, come in!” Ok, so I might need the tea, but it was my anniversary after all!
I didn’t take any photos in the Spice Souk! But it’s an experience …
We caught the next available hop-on, hop-off bus back to the Dubai Mall. Here we had a date for a stroll along the Dubai Fountain Boardwalk – more of this later!
It was getting dark when we left the Dubai Mall, so took the Metro back.
Day 5: Last Day and Desert Adventure!
Today we had a lazy morning. We spent a lot of it around the roof top pool – although the floor surrounding the pool was hot enough to remove skin (SO HOT). It was lovely to chill though – and take it the sights all around us. We’d spotted an ice-cream parlour literally next to the hotel; unfortunately, it didn’t open until later in the day, otherwise we’d have gone there for lunch.
Just after lunch we were picked up by Agha and his Happy Desert Safari driver for an afternoon and evening desert safari. We were joined by Rebecca, a lone-traveller from Australia, and we had the most incredible time. This will be our next post about Dubai – it was rather special!
We returned back to Dubai exhausted, but on a high … and the ice cream parlour (Freez) was OPEN! Having had a desert adventure, we ended the day with a dessert adventure as we sampled their incredible menu of sweet treats! This is also worthy of its own post as it’s a really quirky place too.
Day 6: Home Time ☹
Well, they said we wouldn’t like it. Total rubbish! We LOVED it! Yes, it’s hot … but they know that and you’re never far from air conditioning. And lots of places hand out complimentary chilled water – it really isn’t a problem.
Dubai is a young city and the feeling I got as I explored it, is that ‘anything goes’. There are no barriers thwarting progress. They want the biggest, most expensive, most technologically advanced … they can afford it, and that’s what they are delivering. While in Dubai we saw plans for a skyscraper that’ll be taller than the Burj Khalifa – ‘The Tower’ will purely be an observation tower, and it’ll be built and ready by 2021. Virgin are looking to build a Hyperloop transport system, linking Dubai with Abu Dhabi. This journey currently takes a good couple of hours. Hyperloop propose to get you from one to another in just 12 minutes. Wow!
The hotel where we stayed, in the Al Jadaff district, is – being honest – a building site. The hotel is an oasis in a sea of concrete foundations and construction workers. 38 new hotels will be built and in use by 2021 … and that’s just this small district. The same is happening all over Dubai. This city will be unrecognisable 10 years from now. The city’s prosperity gives rise to positivity and ambition – and you can see that all around you. It’s so vibrant you can’t help but feel energised and uplifted.
Will we return?
Absolutely! As a tourist destination, there’s so much to do. What we achieved barely scratched the surface. Dubai loves children – they were welcomed everywhere we went (they all loved Toby, they always do!) What didn’t we do? We didn’t have time to visit the ski slope, or the water parks, or the theme parks that are based there. Therefore, we need to go back soon as we have unfinished business 😊