International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

UAE Visit is a Series of Firsts – Part 1

Who knew that it was possible to plan and execute what most would consider a major trip without a significant amount of advance planning?  Not me until this year.  Typically deciding on the next big destination might be two years in advance for me and the hubby.  So going to such an exotic locale as the United Arab Emirates — specifically Dubai and Abu Dhabi — with only eight months’ advance notice is considered practically spur-of-the-moment in my lexicon.



The timing for this particular trip was dictated in order to attend the Formula One race in Abu Dhabi, especially after experiencing the Daytona 500 (see previous post) earlier this year.  Booking the air via Amex Platinum was the first of several “firsts” (the companion ticket costs taxes only when the cardholder’s ticket is purchased in biz or first class; travel must originate in the U.S.). Any airline that flies to the destination is available, and the prices are all over the place depending on whether there is a stop plus other details.  I used Air France for LAX-Paris-Dubai — roughly a third the price of Emirates or the other Gulf carriers (Etihad and Qatar).  Since this was barely a week after the horrible Paris murders, others questioned the itinerary but we were going. Period.
First stop:  Dubai.  After traveling some 20 hours, we were whisked to the beautiful Oberoi Hotel, located in the Financial District.  The Oberoi hotel chain is ranked #1 by Travel & Leisure. Most of their locations are in India (their Udaipur property is the World’s #1 ranked hotel in the same poll) with a smattering in the Middle East and Indonesia. With the endless choice of accommodations available, why there?  I wanted to vet the chain, plus I booked a 1,300 sf suite for the same cost as some miniscule rooms in Manhattan. No other reason necessary … Most impressive: answering the door to a housekeeper delivering shaving cream. Why?  The staff noticed the hubby’s can was nearly empty.  And finding notes that they took the liberty of hanging up our garments. Have at it!  Special thanks to Concierge Jayesh for all of his help …


A look inside Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates — only
700 or so stores at this mall!
Getting the lay of the land was achieved by hiring a car and driver to show us the various highpoints. There are currently 11 million visitors per year, and that number is expected to climb as high was 25 million by 2020. Hence the astounding amount of building — not just more skyscrapers — but entire cities and waterways are created in record time.  Jobs of all levels are plentiful here with workers from India followed by Pakistan comprising the largest numbers of foreigners.    Dubai lays claim to many superlatives: the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa at 160 floors); largest shopping mall by stores (1200 at the Dubai Mall); largest flower garden (Dubai Miracle Garden — remarkable considering this is a desert); most expensive hotel (7-star Burj al Arab from the Jumeirah group) where no one can just peruse the lobby. I know because I tried to talk our way in and couldn’t get past security.  I would add Dubai is one of the cleanest places I’ve seen; both littering and graffiti are punishable by steep fines (think Singapore). Not to mention a big one: it is very safe!!


From the 125th floor, the high rises below look like dominoes.  The view left was from our hotel.  Travel tip:  If you go, get the Fast Track tickets to go up. The lines, particularly to catch the sun setting over Dubai, can be very long .. it is well worth the $$.
Pretty sure I heard the camel complaining ..
Our very able guide Mohammed drove us out of the city (at which point we were just 50 km from Oman) for a modified “desert safari,” including riding both the sand dunes and a camel.  We drove ourselves in the ATV (left) but the true experience was Mohammed driving his Toyota Landcruiser on the larger dunes.  I was both carsick and scared but the boys were having great fun traversing the dunes. I preferred the outlet mall which was the next stop …
A couple of great meals below: left is sushi, fish tacos and wonderful fried chicken at Catch in the Fairmont Hotel — they have NYC location as well; right is Armani Ristorante at the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa.  This was Armani’s first ever hotel location.  The veal medallions (center right) were exceptional, as was the hubby’s pasta (bottom left).
While some might find Dubai a bit Vegas — everything lit up, so many tall buildings, luxury shops and exotic vehicles, it is so much more.  If you enjoy meeting people from other cultures this is the place to be.  Out of the nine million population (total for the UAE), only one million are actually from the country; the rest are foreign born and nearly everyone speaks English.  If you’re looking for ancient history, look elsewhere for the 1970’s are considered “old.”  And don’t get me started on another desert where there is an abundance of water.  California — get with the desalination program already!  Next post from neighboring Abu Dhabi…
Above: Family friend/Abu Dhabi resident
Matt Haffner on our first Dubai dinner at Catch
Left:  nothing says Dubai like this building