Dubai is one of those destinations which has never been particularly high on my holiday wish list. It’s a place which I guess has just never caught my imagination and I had made an early assumption that other than sea and sand, it didn’t necessarily have much to offer.
But then we decided to embark on a family trip to Oz with our kids George (5) and Amelie (2) Dubai presented itself as a stopover option. Given that the alternative was a 30 hour-straight journey with two small children in tow, Dubai suddenly became a whole lot more appealing!
So off we set from Heathrow on the 7 hour, daytime flight through to Dubai. Where once our hand luggage contained make-up, magazines and duty free, it is now packed full of colouring books, play dough and a bucketful of toy aeroplanes to keep the kids happy and hopefully quiet(ish) all the way. And it worked! We arrived in the UAE relatively relaxed, still speaking to each other and the kids very excited about the first stop on our big holiday.
The journey from the airport to Jumeirah Beach where we were staying was 20km down a freeway so I would definitely recommend having a transfer pre-booked to save time and hassle. It is also the first opportunity to glimpse this Metropolis-style city of skyscrapers and shopping malls and a chance to catch sight of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building... so tall the top of it wasn’t visible as we passed by!
Dubai has undergone construction on a massive scale over the last 10 years but it seems now the cranes are few and far between and whilst its not a place of scenic beauty, the city is a masterpiece in modern, urban living. Jumeirah beach used to be a quiet affair with 3 or 4 thinly spread hotels and not a restaurant or shop to be found but now it is and shiny-new and sparkly clean holiday resort, complete with white sandy beaches, clear blue sea and The Walk – a 2km stretch of cafes, restaurant and shops, ideal for early evening strolls.
Having settled into the recently opened Hilton Residence apartments, we had pretty much wall-to-wall family fun for the few days we were here. Staying in an apartment is always a great idea with a family and our one was huge. As part of the Hilton Hotel, we were able to use all facilities including the restaurants, bars and private beach, where the kids nearly bounced themselves to Abu Dhabi on the bouncy castle in the playground.
Dubai is really family-friendly with some lovely play areas at the hotel and doting staff making a fuss of the children everywhere we went. The city itself is spotlessly clean almost everywhere we went and I felt safe and relaxed as we made our way around. The sky train is a great way of getting about with stops close to all the major attractions. But with taxis being pretty cheap, we zipped about the city in air-conditioned comfort.
The Dubai Mall is home to the Aquarium which includes some pretty scary looking sharks and some much cuter penguins along with the usual aquarium suspects. (Worth a visit but then there is another Aquarium out at the Atlantis Palm, Dubai’s new mega-hotel.) We had a fun morning here and it gave us a chance to see one of the shopping malls this city is famous for. And what a mall! It was a seemingly endless expanse of shoppers’ delight – all the major high street brands are here along with the designer labels too. But I’m not sure Dubai is really the place to come for a shopping spree. If H&M was anything to go by, prices here are a lot higher than back home.
Next to the Dubai Mall is the mind-blowingly high Burj Khalifa we passed on our way from the airport. It is unbelievable and I got dizzy just looking towards the top of it. ‘At the Top’ is the observation deck, open to the public for 100AED if pre-booked or 400AED if not, although I would recommend pre-booking as the day we went was fully booked by lunchtime. If you do have a head for heights, this has got to be worth a go. The elevator whips you up to the 124th floor at over 10 metres per second and then if that hasn’t finished you off, those of you with a stronger constitution than me can even go outside onto the terrace to take in the view.
There is basically masses to do to keep you entertained in Dubai. You can head out into the desert for some 4x4 fun followed by a star-lit dinner (Arabian adventures seemed to do the most popular packages); the Wild Wadi waterpark on Jumeirah Beach is full of slides, chutes, lazy rivers and family-friendly lagoons; the Atlantis Palm hotel seems to have more attractions than any self-respecting Vegas hotel (although traffic jams at busy times can make it frustratingly hard to get to); or for more simple entertainment, a stroll along the beach and around the marina is a perfectly relaxing end to a day.
Whilst the beach resort often feels like it could be anywhere in the world and is decidedly lacking in any trace of local culture, the old town of Dubai offers a chance to see the original city out of which the new resort grew. A decent schwarma can be bought on any street corner where men sit around together sipping tea and playing chess. The souks also offer a chance to experience a more traditional side to the city , with the gold souk and spice souk being particularly popular. Although as with much of the shopping in Dubai, the gold souk offers fewer bargains than you might hope for. Dubai is a Muslim country and this is evident in the complete lack of bars or licensed restaurants outside of the hotels. Even in the hotels, alcohol may not always be available if it is a day of religious significance. This is worth being aware of although it was surprisingly refreshing to go on holiday and not once wake up feeling slightly jaded from the night before!
After 3 days here, I left Dubai having changed my opinion of it completely. If you are after guaranteed sunshine along with plenty to do then this is definitely the place for you. Why would you fly to the Canaries in 4.5 hours, when in 7 hours you can get to Dubai? It is in a league of its own when it comes to stress-free beach holidays. It is an easy, friendly, clean and fun place to visit and I am pretty certain I would go back again when I next need a respite from the unrelenting British winter.
If you want to find out more about how to incorporate Dubai into your round the world trip, please call us or get in touch with Jonny.