Wherever you travel in the world; Dallas, Paris, Amsterdam, Hong Kong or Dubai, chances are you will face a layover. So, on a recent trip across the world, we decided to exchange a 5-hour layover in Dubai into a 2 night adventure, during the holy month of fasting, Ramadan! In Dubai, in the middle of summer, during one of the most important religious holiday periods in the Islamic world, we experienced Dubai at its best.
Dubai, one of the 7 Emirates on the Persian Gulf comprising the UAE, and home of Emirates Airline, is an ethnically diverse and cosmopolitan city. Once a small pearl center and trading post, this lush green desert oasis is home to the world’s tallest building, world’s largest artificial island, and the world’s largest mall. But there is a lot more to Dubai than tall skyscrapers and lush desert oasis, Dubai is a global city, which is rapidly growing in both trade and tourism. It is developing a less orthodox (for the middle east) side with western fashion juxtaposed against the traditional Guthra and Kandura, a gallery district, organic restaurants, and a world class nightlife scene with roof top bars that hop and clubs that attract young travelers from around the world.
But Dubai is first and foremost the trading hub of the Middle East and transforming the desert into a megalopolis seems to be what they do best. The next mega project, Dubai Water Canal, will comprise one shopping center, four hotels, 450 restaurants, a trade center, luxury waterfront housing, private marinas, walkways and cycle paths.
Where to Stay
Although Dubai is home to numerous 5 star hotels, the Jumeirah chain, owned by Dubai’s Emir, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktum, is the star among stars. For a true Arabian Nights adventure, there is no better choice than the Al Qasr. Your Al Qasr fairy tale starts as you are chauffeured from the airport past a heard of golden larger than life Arabian horses cavorting on the green lawns of the luxurious and elegant grand entrance. Al Qasr means the palace and this property brings to life everything you could imagine an ancient desert palace to be. The grand lobby is pure opulence setting the tone for your stay in an oasis of luxury. Designed in the style of a Sheik’s summer residence, the hotel replicates traditional royal architecture coupled with luxurious modernity throughout. The rooms are spacious and modern yet decorated in classic Arabian theme and have views of the gulf or the property’s lush tropical gardens and canals. The Al Qasr is one of 4 hotels that comprise the Madinat Jumeirah, a resort city all to itself in a gorgeous green oasis. The Madinat Jumeirah is home to a spectacular private beach with full motorized and non-motorized watersport options, 40 world class restaurants and bars, a traditional Souk with more than 95 specialty boutique shops and the Talise Spa, which is worthy of a visit each and every day you are on property. To further this fairy tale experience, enjoy a ride on the property’s canals in an Abra (water taxi). Every inch of the property is manicured and immaculate, the architecture is grand and magnificent, the waterways are spacious and peaceful, the gardens are spectacular and lush. The Jumeirah resorts have created a tropical eco-system complete with plants and birds that seem to have no business thriving in the middle of the desert.
What’s your pleasure? Middle Eastern? Indian? French? Japanese? In Dubai, you will find high-end restaurants with fantastic chefs preparing mouthwatering dishes in almost any ethnic group and fusion you can imagine. However, our Arabian Adventure was during Ramadan. The Al Qasr is famous for its Iftar at Al Awan. The Islamic community breaks the daily Ramadan fast at a sunset meal called Iftar. At the Al Awan Iftar, hundreds of locals gather together to share the breaking of the fast in a massive, beautifully decorated ballroom filled with unrivaled Middle Eastern hospitality and table upon table of authentic Mediterranean and Arabic dishes which seemed to go on for miles. Iftar is a joyous event, a time or celebration, family oriented and warm and welcoming. The only downside, we wanted to try every thing, but at the Al Awan, it would take a week of eating every night to taste every glorious dish! What a meal!
What to do
It takes 59 seconds to rise to the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, for a breathtaking 360 degree view of Dubai and beyond. Book online well in advance to secure a sunset viewing time slot and watch the eclectic skyline turn from interesting architecture on a sprawling desert backdrop into a spectacular light show. You even get a unique perspective of the Dubai Water, Fire and Light Show from the Dubai Fountain located at the Dubai Mall. If history is more to your liking, visit the Al Fahidi Fort, home of the Dubai Museum From there, walk through old Dubai to the Dubai Creek. Dubai was and continues to be one of the busiest re-trading centers in the world. For a feel of the old and the new, take a wooden Abra ride across Dubai Creek. Sounds quaint, but the creek is actually a wide waterway used for commerce. On both sides of the creek you will see small rusty dhows (freighters) being loaded or unloaded with cargo being transported to or from Iran, Somalia, Yemen, India and other countries in the Gulf region. Once across the creek, the Souk El Kabeer bazaar unfolds into a rabbit warren of shops and stands selling everything from spices to silks, and from teas to toys. As in all markets, the traders are more than willing to barter and in this souk, they seem to delight in it. Even if you are not in the market for an ostentatiously imposing gold chain for your neck or a gold bracelet that could double as a wrist weight, you must experience the Gold Souk, where reportedly, 10 tons of gold are in the market at any time. So whether you are looking for that one of a kind piece to impress or a more unpretentious keepsake, if you can’t find it here, it probably doesn’t exist.
Back to the more modern world, take the monorail across the Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest artificial island. The goal of the palm fronds is to provide as much waterfront property as possible so each property on each frond of the palm, fronts onto the water and backs onto their neighbor. While on the Palm Jumeirah, visit the Atlantis Hotel, where everything is themed on the lost city of Atlantis, including a 42 acre adventure water park, where the adrenaline pumping rides and waterslides are breathtaking. Or visit the Lost Chambers Aquarium with its 65,000 marine animals. You can even snorkel or dive with sharks, rays and a plethora of other fish and mammals. For something completely unexpected, have you heard of dune skiing in the desert? Well, since it was the middle of the summer when we visited Dubai rather than dune skiing in the bullying desert heat, how about snow skiing in Dubai? Why wouldn’t the worlds largest snow park (not sure how they define snow park) be found in a mall in the desert? With 3,600 square yards of snow, complete with a penguin show and petting experience, Ski Dubai will leave you a little, well, dazed. Toboggan, bobsled, explore the snow cavern or just ski–no need to come prepared–they supply everything you need. You will even be treated to snowflakes falling as you hurtle down the main slope!
Dubai may have just been a 48-hour layover but it was definitely an experience to remember.