I started the year 2020 off in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Dubai was truly a magical experience. We got quite the cultural experience in Dubai and Abu Dhabi; from traditional dress to local meals. It was my first time traveling to a country where men and women have vastly different roles in society, but I learned a lot during this trip. Dubai is a very distinctive place: lots of money is flowing in and out. All around you will see expensive cars, designer bags and immaculate homes. Abu Dhabi is where the famous mosque is located, which is a must see if you are planning to visit. Just remember to keep your head covered during your trip to the mosque if you're a lady and no public displays of affection if you're with your significant other. We traveled to Dubai on Emirates. Now if you know anything about Emirates, then you know why it is such an elite airline that ranks as one of the top airlines in the world. The flight was a direct flight from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to the Dubai International Airport (DXB). From the spacious seating to the top of the line service from the flight attendants, flying on Emirates made the 12-hour journey so much better. They even give out amenity kits (kits with a toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, and an eye mask) to all passengers seated in economy. Our flight attendants were kind enough to give us an exclusive tour of the very exquisite first-class cabin. Check it out:
Being in the Red Sand Desert was absolutely breathtaking. Fun fact: the desert gets cold at night, like really cold, so bring a jacket if you visit in the late afternoon or evening. We got to fully experience the desert by riding camels, running through the sand, and watching a belly dancer. To give you a more vivid description of the desert, check out a snippet of my poem below:
The clay and dirt combined look like God took His time to create a special place like the desert. Flying above the majestic turf makes me want to burst out into the sky, to climb to the tops of those mountains, which perfectly surround the land.
To align a beautiful canvas for us to see that life does exist even in tough, dry places. A unique peace arises
No one is in sight
No one is in a rush
Time stands still And even though the land may be dry below, I am covered by His grace and I feel an instant glow.
Things to do:
The helicopter tour offers 360-degree views of Dubai; you'll get to see all the major landmarks like the Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab from the helicopter view. They take your pictures before take off, inside the helicopter, and after you land. You have the option to purchase the professional photos after you land from your helicopter tour.
The desert safari tour includes a tour of the desert in a 4x4 vehicle (SUV equipped just for the desert). *Traveler's tip: they drive FAST, so buckle up because the ride is sure to feel like you're on a rollercoaster. Don't worry, the drivers are all equipped with special licenses that allow them to drive and give tours in the desert. This tour includes camel rides, a big communal dinner with local foods, and live entertainment from a belly dancer.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center: located in Abu Dhabi. you can take an Uber here from Dubai (about an hour ride) but you cannot Uber back. They only have taxi services from Abu Dhabi back to Dubai. Make sure you type Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center when requesting the Uber and double check the address, because there is another mosque with a similar name. Ladies, keep your hair covered at all times during your visit to the mosque. It's recommended that you purchase a traditional outfit, such as an abaya, for your visit from one of the local shops or malls (they will provide you with a basic traditional outfit if you don't have your own).
Burj Khalifa: The tallest building in the world, yes the whole world! Standing at 829.8 meters with a roof height of 828 meters, the Burj Khalifa is a breathtaking structure inside and out. There are 163 total floors and it cost $1.5 billion dollars to build. You access the entrance through the Dubai Mail and you have to purchase tickets to go inside for a tour (I recommend purchasing in advance online; they have different price ranges based on how far up in the building you want to see).
Dubai Mall: One of the most exquisite malls in the world, it's all designer stores and the whole mall smells like expensive perfume. It's a beautiful mall worth visiting for high fashion shopping needs. This is one place where I saw signs about dressing modestly; Dubai is happy to welcome tourists from around the world, but still wants tourists to be mindful of their attire in certain places. This mainly refers to revealing clothing and I'll get into more detail towards the end of this post.
City Centre Deira: Another mall for shopping and eating options; shop here for traditional dresses like abayas at decent prices. *Traveler's tip: Abayas are priced based on the type of fabric they're made out of.
Jumeirah Beach: One of the most popular beaches in Dubai, however there is a lot of construction going on near the beach right now. There are countless buildings being built in Dubai, so sometimes when looking for that ""perfect view," it may be blocked by construction cranes. It was interesting to see the beach attire at Jumeirah Beach and how it was drastically different from what many of us would consider traditional beachwear. Most of the beach-goers were wearing jeans and shirts, some even had on hijabs, abayas and thawbs (traditional Middle Eastern clothing).
The Dubai Shopping Festival is a month-long festival that happens every year. During the festival, retail stores offer merchandise at discounted prices and there are raffles for cars and gold! I'd say any place that raffles off gold is a pretty snazzy place. Which reminds me...Dubai is expensive. If you're planning to visit Dubai, make sure you have your "coins" (and cash) together because you will be spending quite a lot. Before traveling to Dubai, I set a budget for myself, however I definitely went over my budget. I didn't do it on purpose but I underestimated how much things would cost there. Every single activity we did (desert safari, helicopter tour, tour of the Burj Khalifa, taxi rides to and from the mosque in Abu Dhabi) cost at least $100. The only activities that were free of charge were the entry inside the actual mosque itself and the beach.
Travel Tip: Set a budget and stick to it when traveling. The last thing you want to do is return back to your home country and be stressed about the money you overspent during your trip.
Giving you an exclusive look inside the Burj Khalifa, which was a pretty cool experience. However after we finished the tour, it was even cooler to see all of the locals gathered around the outside of the building to watch the light show at the fountain that's right beside the Burj Khalifa. There was also a light show on the actual building itself which was pretty amazing to watch a sky high building change colors. This was the one time that I saw the most genuine interactions of the local people with their families: men and women were in their traditional dress (thawb and abaya), along with their children, talking and laughing; enjoying a night out. There was no sense of hustle and bustle, but instead an ambiance of pure family fun. I like to people watch when I travel, oddly it intrigues me. No matter where we I am in the world, I aim to take ample time to just watch and reflect on what I am seeing and experiencing. I don't wat to miss anything because I'm too busy posing for pictures or posting on social media.
Our day at the beach was less than typical. Although the sun was shining, we didn't really enjoy the beach like we planned. Considering it was January, the ocean water was still cold and the tide pretty low. The construction obstructed much of the ocean view and even though we wore our swimsuits underneath our day clothing, we were hesitant about being too revealing on the beach. Most of the people on the beach had on jeans, shirts, or traditional Middle Eastern clothing. Many people are curious about how strict the dress code is in Dubai before visiting. In reality, Dubai is the largest city in the UAE and for the most part, the city is very accepting of Western dress since many of the tourists come from the U.S. and Europe. However, a general rule of thumb is to be mindful and avoid wearing any tight or revealing clothing (i.e. low cut tops, shorts/pants far above the knee, and shirts that reveal the midriff). During my visit, I wore mostly maxi dresses, maxi skirts, or pants just to be on the safe side. Tank tops are okay and so are skirts and dresses, especially if you go out to the clubs. We went out one night to a place called the Billionaire Mansion. This is a very nice club with great music and good vibes. ***Please note: Dubai is different from other places when it comes to alcohol. You can only drink alcohol in an establishment like a restaurant, bar, or club. You cannot go to a liquor store to purchase alcohol and bring it back to your hotel room.