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We landed at Dubai International around 11am, so we had a good amount of the day left to do some exploring and settling in. After picking up a pair of data sim cards at the airport (we purchased two Tourist Plans from Du), we proceeded to the taxi stands to get a ride to our hotel. As we approached, the attendant immediately guided us towards a black cab. Little did we know that the black cabs are actually VIP taxis, and charge about double the rate of a regular taxi, which are cream-colored with red accents.
TIP: Make sure to request the regular (cream-colored) taxis to avoid paying twice as much! Unfortunately we found this out the hard way, which left us with a sour taste in our mouths for having been ripped off so quickly after leaving the airport. 🙁
Dusit Thani Hotel
We stayed at the Dusit Thani Hotel, which is a five-star hotel located relatively close to Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. It’s situated on the main Sheikh Zayed Road, with a nice view of downtown Dubai and a large freeway interchange (I find them quite mesmerizing to stare at). Unfortunately there’s no direct metro access, but it is a “short” 5 min outdoor walk to the nearest station. I stress “short” and outdoor because an outdoor walk in near 50 degree Celsius temperature feels anything BUT short. Should you choose not to brave the heat, there are also regular shuttles that do drop-offs and pick-ups to Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates.
We managed to book a Deluxe room for 3 nights at $144 CAD / night through Pointshound, while earning 1400 AAdvantage miles for the booking. This is a pretty good rate, considering that prices can almost triple for similar rooms and hotels during peak season.
After settling into our hotel room, we took the complimentary shuttle to Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world with over 1200 shops. It’s a truly massive building with something for everyone, including an aquarium, ice skating rink, movie theater, kids entertainment district, and plenty of restaurants, cafes, and clothing stores. You could spend days here and not be bored. Dubai Mall is right in the heart of downtown Dubai, adjacent to the Dubai Fountains and the Burj Khalifa. There is also a long pedestrian sky bridge which connects to the metro, so you don’t have to step out into the heat to reach transit.
For plane geeks, there is the Emirates a380 experience, as well as the official Emirates store. Peterson and I both bought a die-cast airplane model from there, to add to our growing collection. I bought an Emirates a380, while Peterson got an Emirates 777-200LR. Amazingly, it had the exact same registration as the plane that we took from Seattle!
We had dinner at Al Hallab that night, a restaurant in Dubai Mall that serves traditional Arabic food. We sat outside on the patio, which had a great view of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai fountains. After dinner we walked around the fountains and watched the light projections on the Burj Khalifa. We also watched the Dubai fountain show, performing to the tune of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. It was getting late at this point, and having had such a long day beginning at the airport, we took the metro back to our hotel afterwards.
Afternoon Tea at the Atmosphere Lounge
One of the things Peterson and I really wanted to try in Dubai was the Afternoon Tea at the Atmosphere Lounge, at the Burj Khalifa. Originally we also considered the afternoon tea at the Burj Al-Arab, but thought the Khalifa offered a better value, with the mile-high views. While eating desserts, sipping tea, and enjoying a great view is something that is hard to turn down, there was one drawback:
The price for the Afternoon Tea service at the Atmosphere Lounge were quite steep.
580 AED per person for a window seat (~$210 CAD) or
530 AED for a non-window seat (~$190 CAD)
This would make it one of the most expensive meals I’ve ever had! We thought about it for a really long time before deciding to commit to it. While the food itself may not be worth the price alone, we thought it would be a very unique experience while getting a great view of Dubai, and since I had wanted to go to the ‘At The Top’ observatory anyways, we decided to go all out for the window seat.
The entrance to the Atmosphere lounge is actually accessed from the lobby of the Armani Hotel. We initially tried to walk to the hotel from the Dubai Mall, but found it very difficult to navigate around, so we ended up taking a taxi directly to the entrance of the hotel. From there, we were directed to a separate reception area for the restaurant, where we checked in for our reservation and were led to an express elevator that went straight to the 123rd floor.
The ride up was fast, and I could feel my ears popping from the rapid change in pressure. Once we exited the elevator, we were greeted immediately with the amazing views, following a set of stairs that spiraled down into the restaurant.
The restaurant had a very warm and relaxing atmosphere, with panoramic full-length windows that provided an amazing view of the city. When we got there, it wasn’t very busy, with only a few tables occupied. We were led to our seats, situated by the window, and were started off with a glass of Pierlant Bruc, served alongside berries and cream. The bottle was left in an iced bucket beside our table.
Up next was the Chef’s selection of delicacies and homemade finger sandwiches.
For my main course selection, I went with the Salmon while Peterson had the ‘Roast of the Day’. I also ordered an ‘Afternoon Delight’, which was tea blended with fresh fennel, peach, fresh pineapple and passion fruit caviar. Peterson opted for the ‘Miraculous Mandarin’, which was a mandarin iced tea with spiced ginger and pear.
My favourite part of the afternoon tea service: desserts!
Top level: Finest Patisseries – Chef’s dessert selection of fine pastries and confectionery
Mid level: Homemade English Scones – Served with traditional accompaniments
Bottom level: Selection of homemade mini cake loafs
With so many options, it’s always an adventure choosing which treat to eat first and which to save for last. 🙂
Of course, it can’t be called afternoon tea without the tea. We each chose a tea from the selection available. I loved the variety of sugars you get with the tea.
All in all, I was quite satisfied with the afternoon tea experience at the Atmosphere Lounge. Yes, it was an extremely expensive meal for what you actually get to eat, but the food was good, the service was attentive and welcoming, and you get a superb view, dining in a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere. It was definitely a very exotic and unique experience that I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else.
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
Following the afternoon tea, we decided to check out one of the local Souks, which are basically markets that sell traditional foods, clothing, tapestries, spices and jewelry. We headed for Souk Madinat Jumeirah, which was about a 20 minute metro ride out of downtown Dubai.
The Souk itself was a covered marketplace, so it was a welcome escape from the Dubai heat. The shops ranged from traditional Middle Eastern art, to intricately-patterned rugs and souvenirs.
There was also a landscaped outdoor garden, with many walkways and bridges that connected the shops to outdoor restaurants by the water. From there, we also got a nice view of the Burj Al Arab. Unfortunately we couldn’t get any closer, as the area around the Burj Al Arab is actually restricted to hotel guests.
On our last day in Dubai, we booked a half day desert safari tour for some fun in the desert sand dunes. There are many different tour operators that provide a similar itinerary, which includes dune bashing, camel riding, photo ops, and a traditional Arabic BBQ. We ended up booking with a company called Knights Tours, as this was what our hotel had recommended (afterwards we realized they probably just get a cut of the commission).
We were picked up around 3:30pm from our hotel in a mid-sized SUV. Several other people from our hotel were also booked on the same tour. We were driven out of the city, away from the skyscrapers, and pretty soon we were looking at landscapes such as this:
At this point, our driver pulled over onto the side of the road and started to deflate the tires to prepare for the dune bashing. We were allowed to hop out and take a few photos while we waited for several other cars to arrive to start the dune bashing. I had expected the desert to be even hotter than the city, but I was pleasantly surprised; it was noticeably cooler out here. There was a decent amount of wind that blew over the desert, occasionally flinging sand into my eyes and mouth.
Once the other cars arrived, we began the dune bashing. Getting tossed around in the car while being launched over sand dunes and driving nearly at 45 degrees on a bank of sand is amazingly fun. There were times when I thought the SUV would flip over, so I was thankful for the fact that the SUV was fitted with roll cages…
We arrived at the photo op location after 20 minutes or so of being tossed around. Everyone got out and was given some time to stretch and take pictures in the middle of the desert. The sun was getting low at this point, bringing out the contours of the dunes.
Once all the pictures were taken, it was a quick drive to the campsite, where we would have our Arabic BBQ. Camel rides were being offered outside of the camp.
The buffet-style BBQ food was nothing to rave about, but it was a cool experience regardless. We sat on cushions at tables surrounding a low stage, where a belly dancer performed during the dinner. There was also an alcohol booth and a vaping station, which we did not try.
Since this was my first time in Dubai, the city and its potential for growth really amazed me. With its impressive architecture and world records, I found Dubai to be a really fun and unique place to visit. There’s something for everyone, including shopping among the 1200 stores in Dubai Mall, outdoor excursions to the desert, enjoying a nice meal at the many restaurants, or even taking a day trip out to Abu Dhabi. The city feels safe and getting around is relatively easy thanks to the metro link that connects all the major stops in Dubai. I would highly recommend visiting Dubai at least once in your life to see what this city has to offer.