Our Middle East Adventures, Part 1

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Hey yall! LM and I just spent an amazing week in the UAE – Dubai and Abu Dhabi specifically.

What were we doing in the UAE? Vacation of course! This story began last Christmas, when Etihad Airlines had super cheap fares to a variety of destinations. I snagged us two tickets to Abu Dhabi for less than what it cost us to fly to Atlanta for Christmas! Because of our wedding & honeymoons in the spring of 2015, I booked our travel for October, when it’s cooler.

After almost of year of waiting, and seeing everyone’s cool photos, it was finally our turn to travel! Prior to the trip we did a bunch of research to figure out things to do/see, where to stay, and most importantly, how to make our flight as comfy as possible. Shoutout to Tripadvisor, Seatguru and Black Girl in Abu Dhabi, which were my main resources for information.

Our journey began on a Wednesday, when we drove from Minneapolis to Chicago, which was the closest city that Etihad flies from. We could have hopped a flight, but it was easier and cheaper to just make the drive. Our flight to Abu Dhabi was scheduled to leave at 1pm on Thursday, so we drove down Wednesday evening and spent the night in a hotel.

Our departing flight from Chicago was a Boeing 767 and it was PACKED. LM and I sat in the back, which turned out to be great. The plane was a 3-4-3 configuration, and we were in the first 2 seats of the 4 seat section. I did appreciate the many amenities provided by the airline – not just a pillow and blanket, but also eye shades, ear plugs, and noise-cancelling headphones. During our 14 hour flight we were served several meals and snacks, plus plenty of drinks. I spent the flight falling asleep to movies, while LM spent most of it walking around and doing shots with a flight attendant in the galley.

After what felt like forever, we finally landed in Abu Dhabi. When we disembarked, we were greeted by a representative from Pearl Assist, who escorted us through customs. After we exchanged a bit of our money, we then hopped on the Etihad shuttle to Dubai. Tip: if you’re flying on Etihad, the shuttle to/from Dubai is free, but your boarding pass is required. It’s also suggested that you reserve your seats in advance. The trip to Dubai took a little over an hour, ending at the Etihad Travel Mall. From there, we took a cab to our hotel, the Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers.

The Bonnington is in a great area – it’s in a development with restaurants and various shops, and it’s a 10 minute walk to the Metro and tram. The Metro can get you all over Dubai, while the tram will take you to the Marina, Jumeirah Beach and Palm Island. I wish I could say that I was clever when I booked this hotel, but we really got lucky. Initially we’d booked a hotel near the Dubai Mall, but it was expensive. We took a gamble on a Priceline Express Deal and got the Bonnington at a great rate. The hotel was beautiful, and the service was top-notch. Our room was spacious, and the bathroom with huge! It had both this amazing deep tub plus a huge walk-in shower.

After checking in and resting up for a bit, we ventured out to explore Dubai. We found the Metro, and figured out how to buy passes. Tip: get a daily pass; it’s 22 AED (~$6) for unlimited rides all day. We decided to visit Mall of the Emirates, which is 1 of the most famous malls in Dubai. This mall is home to Ski Dubai, the indoor ski slope. Listen, this mall was INSANE. I visit Mall of America all the time, and Mall of the Emirates puts it to shame. Any and every retailer you can imagine was in this mall, from low-end to the high-end luxury brands. I did enjoy visiting some of the luxury stores. Honest moment: shopping while Black in Dubai was a new experience - I didn’t have worry about things like being followed or receiving poor service. We explored the mall and had dinner, before we returned to the hotel for some rest.

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Day 2 we had an open morning, so we hopped on the Metro to visit the Dubai Mall and see Burj Khalifa (aka the tallest building in the world). We weren't interested in going to the observation deck in Burj Khalifa so we just admired it from the ground - and yes, it's super tall. The Dubai Mall was fantastic, with tons of shops and restaurants. In one section of the mall, there's a line of American restaurants, which surprised me - Red Lobster next to PF Chang's next to Texas Roadhouse. It's also home to a large aquarium which we initially planned to visit, but we ran out of time. After visiting for a bit, we hustled back to our hotel for pick up for our desert safari experience.

There are a ton of companies that run a desert safari - we went with Arabian Adventures, and booked the Sundowner. On the safari, we were taken out to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. The safari starts with a short falcon show. Next you go driving through the sand dunes (if you get motion sick you won't like this part) and you make a short stop in the dunes for photos. The last stop is a permanent camp where you have dinner, watch a belly dance show, take camel rides and get henna.

 

LM and I on the desert safari!

The desert safari was fun....but it felt very generic and cookie-cutter. Every moment was perfectly choreographed to keep you on schedule and it didn't feel super authentic. It was like the McDonald's of experiences, if that makes sense. It's also designed to churn as many people through as possible. It's a cool thing to do on your first time to Dubai, but I didn't walk away feeling like I'd had an authentic experience.

Day 3 was my favorite day in Dubai. We began the day by meeting a friend of my husband's - he and his wife have lived in Dubai for 4 years. We had lunch and he shared a ton of information about live in Dubai, being a Black expat, etc. Also we had some yummy sushi at a conveyor belt restaurant, which are always my faves. After lunch, we took the Metro to the gold and spice souks, which are big markets. In the gold souk, every 5 feet there was a guy trying to sell you watches, jewelry, fake bags, etc. Nuts! We also randomly stumbled upon the Heritage House, a home that was converted to a museum to highlight traditional life in the UAE. I liked exploring this museum and learning more about the culture.

Fresh caught seafood dinner on the beach!

In the evening we met up again with LM's friends for dinner at a seafood restaurant. This restaurant serves fish and shrimp that were caught the same day, and you get to pick out your fish when you order. We ate on the beach, enjoying the breeze and the conversation. We then walked off dinner with a stroll through Jumeirah Beach, where I captured this view of Burj Al Arab. To end the night, we headed to the The Address hotel in Dubai Marina, where we had drinks and dessert at the pool lounge. The hotel has a beautiful infinity pool and I was mesmerized by the gorgeous view of the marina and the skyline. It turned out to be the perfect way to end the Dubai part of our trip.

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Other thoughts/observations about Dubai:

  • All the signs are in Arabic and English - super helpful for us English speakers
  • I saw a lot of American cars, which surprised me. Mustangs, F-150s and Suburbans are popular. Also, almost all the cars were white, which I'm sure is intentional.
  • I did a lot of people watching, and it seemed like almost everyone was a foreigner.
  • There are a ton of US companies with offices in Dubai.
  • Everything is super clean and everywhere we went, I saw people cleaning, sweeping, etc.
  • Dubai is very safe - we walked around after midnight with no issues.
  • Every restaurant delivers, even McDonald's!
  • The currency exchanges in the malls have the best rates - hold out to exchange most of your money there.
  • Try to arrive so you attend the brunch at The Atlantis - we missed it but I heard it's amazing.

Next up, Part 2 in Abu Dhabi!