March 11, 2013 by talkaboutyork
As I mentioned in my previous post, the final part of my 40th celebrations was getting to spend five days in Dubai with three girls I was at high school with. The idea started last April, when faced with our collective impending fortieths, we decided that it was only right that we go somewhere together to celebrate/commiserate.
This was a bigger challenge than you might imagine. Two of us live in the UK. Two in SA. We all have children. Trying to find somewhere that was mutually convenient and affordable and the right time of year was tricky. There were many times we thought it wasn’t going to happen. But we got there in the end. And I’m so pleased we did. We hadn’t seen much of each other (certainly not as a group) since high school so it felt like we were coming full circle.
Day 1 (very sleep deprived after a sleepless flight), we found our apartment in the Jumeirah Beach Residence and hit the beach. The apartment was huge, had a few dodgy issues like a hole in the bedroom ceiling, plugs that didn’t work and the world’s worst toaster, but in general was perfect for what we needed. At £800 for five nights it was reasonable too (much cheaper than the hotels). We found ours on http://www.homeaway.co.uk.
Jumeirah Beach Residences are right on the Jumeirah Beach Walk, a strip of shops and eateries, with a steady stream of flash cars driving past. The only downside to this area is the huge amount of construction work that is going on between the apartments and the beach. But then it’s hard to travel for two minutes in Dubai before stumbling across more construction work. This area seemed very family friendly too (a piece of info I stored away should I return with children).
That evening we got to experience Ladies Night in Dubai. Tuesday is Ladies Night across the city, with a number of establishments trying to coax women through the doors with free or cheap drinks. We went to Barasti Beach Bar, which had lovely squishy sofas to lounge on. For the princely sum of AED50 (about £9) we got to drink as much champagne as we could manage all night long (and we could manage rather a lot).
Day 2, and with our hangovers, we headed off to Aquaventure at the Atlantis on the Palm. This is an incredible waterpark that I will have to return to with my children, but I was very pleased to be able to enjoy it with my friends and behave like a child instead. What made this waterpark so spectacular was the service from every single member of staff we came across. I have never, ever been so overwhelmed by such attentiveness, friendliness and helpfulness. I wish British attractions could go there for a lesson on how to do it right. It cost AED300 (about £54) for entrance, a towel, locker and lunch meal with drink – and worth every penny.
I don’t do scary rides, but these were just a scream. Almost all of them involved sitting on a tube. There was a fantastically long lazy river with rapids and tidal waves to zoom you along. There was a completely pitch black ride that spat you out in a glass tube inside a shark tank, with sharks and rays swimming all around you. But best of all was the Shamal (?) ride, which required a tandem tube and it went uphill with vast spurts of water which sent you airborne. I don’t think I have laughed that hard in years.
After all that excitement, we opted for a quiet night at the Dubai Marina Yacht Club, featuring cocktails and live music.
Day 3 and it was time to go shopping. There are so many malls in Dubai that it’s hard to know which one to pick, but we opted for the Dubai Mall as it was where we were going to be picked up from later in the day.
The Dubai Mall makes other malls look like street stalls in comparison. It is the largest mall in the world with over 1,200 shops alone. That’s not including the huge aquarium, ice rink, cinema, 160 eateries, huge waterfalls, kidzania, SEGA Republic, incredible dancing fountains and is on the doorstep of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It is a dangerous place for credit cards.
If you are in Dubai with kids, be sure to take them to Candylicious, a sweet shop that rivals Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with their slogan ‘eat happy!’. It is opposite the aquarium, so kids will be dazzled between the sweets and the slowly gliding sharks.
We then left our purchases at the mall concierge (yes, there is a concierge with lockers – they think of everything) and we headed out on a desert safari. There was a slight mix up with our driver, which resulted in us being picked up late and him being decidedly grumpy. Having a grumpy driver when you go dune bashing is a scary thing. After screaming our lungs out over dunes and narrowly missing passing camels, we finally stopped at our Bedouin camp.
We got to ride camels (less uncomfortable and smelly than I expected), get henna tattoos (yes it does amplify the wrinkles on my hands), eat a middle eastern BBQ (delicious) and watch whirling dirvishes and bellydancers on stage. It was a wonderful evening under the stars.
Day 4 was a bit of a conundrum. We were desperate to try one of the infamous boozy brunches that are held in most hotels every Friday. But we had limited time and lots still to see. So we caught a cab to Old Dubai and headed in to the Souks. This was poor planning on our part as most of the Souks are closed on a Friday during the day. If you’re planning on going to Dubai, be sure to go to the souks in the evening. Despite, this, there were still enough shops for us to get an idea and to purchase a few handbags and some jewellery. You will be invited to go to dubious looking flats to see the handbags in case you think you are about to be abducted (I wouldn’t do this on your own).
After that we walked along the Dubai Creek before catching an Abra, a traditional wooden boat. We potted up and down the creek admiring how the old Dubai merges with the new. It cost AED120 (£21) for a private Abra for an hour so it’s worth doing that if you want to get a general look around the old part plus easy access to the Old, Spice and Gold souks.
That evening we dressed up and headed out for a meal at Bice at the Hilton, winner of numerous awards. The food was delicious (not cheap) and the service impeccable. Definitely worth splurging for a night out. Then we went on the hunt for a club to go dancing in. We were slightly intimidated by many of the cool clubs – like Mahiki and 360 – as we’d read that the door policies are based on what you wear, what you look like and whether you’re willing to spend a minimum of AED2000. As it happened, in a fit of foolishness, we ended up doing what your mother tells you not to do: getting into a car with two strange men who promised to take us to a club. (Obviously we haven’t learnt much despite being 40).
Luckily we ended up not being sold into slavery, but were ushered past some bouncers and taken into a club called Amika in the H Hotel. Not only that, but we were placed in the VIP area, cordoned off with a rope so that we didn’t have to mingle with the riff raff. Waiters constantly topped up our free cranberry and vodka drinks. Sadly the music was what I like to call ‘Angry R&B’ with lots of F and N words thrown in. And unlike the UK, smoking is allowed in clubs which meant we found it hard to see each other in the black smoky haze (this is making me sound terribly 40ish). But it was a great eye opener for how the other half live.
Our last day dawned (with sore feet from the heels and dancing the night before). We decided to chill at the complex pool before having lunch at one of the many restaurants along the walk. The challenge – as we found – was trying to choose which one. After packing our bags, we headed out for our final night out, to a fantastic bar called the Bliss Lounge (part of the Sheraton).
With squishy sofas, fantastic cocktails, beautiful sunset, beds on the beach, it is a hedonist’s dream. After about a billion Mojitos, and deciding what we’d like to have achieved by the time we’re 50, we had to bid farewell to a fantastic week of girly fun.
People say you don’t need more than a couple of days in Dubai, but they’re wrong. I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It makes the UK look positively third world when it comes to customer service and bling factor. If you’re looking for authentic Middle East, this won’t be for you. But if you’re after fun with a huge variety of things to do, I can thoroughly recommend it – for couples, groups of friends and families with kids.
To my fabulous friends, thank you. We’ve still got it girls! Here’s to the next 40!
UK citizens don’t need visas to go to Dubai
If you fly Emirates you go to terminal 3 which is much nicer than terminal 1 which is where BA lands.
Don’t bother buying a huge amount of booze at the airport. Everyone told us to do this as drinks are expensive in Dubai (they are). But we were out so often than we didn’t really get to drink it and either had to leave it or take it home with us.
Make sure you are there for a Tuesday night as there are great ladies night deals.
Use the cabs – they are cheap and easy to catch. If you get a cab from the airport, they are likely to put you with a female taxi driver. Do not then think that you HAVE to catch a taxi with a female driver thereafter. (We were a bit confused by this for a while wondering if we were upsetting locals by hailing a cab driven by a man).
If you’re not afraid of heights (I am), go up the Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world. My friend’s did it and said it was fascinating with stunning views.
You don’t need to cover yourself up, but it might be useful to carry a pashmina to cover your shoulders if you’re going to the Souks just so that you aren’t ogled. Be respectful.
Do a water park and the desert safari – great fun.