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In planning our second trip to Australia, we decided to experience a different part of the world by going the “other way” around the world.  Booking with Emirates we managed to get a lengthy layover in Dubai on the way home.  We had flown Emirates once before (from NYC to Milan) and were very impressed with the level of service and comfort provided on their international flights so we thought why not squeeze in the extra stop.

We landed in Dubai around 6am after an exhausting 3 flights from Christchurch to Sydney, Sydney to Bangkok, and Bangkok to Dubai.  Whew!!  But at the thought of being in the Middle East, a region of the world we’d never been to and with a culture much different from anywhere else we’d traveled, we quickly perked up and made our way out of  Dubai International Airport with just our carryons. (If you are planning to have a long layover always make sure your essentials are packed in your carryon!) Back to the story…

Upon exiting the airport we were immediately greeted by a “pink lady” taxi service.  We booked a hotel for the day on a website called www.bookadayroom.com so off we went.  Our room was at The Grand Millennium Dubai, a five star hotel very centrally located and only cost us $144 USD!  This was the “day room” rate which gave us the room from 9am – 6pm.  If you’re on a long layover, we highly recommend getting a room where you can relax, shower, and nap for a little bit before heading out for the day.  As tempting as it was to plop down on the king size bed and take a long nap, I was just too excited to lie down and relax…even though we were utterly exhausted!  Instead we showered, lounged around in our plush hotel robes and ordered up a generous breakfast via room service. Our layover was off to a great start! (And much better than hanging out in the airport all day).

After relaxing for a couple hours, we decided on a beach day.  Many of the hotels offer beach and pool “day passes” for a fee. We had previously done some research online and settled on the Le Royal Meridian Beach Resort & Spa.  It was about a 10 min cab ride from our hotel and was located right next to the Westin Dubai which also has beautiful beach amenities.  Since we were there on a Saturday and during high-season (winter on a  weekend), we were willing to pay the 300 AED ($80 USD) per person for the day pass.  We also got talked into upgrading our package to the all-inclusive BBQ buffet…Jeremy never turns down anything with the word “buffet.”  And it was well worth the $25 USD per person price tag (more on that later).  After lazily lounging on the beach, taking in some serious people watching, and observing several yachts pass by the Palm Jumeirah in the distance, we were done baking in the Dubai sun and decided to soak up the warm calm seas at the beach.  We later enjoyed the resort’s many infinity pools (some even have swim-up bars if that’s your thing).  Oh I should also mention, alcohol is prohibited in Dubai so if you want a beer or a cocktail, the only place you can get it is either at the hotels or the airport. Being that we were still super dehydrated from our long flight and it was 90+degrees out (I’ll repeat…in winter) we opted for a fancy bottle of sparking water and coconut water fresh out of the coconut.

Back to the $25 beach BBQ buffet…we eventually made our way to the BBQ area located a short walk from our beach lounge chairs and found ourselves at one of the hotel’s outdoor restaurants. We quickly made a plate of everything we saw in sight, but then realized that all the food was either meat or seafood. Where were the salads and side dishes?  I mean, we love protein, but for the price we paid we were expecting more variety.  We eventually found a place to sit down outside and tried to enjoy our outdoor BBQ meal, but swatting flies and gnats every 2 seconds while we melted in the sun was not our idea of fun so we decided to move inside to the air conditioning.  And it was there that we discovered the other 80% of the BBQ buffet.  It was like walking into “The Capital” of the Hunger Games.  It was an entire room filled with every type of food imaginable and when we discovered it was included in our buffet package, we went “all in” and ended up eating 3 or 4 plates of food including breads, pasta dishes, vegetable platters, meat and cheese spreads and desserts galore. Everything was delicious and it was well worth the price!

After gorging ourselves, we decided it was time to head back to our hotel and get cleaned up for our nighttime excursions, which included a timed entry to The Burj Khalifa. We purchased our tickets online several weeks in advance as we were set on the popular 5:30pm ticket which was supposed to be prime-time viewing for sunset.  However, we failed to account for the long security lines, so we didn’t end up getting to the top of the Burj Khalifa until about 6:45pm and by then it was already dark outside so we made the best of it and snapped away the best photos we could.  TIP: if going to the Burj Khalifa, give yourself at least an hour to get through the lines and I would opt for daytime tickets vs. nighttime as you get better views.  All in all, it was a once in a lifetime experience and for about $50 USD per person you can experience being 125 floors in the sky!  This is a must-do in Dubai.

After leaving the Burj Khalifa, we wondered around the Dubai Mall for a bit.  At this point, I started to get an allergic reaction to something and I could barely keep my eyes open.  My face began to hurt, my eyes were watering nonstop and I was sneezing uncontrollably.  We stopped at a pharmacy in the mall to pick up some Benadryl, but since they didn’t have that we ended up buying some other pills that the store associate recommended and since the package was in Arabic we trusted it would help.  What we didn’t take into account was that the drowsiness would take effect so quickly.  Fighting the urge to plop over on the nearest bench, we set out to check off another must-do in Dubai…the Fountain Show at the Dubai Mall.  This was only a 5-minute walk from where we were so once we made our way through the crowds for a prime viewing spot, we waited for the show.  The show runs every 30 minutes from 6pm – 11pm and is set to a playlist of a variety of songs.  It lasts about 10-15 minutes and the water shoots up as high as 450 feet! The best part is that it’s FREE.

Finally, after really starting to feel the side affects of my allergy pills, we decided to squeeze in one more excursion into the night.  Our flight didn’t leave until 2:30am so still we had plenty of time. We decided to check out the Gold Souk and Spice Souk located in the business district.  It was about a 30-minute cab ride from the Dubai Mall.  Once we got there, we immediately felt like we had left the touristy area.  Lots of locals were hanging around outside the shops and some of them were desperately trying to get us to take a look inside their shops.  I’ll equate it to Chinatown in NYC, but obviously this was a little different since really expensive and beautiful pieces of gold jewelry were for sale, not just little knick-knacks.  The souk is an array of narrow winding paths with alleyways jetting off here and there; it was like a labyrinth and we eventually found our way to the Spice Souk, which was really cool.  We ended up chatting with one of the friendly vendors and bought a sack full of camel chocolates (AMAZING!) after we sampled a variety of other traditional fruits and snacks.

By this time, I was basically ready for bed, so we took a cab back to our hotel where they were holding our carryon luggage, and then took a cab from there to the airport.  Since we still had another 4 hours to kill before our flight, we decided to splurge on one last amenity before we left and that was the Emirates airport lounge.  Because we weren’t flying First Class or Business Class we weren’t allowed in those lounges, however we discovered a completely separate lounge for the “commoners,” which for a fee of $50 USD per person, you can use and does not require an advance reservation.  It was perfect for what we needed: ample quiet space to lounge, relax, use Wifi, and fill up on food and drinks – and after our 21 hours in Dubai, high on allergy medication, it was the best $50 I spent the entire trip – I passed out comfortably for a couple of hours.  We woke up in just enough time to gather our things and board our flight to New York. I’m sure we’ll be back to Dubai to experience a desert safari and maybe some dune bashing.  Unfortunately we just couldn’t fit those activities into this trip. Until next time Dubai…

~Whitney

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