A quick flight booking, a transit visa in a flash and before I knew it, I was in Dubai. It all happened in a blink of an eye, not allowing me much time to have a meticulously chalked out plan. But here’s something to help you plan you trip to Dubai.
There’s really no end to how much you can spend in Dubai. If you can spend then Dubai has everything to offer that you could possibly wish for. Except if what you’re wishing for is a flying carpet or a lamp inhabited by a Jeannie.
Although Dubai doesn’t have a budget limit, you should certainly have one! My return flight cost approximately INR 25000 / USD 400 and the lavish hotel cost ~ INR 30000 / USD 500. I took a 3-day tour package that cost about INR 10000 / USD 160.
A transit visa allows you to stay in Dubai for up to 96 hours and believe you me, that’s sufficient time to get completely mesmerized by Dubai. I applied for a transit visa online and it was approved in a day and a half. Simplest visa process ever. Although, this facility is available only if you book through none other than Emirates.
There are longer visas available, if you wish to extend your stay.
Can’t think of any better airline than Emirates to take me to Dubai. However, there are other options you may wish to explore.
Tip: Purchasing liquor at duty free is a good option if you intend to drink on this vacation.
Since I had an Emirates flight booking, I was eligible for a stay offer on their website. Picked the best of course, Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road. I thought, if nothing, I would get a decent hotel that was close to a metro station, Burj Khalifa and one of the most happening places of Dubai, the Dubai Mall. After a short negotiation, I got an upgrade! My suite had a great view of the entire route E311 on one side and the coast line on other.
Tip: Check for hotels along the route E311. You wont regret it.
I took the hotel shuttle from airport. E311 or Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed road, is a major route in the UAE, leading to an incredible skyline of north Dubai. I highly recommend using the Metro because of how convenient it was for me from where I was staying. The Dubai metro service spans across 7 zones and are conveniently connected. A one way ticket through the same zone costs as less as $2. There are taxis available to almost everywhere if you prefer other means.
During my 96-hour stay in Dubai, I feasted on Lebanese, Arabic and Indian cuisines, avoiding fast-food chain restaurants and dining local instead. A restaurant behind my hotel served amazing Qabuli Pulao, Lavaash bread, Borani Bademjan, Biryani and Kebabs.
Major alert for social drinkers – you cannot buy liquor in Dubai! There are no liquor/wine stores! Optionally, drink at a restaurant or club that has liquor permit.
Things I did and places I saw :
- Spent the first evening on Level 43 Sky Lounge, a fancy pub on the topmost floor of the hotel skyscraper, feeling elated by the stunning views of the city and literally (not figuratively) jumping up and down like kid at a candy store who just spotted her favorite candy on a shelf.
- First stop after boarding a metro across the hotel was the mighty Burj Khalifa, world’s tallest building, a majestic tower that soars to a height of 555 meters, dwarfing every other man made construction on planet Earth. Occupying multiple floors of this fancy tower are some corporate offices, high-end boutique hotels like The Armani and other such upscale brands.
I bought the tickets to the “At The Top” observatory in advance for AED 200 (USD 55). I planned to enter the observatory at 4 pm while it was still light outside to soak up breathtaking city views, and exit after dark to witness the gradual romantic sunset from a 360-degree observatory on the 124th floor of the tower. Cherry on top was the spectacular view of the world’s largest fountain show, a phenomenal orchestration of lights and sound coordinated with the fountains at The Dubai Fountains right outside the tower. There’s another observatory at 148th floor “At the Top SKY” which offers splendid views at an extra cost.
Tip: If you have plans to visit Burj Khalifa during New Year’s eve, then I highly recommend you do not miss the sensational fireworks rated amongst the best pyrotechnic shows you’ll ever come across.
Caution: if there’s a sandstorm, you’ll hardly be able to see anything clearly from the top.
- The Dubai Mall is, like everything else there, you guessed it right, the world’s largest mall! With my nose buried in the map, I spent hours exploring the mall, got lost a fair few times and walked in circles a couple of times. The mall houses almost all international brand stores I have ever known, starting from basic brands to high end brands like Tiffany, Chanel, Christian Louboutin. From apparels to accessories, from toys to stationary, from gadgets and gizmos to home furnishings. You name it! I had the hardest time choosing a place for lunch/dinner from among 200 food outlets. I could spend days here visiting the aquarium, skating at the indoor ice rink, shopping, eating or lavishly living a first class life at one of the top class hotels there. Sigh! Only if I could..
- Like that wasn’t enough, they built another huge mall called the Mall of Emirates, not as impressive but they have incorporated a major attraction for snow lovers – Ski Dubai, earning a brownie point in the race to be the most bespoken mall in Dubai. There are a few more (BurJuman, Mercato etc) apart from these. The best time to go on a shopping spree in Dubai would be during the annual Dubai Shopping festival which starts December end and continues through January.
- Out I headed to see another mind blowing tower – Burj Al Arab. Picture the most luxurious dream you have ever had. Now, scrub that one hard because its nothing compared to the reality of Burj Al Arab. Its not just a hotel but a royal experience. You get picked up and chauffeured around in a shiny black Rolls Royce! Rumor has it that they serve drinks in a gold goblet that costs about a few hundred dollars and you get to keep the goblet! The tower is an epitome of elegance and style. Brilliant architecture and elite experiences is what makes it so. Accommodation to spend a night here would cost around $2000 and after that I’m sure it’ll be a night to remember.
- Palm Jumeirah wins the spot three on this man-made wonders trip. Luxury housing for the already rich Emirati folks, who probably have quite a few real estates all over the world. Crowned by the famous Atlantis Hotel , Palm Jumeirah is one dreamy location to live life king size. Entry to the Atlantis Hotel was being charged so I decided to skip it altogether from my 96-hour itinerary. If you have enough time and enthusiastic crowd to accompany, by all means visit the water park in there.
- On my last day in dubai, I hopped on a tour bus and they took me around town to show Bur Dubai with a guide commenting on every aspect of Dubai life. We drove through a street that’s lined with royal mansions but, obviously, they weren’t visible from the street.
- Next came the souks/souqs. Dubai is famous for its Souks or markets. The market in Bur Dubai area is loaded with merchandise of all sorts. Divided into Gold Souks, Textile Souks. Spice souks and others, it spans over a huge area altogether. I suggest visiting the Meena Bazar for street shopping fabrics, jewellery and dry fruits. Invest in some good quality saffron, spices and dates. To take some respite from the scorching sun at 105F, I stepped into Al Fahidi fort which has been turned into an interesting museum amidst this chaotic locality. Statues, paintings and fine artifacts narrate the history of Dubai and its people.
- One evening, I boarded a cruise boat, or “Dhow Cruise” as they call it, and explored the creek along with a mediocre dinner and some entertainment. Totally forgettable experience.
- My 3-day tour package included an adventure activity called Dune Bashing or Desert Safari. Before this, I had never actually stepped into a desert and here I was bashing the dunes in a 4 x 4 jeep till the border of Sharjah, Abu Dabhi and Oman. Some people threw up later but I actually had fun. We stopped at a small clearing lined with about a dozen tents. Each tent housed a different activity like camel rides, henna tattoos, photo booth with their traditional attire, gift shops, soft drinks etc. In the middle was a stage held for performances and all around the stage lay carpets and beds for seating.
Other options that I haven’t explored but you can:
You can do what I did or decorate your itinerary with other activities that Dubai has to offer, like Sky Diving, a visit to the Miracle Garden or Global Village, Helicopter rides, a fun day at LegoLand. If your passport/visa permits, you can make a day trip to Abu Dabhi and Ferrari World. Plenty of options to choose from.
While I roamed the Souks, I picked up souvenirs for my family as a ticket to enter my house again. After a session of haggling, I loaded a stash of dates and saffron boxes, hand-picked some whole spices (ground spices loose their flavor quickly) and half a dozen embroidered fabrics. The carpets and lamps were a tempting option but there was no way I could get them back home by myself.
Note: This trip was back in 2014. It’s clear from the pictures that I wasn’t a very skilled photographer at the time (not that I am one now, but I’ve gotten better). I used a Nikon Digital Point and shoot camera for this trip.