Monday, April 23, 2012

Hello Dubai!

A few weeks ago we finally made it to Dubai for a short spring break trip.  Dubai is the Middle Eastern city with which most people are familiar, especially considering the latest Mission Impossible movie.  It has been the pride and joy of this region for over twenty years with its fast growing population, high rises, and outlandish theme parks.  Whenever we tell people we live in Qatar for nine months out of the year, they most often don't know where Qatar is, so we ask them if they have heard of Dubai.  If they have, then we can just tell them that Doha is the 21st Century's version of Dubai.  U.A.E.'s big city has slowed down considerably since the economic crisis in 2008, but it still seems like a bustling oasis of cash to me.

I have heard that Doha is sometimes called the Manhattan of the Middle East, but Dubai is described as the Las Vegas of this region.  After our short trip I would have to agree.  The lights, the impressive skyline, and the wide range of entertainment definitely rank up there with Vegas; the biggest difference being the lack of slot machines and card tables, but all you have to do is get on the road for some driving to get your gambling fix.

One of the best parts of our trip was getting the first class treatment from our friends the Prince family.  Kerri-Ann and James opened their home to us even though they were in China.  They let us enjoy their soft beds, their convenient car, and left first class driving directions to all of the sites we were interested in.  Now when I say first class driving directions I mean a pamphlet of information with a map, a satellite picture, written directives, two for one coupons, and helpful tips on what to notice when we got to our destination.  It was as if Kerri-Ann was sitting in the backseat with us giving us a play-by-play of the city, including fun statements kind of like, "After getting off the Sheikh Zayed Road you might think that you should turn right, but no, TURN LEFT, and if you don't you'll be lost for sure."  She was the best travel agent I have ever dealt with and we felt like natives of the place armed with all of Kerr-Ann Prince's expert knowledge.  Unfortunately, she only does this stuff for friends, so you are going to have to meet her yourself and get on her good side to take advantage of her excellent service.  The only thing missing from this "Princely" treatment was the Prince family themselves.  Maybe next time!

Kerri-Ann's amazing personalized directions - First Class Hospitality!

 The Prince Villa
 The desert blossoms in Dubai, but only in well-tended gardens like this one in Arabian Ranches.

Our first outing was to the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall.  Wow!  Dubai really knows how to do a mall.  The Burj Khalifa (named after the sheikh in Abu Dhabi who bailed out the project) was very impressive as well and one of the most beautiful skyscrapers I have ever seen.  It is the tallest building and structure (2,716.5 feet/828 meters) in the world at more than 160 storeys.  The entrance to the Burj is in the lowest level of the mall - interesting.  It is an awesome experience to ride in the tallest and fastest elevator in the world (and not feel any kind of motion except the popping of my ears because of elevation changes) and then walk out onto the observation deck that has an open air space where you can feel the wind around the tower.  It was quite a dusty day but one of the clearest ones of our trip so we felt grateful we could see as much of the landscape as we did.

Our first glimpse of the Burj.

In order to even have a chance of getting to the observation deck on our trip I had to book tickets online a week before we went.  I had heard too many stories of people showing up to take the tour and being disappointed that the tickets were sold out.

Of course with all the hype of the Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol movie, there was a display (kind of like a shrine) of memorabilia from the movie in the lobby, complete with a director's chair for the king himself.  We were kind of disappointed not to see Mr. Cruise there, but I did neglect to tell him of our plans!  The walk from the lobby to the elevator was a long one but almost like a Disney theme ride.

Yes, those are Legos.  This one is for you, Ben.

 Notice the three petal "flower" motif the building is modeled around.
 Brett's neck injury (from his student field trip to Finland - he was showing off for his students while sledding) didn't make it easy to admire the tallest architecture in the world.

 A great shot of the Dubai Fountains and the Dubai Mall (left)

 A shot of the top from the observation deck

 Yes, she is sticking her head out into the open 140 storey air!

 The view from our parking spot in the Dubai Mall parking structure

 Beautiful Sari Ladies!

 You can tell we were failing miserably at keeping up with our eleven year old! (Brett's glasses)
 Waiting for the Dubai Fountain to start

After our Burj experience we spent more time at the Dubai Mall.  It really is a city unto itself with EVERYTHING!   There is a fashion level with all the high end shops that we can't even afford to enter.  There is a section dedicated to children with clothing, toys, and furniture stores.  There is also a wing just for home furnishings with art galleries, linen shops, and furniture.  And there is even a POTTERY BARN!

Unfortunately we are not shoppers, so we spent most of our time just looking.  The giant bookstore was my favorite.  Abbey got excited about the Converse store and talked us into buying her a new pair of "kicks", as she calls them.  We also bought a few items in the Hershey store, especially when we found out they had Twizzlers - licorice is non-existent in Qatar.  We ate dinner at the Outback Steakhouse and watched the Dubai Fountain from the balcony.  It was so beautiful and felt so refreshing as the sprays performed their choreographed dance in the lighted water.

After dinner we went to the movie The Hunger Games and then found our way back to the Prince Villa (I love calling it that because it sounds like we stayed in a castle, which it almost was) and called it a night.  And that is just the FIRST DAY we spent in Dubai.

A gorgeous butterfly display in the Fashion section of the mall

This is the outfit Brett wanted to buy.  Abbey and I convinced him it just wasn't his design although it might have been an improvement on the one you will see later.
The aquarium was amazing, but expensive, so we enjoyed it from the entrance in the mall.

Our second day in Dubai was dedicated to the Atlantis Resort.  Abbey made sure we were up early and on the road as soon as possible.  Brett's neck injury prevented him from enjoying the water park, so I had to put aside my swimsuit issues and brave the water with Abbey.  She went down almost every slide, but I joined her on the all dark slide which exited through the shark infested aquarium - luckily we were safe from the sharp teeth inside the exit tube.  I also joined Abbey on the lazy river and found myself being floated around on a tube like a queen by my daughter.  I quickly relaxed and enjoyed myself until we came to a fork in the river where we just happened to take the rough rapids side and my calm ride turned treacherous.
 Yes, that is a shark above Abbey outside of the tube.

Abbey showed no fear and went down the steepest water slide I have ever seen.  She really caught air and said she didn't even notice the sharks in the exit because her eyes were closed and her heart was in her throat.

The best part of the day and probably the whole trip was the first thing we did at Atlantis and that is swimming with a dolphin.  Even Brett took off his neck brace and gritted his teeth through the pain in order to participate in this once in a lifetime experience.  He said it was well worth it.

Our dolphin's name was Central and we had a French trainer and a Spanish trainer helping us.  There is nothing like running your hand over the smooth back of a dolphin as she glides through the water in front of you.  A dolphin is such a magnificent animal and having the opportunity to hold on to Central's gentle yet strong fins as she swam backwards and pulled me toward the shore was something I will never forget.   She seemed so gentle yet she pulled all of the adults easily through the water.  Abbey popped up even quicker as she hung on to Central's fins as they swam belly to belly to the shallow water.  To dance, to swim, and to touch a dolphin is unlike any other experience I have had in my life before.  She kissed each one of us and I hugged her as we floated there waiting for the next command from the trainer.  It was all so amazing.

 The iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel - if you can actually see it through the dust and the flying bird

Somehow Brett forgot to pack his flip flops to Dubai and this was his solution.  I tried, I really tried to convince him to just buy a pair, but the socks and Croc tie ups won out.  As if the neck brace doesn't make him stand out enough!  :)  There were some very confused children looking at the Batman shirt and wondering what had happened to their superhero.  Sorry, Kristy and Ben.  My days as your dad's fashion police might be numbered.

Atlantis closes at sunset, so we slowly made our way to the car.  The steel blue water was silent as we walked along the beach and then found our way to the parking lot shuttle.  We had to laugh a little when we saw the double decker tour bus - We almost thought we were in London for a second.  :)  It was another red letter day and time for relaxing at the villa so we left the Palm Jumeirah island for the "mainland".

This scene at the Palm Jumeirah reminded me of a The Cobb in a Jane Austen setting in Lyme Regis, England.

The last day of our trip was a little less busy.  We started to investigate the Mall of the Emirates where Ski Dubai is, but we made it only half way through the mall and decided to go back to the Dubai Mall.  We knew we didn't have the money and especially not the energy to ski, so we found ourselves getting lost in the largest retail maze I have ever been in.
 A very colorful shop in the Dubai Mall
 "The Waterfall" sculpture
I'm not sure what this is but it reminded me of some weird Arabic game show.

So it was time to say good bye to Dubai.  Thanks to the Prince Family for all of their help in making this such a great little get away.  Even though Dubai seems to be a clone of a U.S. desert city in some ways, the confusion and inconvenience of the road system remained to remind us that we for sure weren't in Las Vegas or even Kansas for that matter.


Kristy said...

AWESOME!!! I loved reading all about your adventure!

Sunita Patel said...
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