I didn’t initially envision my honeymoon including Dubai. But it turns out that one of the most common ways to get to the Maldives from New York City is through Dubai. And if we were going to be in that part of the world, well then, we might as well take a couple extra days to see as much of it as possible.
Thus, our 36-hour Dubai spectacular was born.
Obviously, the main event for our honeymoon was the Maldives, which is why I organized the trip to begin on an island in paradise. But I knew leaving the Maldives might be really hard, so I liked the idea of having something else to look forward to before heading home.
And that something was a camel. Which I named Dustin. But I digress.
We didn’t want to leave the dog any longer than we had to, and Marc needed to get back to work, so we were only able to spend two nights in Dubai. And because I wanted to be in the Maldives as long as possible on our final day, that meant we didn’t arrive in the United Arab Emirates until late that night.
The result was a mere 36 hours in Dubai, but we made the most of what we had!
Our initial impression of the city was that it’s like Vegas, but on steroids and by the sea, and without the gambling and massive amounts of alcohol. It is truly a city you have to see to believe. The opulence is off the charts and everything is either the biggest in the world, the tallest in the world, or the most impressive in the world. It was truly amazing what they have essentially created out of sand.
My top recommendation for visiting Dubai is to go in the winter. Before our trip I was hearing from many people that Dubai was one of the hottest places they had ever been. I was prepared for the worst, but instead we were greeted with almost the perfect weather. Because it was January, the humidity was low, and the temps were in the upper 70s to low 80s. There was also a light breeze and the result was the perfect blend of warmth and comfort.
However, from around mid-April through the end of September, it is a very different story. The temperatures are regularly over 100 degrees, and the humidity by the water can be oppressive. In fact, some of the activities we did aren’t even available during that time of year because it’s too damn hot.
A big draw for Dubai is the water. But because we had just been in the Maldives, we didn’t care about going to the beach. And frankly, nothing in Dubai could compare to the perfection of a Maldivian beach.
All we were looking for in a hotel was a central location, that it was nice but not too expensive, and that it gave us an overall taste of the city. A great friend of ours who has spent a good deal of time in Dubai suggested staying in the Jumeirah Beach Residence neighborhood so that’s where we ended up.
Jumeirah Beach Residence (or JBR as the cool kids call it) is right on the water and offers prime beach locations. Some hotels have private beaches, but there is also a public beach to use as well. Since we weren’t using this as a beach vacation, we opted for affordability over a private beach and landed on the JA Ocean View Hotel. It had an outdoor pool and free breakfast, plus views of the Ocean and beach.
JBR is about 30 minutes from the Dubai airport, but the drive down allows you to see much of the city, including the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world.
We arrived at the hotel around 11:00 PM on Saturday night and checked out just before 6:00 AM on Monday morning, which gave us only one full day in Dubai. So, we had just a little bit of time to see as much as we could. Since we live in NYC and have seen super tall buildings before, I didn’t feel the need to actually go to the Burj. We also have plenty of shopping back home, so the three huge malls weren’t a must-see for us either.
There were really just two things I had to experience. One was a traditional souk, which is a market where they sell everything from spices to gold to scarves, rugs, and other household items. The other was the desert, preferably with a camel involved.
We woke up early on Sunday morning and immediately went down to the beach to walk around before it was swarming with people. It was around 8:30am and there was hardly anyone around.
After breakfast we set off for the Dubai Spice Souk, also called the Old Souk. It was about a 30-minute Uber ride from our hotel and gave us another chance to see Dubai as we drove through the city.
When we arrived at the souk we were immediately surrounded by tourists and vendors who were aggressively trying to sell their wares. It was pretty overwhelming at first. We had vendors yelling to us, calling me Shakira (because clearly, she and I are like twins…) and Marc Jack Sparrow, while throwing scarves and spices in front of us.
Those sales tactics were pretty standard throughout but as we moved further into the souk it got a little better. There were fewer tourists and more locals who were actually doing their regular shopping. We still had people yelling at us, but not quite as aggressively.
In the end we spent just under an hour wandering around. We eventually purchased a bowl and platter from a store that had hundreds of beautiful lights hanging from the ceiling. I am horrible at haggling, so we probably could have gotten a much better price, but we also needed to move on with our busy day.
If you have a limited time in Dubai and want a more traditional experience that gives you a glimpse into the local culture, I highly recommend a desert safari. But not every desert safari is created equal.
I did a lot of research into our options and found many tours that included an all-you-can-drink option and pretty dismal reviews. The UAE is a dry country, but many areas of the hospitality industry do provide alcohol. With this particular outing alcohol was not important to us. After all, we wanted a more authentic experience. And we also didn’t want a “party boat” version of a desert safari.
Eventually I found Platinum Heritage and their Desert Camel Safari. We did not work with Platinum Heritage and paid for everything ourselves. But we were so pleased with the experience that I want to share it with anyone who might be taking a trip to Dubai.
Most of the safaris offered a camel ride portion of the tour, which according to the reviews meant about three minutes on a camel after waiting in line with all the other tourists.
But this safari actually involved riding the camels into the desert to the site of the next part of the tour. This made me extremely happy! Marc was a little unconvinced, but also knew that he was not going to be able to stand in the way of me and a camel.
We were picked up by our guide at our hotel around 3:00 in the afternoon and began the one-hour drive out to the desert tour. Once we arrived, we were given head scarves to wear, which was a fun touch. Again, the goal of this tour is to show you a more authentic look into the culture.
If camels aren’t your thing there were also Landrovers that would take you into the desert. At that point I was so excited about my imminent camel introduction that I didn’t even notice the actual camels lined up behind the Landrovers, just casually laying down on the sand.
I don’t want to be extreme and call this the best moment of my life. That would be silly. But it was pretty damn close. The camels were amazing and completely unfazed by my need to take tons of pictures and constantly pet them.
Soon after arriving we were helped onto our camels (you climb on while they are laying down and then they stand up while you try desperately not to roll off) and were on our way. The camels were in groups of three with each couple getting its own group. Marc had Larry, I was on Dustin (as I mentioned), and trailing behind us was Penelope. I have no idea what their real names were, or even their genders, but that has never stopped me from randomly naming animals.
We had a guide then lead our camels on a 45-minute trek into the desert. And it was spectacular. The sun was beginning to set, we were now camel-riding pros, and I began contemplating the benefits of having a camel in Brooklyn.
The camels wore little guards over their snouts so they couldn’t spit or bite. They didn’t smell at all and did not make very much noise. Again, all things important for a Brooklyn camel, too.
The camels took us to the site of a falconry demonstration where we sat on cushions in the desert drinking sparkling date juice (delicious!) and watching the sun set. Falcons are an important symbol in the UAE culture, and we were given a little show to demonstrate some of their hunting skills.
After that we were driven to the Bedouin camp where dinner and other activities awaited. We were served a very traditional meal (in courses that kept on coming) and shown some of the local customs. After the meal and dancing entertainment we headed back to our hotel where we were dropped off around 10:00 that night.
It was a long day but totally worth all of the running around. We then got a few hours of sleep before heading back to the airport for our flight home.
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