By Damian Paterson www.iol.co.za
Hot is the operative word in Dubai and, apart from the obvious heat at this time of the year, hot can also be used to describe the accommodation, buildings, fashion, cuisine, bargains and entertainment, all of which are fantastic.
Starting with the weather, you’ll feel the 40°C dry sun blast as soon as you exit the airport, but there’s comfortable air-conditioning everywhere, even at enclosed bus shelters, so you’ll be well protected for the majority of your stay unless you venture off to the beach or if, like me, you fancy a couple of puffs on a cigarette, which can only be done outdoors.
Orient Tours, always on time for pick-up, provided our transport for sightseeing and in a spacious air-conditioned bus we were ferried around the city.
The first stop was to freshen up at Qamardeen Hotel, one of two Southern Sun hotels – the other is Al Manzil – in the downtown Dubai precinct.
The two hotels are next to one another and within walking distance of major attractions such as the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall and Dubai fountains.
Once settled at your hotel there is so much to do and see in and around Dubai, but first on your list should be a visit to the Burj Khalifa, located at the Dubai Mall.
Visits are in high demand and you might have to book a few days in advance.
The building is an amazing 828m high. Completed at the beginning of last year, it surpassed the previous tallest building, the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, by 300m.
It has 200-plus storeys and 160 habitable levels with the world’s highest observation deck and outdoor terrace, At The Top, on level 124 of the Burj Khalifa.
A high-speed lift takes you up to the observation deck at a speed of 10m a second and the ear-popping journey takes about 60 seconds. Once at the top you will have a breathtaking panoramic view of Dubai and its surrounds.
At.mosphere, the world’s highest restaurant, is located just below the observation deck and is regarded as one of the finest luxury dining and lounge experiences in the world.
It can host more than 200 guests and offers a main dining floor and private dining rooms.
The Burj Khalifa is also home to the world’s first Armani hotel. The skyscraper’s swish hotel offers 160 guest rooms and suites, restaurants and a spa and every aspect of the hotel bears the signature of fashion legend Giorgio Armani.
The Dubai Mall itself is a shoppers’ paradise.
The mall is home to probably all the top fashion brands in the world, including a large selection of brand-name shops for children.
You’ll need a good pair of walking shoes to explore the mall and its hundreds of shops and restaurants.
You’ll find everything you could want while out shopping including electronics, computers, books, eyewear, sports, watches, jewellery, toys, supermarkets, art, photography, chocolate and much more at tax-free competitive prices.
If you have young ones with you then Kidzania in the Dubai Mall is a must.
It’s a safe and interactive educational centre with the most amazing concept.
You can accompany your children or leave them under supervision.
Children can lead independent lives and get to understand the world of grown-ups by being grown-ups themselves.
They have a choice of 70 professions where they learn how to do the job and, once qualified, are paid “money” (called “kidzos”) for their services.
Some of the “careers” offered include becoming a surgeon, police officer, firefighter, racing car driver, chef, pilot, banker or to work in media and publishing.
They even get to wear the appropriate clothing for their career, work in replica workplaces and are guaranteed hours of fun.
And don’t panic about losing your loved ones because they have to go through “customs” before leaving.
Also in the Mall is the Dubai Ice Rink.
It’s an Olympic size rink with world-class facilities, and whether you’re a professional skater or new to the game it’s a cool place to hang out and you’re sure to have loads of fun.
If you are looking for bargains then head off out of the mall and on to Karama market and the Souks (traders).
Karama Market offers clothes and accessories including lots of sportswear and souvenirs at bargain prices.
At the spice souks you’ll be struck by the flavoured aromas of spices, perfumes and incense, all available in big bags outside and inside the shops, ready for your purchase.
At the gold souks you’ll find glittering displays of gold, including the world’s biggest ring at 62kg and worth over $3 million (R20m), along with necklaces, earrings, chains and bracelets.
There are plenty of bargains, and don’t be alarmed if you’re approached and led away down a maze of alleys and into a room filled with a collection of fake branded goods including designer handbags, sunglasses and watches.
But when making your purchase make sure you bargain hard to reach an agreeable price.
A must-do in Dubai is a dune safari and dinner.
Bob, our driver, picked us up from the hotel and we were soon out of the city and off to the nearby desert.
It was difficult enough getting used to driving on the right-hand side of the road, which is the norm in Dubai, but when we suddenly veered across the highway in the middle of nowhere and hit the dunes with a vengeance, our driver instantly earned the nickname “Mad” Bob.
Joining up with a dozen other 4x4s, with us as the lead car, we spent a good hour leaping up, down and over some massive dunes, which was quite a thrilling experience.
We then headed back to a base for some dune surfing, an Arabic braai and some good entertainment in the form of a belly dancer.
When you’ve had enough of the heat, head to Ski Dubai at –5° in the Mall of the Emirates.
It’s the world’s largest indoor snow park at 3 000m² and contains a 400m ski slope.
You can learn to ski, snowboard – and show off your skills if you’re already a pro.
There’s a variety of runs that vary in difficulty, height and steepness, with smaller slopes with tube rides for the young or inexperienced.
Or if you want to, just relax and build yourself a snowman.
Thermal clothing, including boots, is provided, but you must supply your own hats and gloves, if needed, or they can be purchased from the ski shop.
For water sports and entertainment, Atlantis on the man-made Palm Island is a must.
It’s a 1 500-room ocean-themed resort offering a stunning beach for swimming and lazing in the sun.
There’s also plently of thrills to be had at the water parks, with slides and rides comparable with those at Sun City.
It’s not surprising that it was created by Kerzner International holdings.
Also part of the experience is Dolphin Bay, where guests get the opportunity to interact and learn more about this magnificent mammal.
Atlantis is home to 65 000 marine animals and also the Lost City of Atlantis, which offers an amazing underwater experience. There’s exceptional dining, shopping and much more entertainment on offer for the perfect water-themed holiday destination.
If you really want to splash out there are several super suites consisting of three floors of absolute luxury accommodation with each room looking out into your own personal aquarium.
If you would like to learn more about local culture, customs and religion, head for the Sheik Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding.
The centre operates under the banner “open doors, open minds” and visitors can sit down to a traditional breakfast or lunch while discussing and debating issues surrounding the history of the Emirates and its people, local customs, Islam, religious and other celebrations, traditional food, and other insights into UAE culture.
For a relaxing evening you shouldn’t miss a Dubai Dinner Cruise on Dubai Creek.
Hop aboard one of the large dhows beautifully lit with dazzling lights and enjoy a buffet meal while cruising the creek.
Our stay at Qamardeen was a memorable one and along with Al Manzil it offers standard rooms to deluxe suites and all rooms have flat-screen TV, mini bar and 24-hour room service.
There are also have 24-hour business centres with free internet access and WiFi connectivity.
Both hotels have outdoor swimming pools and pool decks.
There are several restaurants and bars, but the Nezesaussi Grill (short for New Zealand, South Africa and Australia), decorated in sports memorabilia with numerous televisions at Al Manzil, will appeal to South African travellers looking for a sports pub-type atmosphere.
It offers pub-style cuisine and a large selection of beers, from all three countries.
But like most hotels in Dubai a pint of beer is going to set you back around R70 at current exchange rates.
One of the other hotels we visited was The Address Downtown Dubai, a five-star hotel which is linked to the Dubai Mall.
The hotel is in a prime location for business travellers and leisure guests.
It is flanked by the Burj Khalifa and offers sublime spas, vibrant restaurants and spectacular views of the Dubai fountain, especially from the pool and bar deck.
If Ski Dubai is top of your agenda when visiting the city, you might want to stay at the Kempinski hotel.
It is next to the ski resort and, apart from the normal accommodation, offers some upmarket rooms that look out over the venue.
Bear in mind when travelling to Dubai that the season of your visit has a huge bearing on the cost of your stay.
In the coolest and most popular months of December and January you will pay high prices for your hotel, but if you can bear the heat in the hottest months of July and August you will be able to find many bargains at most hotels.
Dubai is super hot, ultra cool and a plethora of unique and memorable experiences.
Damian Paterson travelled to Dubai courtesy of Dubai Tourism, Orient Tours and Flight Centre. For more information on travel to Dubai contact Flight Centre on 0860 400 747 or pay a visit to www.flightcentre.co.za
Excursion Entrance Fees:
Kidzania – full-day access, adults: AED90, kids (4-16): AED125
Ski Dubai – full-day access, adults: AED120, kids (3 – 13): AED110
Dubai Ice Rink (The Dubai Mall) – two hours, adults: AED50, kids under 12: free
Wild Wadi Water Park – adults: AED150, kids under 1.1m: AED125
The Lost Chambers (Atlantis, The Palm Dubai), adults: AED100, kids under 12: free
Aquaventure (Atlantis, The Palm Dubai), adults: AED200, kids under 12: free
Bateaux Dubai Dinner Cruise, Dubai Creek, adults: AED140, kids under 12: free evening cruise and four-course dinner
Exchange rate AED50=R100
Time: Local time in the UAE is GMT +4.
Money: The currency of the UAE is the Dirham (AED), which is divided into 100 fils. The Dirham is fixed against the US dollar.
Language: Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, but English is widely used.
Entry requirements for South Africans:
South Africans may enter the UAE with a visa issued on arrival (arranged in advance). Visas are valid for 30 days for tourism, 14 days for business and 96 hours for transit. Travellers must also be in possession of all tickets and documents for their next destination and have a sponsor in the UAE – and present proof at the airport on arrival.
Passport/visa: All visitors to the UAE must hold a passport that is valid for three months from the date of entry, or six months if visiting for longer than 90 days.
Tipping: Where no service charge is included, 10 percent is adequate.
Local customs: The Emirates states are all Muslim, therefore alcohol is not served except in hotels. It is an offence to drink or be drunk in public and penalties are severe. Dress and behaviour should be modest, particularly during Ramadaan when it is disrespectful to smoke, drink or eat in public between sunrise and sunset. Women should cover the top of their arms and legs.