Dubai is weird. I’ve said it so many times. It’s the answer I’ve given to pretty much everyone who’s asked me about the trip. “It was really cool, but really weird.” Standing at one of the metro platforms, someone came up to me and asked if I lived there. Me – blonde hair, blue eyes, Swedish complexion; I couldn’t be further from looking like an Arab (I’m used to never blending in, I don’t look like 95% of the world. Maggie on the other hand, get’s asked that question everywhere, with her dark Gypsy coloring) (OK fine, she’s Bulgarian). But when you realize that only 10-15% of the 1.7 million people living here are actually Emirati, you understand why it would be easy to ask anyone that question. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse, modern cities I’ve ever been to. And most of the time, I find it hard to reconcile that I’m even in a foreign country!

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In the taxi to our hotel late Friday evening after arriving, the first thought I have is, “It’s like Vegas on steroids”. This comparison is made more apparent as the week goes on. Everything is brand new, shiny glass and steel, and completely over the top. And as we learn later, it’s built to look nice, but with no substance behind it. Sounds like another desert city I know…

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Our first introduction to Dubai is the Mall. I’ll be honest, I don’t often go to malls on vacation…they usually aren’t much different than the ones at home, and there are so many other things I’d rather be doing while traveling. But I’d heard a lot about the malls here, and I really wanted to check them out. Plus, half the tourist activities in Dubai are located in them. So we set out for the Dubai Mall, one of largest malls in the world. I think it might be bigger than Mukilteo, the town I grew up in!

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Inside, we’re promptly distracted by the Dubai Aquarium. It’s pretty hard to miss!

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My favorite part is the underwater tunnel, where sea creatures and divers swim overhead, and everyone is turned blue.

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After a couple hours enjoying the sea life, we find our way to the Dubai Fountain and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. In the evening, there’s a big choreographed show in the fountain set to loud music. It plays every 30 minutes and is a different song/show every time. Sound like the show at the Bellagio? They were designed and built by the same company, though Dubai being Dubai, theirs is the largest in the world.

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Even with my wide angle lens, I can’t quite fit the whole thing in. Thank goodness for my GoPro! Have I mentioned how much I love this little camera (so much so that I unintentionally convinced Maggie to buy one when she got back)? It takes amazing photos which you can download straight to your phone, and it’s got a fisheye lens, perfect for fitting in the worlds tallest structures.

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Thanks to one of my favorite travel bloggers, As Her World Turns, I knew we needed to buy tickets to the top ahead of time or risk it being sold out, so after a rest in the sun, we find our way inside to take care of business. Another tip – it’s better to buy them online instead of in person. They’re about $10 cheaper this way, but I don’t find that out until later.

Around 2pm, our friends Nevine and Markus arrive and it’s so good to see them! We haven’t seen each other since the wedding reception in India, almost exactly 3 years ago. At the time they were dating, but they have since gotten married and are pregnant with their first child. I’m so happy for them!

For lunch they take us to a delicious Mexican (you can literally eat whatever you desire in this city) restaurant before we head to Old Dubai and the Spice and Gold Markets. For 1 dirham, we catch a boat across the river.

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Since we’re there in the evening, the markets are quiet. We wander around a bit, but we’re all exhausted and soon head back to our hotel.

The next morning we take the metro to Umm Suqeim beach for a day of rest and relaxation in the shadow of the Burj al Arab. You can even see the Atlantis Hotel at the end of the Palm, off in the distance.

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By early afternoon, we head back to the hotel to shower and change. Our tickets to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa are for the evening, then we’re heading to Nevine and Markus’ place for dinner. Maggie is underwhelmed by the view from the top, but I’m thrilled. It’s so beautiful and I want to photograph every angle!

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Our third day in Dubai is spent at Aquaventure Waterpark at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm! I’m so excited to be here. Those of you who know me know I love the Amazing Race (and really want to be on it!). Well this is where a challenge on season 15 of the show took place. One of the contestants couldn’t manage to go down one of the slides and was eliminated. I can’t wait to try it myself! Check back later to see if I made it.

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We end the day with dinner in the hotel and a quick walk through the Lost Chambers Aquarium. This aquarium is much smaller than the one in the Dubai Mall, but I actually end up liking it better. I could stand at these “windows” all day, just watching the fish go about their lives. They even have cushions for people to sit on and enjoy the views for awhile.

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The next day, Nevine wants to take us to JBH beach. As we’re chatting in the shade (at least Nevine and I are in the shade, Maggie is out worshipping the sun), a couple of camels wander by. I swear, only in Dubai!

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Then it’s time to head out to the desert for some dune-bashing. No, we don’t hit the sand dunes with baseball bats (Lukasz). We ride in 4×4 vehicles while the driver tries to roll the car off the sand dunes. Well, that’s what it feels like anyway! In reality, it’s basically like off-roading in the desert. It’s really fun!

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The dune-bashing is followed by dinner and a show. Honestly, I could have done without this part, but it’s part of the package and I like to eat, so I’m not too upset about it.

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We spend our second to last day in Dubai, not in Dubai but Abu Dhabi! The Sheik Zayed Mosque is the main attraction here (seriously, it’s amazing), but we also head to the Emirates Palace for high tea (and champagne).

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Back in Dubai, we walk around the Ibn Battuta mall. This mall was modeled after 6 of the places the Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta traveled to: Persia, China, India, Tunisia, Egypt and Andalusia. Nevine tells us that this is a mall you go to for the experience, not the shopping. I can see why!

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We spend an hour or so admiring each section, then Nevine takes us to dinner in Souk Madinat via Al Qasr hotel. I could never afford to stay in a place like this, but it’s beautiful to walk through.

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We arrive a bit too late in the evening and all the outdoor seating is full, but we have a delicious dinner inside at Meat & Co. before heading back to the apartment to sit and chat with our friends on their balcony. We stay too late and the metro has stopped running, so we taxi back to our hotel.

On our last day, we finally make it to Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates. This is one of the things I really wanted to do before coming and I’m really excited to kick my ski season off in the desert!

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This place is so weird! I can’t believe I’m actually going to be skiing, inside, on real snow, in Dubai. Included in the price of the ticket is a coat, pants, and all the equipment you need. A hat and gloves are not provided though, so we borrowed them from Nevine the night before. Then you ride the elevator up and you’re in the middle of a winter wonderland! It’s very cold, even for me, but I love it. There’s even a real chair lift…crazy.

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We spend an hour and a half cruising the slopes. It’s so much fun, but with only 2 real runs, an hour and a half is plenty. So what do you do after skiing in Dubai? Go to the pool to lay in the sun of course! Nevine takes us to her club for a few hours of relaxing before getting ready for our dinner at Abd El Wahab, a Lebanese restaurant with amazing views of the Dubai fountain and the Burj Khalifa.

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The food is amazing and for Dubai, not ridiculously expensive (just a little expensive). I can’t believe we leave in the morning. I feel like we just arrived! This trip ended up being way more packed full of things to do than I expected and I feel like another day or 2, just to relax on the beach, would be perfect. And it’s been so lovely getting to spend time with Markus and Nevine, who took such good care of us the entire time. I don’t know which country we’ll meet in next time, but I’m kind of hoping for Lebanon (where Nevine is from)…Maggie, let’s start planning!

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
Concordia and Copala

4 thoughts on “Dubai or Vegas?

  1. Love this post! Looks like you guys had a blast in UAE. It makes me excited to go back some day. And thanks for the shout-out! So glad you got to the top of the Burj Khalifa. The beaches and dune bashing looks fun too. Glad you got to Abu Dhabi — that mosque is stunning. Great photos. Aside from the GoPro, what camera and lenses do you use?

    1. Thank you so much Erica! It was a fun trip and I was really glad to have your blog to guide us. I hope you have a chance to go back and see more of the city yourself! I use a Canon 40D that I’ve had for about 7 years now, and a Canon EF 17-40mm f4L USM wide angle lens. I love the lens and it’s what I use most of the time, but I think I’m going to need to upgrade the body soon (ugh, if I can afford it!). It’s been a workhorse of a camera, but I’m finding limitations that are starting to frustrate me, especially the blurriness, though maybe that’s just me! I also have a Canon telephoto lens that I use occasionally. I would love to upgrade that as well, but I’m not sure I use it enough to justify the expense. One thing at a time!

  2. Always happy to travel with you!!!! The photos turned out amaaaazing!!!!

    1. Thank you!! I can’t wait for our next trip, whatever that turns out to be!

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