Sunday, May 03, 2015

A Long Weekend in Dubai, UAE (with kids)

Got a few days in the Middle East/Gulf Region and want to go somewhere with your family? One of the most popular spots to see a fascinating mix of old & new is the international city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. With a long weekend, you can easily visit the Dubai Mall (and Burj Khalifa), the Mall of the Emirates (and Ski Dubai), and Old Dubai (and the Gold Souq).
Boat ride on the Dubai Creek

We flew into DXB on Flynas, the "Southwest of the Middle East" (it's a discount airline in Saudi Arabia). Kids were 50% off! Sidenote: My idea for a fun marketing crossover idea would be for the airline to use the the motto "The World is Yours" even if it isn't named for Nas (who's also fly). It's a perfectly decent airline, though there was one part of the flight that was a bit unusual.

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Sitting at the edge of the taxiway, engines revving as the pilot got ready to take off, a voice came on the intercom that began "Allahu akbar..." and continued on with a prayer in Arabic. This might have been alarming from a terrorism perspective if the flight attendant hadn't announced just prior that they would be playing a "prayer of the Prophet, PBUH", but it was still a little disconcerting from an airplane maintenance standpoint that it was not inappropriate to say a prayer before take-off. Upon arrival in Dubai, expect a long line at immigration. It took more than an hour of standing in line, and I'm told that on Thursdays it can be as long as 90 minutes. We even used a fast pass from a fellow traveler, but even that didn't get us through much faster (but we did go faster than some other lines).

Since we are travelling with an under 3-year-old, we had to decide about transportation in Dubai before we left. We opted to leave the car seat at home and just use the metro instead of taxis. The Metro is easy to find, and we got the silver 7-day pass for two adults and kids under 5 ride free. Having the card also saves on the hassle to buy tickets each time, and I'm pretty sure we more than broke even. We had landed at 9 pm, and made it to the hotel in the Mall of the Emirates by 11 via metro. There was a not-short walk thru a closed mall, but we ended up pushing kids and bags in a shopping cart.
A health store next to a smoke shop? Nice.
Day 1: Dubai Mall
We woke up late on account of the late arrival, and didn't get out of hotel until 11. We hopped on the Metro to the Dubai Mall. Which is utterly Huuuuuuge. We'd made reservations for the Burj Khalifa tour at 12:30pm, which was just as prayer time was starting. Unlike Jeddah, nothing shut down when the call to prayer went out. It worked out well though, as there really weren't any crowds to speak of for the tour.
The marker is over where we are going up to on the Burj Khalifa
It feels like we're looking down on a model city.
That long line from the top-middle to lower-right
is the walkway from the metro.
Cool viewer: It showed a historic view of Dubai
(Note: No tower in monitor)
We had lunch at Nando's in the expansive Dubai Mall food court. We trekked back to the hotel for a quick nap that lasted until 6 pm, then we went back to the Dubai Mall for the rest of the night. While at the mall, we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, visited the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo (which I think was better than the aquarium), and watched the dancing fountain show (with a stop at Tim Horton's).

If we had more time, we would also have gone ice skating, but our younger daughter might have been too small anyways. On our fourth (and last) long walk between the Dubai Mall & metro I was regretting that I forgot our ErgoBaby carrier. So, I somehow convinced the kids to run the length of it instead of me having to carry them.
That massive complex is the multi-story Dubai Mall
Appropriate attire for a food fiesta
This is a close up of the white dots on the back wall of the picture above:
Cliff Divers!
The Aquarium is visible from the mall...
...but you have to pay to walk thru the tunnel inside the tank.
We spent more time in the zoo than the aquarium.
Waiting for the dancing fountain show to start.
 HD video from YouTube of the fountain show we saw

RRR and Burj Khalifa
They're gonna sleep well tonight.

Day 2: Mall of the Emirates
We were staying at the Sheraton in the Dubai Mall of Emirates, which just so happens to be one of the "Top 15 sites in Dubai". Met my fraternity bother Armen at Ski Dubai so we could book tickets now for the snow park & penguin encounter while his kids finished their ski lessons there. We caught up with each other as our kids burned off extra energy at the sensory overloading Magic Planet.

After Armen departed, we got lunch at Johnny Rockets and played enough skee ball to get some arcade trinkets. We took the kids back to the room to nap before returning to Ski Dubai. We'd also planned to followed up with a trip to Dubai Marina tonight, but that just wasn't gonna happen after dinner in the mall.
That weird structure contains the slope of Ski Dubai.
The girls meet an ice dragon
Looking uphill at Ski Dubai (it continues on up to the left)
An overview of the Snow Park at Ski Dubai

Since you can't wear a snowsuit with traditional Arab robes,
Ski Dubai also carries full length coats.
The girls race on the tube slide
Chillin' at the snow park
Not only did the penguin named Lollipop waddle over them, but
the penguin also whacked our daughter in the face with its flipper.
Have you hugged a penguin lately?
The family and Squeaky the penguin.

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Day 3: Old Dubai
We rode the metro to the Dubai Marina (I accidentally stood in women's section, oops), then got on a tram. Turns out, we were in the "gold class", and almost got fined by metro cop. On public transportation. For sitting in the wrong area. Apparently, you can buy your way out of having to rub shoulders with the everyone else on public transportation when your chauffeur takes the day off?

It happened because we got on the tram at the first available door, which turns out to be a poorly identified "gold" area that is twice the price...presumably to avoid the other people on the tram who are standing on the other side the line in the open car. We moved to an open seat in the other section maybe 10 feet away to avoid getting fined. That kind of segregation kind of tweaked Kacey's public transportation sensibilities for the next hour or so.

We got on the monorail to Atlantis on Palm Island and had lunch at an Asian restaurant inside the hotel. Over all, Atlantis seems like the perfect place to not have to deal with going into Dubai. I've actually heard some folks say that if you're going to Dubai, spend a few days at a hotel near the downtown area (major malls) and then a couple of days at Atlantis (because it's too expensive to spend all week there).
Burj al Arab and Burj Khalifa as viewed from Palm Island
Atlantis in Dubai
We got back on the monorail to the tram to metro to visit old Dubai (north side) and hit souks. Just an FYI, most of the stores didn't open until around 4 pm, and even then they were just opening up. The air was permeated with the rich scents of spices being sold, and it made me really hungry for Indian food.

Since the sun was unrelenting, we routed ourselves through a "utensil souq" that was dark, narrow and the few merchants who were open were selling pots and pans. Emerging from the end of the utinsil souq, we entered the famous Gold Souq. Brighter and glitzier but still shaded from the sun, all the stores were open and it seems like every store has someone out front hawking designer watches and other jewelry.
Old Dubai area around the Creek
At the Gold Souq
We went back one stop on the metro to the south side of the the creek, then went about figuring out the twilight boat ride. So here's the deal, you can rent a boat (with driver) for a 1 hr creek cruise in an open boat for 120 AED that carries however many people you have in your party. Or you can opt for a dinner cruise that departs from a different area on a bigger boat, or a third option is to go on a longer marina cruise that boards waaaay back where we started the day, also on a big boat.
It's fairly cheap to rent one of these dhows for an hour-long cruise
We were hesitant to take the little kids on this kind of boat,
but they were really good about not falling overboard.
This is what we were in, notice there are no handrails,
you just sit in the middle facing out.

Several gorgeous wooden boats line the route
You can see the Burj Khalifa from almost everywhere in Dubai
Lots of freighters in Dubai cross the gulf to Iran
Going on a creek cruise near sunset is ideal

Day 4: Ready to Leave
We flew home with little to no trouble. As we were checking out of the hotel, we took a last look at the downtown area and it was almost obscured by dust, as if to remind us that this city really did rise from the desert and constantly fights to keep from being consumed by it once more. The only problem we had during our return trip was with Saudi immigration, as the immigration officer didn't know how to process multiple-entry diplomatic visas (so he handed us off to someone who did). But even so, it was good to be home.
The dust storm makes this look like two different cities.
Summary:
Dubai is a great place to visit with kids. As for my overall impression of Dubai as a city: If Dubai were a person, it would be using a selfie stick (aka narcissist wand) to take a picture of itself in a pork pie hat wearing brightly colored shorts in front of glitzy buildings and things. Which also happens to describe a lot of the people we saw there. I'm not sure how many were tourists (like us) or expats or locals, but they were still everywhere we went.

While I really liked how multicultural Dubai is (easy to achieve as 90% of the labor is imported), it was nevertheless hard to get past how segregated the social classes are here. Even on the metro, I think we might have gotten some strange looks for "slumming it" with our baggage to and from the airport instead of taking a taxi. And many folks in the middle class here seem to put a lot of stock in status, or at least the appearance of paying for status that makes them look like upper middle class. But there is a legitimate difference between being super-wealthy and trying to appear to be. In a word: pretentious.

Bottom line: It's definitely worth going to see Dubai at least once, and if we go again, we'll probably just spend a few days at Atlantis now that we've seen the sights.

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