Wednesday, December 20, 2017

UAE (Dubai, Abu Dhabi)

Dubai had been on our list as a transit stop for quite sometime. And having a direct Emirates flight from bay area definitely helps to pick this as your next stop over. So when we decided to vacation with our families, Dubai was an obvious choice and for making the trip worth our while, we added Egypt to the mix as well. But our first stop over was Dubai for four days. More on Egypt later, lets focus on Dubai for now. Our brief itinerary:
Day 0: Arrive
Day 1: Dubai sightseeing
Day 2: Dubai sightseeing
Day 3: Day trip to Abu Dhabi + Evening cruise in Dubai
Day 4: Day at the beach + fly out

When to go?

Definitely not summer! We went during our Christmas holidays and the weather was pleasant. If the winters are so pleasant, I can only imagine how brutal summers would be. So, definitely keep weather in mind when you plan your travel to Dubai. Other driving factor is your trip to India or someplace and considering Dubai as a stop over. 2-3 days are good enough for short stop over and Emirates offers great deals on air tickets.

Where to stay?

The Walk- JBR
Lots of choices in terms of neighborhoods, affordability and accessibility. Being with Family, we opted for apartment rentals and we were lucky to find a luxury 4-bed/5-bath condo near Jumeirah beach. It was in JA Oasis Beach Tower and I couldn't be happier with the location, amenities and the overall experience.

What to do?

There is a lot to do in Dubai. The country has worked extraordinarily to make this a tourist destination of choice. Here is what we did along with what else is there to do in this country.

Day 0

Reunited with La Familia
We arrived late in the evening. The airport is pretty big and it took us a while to get to the visa on arrival area. Do check the visa regulations for visa on arrival before you book your travel as they keep changing frequently. We met our extended family travelling from India at the visa counter and by the time we chatted and caught up, the visas were done and we were walking out to pick up our luggage. We ubered to our rented apartment and were pleasantly surprised at the size of the apartment and the views offered from its glass walls in the living room.
Then we headed out for dinner and there were plenty of options in the area. That was such a relief, though we expected that as much. After dinner, we decided to take a stroll in the lively neighborhood. We were actually hunting for some good eggless cake options, but we could just manage regular cake as it was my father in law's birthday the following day. Then we had some cake were off to sleep.

Day 1

The bling!
We were up bright and early, thanks to a bit of jet lag! Our first stop was Gold Souk. It is amazing to see such a huge market full of gold shops. The jewellery designs are pretty close to what we get in India, I guess to suit the south asian taste, which contributes to the majority of buyers. However, I am not sure if the whole debate about gold being cheaper is valid or not. Go figure! We didn't end up buying anything and after a few hours, it was time for lunch. So we headed out to lunch  in Meena Bazar area. We picked Athithi which had thalis and turned out to be an excellent choice.
Our next stop for the day was The Dubai Mall, the most popular and the biggest mall in Dubai. They have a lot of options for entertainment. A rainforest cafe. A huge aquarium with walk through tunnel and innumerable shops. You name a brand and you have it. So, we went shopping here but got tired soon enough and grabbed a cup of coffee before heading out to Burj Khalifa where we had our pre purchased tickets for getting to the top. A wise decision to buy them beforehand and save us some time.
View from the top
Qutb Minar of Dubai?

We got in the queue and it was pretty swift and quick moving. Once we got to the top, it was all cloudy below us. And the patches where it cleared up, it was sure to give you some vertigo. pretty damn high. I was afraid to think what would happen in case of an earthquake (a thought bound to occur if you have lived in California for over a decade!) After taking some pictures and spending some time at the top, we headed downstairs to the waterfront. Lovely fountains, that remind you of Bellagio. Weather was perfect as sun had gone down and there were just people all around you.
Then I met an old roommate of mine from LA who now lives in Dubai. We walked around the Dubai Souk, which is just next to the mall, but and old architecture gives you that middle eastern feel. Perfect place to shop for souvenirs. Then we grabbed some dinner (plenty of options in the mall to suit your needs) and headed back home.

Day 2

The Jumeirah Beach
Today we planned to head out the beach next to Burj Al Arab. This gives you the best views of the building and the beach is just lovely. Warm waters and fine sand at Jumeirah public beach. Luckily usn wasn't too sharp and we spent some good time enjoying the water and taking pictures.
Next, we headed to Madinat Jumeriah Souk, which is an old architecture styled mall. Not too huge, but has a variety of shops. They were gearing up for Christmas celebrations and I loved navigating this mall. It reminded me of old malls in India.
For lunch we had delicious, sumptuous meal at Ushna. I highly recommend this place. From here we headed out to The Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah. We wanted our niece to go visit the aquarium here. And we just strolled about in their shopping arcade. Then we walked along the Crescent road for lovely views of the sea and the hotel itself. This is the perfect place to take pictures. The light, the ambience is just perfect. Next up, we went to the Miracle Gardens. Its a fancy garden where plants and bushes are manicured in various shapes and sizes. Its pretty nice and good for a short visit. Our family loved it.
Madinat Jumeirah Souk
After some rest, we all went from a stroll near our residence, in the promenade near Jumeirah, known as The Walk, JBR. You can spend all your time doing nothing but walking around in Dubai. It has such lively areas that you can just be here and do nothing. For dinner, we went to a mediterranean place, Operation falafal. It was decent enough, but didn't suit the palates of our Indian parents!

Miracle Gardens

Day 3

Grand Mosque
We had reserved a day long tour in a family vehicle to Abu Dhabi. Its a good 90 minute drive to the city. The city doesn't have much to offer, but the Grand Mosque is a must see. It is so intricate, beautiful and peaceful that I was totally awestruck. You have to stick to their dress code and the tour guides provide you free robes to wear for this. We spent about an hour here. Just walking around and admiring the royal carpets, ceiling, chandeliers, took some time. This is a must do if you are in Dubai. Its worth your drive.
There isn't much to do and explore in Abu Dhabi other than the mosque. But we made a customary stop at the palace and then at the Ferrari World. The entry to the circuit is paid, so we skipped that and just spent some time in their lobby outside.
Walk along the Ocean, Palm Jumeirah
Our tour guides took us to shop for dates in Abu Dhabi as that is what it is famous for. Our families went crazy shopping for dates, as expected. For lunch, we had stopped at Punjab Grill restaurant. A bit pricey, but food was finger-licking good. Then we were headed back to Dubai as we had planned a cruise for the evening.
We had to show up a designated pier for our cruise. A pretty standard cruise of the Marina, in a medium sized, two storey boat. They had an Indian buffet and dance performance for entertainment. The views from the boat are good as they navigate through the downtown. Food was good enough for us and we enjoyed our time here as a family.
Later in the evening, I caught with my undergrad friend, Shashank and his lovely wife Anamika. It was so good to meet up with old friends here in Dubai.

Day 4

Dates market- Abu Dhabi
Our final day in Dubai before heading out to Egypt in the afternoon. So, we went for a run in the Jumeirah promenade (The walk- JBR) in the morning and then went to the marina beach for a quick swim. The water was just perfect. I loved the beaches here in Dubai. Mom even made a Russian friend here at the beach. haha. Then we got back, packed our bags and headed out to the airport.

What else to do:

Dubai is a city created for tourists. There are plenty of options to pick from. You can visit their extravagant malls if you are one of those shopaholics, or if you like doing touristy stuff, they have quite a few parks to visit as well:

  • Dune Bashing: This is rated as a must-do for everyone visiting Dubai. The reason we skipped it was that I get motion sick and since we were with our niece and she was just 2 years old, we couldn't have taken her along. 
  • The Atlantis: You could stay at this resort and enjoy their facilities with amazing views. Their water park is rather well rated.
  • Global Village: This park has attractions from various countries and is like a mini world. It apparently takes almost a day to visit this and it gets very tiring, so we decided to skip it and it was anyway low on our priority list
  • They have a famous ski park inside one of the malls, if you are interested. We live in California and get plenty of snow in Tahoe so we weren't very eager.

Other Pointers

  • Visa: We were eligible for visa on arrival. Looking up online for visa requirements is pretty straightforward and simple. Do that before you plan.
  • Uber vs Cab: We learnt pretty late that in UAE cabs are much cheaper compared to Uber. So, make that comparison before you take your pick.
  • If you are interested in specific attractions that need tickets, like Burj Khalifa, or even if you want to book a Marina cruise or dune bashing, make reservations before you go. If it is a peak touristy season, you may end up waiting for long or not getting reservations at all.