Dubai: The Middle East You Might Not Expect

Hello from Dubai!

After a very successful, 28 hours of total travel time (drove BHM to ATL, fly to JFK to JED to DXB), we landed in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Sitting in my hotel room, I still cannot believe that I have been lucky enough to see so many parts of the world now including part of the Middle East. We made it before our bags (they arrived the following day) but that didn’t affect us. We got our rental car, got to our hotel and went straight to dinner. The luggage didn’t slow us down but the time zone hopping surely did. Sweet Teddy fell asleep in the middle of eating his bread and drinking his water (before his entree arrived). Luckily, our room has a washer and dryer so we were able to wash and dry everyone’s clothes overnight just in case.

A good night’s sleep later and we were ready to hit the snow! Yes, that’s what I said…we had tickets to Ski Dubai for their penguin encounter, located inside the beautiful Mall of the Emirates. We rented snow boots, jackets, pants and gloves. It was an amazing experience to be up close with a Gentoo penguin and then get to pet two King penguins. The smile on our son’s face couldn’t be wiped away! In addition to all the penguin fun, Ski Dubai has five downhill ski runs; including the only indoor black diamond!  Though the skiing was beyond our current adventure, we sure enjoyed the snow village with tubing, bob sledding, and a wonderful snow-covered playground.  They really thought of it all! Oh and an American Girl kiosk store, we could not pass without a little purchase…you know, for memories!

Our family is always game to try all the different foods when we travel so we jumped right in with Lebanese food (Al Halabi) for lunch. It’s funny as I’ve been asked many times what our children eat when we travel. Every culture has some sort of chicken and rice meal. We chose a “mixed grill,” aka chicken, lamb, beef with rice and fries. On our first day in a new country, we try not to overload anyone. So we walked around the Dubai Marina and it was early bedtimes for everyone.

We have one more day (at the beginning of our travels) before Cory starts work so we decided to see Old Dubai. We walked around Al Fahidi Historic District (formerly called Bastakiya) to see old stucco buildings, barjeels (which are wind towers that used to be used for air conditioning), Dubai Museum to see traditional Bedouin lifestyle, pearl diving gallery and the old fort. We also walked through the Old Souk; this is a market where all owners/workers are standing outside their shop hassling by putting scarves on you so you’d have to touch them, calling us funny names (Big Boss, Jack Sparrow, Angelina Jolie, etc.) to lure us into their shops. It was quite accosting!

Cory’s favorite part of traveling is trying all the new foods, so he found us Afghani and Persian food at Wakha Restaurant; it was similar to the Lebanese food but the rice had raisins and carrots in it. Teddy loved that! After a full day, we let the kids play in the hotel (aka jump on the beds) and we ate supper in the hotel to get an early bedtime again. In the first few days of a trip, we work hard to get everyone on the correct time zone as quickly as possible.

Well, we enjoyed having Cory with us for a few days; but, the reason we got to come (aka Cory’s work) began on Sunday as their work week is Sunday to Thursday. Off to work he went and I drove us to the Dubai Mall to enjoy the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. It’s wild that this too is inside the mall. You can just walk by and see the giant fish tank. It also has a super fun tunnel then you keep going to the ‘zoo’ part where they had blue macaws, two very large crocodiles, Humboldt penguins, a night creature section and more. We opted for the ‘Explorer Experience’ ticket which included a behind the scenes tour of their baby sea creatures and feeding some very aggressive fish (where we all got wet) and a glass bottom boat ride. My kids had never been to a Rainforest Cafe so that’s where we lunched to continue the animal day we were having. Cory got off work a bit early and joined us at the pool for the afternoon.

Monday rolled around and we drove to Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary; it only took two different tries before we found the first (of two) viewing site. They have little huts with the description of the birds as well as a high-powered binocular. It’s an amazing wetland where twenty thousand more birds come for the winter. We saw grey and striated herons and a little egret to name a few. At the second viewing site, we saw lots and lots of flamingos. It was wild to watch flamingos in a wildlife sanctuary with skyscrapers in the background. We continued our Dubai adventures that day to the Madinat Jumeirah. It’s an Arabic resort with abra rides, a great view of the Burj Al Arab and fixed price souks. We took part in all of the above including a delicious Persian lunch at Anar where we all had a version of kebabs with a view of the river and the Burj Al Arab. It was a much needed peaceful, relaxing lunch after having to make too many u-turns trying to find the birds earlier that day. For another early bedtime for the kids, Cory joined us for supper in our hotel at The Observator on the 52nd floor. We watched skydivers land as well as a beautiful sunset. Then we called it a day!

Some days are more successful than others but it’s really all in the eye of the beholder.  Today I drove to Old Dubai for some sightseeing only to be told it was closed.  Side note, our hotel concierge said it was in fact open so I’m going with there might’ve been a language barrier with me at their entrance.  Instead we drove to Zabeel Park which was a bigger hit with my kids anyway.  It’s an awesome technology themed park linked by a bridge and cables, mini train to tour the park, IMAX, boat ride on lake, mini golf, etc.  Now all that I listed was actually closed today.  But that didn’t bother the kids as there were many little play areas for them to explore.

Many times, you have to set aside what you had “scheduled” for that day and just roll with it. They thought it was a huge success!  We continued our play at the hotel for some hide and seek.  You may be thinking how in the world are they doing that in one room.  Well, during the 2005 financial crisis in UAE, a lot of buildings (meant for condos) went bankrupt.  So, Marriott and other hotels bought them up.  Our hotel room has a bigger kitchen than ours in Birmingham, a large dining/living room, big foyer, washer and dryer, 3 bedrooms and 3.5 baths.  There are lots of good hiding spots here!  We met Cory at The Beach Bar and Grill at The Mirage for supper.  It was a bit fancier than I was expecting but it’s probably why their surf and turf was so amazing! We also sat on a patio right on the beach…great view!

We have two more days (on this part of the trip) in Dubai and they were nice and warm.  So we had to take advantage of them by hitting the Atlantis Aquaventure and Umm Suqeim (Kite Beach).  I was a bit nervous to take the kids to a waterpark by myself but they did amazing.  They truly are the best playmates!  There were some slides adults couldn’t go on in one area and they stuck together just as I asked even making a new friend along the way.  Even though the kids were under the height requirement for the big rides, they played in multiple different areas with great slides as well as a lazy river that turned into rapids.  It was SO much fun!  The beach was a perfect refresher after a waterpark day.  We were able to park close, walk to the sand with hardly anyone there and just play.  We had breathtaking views of the Persian Gulf and (part of) the Dubai skyline including the Burj Al Arab.  We all took naps this afternoon as Cory had planned a special evening for us!

Our treat tonight was reservations at Serafina, a restaurant that faces the Burj Khalifa…aka the tallest building in the world.  Nightly, it has a laser light show that happens and the Dubai Fountain has multiple water shows.  We had a front row seat to watch the water show (occurring every 30 minutes) and the laser show (occurring every 45 minutes).  It brought tears to my eyes thinking of showing the kids the fountain in front of the Bellagio almost four years ago when we took our first long Go With Daddy trip.  These kids have grown up so and we have been able to experience so much with them as well.  What a blessing!

On our final morning in Dubai, the sweet staff at Counter Culture Cafe (where we have eaten breakfast every morning) gave Bea and Teddy ‘send off treats’ and said how much they’ll miss getting to see them each morning.  I don’t know about other hotel chains but Marriott takes the best care of us especially when Cory’s working.  They know it’s a mom with her two small children and they always go above and beyond.  I SO appreciate it!  Thank you, Marriott!

Next stop, Abu Dhabi!

King Penguins at Ski Dubai

“Mixed Grill” plate

Zabeel Park

Atlantis Aquaventure

Burj Khalifa

3 thoughts on “Dubai: The Middle East You Might Not Expect

  1. Brenda Williams

    Millie, what an amazing adventure! So glad God has blessed you so. Tell Cory, Bea and Teddy “hello” for Mr. Jerry and Me. Take care and Love to you all. Mrs. Brenda (Thankful Patsy shared your blog.)


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