Dubai has never featured anywhere near the top of my global visits wishlist, but a stopover on our way back from the UK to New Zealand seemed a good enough reason as any to explore this exotic sandpit.
A seamless and relatively quick transition through passport control and customs at the DXB airport, meant we were travelling along the highway in our taxi in no time at all.
The Bonnington Jumeriah Hotel is situated in the JBT Jumeriah Beach Towers area , and we had to drive past the monumental Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) to get there. I’d love to write that the magnificence of the Burj Khalifa was a sight for sore eyes for these two weary Brit-Kiwis, but I can’t because neither of us could see it on account of it being such a foggy morning.
What I can write about is my eyes widening and jaw dropping when I walked into the hotel lobby and looked up at the hotel’s splendid Christmas tree stood majestically in the lobby. Christmas is a very special time for this Brit-Kiwi, and it was like Christmas had followed me around the world – from the warm, balmy climate of New Zealand to the chilly frost of the UK, and now the arid heat of this gorgeous desert in the United Arab Emirates.
I must confess, I did fan-girl over the sight of the adorned tree while the other Brit-Kiwi stood rolling his eyes. But it was very much a contradiction in this non Christian nation and one I certainly wasn’t expecting to see. Surprisingly, it would be the first of many we would see on our little adventures around this city.
The lobby itself boasted a large marbled floor, and the friendly, very helpful service we received from the Irish girl on reception helped to augur a very good start to our stay.
We were weary from our travels, we needed to sleep but we also didn’t want to waste any precious time in the sandpit. A few hours kip was sufficient to revive us enough to venture out to the Dubai Marina on the Metro from the JBT station, a few minutes’ walk from our hotel.
Walking around the marina, it felt like we could have been in any cosmopolitan city in the world. It has that certain kind of vibe, an almost Singaporean feel to it – modern, yet relaxed despite all the skyscrapers and lots of construction works and the ubiquitous cranes around the city.
We stopped in at an Italian restaurant nestled by the water, a setting that in any other hip city would call for a bottle of Italian bubbly – but of course under UAE law, this was not one of those settings. Yet, the lack of this service didn’t dampen our experience, and we settled back into our chairs lazily watching the very diverse mix of people walking by.
The next day we headed out again. I pause to note here that a very close second to diamonds, shopping is a girl’s next-best-friend. While men all over the world will collectively groan, there within the vast dominion of the Dubai Mall, shopping also becomes a man’s best friend. Everything you can think of is catered for here. It is a colossal mall of epic proportions, with an almost equally titanic-sized aquarium and underwater zoo of aquatic animals that extends through the middle of the mall.
Spread over the many levels of the mall, are in excess of 1200 shops of all types from the expensive high end tastes to lower priced bargains you can barter for. There was no shortage of man-toys to keep the other Brit-Kiwi distracted while I browsed through the clothing racks at the infamous Fashion Avenue.
You could spend the whole day and evening at this mall and then come back again for more. Afraid you’ll get hungry? No problem, the Dubai Mall boasts 200+ eating houses and proffer all sorts of tantalising dishes and treats.
If you have grizzly children in tow, there is a whole floor dedicated to keeping them occupied. An indoor theme park equipped with thriller rides and arcade games along with an educational Kidzania village. Or perhaps you need to bribe them to be on their best behaviour by dangling the promise of an ice skating escapade? Because the mall also has an indoor rink. I know!
I honestly can’t think of any other mall in the world that I’ve been to that can match the glamour and extravagance that this place oozes. Hands down, the decadence of the Dubai Mall is unparalleled.
It was difficult to pull ourselves away from the mall, but a visit to the Burj Khalifa was next on our itinerary and we wanted to see it in all its glory before the sun set. As we stepped out, this towering beast of a building loomed into our vision and snatched our breath away. It’s so tall and large, that you struggle to get it all into a photo in one go. We explored the outside of the building before heading inside where we’d made a reservation for refreshments. The view was as spectacular as the price of the food and drinks, but we’d expected this due to the minimum spend stipulated when we booked a table. We relaxed with a couple of [expensive] cocktails as the sun started to drop into the horizon and the fountain show started to get underway. I was so taken by it all that I missed the guy at the table next to us proposing to his girlfriend. Whoops! I’m sure it was lovely, good luck to them I say!
Day three saw us catching up with friends who live just outside of Dubai, then we set off to explore the infamous souks (markets) which contrasted to the lavish stylings of the Dubai Mall the day before, but impressive all the same. We also visited the Jumeriah Beach area which I utterly adored, and again it had that same relaxed vibe we experienced at the Marina on our first day. We managed to squeeze in a short visit to the Palm via the monorail (an island literally shaped like a palm). While it looked lovely, the one resort housed on that island felt very much like an overpriced commercial resort that seemed pretty noisy (likely due to the loads of children) so perhaps if you don’t have any little nippers yourself, and want to sunbathe uninterrupted without lots of squealing or squabbling (lol) you might want to steer clear of here. But having said that, I know of people who have stayed on the Palm, and others who have eaten there and enjoyed it. I guess it’s down to whatever your cup of tea is really.
My overall experience in Dubai was very enjoyable and thankfully we didn’t face any issues being an unmarried couple which people often warn you about. I thank my lucky stars I didn’t faint in the heat, but given it was their winter the temperatures hovered around the 26 degrees C mark.
I guess one thing I noticed which is a debatable topic is the 'strict' dress code for all women in Dubai . I spotted a lot of other tourists who were choosing to ignore that code. My personal view is that as a guest in another country that isn’t your own, one must respect the views and codes of that country. If it tells women to cover up, then why not do so - it’s not that hard. Others have the view that Dubai is so cosmopolitan that it doesn't matter and as it's not enforced, they do as they please. It's definitely flexible but an interesting point to note when you are over there.
Would I want to stop over in Dubai again? You bet I would! So obviously a man-made city, but a very sophisticated one at that with loads of buildings popping up everywhere. Dubai is a city that is moving forward and at a phenomenal pace, and one that is so vibrant and full of life!