Everyone raves about Dubai. Visiting it elicits the kind of responses that people get when they say they’ve lived in Ibiza; a mixture of awe, disgust and dollar signs cartoon eyes. People stuck with layovers have managed to hit the beach, buy gold and even eat like a local (well, I suppose we more or less did that…).
Here’s a spoiler alert. We didn’t win the “Dubai challenge.” (But we did have “Young Abu Dhabi” in our heads the whole time.) When Erin and I had a 12-hour layover in the city of gold toilets, we pretty much did everything wrong. We had high hopes for our visit after being groomed on a luxurious 13-hour Emirates flight from New York. Only two out of a hand full of passengers, we were treated like royalty, or better, like the young flight attendants’ best friends. We washed our hands with lemon scented towels, ate gourmet food from a beautifully designed menu and got tons of free alcohol. (I know it’s “included” but they still have a way of making you feel elite.)
When we arrived in Dubai and got off the plane, we remembered the phrase “all good things must come to an end.” Spending a total of $27.00 in 12 hours, we managed to eat oily mall food, miss the major sites and somehow failed to make it to the beach for sunset, our one goal. That’s a list of what we didn’t do. But here’s 5 things we did that I don’t (not) recommend you doing.
1- Observe families in the mall and the airport
Somewhere along the line, someone decided families shouldn’t just match, they should match in neon colors (easier to find if one of the ten kids gets lost). There was the matching minion family and the family with matching checkered button down shirts.
Then there were the families in the airports, each with at least four matching children each. It just so happened that one matching family was friends with another matching family. Sitting across from them, we witnessed an interesting social dynamic. One of the family’s children threw things at each other in silence. Meanwhile, the more active matching boys kept running in circles or in short sprint drills. The boys from the other family just stared without saying a word.
2- Take pictures with odd things
Forget trying to inspire or even get some naysayers jealous on Instagram, here’s what you should actually take pictures of.
3- Get stared at
Sitting at Cafe Blanc, we were warned via stern facial expressions to pretty please shut our traps because we were laughing too much trying to imitate how Moroccans poured their tea.
We were severely judged for not being fancy enough at Jumeirah Village. We felt vulnerable, dirty and too “poor” to even be using the public toilets there. (I later looked on Kayak for room prices at Jumeirah Al Qasr [see below for incident] and a “deal” was advertised at $1,046 USD/night.)
But when we saw the beacon of hope – the bright red cherries of the entrance to Pacha Dubai – we were right at home.
In a drawn-out attempt to just get to the beach, we walked almost an hour along the coast attempting to cut through mega-hotels and gated subdivisions just to see the sand. We found a way at Jumeirah Village below Jumeirah Al Qasr, except, I can’t lie. You had to be a guest to take the boats to take you to the beach.
“Are you a guest here?” the man asked when I tried to board the boat. He could tell from one look that we didn’t belong among the wealthy patrons that frequent the boats. “Yes,” I said. When he asked me for my room number or key, I panicked. Then admitted I had lied about the whole thing, mumbled and kept walking.
4- Walk way too much
They say that people like Erin and I who underestimate time are highly optimistic. Well, what a better way to express our optimism than the huge miscalculation we faced when thinking the space between the metro and everything on the map wasn’t very far away.
What seemed like no more than 20 minutes took at hour. What appeared to be across the street was like five normal city blocks. It even took 15 minutes to walk from the metro through a tunnel to the Dubai Mall entrance. Even the bathroom sign was 5 minutes from the actual bathroom. After the incident where I lied at Jumeirah Al Qasr about being a guest, we had to do the long walk of shame towards the exit and an extra 20 more minutes to find the “next left turn”towards the beach- the public entrance. Aka, the entrance for everyone else who isn’t shitting gold in Dubai.
5- Spend way too much time at the mall
Everything I know about Dubai I learned at the mall. Said no one. But me.
Feeling the staleness of artificial air felt natural after being 13 hour on a flight. Then the extended time in the metro and further indoor time in the mall made it unbearable. Even though I was wondering what real Dubai air smells (and feels) like, the mall was still a fascinating place. It was a mini sampling of what I can only assume is the diversity and opulence of the city. We heard the call to prayer, saw a weird Pinocchio store, passed by electronics stores, clothing stores and chocolate stores. We had gelato samples and sucked on the plastic spoons until we got on the metro (that’s a 15 minute walk if you remember correctly).
We just couldn’t get away from the mall. But who could when just across the street you can watch a choreographed fountain performance to Enrique Iglesias’s “Hero” in Spanish. As soon as the music started, the crowds of people (us included) went running to the edge of the pond beneath the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and oooed and awed as the water rose and fell and twisted to the notes of the dramatic Spanish love song.
Maybe we did it “all wrong.” Maybe we didn’t feel like paying $30 for a cup of tea to sit at the top of the tallest building. Looking back, though, it wasn’t so bad. Feet aches go away and eventually everyone has to breathe real air. On second thought, maybe those are five things you should absolutely add to your Dubai itinerary!