Crafting a story on Dubai isn’t the easiest of achievements.
All the angles have been covered more times than drunken frat-boy versions of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” – and take it from someone with years upon years of 80’s for the Ladies happy hours in their rearview – that’s a lot of f****** covers.
But really, what else is there to say?
We get that it’s expensive, luxurious, opulent, lavish (can I buy another adjective Pat?) and extravagant. We already know the city has a fetish for record-breaking skyscrapers and that corporations are continually locked in an all-out arms race to be the next one to enter the Guinness Book.
I mean come on, we’re talking about a city that took Field of Dreams literally and contracted real estate deals on nothing more substantial than the promise that if you build it, they will come.
So build it they did.
And come they did.
Maybe that’s why I found Dubai so damn weird.
It was exactly like I imagined yet at the same time it was nothing like I imagined. There was nothing to do yet there was everything to do. I liked it just as much as I disliked it.
Like I said – weird.
It just all seemed so impractical in a but whhhhhyyyyy kind of way.
Why are they boasting about their fantastic “Underground Zoo” when us ordinary cities just refer to it as an aquarium?
Why are peacocks sprinting out in front of taxis?
Why is every Uber car a Lexus except for when it’s an actual helicopter?
Why does the Burj Al Arab give their guests a gold-plated iPad along with personal butlers?
I turned toward the sound of my friend Betsy’s voice, squinting as the sun reflected off her designer sunglasses. We were standing at the edge of the marina, rivulets of sweat trickling down our backs while we discussed the merits of skiing Dubai’s indoor slopes. Paying close attention to the irony, my gaze drifted back over her shoulder to the bikini-clad women lounging on the deck of a nearby sports yacht. I found myself wondering (not for the first time) how on earth skiing mere minutes away from this sight was even in the realm of possibility.
“Like I said, because Dubai.”
Betsy was right of course.
The answer was simple. Yet I’d been ignoring it in my quest to find a deeper meaning where there wasn’t one. The truth is there is no secret to Dubai. It is what it is. A man-made playground for the rich. Kinda like a real-life Erector Set that was built where nothing but water and sand existed before. All the skyscrapers, wealthy second-homes, and ground-breaking architecture shouldn’t even be here.
But that’s precisely the whole point. None of it should be here – but it is. So people from all over flock to see these ridiculously impossible things just because they can.
The Field of Dreams philosophy worked
So I decided to give up questioning it. No more trying to discover hidden gems. No more searching for a more “authentic” cultural experience. Instead I jumped down the rabbit hole and did every over-the-top, nonsensical thing I could on my way down.
I Went Skiing Inside a Mall
Yes, a mall.
Past H&M, Forever 21, Gap, and the Food Court lies this:
A fully functioning indoor ski resort where for 90 dollars you can ski down surprisingly steep slopes, tube over hills, and play with live penguins. There’s even a bobsled course which brought about fifty bajillion choruses of us Jamaicans have bobsled team from yours truly (Bob Marley accent included).
But my favorite activity in this man-made arena that was most likely a relic from President Snow’s 58th annual Hunger Games?
It basically resembles a giant ball of bubblewrap (and let’s be honest – who can resist playing in bubble wrap) in which you climb inside and roll around as if you were alight with fire. The harder you roll, the faster it rolls. Yes, dizziness may occur as you crawl out at the bottom and yes, you may feel like puking your innards out.
BUT. IT’S. AWESOME.
Where: Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates.
Opening Hours: Sun-Wed 10am-11pm; Thurs 10am-Midnight, Fri 9am-Midnight; Sat 9am -11pm.
Cost: Packages vary. We spent $90 for the Polar Express Pass which included 2 hours of skiing, unlimited tubing, sledding, and zorbing. Price includes all your ski or snowboard gear, clothing, socks, gloves, helmet etc. Ski lessons are also on offer should you need them.
Fun Fact: Ski Dubai may seem like a tourist trap but it’s actually filled with local Middle Eastern families who bring their children to play. Due to stringent laws in Saudi Arabia, many Saudis also come to Dubai on the weekends to cut loose and can be found gliding down the slopes.
There are a few restaurants in the mall that overlook the slopes if you are short on time or if you want to see it without having to ski.
I Spent a Small Fortune on Tea Leaves at the Burj Al Arab
Or rather my best friend spent a small fortune on tea leaves at the Burj Al Arab.
Designed to resemble an Arabian dhow sailing through the Persian Gulf, the Burj Al Arab was built exactly there – in the open waters of the Persian Gulf (a fascinating feat of engineering you can read more about here). As one can imagine, an architectural marvel of this caliber doesn’t come without an air of exclusivity.
Nothing like this had previously been constructed, making the elite 5-star hotel designation seem inadequate. So they (whoever they are) gave it a 7-star rating – which in actuality doesn’t exist but they can totally get away with it because Dubai.
The only way to get into the Burj Al Arab is to be a guest (unfortunately our combined credit card limits didn’t reach the minimum for a one night stay) or to book a reservation for tea at a much more manageable price of $170 per person.
Of course it’s easy to call it manageable when you’re not the one paying.
Betsy picked up the tab (thanks B!) under the guise of a belated birthday celebration for me but don’t let her kindness fool you – she knows I have serious separation anxiety when it comes to money and didn’t want to run the risk of me passing on the Burj Al Arab.
Who was I to argue?
Our Uber car passed though the private entrance gates flanked on either side by the hotel’s fleet of Rolls-Royce vehicles.
Once in, we were free to roam the ground floor until our tea time. Luminescent chandeliers swung overhead, diamonds glistened in the windows of high-end jewelry boutiques, sounds of plopping water emanated from dancing fountains, and aquariums ran the length of the lobby escalators.
Each “department” for lack of a better word had its own reception desk and ours was tucked away in a small enclave near the elevator designated for our journey to the 27th floor. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the doors opened to reveal floor-to-ceiling glassed walls; making for a scenic elevator ride as we ascended above the sea foam green waters of the gulf.
The theme of being out at sea continued as we sat down to tea. You know that annoying 90’s song we all hated yet couldn’t bring ourselves to switch the station when it came on the radio? The one where the nasally voiced singer lives in a blue house with a blue window? Da ba dee da ba di I’m blue?
Well let’s just say I’ve never related to this song more as the entire place – Betsy and I included – were tinged in blue.
Whether or not this was intentional (though let’s be honest, is anything in Dubai done on accident?) I can’t be sure. But with its bluegreen lighting, flooring, and furnishings fused with panoramic views of the ocean – it sure felt like were living in a Little Mermaid-like kingdom.
We didn’t even mind that we weren’t able to take one decent photograph.
Despite our 1001 Arabian attempts…
Where: The Skyview Bar on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab.
Opening Hours: Tea timings are Sat – Thurs at 1:00pm, 1:30pm, 4:00pm, and 4:30pm.
Cost: Afternoon tea is approx. $170 per person (includes full tea and plates plus 1 glass of champagne. You can order more for an additional cost).
I Took Ridiculously Corny Photos of my Reflection Atop the World’s Tallest Building
In my defense, Betsy started it.
She’s the irrefutable queen of Instagram captions so the minute she said we needed to Mulan or Aguilera it with an apropos image for the lyric when will my reflection show, the photoshoot commenced.
Well, almost. We still had to go through the mall (a different mall than the one that housed Ski Dubai because this city LOVES malls) to enter the Burj Khalifa. Then of course there was the waiting room, the serving of the tea with figs, and the unnerving elevator ride that ascended 124 floors in about 60 seconds.
Then we made it to the top of the world’s tallest building.
A claim we can make for the next three years until Saudi Arabia completes the new tallest building in the world (a trend I’m sure will only elevate as men continue on with the my d*** is bigger than your d*** game they’ve been playing for centuries).
So we took selfies and failed artistic portraits of one another because really what else is there to do atop a 2,717ft structure?
Where: Entrance to the Burj Khalifa observation deck is on the lower ground floor of The Dubai Mall.
Opening Hours: Sun – Sat 8am – 7pm; At the Top Sky is open later. See ticket link below for all options.
Cost: Starting at $95 if you purchase tickets in advance (for access to FL 124 and 148). I highly recommend pre-ordering tickets as the price goes up if you buy them on the spot. There is also a cheaper option starting at $34. Full ticket pricing and options can be found here.
Fun Fact: The Burj Khalifa is so tall that you can watch the sunset from the ground before taking the elevator to top and seeing the sunset all over again.
So really I did nothing in Dubai you haven’t heard of before.
Nothing sets this post apart from any of the other travel bloggers’ stories on Dubai.
I don’t have any new information to share. No revelations on the secret-life of locals.
I’ve gone against everything this blog’s about when writing this – giving in to 5-star hotel stays, shopping in malls, eating every cuisine except for Middle Eastern food, and only interacting with other Westerners. Yet I don’t feel guilty. I did Dubai the way it was meant to be done – as a tourist experiencing the kind of modern impossibilities that only exist because Dubai.
Have you ever been to Dubai or experienced a city known for their tourism? Tell me about it in the comments below!
Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?
Taking on the classic “round-the-world” route, the next Travel Dispatch journey kicks off Nov 15 as I travel east to west, looping the globe over a period of 12 months with $25,000. Now’s your chance to get in on it from the very beginning!