A few days ago, I checked in with my very good friend, and luxury expert, Beth, who allowed us to stowaway in her suitcase with her on her trip to the Seychelles where she gave us a run down of the Four Seasons there. On her way to the Seychelles she stopped over in Dubai for a short layover. She made the most of her time there and escaped the airport to explore–just for a little while. So, let’s see what Beth had to say.
Useful Information About Dubai
On my way to the Seychelles, I purposefully chose a flight with a long 18-hour layover in Dubai. I wanted to get out of the airport and explore.
Dubai is one emirate of the United Arab Emirates, which is a constitutional federation of seven emirates. (And so is Abu Dhabi, as you may remember as the vacation destination in “Sex and the City 2”.) Dubai is a city built not only in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of a desert. On the Emirates airlines, I watched a 30-minute documentary about how Dubai was built…very impressive indeed.
Samantha’s Abu Dhabi “YES, I HAVE SEX!” and condom-throwing incident was on my mind as I prepared to travel to the UAE. I briefly thought about donning a burqa to avoid any similar issues seeing that I was traveling alone. Though everything I read and people I spoke with who had been there said it was a progressive culture, I was also warned to never forget Dubai is a Muslim culture and they could enforce their laws anytime they felt like it.
Here is what I saw in public businesses and out on the streets: women in burqas that covered them from head to toe (even mesh panels covered their eyes) as well as women in tank tops and short skirts. Men wore thobes and shoras (with their Prada sandals peeking out), as well as shorts and tee shirts. The dress was varied, but I wasn’t going to take any chances, so I wore a dress that covered my shoulders and went to my knees. I also carried a pashmina to wrap around me for good measure. Even with my pashmina, men stared, especially on the train, because apparently, according to a Dubai Travel site, “women traveling alone are a novelty and may find themselves the focus of unwanted attention.” The men stared either in awe at seeing kneecaps and bare shins or in judgment at my hussy wear.
The Dubai Mall has a “Dress Code” that I did not see enforced (e.g., women had to cover shoulders and knees), but again, I wasn’t taking chances—the pashmina came out and I wrapped it around me. Also, alcohol is forbidden except in hotels, and swimming suits are not suitable for the public unless you are on a private, hotel beach.
Getting to Dubai
From NYC, it’s a non-stop 12 hour flight to Dubai International Airport (DBX). I flew on Emirates Airlines—for a mere $10,000 I could have gone up the stairs to Business Class (my first flight on a double-decker plane!), but my cheap-o $2,000 ticket kept me downstairs among the commoners.
DBX is a beautiful airport—at times you feel like you are walking through a modern shopping mall (five-story floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall waterfalls and rows and rows of glass elevators). Even the Emirates terminal exterior looks like a very large nightclub. Here’s a shot of the interior.
Fly Emirates. It is wholly-owned by the Government of Dubai, so it is THEIR airline. Men who wear Prada sandals don’t skimp on quality. The NYC to Dubai leg is on the A380, and I honestly couldn’t believe that double-decker plane and all those people, luggage and fuel made it off the ground. The flights I looked at with a four or 18 hour layover are about the same price, but if you don’t see a flight with a layover option you like, call Emirates and they will book you a customized flight. Even with my luggage temporarily “misplaced” for over two hours was handled professionally, and they seemed moved by my tears of frustration.
The entire Terminal 3 is dedicated to Emirates passengers. First and Business class passengers have complimentary use of Emirates Lounges (relax, eat, or even take advantage of spa treatments during a layover), but Economy class can use the “marhaba lounge” for a fee. There are certain requirements (e.g., duration of layover and this must be a layover stop to another destination).
Getting Around Dubai
First, almost everyone speaks English. The train announcements, the airport signs, businesses—they are all spoken in English. And Arabic, should you be fluent in that language.
Second, the local currency is UAE Dirham, or AED. At the time of publication, $1 USD equals about 3.67 AED. I converted US Dollars at my local NYC bank before I went and avoided a fee.
Cabs are clean and not pricey. My 15 minute and 3.5 mile cab ride to my hotel from the airport was about 40 AED or just over $10 USD. There are also pink women-only cabs driven by women for those who do not want to sit in a car with a man. Clearly, I did not mind. Also, taxi drivers don’t expect to be tipped, but I tipped them since they helped me with my luggage.
The train (the Dubai Metro) is above-ground, so you get a great view as you’re zipping along. If you have taken a subway in a large city, nothing will be unfamiliar with this system. There are two lines (red and green line) and seven zones, and you can get a ticket (called a “Nol Card”) depending on which zones you travel through. But don’t waste time calculating zones–I bought a 14AED pre-paid Nol at the station ticket booth that was good for one day in unlimited zones. Gold Nol card holders can take the “Gold Car” (akin to first class), and there is also a women’s-only car. I opted to stand in the general seating cars, but again, I was stared at big time. I think the women-only car passengers would have also stared me down. Here’s a shot of the Metro:
The stations are announced in English, and with the two lines and destinations on each end of each line, it’s not too complicated. There are only two transfer stations for transfer to the other line, so if you are at one end of a line, you have to travel a way to get to the transfer station.
Note: Keep your ticket handy when you exit the station because you need it to pass through the turnstile.
What to Do in Dubai
I wanted to visit the world’s only self-appointed seven-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, but you cannot visit without reservations at one of its eight restaurants or bars. I did not plan far ahead enough (they were all booked for months in advance), and my request to please get a table somewhere went nowhere. And by the way, there is no such thing as a seven-star hotel unless you’re Dubai and you say so. Anyway, after seeing what a trek it is to get to (not accessible by train, because anyone ostentatious enough to stay there would never be caught dead on public transportation, is my guess), I was fine seeing it from a distance as the train whizzed by.
I just hopped on the train and stopped at random stops. The stops are oh-so logically named; the Dubai Mall stop is named “Dubai Mall”, the Dubai Marina stop is named “Dubai Marina” and so on. I wanted to visit the gold souks and the Burj Khalifa, and I planned on winging the rest. The Concierge at my hotel gave me a map and told me how to get to the train. Here is the mall:
My first stop: the Gold Souk. It was the gold version of the NYC Diamond District: store after store selling gold jewelry. On the outskirts of the souk are markets that sell food, snacks, travel souvenirs and clothing. I just window-shopped, but I should have bought something, since: 1. the government regulates the quality of all the merchandise, so you can be assured that your purchases are genuine, and 2. If you are stubborn enough and haggle well enough, you can drop the asking price in half. To get there: I took the green line to Al Ras and walked there.
Next, I transferred to the red line and took it all the way to the Dubai Marina stop. It’s a marina, all right. It has boats, ice cream for sale on the pier, and some pretty amazing Jetson-esqe buildings. It’s a leisurely 20 minute stroll from one end of the pier to the other, and you can eat water-front at one of the many restaurants if you like.
Mall of the Emirates
Then I backtracked on the red line to the Mall of the Emirates Stop. This is where Ski Dubai, the indoor snow park, is located (complete with a chair lift) for those who long for snow and cold weather (it was spring and 100 degrees when I was there—see below). It’s quite a mall with 520 stores, Magic Planet, the largest indoor family entertainment center in Dubai, and a 14-theatre movie complex, but if you want a real mall that means serious business, go to the Dubai Mall.
Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa
A few stops on the red line, and you get to Burj Khalifa / Dubai mall stop. The city is planned to keep people out of the heat—the entire walkway from the train to the mall itself is an indoor walkway—and this was a good 20 minute walk. The mall is designed for visitors to spend the entire day inside. Every high-end luxury store you can imagine is in this 1,200 store mall, and Bradley Cooper even sells Häagen-Dazs.
The Dubai Fountain is outside, and the show starts right at 6:00 p.m. How do I know this? I arrived at the fountain at 6:04 and the show was over. From the Fountain site, you can see the Burj Khalifa—the world’s tallest building. I couldn’t even get the entire building in one photo! You can go to the top, but it was getting dark and I didn’t feel like traversing Dubai alone, at night, so I headed back to my hotel. Here is Burj Khalifa:
Also inside is the two-floor Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, the Dubai Ice Rink, and KidZania®, an interactive “edutainment centre” where children get to “understand the world of grown-ups better, by being grown-ups themselves”. No, they don’t pay bills and argue with their spouses. They choose one of 80 different roles to “play” including surgeons, firefighters, chefs, and models, since we all know how many grown –ups are models.
Other points of interest are the Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island shaped like a palm tree, but from the ground it looks like, well, a street. You should get an aerial view of this. Also visit Traditional Dubai by taking the green line to the Al Fahidi Station 2 stop. A desert safari is something to do if you have a full day, which I did not, and even if I did, spending the day in a sandy oven with no cool ocean or pool in sight is not my idea of fun, but if it is your idea of a good time, there are numerous desert tour companies to take you on this adventure.
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed at the five-star Mövenpick Hotel Deira in the Deira area of Dubai. The hotel has 216 rooms, an outdoor rooftop pool, fully-equipped fitness center, and “beauty lounge”. I cannot speak to much more than the room, as I arrived late morning, was out exploring the city all day, then came back to the hotel, took a short nap, showered and left at 11:30 for my 2 am flight. I stayed in a king-size Superior Room.
Check-in was a breeze. I requested early check-in and was able to do so. The elevator is glass, and you have a view over the outdoor courtyard on the ride up. My luggage was delivered to my room shortly after I got in my room.
I will say that the room was clean and modern. There was a seating area, and the king-size room came equipped with a large flat screen TV, iPod dock, free Wi-Fi, in-room safe, two complimentary bottles of water and coffee and tea, iron and ironing board, and two robes and sets of slippers. There was a mini bar with drinks and snacks for purchase—I ate a whole jar of cashews and it was only about $5.
The bathroom had a separate glass-wall shower with rainfall showerhead, large vanity and lighted magnifying make-up mirror, hairdryer, a toilet AND bidet, and came stocked with standard toiletries like lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and body soap (which was on the bathroom counter instead of in the shower…?), as well as cotton swabs, cotton balls, nail file, sewing kit and shower cap. The towels were white (of course) and large and fluffy.
I am sad I missed out on the breakfast buffet at their restaurant, Jigsaw. The travel site reviews said the breakfast was delicious and offered a large variety of food and beverages. Jigsaw also serves food all day and has a selection of international cuisine and creatively-themed buffets. The other restaurant is Options by Sanjeev Kapoor, and this serves exotic Indian dishes in an elegant setting. The hotel’s bar, Fashion Lounge, is “a chic and trendy lounge, where the fashionable meet.” Well, I must have not been fashionable that day because I made a bee line to my room to get in 3 hours of sleep, a shower, and a can of cashews.
Check-out was actually pretty entertaining. The desk staff member was so friendly—as I was snapping photos of the lobby, he offered to take photos of me, then proceeded to conduct a mini-photo shoot of me in all the sections of the lobby. He even personally hailed me a cab and shooed away my tip.
There is a complimentary shuttle to the nearby malls, I suggest taking the Metro and exploring the city if you’re a little adventurous—the nearest train station is Abu Baker Al Siddique Station on the red line, and it is right down the street from the hotel.
A Few Things to Note
There are 220 volt outlets and the sockets use the three-pin, 13-amp plugs of British standard design. There were ample plugs in the room to plug all my electronic devices. The one complaint I have is that there were many oddly-placed light switches in the room (e.g., the light switch for the bathroom wasn’t in the bathroom), and to this day, I’m not sure it clicking them up or down turned them on. I feel like I was switching every light switch up and down to figure out how to turn on what.
Also of note is that they responded promptly to my numerous emails asking about outlets, amenities provided, and early check in options. Overall, I would definitely recommend this hotel to anyone looking to spend the night in a five-star hotel (which may actually be a 4-star hotel by U.S. standards being that Dubai rates their hotels as compared to their seven-star hotel).
Mövenpick Hotel Deira Information
Address: Corner Abu Bakker Al Siddique and Sallahuddin Road, PO BOX 234344, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Phone: +971 4 444 0111
Cost: My Superior King room was 594.00 AED, including tax or about $160 USD. A Suite will run you around $950 AED or a little over $250.
All lodging was paid for at full price. All opinions herein are my friend Beth’s. The hotel had no idea she was going to write a review, and she still got great service.