How Much Does That Cost? Or, How I Learned to Stop Questioning and Enjoy Dubai.

We all remember the Christmas 2014 spat of "really good deals" (that one's for you GodSaveThePoints) on Etihad, with RT fares in the 200s to Abu Dhabi. Like many of us, I jumped on the deal (though Mike had to back out) and booked a trip with two college friends for November 2015. Hard to believe but, 11 months later, this trip had finally come to fruition.

I'll probably be breaking down the experience myriad ways over the next few weeks, from a review of the hotel (we stayed at the Sheraton Dubai Creek in Dubai, and the Courtyard Marriott WTC in Abu Dhabi), to the best sights, and Mike may even interview me about the trip, but I wanted to start by giving you my top 4 tips on how to make your Dubai experience a great one. 

  1. Set Your Expectations: I won't beat around the bush here: Dubai won't rank highly on my list of best cities I've ever been to, and part of that is my own fault. Rather than being prepared to experience the shrine to consumerism, conspicuous consumption, and excess that this city represents, I was instead hoping to have a cultural journey in the Middle East (and yes, I understand how Western that sounds). Though I studied/lived in Morocco in 2009, I hadn't been back to the region since, and was eagerly awaiting this trip as an opportunity to once again immerse myself in a regional culture I truly enjoy. Doing so, however, was unfair to Dubai. Dubai is many things, but one thing it isn't is a cultural experience. It is an economic experience. It is endless exposure to stimuli for all the five senses. However, escaping the rush of all that requires intention, and the first step in that is setting your expectations. You're not going somewhere with souks that have hundreds of years of history. You're not going somewhere that has developed it's own culinary identity. You're in a country that is 44 years old, a center of commerce, and a city that presents, more than anywhere else I've ever been, an opportunity to see and be seen. If you accept that, then you can plan your trip, and your mindset, accordingly.
  2. Have a budget/spending plan: Remember how I just said this place is a hotbed of commerce and capitalism? Yea, I can't make that point enough. Money talks in Dubai, just about everywhere. While I certainly didn't travel thriftily this time around (sometimes, it's about letting loose a bit), even when you want to conserve, Dubai doesn't make it easy. For starters, this isn't a walkable city (more on that in a minute), and the ways to save a dime are few and far between. For my eyes, affordable meals aren't as easy to spot as other places I've traveled, and I found myself expending a bit of extra effort when I wanted to hunt down somewhere I could grab a 15DH shawarma. Now, I may have missed some tips on the best areas for this, but I'm also not used to this being something hard to find! By the way, want a beer or glass of wine with dinner? Be prepared to pay New York prices, or higher. Moral of the story: give yourself a budget, and stick to it. Dubai doesn't have a lot of big ticket adventures (visiting the top of the Burj was great, but I don't consider it a requirement for the price), but dining out adds up quickly. If you haven't planned your accommodations well, you''ll also find yourself spending more than you anticipated on cabs, which reminds me...
  3. Be sure to do your research! I said it above, and I'll say it again: Dubai is not a walkable city, and public transit leaves something to be desired. The Sheraton is in the Deira area, fortunately, is right on the water. As such, we had easy access to the water taxi which, for 6DHs RT, took us up to the Bur Dubai area, where most of the major tourist attractions are. Throw in 2DHs RT for the Abra across the river, and you have an affordable, $1.50 mode of transit. However, stay a little further from the water, a little further from the Metro or a bus line, and you'll be taking cabs everywhere. Beyond that, a poorly planned itinerary for the day that has you criss-crossing the city can mean lots of extra cab fees and time spent in traffic.
  4. Get out of Dubai, and Visit Sharjah. At the end of the day, I found Dubai, more than Las Vegas, or Macau,  more like adult Disney World than any other city can claim to be. Overpriced night clubs (no thanks), expensive cars (pretty to look at, but I'm good), overpriced but average food, and more, are just the simple examples of how fabricated of an experience Dubai can be. However, but twenty minutes away lies the city of Sharjah, the buttoned-up older sister (and I mean that in a good way) to Dubai's wild child lifestyle. I visited Sharjah on my second-to-last full day in Dubai, but certainly wish I had gone earlier. Sharjah was described to me as a more "blue collar" town, and the role of Islam there quickly became more apparent, as I learned the city is completely dry, and knees and shoulders must be covered. I started my visit there, as you should, at the Museum of Islamic Civilization, which houses exhibits on the history of Islam, Islamic art and architecture, Islamic science and discovery, and coinage, and all better exhibits than any museum I visited in Dubai. Start here, as you can then walk along the water south, bringing you back to some of Sharjah's other highlights, including the Al Majaz Waterfront, Souk Al Arash, and the Sharjah Heritage Museum. Sharjah gave me the burst of culture (I hate saying that, as it makes me sound like I was looking to be entertained...if someone has a better word, please educate me) or at least "realness", I had been looking for.
Personally, my favorite part of Sharjah was my run-in with the Birds and Animals Market, an experience I've found you can only really have in the Middle East.

Personally, my favorite part of Sharjah was my run-in with the Birds and Animals Market, an experience I've found you can only really have in the Middle East.

Been to Dubai? What advice do you have for first-time travelers there?