A Dubai Layover?
This is a post I never thought I’d write. I’ve been to Dubai three times and, honestly, I’m not a fan of the city. I’m not into shopping, and I really like experiencing true culture when I travel, and Dubai unfortunately is all about shopping and not about culture.
But after my last visit, I realized that as much as I’ve actively avoided Dubai the past few years, it’s actually a great place for a layover for a few days. I wouldn’t make it a primary vacation destination, but I’d highly recommend a visit. Here’s why:
You can fly Emirates from virtually anywhere in the world to Dubai and then continue on to your destination. It’s one of the world’s best airlines and fares are often competitive with, if not cheaper than, other carriers. I’ve flown Emirates twice and was extremely impressed. From a family-travel perspective, I’ve never seen an airline with such cool kid amenities, and it’s the only airline I know of with a frequent flier program specifically for kids. Contrast that with United which just sent my nine-year-old five coupons for alcoholic beverages with his (one-size-fits-all) Premier Platinum membership materials. And the taxi ride from the airport into town is typically less than half an hour.
If you want to stay in a luxury hotel for a reasonable price, Dubai’s the place. Much of the year you can book a five-star hotel on the beach with an amazing pool for under $300/night. Last year my 10-year-old and I stayed at the Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach for $250/night on our around-the-world trip. I’ve now stayed at the Sheraton Dubai Creek, the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons, and liked the Four Seasons the best. If you have a favorite hotel, please let me know in the comments.
As I said, Dubai is utterly culture-less, but it’s fun to see it at least once. It’s similar to how sci-fi movies the past couple decades depicted futuristic cities, minus the flying cars – a clean, modern, safe city filled with shopping, endless skyscrapers (who’s going to live in all of them?) and crazy, unique things like indoor ski areas, the world’s tallest building (for now) and an enormous man-made island. I highly recommend spending an evening either taking a dinner cruise out of Dubai Marina or dining on Jumeirah Beach staring out at the Burj al Arab.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
The world’s eighth-largest mosque isn’t actually in Dubai, but it’s only an hour and a half away and is amazing to see. We left Dubai a little after 7am, stopped for 15 minutes along the way and arrived before it opened at 9am. Definitely go early – we had the mosque largely to ourselves for half an hour, but by 10:30am there looked to be at least 100 buses in the parking lot and the mosque was teeming with tourists. Be sure to check out the bathrooms – probably the nicest I’ve seen anywhere in the world!
Once you’ve seen Dubai, head out into the desert. There are numerous day trip options from Dubai where you can have dinner in the desert and/or go dune bashing and camel riding. Or stay in the desert for a couple of nights. Al Maha Desert Resort is one of my favorite resorts in the world – it’s less than an hour from the Dubai airport, but you have no idea you’re close to a major city as you’re staring out from your private plunge pool at gazelles, oryxes and sand dunes. Falconry at sunrise and desert safaris in the evening are highlights. FYI, it’s a lot less expensive in the summer than in the winter, but that’s true for most things in Dubai. Al Maha doesn’t accept kids under ten, although I was told that they’re willing to bend that policy slightly for well-behaved eight or nine-year-olds.
Have you done a layover in Dubai? What was your favorite thing to do? Or do you avoid Dubai?