Travel Basics for Dubai, United Arab Emirates

—Amy M. Gardner

Our flight to Baku, Azerbaijan would leave from Dubai, so rather than go straight from Abu Dhabi to the Dubai airport, we decided to spend a few nights in Dubai.  We still had some work to do in Dubai, but spent an entire day on a dhow in Oman and were able to spend more time exploring than we were able to do in Abu Dhabi.

Getting around:  Within Dubai, we used taxis a few times and primarily Uber, which seemed to be less expensive than a taxi and never had a wait longer than a few minutes.  We stayed on the engineered Palm, which didn’t seem to be very walkable, in part because of the 105 degree heat and in part because of the distance from the Palm to the museums, etc. in Dubai.      

 Reality check:  In many ways, Dubai seemed like a wealthier Las Vegas, including when it came to transportation.  Sure, you could, in theory, walk from the Strip to Fremont Street, but who would?  (Well, we did once.  And will never again.)  Almost every time we requested a regular old Uber in Dubai we got a Lexus, Mercedes, or Audi.  A far cry from the usual Uber vehicles in Chicago!


Favorite experiences in Dubai: Our trek between Abu Dhabi and Dubai via all seven of the United Arab Emirates was certainly memorable.  (See separate post coming soon.)  And our dhow trip in Oman was something I’m so glad we got to do (even if I did just narrowly avoid dying in a bathroom.)  Beyond those two experiences, spending time relaxing at the hotel’s beach and watching the incredible sunset was one of my favorite experiences of our time in the UAE.  The water was so salty you could float standing up, and the skyline was incredible. 

While we don’t normally hang out in malls, we went to the Dubai Mall, where we watched the Burj Khalifa light show and the Dubai fountain show from the great vantage point of the Apple store’s outdoor balcony. It seemed most people at the mall were attracted by the various activities (ice skating, the light and fountain shows, etc.) rather than shopping, and the mall is so huge that VIPs and big spenders were riding around on chauffeured golf carts.  

Reality check:  If the hotel’s main swimming pool were a TV show, it would be called “The Cool Kids Hang Out And Instagram Themselves In Tiny Swimsuits Standing Around In Three Feet of Water While Uncool Kids Look Down From Their Balconies And Wonder When The Music Will Be Turned Off.” Hence our going past the main swimming pool and to the hotel’s beach, which was much calmer and had only 5% of the number of people obsessively rearranging their . . . .anatomy for the benefit of their photos on Instagram.  

I went to the hotel gym our last morning and discovered the difference between weights measured in kilograms and in pounds and nearly killed myself with a weight marked 10 . . . .  On the way back to the room I first saw the spa pool, which seemed much more serene and appealing than the main pool.       

Inexpensive Meals: While our laundry was washing at the Laundry Lounge next door (highly recommend if you’re looking to do your laundry in Dubai), we had a great brunch at the Baker Street Café.  Both are on the ground floor of the Jumeirah Lake Towers apartment complex about a $10 Uber ride from our hotel.  The Baker Street Café made quite possibly the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten.    


Nicer Meals:  We had dinner from room service due to our very late arrival after our seven Emirates tour.  While of course not cheap, the food was surprisingly good.  

Lodging: Given the low rates for Dubai hotels in August, it didn’t make sense to redeem points, so we stayed at the brand new Five Palm Jumeirah Dubai.  We received an upgrade to a large room with great views of the pool and the beach.  I think the bathroom was larger than either of our Tokyo hotel rooms!  The service was excellent, including a manager personally escorting us through the pool craziness to the beach when we weren’t sure how to get there, and the concierge printing and having our Oman visas delivered to our room within 10 minutes of my request.


Reality check:  Having watched umpteen programs about the manmade Palm and other islands in Dubai, I thought it would be neat to stay on it. In reality, it’s kind of a hassle as it’s far from the public transit, everything seemed to be a $10 US cab or Uber ride away because of one way roads, and the Palm itself is not very walkable. If you want to sit at the beach or use the pool all day and don’t mind the hotel restaurant prices, it would be an ideal place to stay.  

Overall: While there’s much more to see in Dubai, I’m not sure I need to go back.  If I do, I’d choose a different time of year and, while the hotel was really nice, next time I would probably stay in another area of Dubai to be better-positioned to see more of Dubai.

Have you been to Dubai?  Am I off-base?