Exploring Dubai

Introduction
Emirates First Class Dallas to Dubai
Two Suites At The Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi
Exploring Abu Dhabi
Exploring Dubai
High Tea At at.mosphere In The Burj Khalifa
You Can Take Your Mom To Singapore But You Can’t Make Her Eat
Thoughts On Traveling With Infrequent Travelers


We left Abu Dhabi mid-afternoon, and had the hotel organize a car to take us to Dubai. A taxi between the two cities is generally ~250AED, and this was the same rate. So it’s not inexpensive, but is realistically the best option unless you’ve rented a car.

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Traffic wasn’t horrible by Dubai standards, but it still took nearly two hours before we arrived at the Park Hyatt Dubai. Check-in was efficient, and we were assigned a Park Suite on the far end of the property.

The Park Hyatt Dubai (and specifically this room type) has been reviewed several times here on OMAAT, and I don’t have much to add.

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The property is nice, though probably due for a refresh, the service is decidedly “meh” which I consider par for the course in the UAE, and the temperature controls in the shower really are more complicated than the SkyMiles pricing engine.

My mother, however, would like you all to know that this is a hotel “designed by men, for men. Why aren’t there outlets near the mirrors in the bathrooms? And why does that chair face towards the television rather than that lovely view? And the bathtub. Oh my.”

She had a lot to say about the tub, actually (apologies for the behind-the-camera giggles, this was even funnier in person):

We did have a lovely view though, which was perfect for watching the seaplanes during the day:

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Or watching the sunset while listening to the evening call to prayer:

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Things to do in Dubai

This is tricky, and is a big part of the reason why Ben doesn’t really go in-depth on the destinations he visits. Dubai is hardly off the beaten track, and there are thousands upon thousands of guidebooks, blogs, travel specials, and what have you making suggestions for Dubai. There are also great day trips (I love the Musandam region of Oman, for example), and lots to do if you want to get out of town a bit.

So I really don’t think I can be comprehensive here, and instead will just go through some of the things we did.

Dubai Museum & Bur Dubai

Bur Dubai is an interesting and older part of town along the Dubai Creek. I think it’s a fun neighborhood to walk around, and many of what some would consider the more “cultural” attractions of Dubai are in this area. There are several historically significant buildings, a nice heritage center, etc.

The Dubai Museum is in the Al Fahidi fort, and is immediately noticeable due to the very large dhow.

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While you can (and should) explore parts of the fort, the main part of the museum is actually underground. This provides a nice respite from the heat, but the exhibits do rely very heavily on waxwork dioramas. And taxidermied flamingos.

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Mom likes museums, and birds, but…

In general I like to just wander in cities, and this is a great area for that. The textile souk is also in the neighborhood, and if you don’t mind slightly pushy (but not like, aggressively so) touts, this is a good place to pick up pashminas and things like that.

Dubai Creek

The creek is still used for shipping and general transport, and it is possible to take cruises and such if you’d like. We opted to just take a quick abra ride across to the Diera side of the creek. The station is just a few steps from the textile souk, and the crossing is 1 AED per person.

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There aren’t any signs saying this, so just watch what everyone else does. The small boats run pretty much constantly, so when one pulls up, people pile in. The ladies tend to all sit together (this may even be a rule, who knows), and when the boat is full the voyage commences. The captain often doesn’t ask for payment until the middle of the creek, so again — just watch what others are doing.

Being on the water is the best way to get a close-up view of the other dhows and boats, even on a short ride.

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The Gold Souk and Spice Souk

Both of these are on the Deira side of the creek, and it’s fun to just wander and people watch. The spice souk starts almost immediately from the abra station, so it’s hard to miss.

The spice souk seemed to be less interesting than it was in prior years. I don’t know if this is because more of these goods are becoming available at the mega-markets, or if we just caught it at a dull time of day. It still smelled amazing, but was less vibrant than what I’ve experienced before.

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If you’re meandering the alleyways of the spice souk, you’ll eventually find wider pathways, which will bring you to the gold souk.

And everything starts to look very sparkly and expensive.

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On this visit nearly everyone I saw was a tourist, which was a bit unfortunate, but might have been due to the time of day or day of the week. If you’re shopping for gold, it’s worth noting the price of gold is set by weight, and then the craftsman or retailer adds a “make price” to set the final total. More intricate pieces might have a lower weight, but a much higher make price, and so on.

You can negotiate the make price, but if you’re going in with the mindset of finding a “bargain” you are probably going to be disappointed. You might find more unique or exotic pieces than you’d find elsewhere, but in my experience the prices are pretty typical.

It’s also worth noting that many of the streets in the three areas I’ve just described look like this:

Which I’m totally comfortable with, but you might not be. Either way, I’d recommend exploring the area on Google Street View ahead of time. Maps aren’t terribly useful, so having a general sense of what to expect is probably helpful.

Malls and modern souks

If, like my mother, you quickly discovered that souks and alleyways are not for you, you can still get a sense of the culture at the more modern souks. To be fair, these are somewhat like going to Epcot and saying that’s the same as Paris, but it can be a good place to pick up more souvenir-type items.

I like the souk at Madinat Jumeriah, which is a haul from the Park Hyatt, but very convenient to the Burj al Arab.

You can take abras through the canals, have lunch, and do some shopping. If you go into it thinking “outdoor retail center” versus “Arabian marketplace” you’ll have a fine time.

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Traveling as a woman in Dubai

This is about to be the most disappointing advice section on the internet, because to be perfectly honest, I don’t give much more thought to traveling in Dubai than I would anywhere else.

In fact, I actually feel safer in the UAE than many places in California.

I will note that if I don’t cover my (usually very blonde) hair, that there are a lot of comments and many too-long looks from the guest worker population. It’s not significantly worse than walking by a construction site in Manhattan, but it can feel weird, especially in a foreign country. I’ve never had anyone approach me, or even try to start a conversation, for what it’s worth, but I also don’t go out drinking alone, talk to strangers on the street, or otherwise put myself in riskier situations.

For just walking around (day or night) I wouldn’t worry more than you usually would. While my mom has traveled extensively in the past, she’s had some not-good experiences, and basically lives in a Chico’s catalogue nowadays. So she was creeped out, but that was likely due to the past perspective combined with all the “new,” versus anything in particular.

From a macro perspective I’ve also never had issues with customs or immigration in the UAE, or really any interactions with the government there at all beyond stamping my passport. However, while there are no laws against women traveling unaccompanied in the UAE, women are not equal in the eyes of the law, so if something does happen, and a male is involved (particularly an Emirati male), things could be complicated.

do travel to the Middle East with a copy of my marriage certificate and a letter from my husband. It’s gross, and probably somewhere between unnecessary and useless, and I am not even recommending that as a precaution you should take. But if it makes you feel better, you can.

And from a safety perspective, I wouldn’t hesitate to travel to the UAE by myself, with other women, my nieces, etc.

Overall

While Dubai is far from being my favorite city in the world, I do love the juxtaposition of old and new, and the constant bustle of (problematic) construction.

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It’s a great city for a short stopover, and while I tend to enjoy the rest of the UAE more, there are plenty of things to do outside of the malls and restaurants.

What are your favorite things to do in Dubai?

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Comments

  1. I fell in love with Dubai the first time I visited in 2011 and have been so privileged to have gone back every year since, bringing someone new every time. I of course realize it’s not for everyone, and nowhere is, but I simply love being around new and nice things. History and super “different” things aren’t my favorite thing, so Dubai is the perfect place for me. It’s by far my favorite place in the world, and I laugh when other Americans criticize the UAE like we don’t have significantly worse problems stateside. I’ve never felt safer anywhere I’ve traveled than in Dubai and have grown so much from meeting such open minded people there who truly have a worldly perspective. I actually traveled with my brother and lesbian parents in May (stayed at Park Hyatt Dubai too) and we had the time of our lives. Not once was there a sideways look or anything of the sort.

  2. Hi Tiffany!

    Love the report so far, and it’s a good juxtaposition to Ben’s style of trip report, but I do like both :). However, the video on YouTube is private, and I just wanted to check and see if it’s on my end (I hope not, because it sounds like I’m missing out on some great sound bites!).

    Thanks,

    Sam

  3. Very sensible analysis Tiffany. I think, whether a male or female visitor to the UAE, you want to give a very wide berth to getting involved in any tangle with local citizens (and that is distinct from guest workers). That seems to be where dangers always are, as whether you are in the right or in the wrong, the local citizens will almost always come first.

    For the most part, the local citizens are well behaved (with just the usual number of bad apples that can be found in any society – it’s just they go mostly unchecked here when it’s foreigners involved). As you noted Tiffany, you are more likely to get an uncomfortable vibe off guest workers before you’ll get one from a local citizen (although this often is because you’ll simply encounter guest workers a hell of a lot more than the local citizens).

    It helps to remember that the UAE has a resemblance to Western countries, but is not the same as Western countries – it is a blend of the very old and new.

  4. I am scheduled to go to Dubai over winter break with my husband and 15 year old daughter. I have checked the UAE website and it forbids bringing in many medications commonly used by Americans, including myself.
    Some have suggested bringing a note from the prescribing doctor, but I really wonder if that is sufficient, or is the only safe tactic is just to forego such medication while in the UAE? GIiven the attention received on this blog to UAE airlines, even connecting in the UAE, it would be fabulous to see this issue addressed, although I realize it might be considered outside the typical miles and points posting.

  5. @Kate – the only way to be absolutely sure of no issues is to not carry any prescription medications. Like most things in the UAE, it isn’t a problem until it is a problem and then it’s a huge problem.

  6. If it’s easy to get a doctors note then I’d do it, but if not don’t lose sleep over it. My mom had a bunch of diabetes meds and we flew into Abu Dhabi with no fanfare (the EY787 cabin is a beauty though). I think they just do that to scare people so they don’t bring drugs to resale

  7. @ Kate — Great point, and it’s something we thought about quite a bit for this trip. @ Sean M is correct, and the best option is to just avoid bringing whatever you can. However, some things that are prescription-only in the US are over the counter in the UAE, and I wouldn’t worry as much about those things.

    My mom doesn’t take anything on the prohibited list, so we ended up keeping everything in the original bottles, along with a letter from her doctor listing all her prescriptions.

  8. @ Sean. Thanks, I think that’s what I’ll do, although for the medication used by some people, that wouldn’t be feasible. @Jake. Thanks, I do hear that people generally don’t have problems, and your Mom’s medications may not be forbidden, but I think the only way I won’t worry is to just forego taking the medications with me. I only learned about this from a guidebook. I do think it is an issue that deserves much more attention, particularly since statistically a very significant percentage of Americans use some of these medications either occasionally or daily.

  9. Hi Tiffany,

    my favorits for Dubai are 1st – sunset BBQ jeep safari – yes it’s very touristic but you always find new, interresting people from all over the world and the BBQ in the desert very, very delicious. 2nd – breakfast at the Burj al Arab. But not the Friday Brunch – take a closer look to Sahn Eddar it’s much more private. 3rd – In the evening try the Uptown bar with a very special view.

    Have fun
    Sven

  10. I’m so glad you wrote about what it’s like for women to travel in Dubai. I didn’t know what to expect (especially in terms of proper attire), when I went in April and had trouble finding reasonable assessments, but totally agree with you!

  11. Having lived in the Gulf for eight years (almost going into my 9th), I’m so glad you had a wonderful visit. Maybe try coming back during our cooler months (November – February) and I’d suggest a visit to Qasr Al Sarab to experience a night in the desert, or treat yourself to an al fresco dinner at Souq Al Bahar and watch the fountains at Dubai Mall. Safe travels!

  12. I land in AUH and depart DXB and am a Hyatt Diamond traveling w wife. Would you stay at each park Hyatt for two nights?

  13. Good stuff! Thank you Tiffany. We leave Sept 1st so this is perfect timing! My daughter and I weren’t too sure on if we could bring birth control pills so I’m glad someone asked the question above. I do like to travel with Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Imodium AD and sleeping pills.

    How do people manage those long 15hr flights? I think that is going to kill me. Hint – why I need the sleeping pills 🙂

  14. I forgot to add – as another option from going between AUH and DXB, I use the Careem service (like Uber and can be booked completely online). I’ve always had great drivers who are punctual and professional. It might cost a little extra, but if I have a flight out of Dubai, it’s who I prefer to use.

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