We arrived in Dubai at the interesting hour of around 8pm and quickly disembarked from my somewhat disappointing flight in United Business First from Washington-Dulles. We were given express passes for immigration, but this didn’t seem to matter much. The walk from the gate to immigration is pretty substantial, and by the time we reached the immigration hall, every line was massive — including the “express” line. After about a twenty-minute wait time, our passports were stamped and we were admitted into the United Arab Emirates. We breezed through customs and made our way outside to the curb where our friend picked us up for three amazing days in Dubai!
I’d been to Dubai before, but this time I was with two great friends from Grad School — and friends with whom I make my annual pilgrimage to Oktoberfest in Munich — so I knew this weekend might be somewhat aggressive. We and a jam-packed weekend that featured some late nights, excessive meals, pricey cocktails, and sight-seeing. Here are some highlights of my weekend in Dubai…
My Last Hurrah as a United 1K: A Weekend in Dubai
- United Business First Washington to Dubai
- Three Days in Dubai – Ten Highlights
- United Business First Dubai to Washington
Drinks at White Nightclub
We hit the ground running after getting back to my friend’s apartment at the Dubai Marina. After a shower and a quick bite to eat, we were off for a night out! Since the weekend in the UAE is Friday and Saturday, Thursday night is a big going-out night — similar to a Friday night in the States. Knowing nothing about Dubai nightlife, my friend took over. We ended up going to White — an outdoor club atop the Meydan Hotel at the Meydan Racecourse (the horse track). So apparently White is a sister club of the “original” in Beirut — a club and a city of which I know nothing about.
The weather outside was perfect — almost a little chilly, so it was quite nice outside. We had a table, which was nice and allowed us to avoid some of the eventual crowds. This place got absolutely slamming as the hours wore on. The crazy club scene isn’t exactly my scene, but it was entertaining to see. The high energy certainly helped me fight through any jet lag that I may have had at the time. At the end of the day, it was a great time having some (pricey) drinks and catching up with friends.
Friday Brunch at Al-Qasr
In Dubai, Friday Brunch is THE thing to do for visitors and locals alike, though it’s especially popular amongst ex-pats. Being the blingy city that it is, Dubai boasts an impressive number of excessively opulent 4 and 5-star hotels (and higher if you believe the marketing material). Most of these hotels host completely over-the-top and extravagant brunches on Friday. These are basically an all day event, and are certainly events to behold. Most are champagne / boozy brunches with extraordinary cuisine.
For Friday Brunch during this visit, we visited Al Qasr at Madinat Jumeirah. We arrived right as the doors to the buffet opened and were seated at an outdoor table in the shade. And oh, what a buffet it was. The food selections here extended over virtually every nationality and genre imaginable – from Mexican to Thai to Indian to seafood to burgers — this buffet seemed to have it all. The brunch at Al Qasr was also decidedly boozy, as there were a number of unlimited drink options.
The food variety was extraordinary, but the quality of the food wasn’t quite up to par with the venue where I enjoyed Friday Brunch on my previous trip — Traiteur at the Park Hyatt Dubai.
This whole spectacle lasted a good 3.5 – 4 hours, and it was a blast. We all left full and wanting to keep our days rolling…
Drinks at 360 Degrees
Next stop for our group was 360 – an island bar/club at the end of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s Marina walkway in the shadows of the iconic Burj al Arab hotel. We arrived in the late afternoon / early evening and pretty much had the place to ourselves. The highlight of this place were the wonderful views of Burj al Arab. Our group had several drinks here before heading back to the apartment and calling it an early night.
As a tourist in Dubai, 360 is a great place to visit since you can have drinks with a wonderful view of one of the most famous Dubai landmarks. On my last trip, we also came to 360, but later at night when the place was in club mode — and we also had a blast with that.
Lunch at Em Sherif
Saturday morning, we slept in a bit – recovering from our aggressive “Friday Funday.” By the time lunch came around, we were pretty famished, so we made the trek from my friends’ apartment at the Dubai Marina to Downtown Dubai in the shadows of the World’s tallest building – Burj Khalifia. We explored the Dubai Mall for a bit, which is complete with an aquarium (where I SCUBA dived with sharks two years ago)!
After walking around the famous Dubai Mall, we made our way to Em Sherif, which is located between the Dubai Mall and Souk al Bahar, adjacent to the Address.
Em Sherif is a traditional Lebanese restaurant that offers a prix fixe lunch (around AED 220). This absolute feast features no less than THIRTY-TWO courses (check out the menu here) — yes, 32!
I hadn’t had most of the dishes before, let alone even heard of them. There were various appetizers, mezze, soups, hot and cold entrees and desserts. It was absolutely excessive, and absolutely delicious. Though a little pricey, it was worth it for the experience, and one of the better all-around meals I’ve had anywhere!
Dubai Marina and Jumeira Beach
After that feast, we headed back to the apartment to rest — can you say food coma? We spent that Saturday night in a very casual manner as we walked around the entire Jumeira Beach for quite some time, enjoying the wonderful weather that we had (low 70s, Farenheit). We also walked around the massive Dubai Marina as the sun went down, taking in views of the massive residential towers that line the Marina.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Sunday was our last day in Dubai, so we hit the ground running after a solid night’s sleep. We decided to make the hour-long drive down to Abu Dhabi to check out the impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This mosque is massive and immaculate — quite impressive indeed. I was struck by how bright, clean and luminous it was. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but this is a must-visit site if you have some time in Abu Dhabi or even Dubai.
No trip to Dubai would be complete without a visit to the tallest building in the World – Burj Khalifa. There are a number of options to go up top, and I’ll explain one of those shortly. But perhaps the most impressive feature of this absurd building is its sheer height. Just stand back and look up — it’s truly impressive if not a bit unnecessary.
Drinks at AT.MOSPHERE – Burj Khalifia
After our quick jaunt down to Abu Dhabi, we headed back to Downtown Dubai where our friend abandoned us to go to work. What a nice guy, huh?
The two of use were left to fend for ourselves for lunch at the Dubai Mall. After a quick bite, it was time for drinks. We wanted to combine a happy hour with a trip atop the Burj Khalifia.
Last time I was in Dubai, we went atop the observation deck on the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa. A trip up there runs about 200 AED. Conversely, one can make reservations at the bar at AT.MOSPHERE, the World’s highest bar on the 123rd floor. There’s a 250 AED per person minimum, but that wasn’t enforced. Entrance was free and we each had two drinks for a total of 160 AED each. This actually was LESS the admission price to the observation deck one level below. Add in a couple single malts, and we’re talking a much better value and a better way to enjoy the crazy views from near the top of the tallest skyscraper in the World.
We arranged a private Land Cruiser to pick us up from Burj Khalifa at 3pm through North Tours Dubai. This tour was to take us on a “Desert Safari” — so it was basically dune bashing! What is dune bashing? Well, it’s basically driving a SUV very aggressively on sand dunes! Think — the recent Range Rover Sport commercial where the SUVs are hauling around the desert — it was like that.
Our driver, a very nice and friendly man from Pakistan scooped us up and drove us out about an hour into the Arabian desert, near the border of Oman. Our ride was a brand new, fully-loaded Toyota Land Cruiser — nice! After a quick pit stop for water, we lowered the air pressure in our tires and went off-road into the desert sand dunes.
Our driver was insane. And it was awesome. We weaved and fishtailed all over the sand dunes for a solid twenty minutes. We were jolted this way and that, and it was pretty incredible.
We did stop in the middle of the desert for a bit for pictures and to inflate the tires, though we got stuck for a bit as a result. Once that was worked out, we high-tailed it for the “base-camp”.
The “base-camp” was a camp where all the North Tours drivers brought their customers for other optional add-ons and tour packages. Here, we were offered a camel ride as well as an optional evening featuring dinner and belly dancing (which we declined). We did; however, take a ride on a camel! I’d never done this before and I was shocked by how tall my camel, named Champagne, actually was. We were led on a brief, five-minute ride on the camels, and it was a great time. Our driver drove us all the way back to our friend’s apartment at Dubai Marina where we showered, packed and headed back to the airport for our flight back to Washington.
Overall, the whole dune-bashing and camel ride experience were the highlights of the entire trip. I highly recommend this experience and also recommend our particular tour operator — North Tours.
Dubai is MUCH more spread out than you may realize. The Dubai Marina, where I stayed, is a good 20-25 minute five from Downtown Dubai and the Burj Khalifa. It’s even further from the Dubai Creek area and the airport (DXB). We were lucky to have a personal chauffeur in form of our friend, but transportation costs in Dubai would otherwise add up. Though cabs are cheap, you’d really need to use them to get pretty much everywhere, and there is a definite traffic situation in Dubai. Dubai does have a somewhat extensive above-ground metro system, though few actually seem to use it.
I was initially concerned that a weekend would be way too short of a time for Dubai and/or that I’d be so jet-lagged the whole time that the experience would be worthless. I’m happy to report that three days is probably a perfect amount of time to see the best of Dubai. Additionally, I made it through the weekend without having jet lag, so I was going strong pretty much the entire time. This allowed me to sleep like a rock on the trip home, which was good to.
As it is a Muslim country, one must be cognizant of cultural norms when traveling to Dubai. Though the UAE – and especially Dubai – is not nearly as hardline conservative as some of its neighbors, it is still wise to act respectfully and mind local customs and traditions. Basically, just don’t be an idiot. Dubai is not the place where you want to show public displays of affection. It’s not the place where you want to stumble around in a drunken stopper. It’s not the place where you want to be loud, obnoxious or disruptive. As with any country, make sure you familiarize yourselves with the do’s & don’ts before a trip to Dubai. This will only enhance your experience.
Overall, I had a great time in Dubai. Though it’s not anywhere near my favorite city in the World, I simply had a blast — thanks largely in part to a fun weekend with friends. The weather is certainly much nicer in the Winter months than the middle of the Summer. This place just isn’t my favorite though. It just tries too hard, and is unnecessarily excessive. Frankly, it’s overkill and seems that the city is just so overly excessive just because. I guess at the end of the day, there’s a ton of money here, and Dubai successfully flaunts the hell out of it. Simply put, it’s just too garish for my tastes, but I did have a great time there.