My Wife and I have been married for 6 years as of February 20, 2017. We had never really taken an anniversary trip before, so this year we wanted to celebrate BIG! And although everything is bigger in Texas where we used to live, everything is BIGGEST in Dubai so naturally we chose Dubai to celebrate our love to the max!
Now that we’re on the other side of our trip, I can confidently say that Dubai truly lived up to its billing. From visiting the Burj Khalifi, to dune bashing in the Emirati dessert, to treating ourselves to all the wonderful (and expensive) food that Dubai has to offer, our trip did not disappoint. In case you’re itching to visit yourself, or are just interested in what the city has to offer and at what cost, allow me to provide some details about our trip that may help. Before we dive in though, here are some tips for first-timers gleaned from our travels:
Tips for First-Timers
- Plan your itinerary ahead of your trip. There are so many things to do in Dubai that you will not want to waste your time there trying to decide what to do next. Plan out at least a rough draft of what you will do so that you can hit the ground running.
- Purchase your tickets in advance. Certain tickets, such as for the Burj Khalifa At The Top experience, are subject to sell out for the best times available (4 PM – 7 PM). Purchase your tickets for all experiences at least one week in advance to make sure you get the exact activities and timing that you want.
- Avoid the Gold and Spice Souks unless you really want to buy Gold and Spice! We thought this would be a cool experience, but we were constantly bombarded by merchants trying to sell us their wares. Some even followed us! We could only endure about 20 minutes of this before leaving.
- Research the area of your hotel before your book. We loved our hotel, but unfortunately it is located in an area (Business Bay) where there is currently a lot of construction. On the plus side, there was a free 15-minute shuttle to the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa. If we get to go to Dubai again, we may stay in the Dubai Marina area which is closer to the beaches and The Palm, but is at least 25-30 minutes from the Dubai Mall/Dubai Fountains/Burj Khalifa. Decide what activities, scenery, and experiences are most important to you, research the area of your hotel to see if its area checks all of your boxes, and book accordingly.
- Do at least one cultural experience. Yes, you’re probably going to Dubai to have a blast, but I encourage you to also take the time to learn about the surrounding Arabic and Emirati cultural context in which Dubai was birthed. Don’t just travel the world, take time to learn first-hand from other cultures too!
- Be aware that food in Dubai is expensive and plan accordingly. This means either set aside more money in your budget for food, or plan to use a food delivery app and/or figure out where cheap eats are located. Also keep in mind that the higher the class of your hotel, the more expensive the food within it and surrounding areas will likely be. A 5-star experience doesn’t just mean your hotel room and service!
- Be sure to hit the desert! Don’t go all the way to Dubai without getting a little sand adventure in as well. There are many desert experiences to choose from, which can include experiences such as “dune bashing” (going up and down sand dunes wildly in a 4-wheel drive vehicle such as a Toyota Land Cruiser), sand surfing, a traditional Arabic meal at night, and camel riding.
- Avoid the summer months, unless you like extreme heat or want to sunbathe outside at the beach. Our hostess at our Emirati Meal Experience joked that there are two seasons in Dubai – “Summer and Hell.” “Summer” would be roughly October through April. “Hell” would be roughly May through September. Avoid Hell!
Visiting this one-of-a-kind city has always been at the top of our bucket lists. Our credit card reward points + the chance that we could score relatively cheap tickets (compared to flying from the US) definitely helped make this dream a reality. A breakdown of our trip costs is as follows:
Flights: Since we live only 4.5 hours flight time from Dubai, tickets were reasonable at $713.00 total for two round trip tickets through discount airline FlyDubai. I give FlyDubai 3.5 out of 5 Stars – On the positive side, the seats were fairly comfortable, the airline offered decent in-flight entertainment, and a meal was provided along with a free snack pack that included a chocolate bar, cup of water, Italian bread sticks, and some delicious hummus. On the negative side, the in-flight entertainment did not work on the return flight home and the flight attendant was a bit snippy about it! Good thing I downloaded Season 1 of Martin. An iPad and some downloaded content is a must on any flight over 3 hours.
Hotel: Dubai has a reputation for great hotels, so we did not want to go cheap and miss out on enjoying a one-of-a-kind room. Reward Points to the rescue! We had about 98,000 points left, most of which came from taking advantage of Chase’s soon to be expired 100,000 points offer for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. We found a great deal at the JW Marriot Marquis Hotel Dubai – A 930-square foot Corner Suite which included a dining area, two TVs, and a huge bathroom with rain shower + soaking tub. The hotel also featured some of the city’s best restaurants, including Prime 68, Positano’s, and Tong Thai. Total Value for 5 Nights: $1,438.38. Total Cost to Us: $0! It pays to use credit cards to your advantage.
Entertainment: Since our last trip to Rome I’ve learned that having a set itinerary before you travel can take a lot of the stress out of your vacation, allowing you to relax and look forward to what’s coming up next on your list of things to do. Accordingly, we set up a few activities ahead of time as follows (Each total is for 2 Tickets): “At The Top” Burj Khalifa: $110, Emerati Meal Experience: $54, Half-Day Desert Safari: $218. I believe we received great value out of all of these activities.
Wife’s Breakfast Tacos inside Mall of the Emirates at Common Grounds restaurant
Food & Travel: Shame on us. We were not at all prepared for how expensive food is in Dubai. Unfortunately our flight to Dubai was delayed two hours to due snow prior to departure, which meant we arrived at our hotel at 1 AM. Our only option was to get room service, and while I had THE BEST Quesadillas I’ve ever had, our total order still hurt the pockets a bit at about $55. This meal cost would simply foreshadow the meal costs to come. Our total food & travel (taxi/metro) costs totaled about $940, with about 85% of this total coming from meals alone. The good news is that the food was excellent!
Total Trip Cost: Approximately $2,040
The total price seems a little on the high side, especially for someone who is usually as frugal as I am, but keeping in mind the location, experiences we had, and great food we ate, and the fact that ticket prices alone from the U.S. could have cost $2,000, our total trip cost seems like a good deal. If we wanted to be even more budget friendly, I think we could have shaved about $300 off of the total cost, but travel is one area where I don’t mind splurging. After all, YOLO!
Best Overall Experience: Emirati Meal Experience
What good is going to a new part of the world without learning a bit about the culture? I saw this particular experience on Expedia a couple months ago and knew it was something we had to do. For only $27 per person, we were given an authentic Emirati meal including coffee and tea, Q&A session with the hostess covering Emirati and Islamic culture and customs, and an opportunity to try on traditional Emirati clothing. We both learned so much and would definitely do this experience again.
Hostess explaining how incense was traditionally used in Emirati culture to send guests off in peace
As you can see below, the meal was very well planned out with comfortable places to sit for all. We were even allowed to take food home with us if wanted to (we did not since we were not going immediately back to our hotel). The Veal & Rice meal was particularly good, as were the tasty ligamat treats with date syrup (not pictured). More information about this experience can be found here. Total time: 1.5 hours
Coolest Experience: At The Top Burj Khalifa
I used to have a SEVERE fear of heights, to the point of having panic attacks when on high floors. Now, I’m thankful to report that I love (okay, strongly like) heights and LOVE flying. Visiting the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa was a must. We opted for the 4 PM-7 PM tickets which, while slightly more expensive ($55 per ticket vs. $35 per ticket), allowed us to view the city during the daytime, sunset, and at night.
Dubai skyline right before sunset
I have to admit, rocketing all the way up to the 124th floor in 60 seconds left me a bit woozy, and immediately going outside in the open air area was a bit unsettling, but I was amazed at the beautiful sights, and both my Wife and I ended up sitting on the ground for a long period of time just taking in the views. The only drawback to this experience was the long queue to get back down right after sunset. It took us about 20 minutes to finally get on an elevator.
Dubai skyline after sunset. Our hotel is the two tallest buildings to the right!
Ticket information for the At The Top experience can be found here.
Most Romantic Experience: Anniversary Meal Beside the Dubai Fountains
After viewing the city from the top of the Burj Khalifa, we headed over to the Dubai Fountains to enjoy a nice anniversary meal. We ended up eating at a Turkish restaurant named Gunaydin. We both ordered a lamb meal with sauteed vegetables and mashed potatoes. Our meal was brought out to us still sizzling, with our waiter coming by every 10-15 minutes to stir our meat & veggies up and serve us more. The vegetables were cooked to perfection and the spices used were perfect. To top it off, we got to see 3-4 fountain shows, which happen every 30 minutes, up close. My favorite was the fountain show set to Bollywood themed music. Amazing!
Wildest Experience: Half-Day Desert Safari
My Wife absolutely had to get on Quad bikes in the desert, so get on Quad bikes we did… and rode on camels… and did a bit of sand boarding (well, she did)… and spent about 25 minutes dune bashing during which I held on for dear life hoping we wouldn’t flip over. The particular Safari that we booked through getyourguide.com focused mostly on the Quad Bike adventure, which allowed us both plus two other guests to rev up and down the sand dunes in the open desert for 45 minutes, stopping a couple of times along the way to take pictures. Except for my Wife running into the side of a tree in the desert, it was a great time. Be careful out there folks! If you do this adventure, be sure to bring your own sunglasses or goggles in case they are not provided (they weren’t for us).
My Wife and me on Camels
There are many Desert Safaris to choose from, and it took us a while to find one the checked all of the boxes of what we wanted to do. This particular safari provided the longest Quad Bike ride that we could find, but was in the morning (initially preferred afternoon/evening, but glad we did a morning safari instead), and did not come with any meals or dancing like many other safaris do. Be sure to research carefully to pick a safari that’s right for you. You can find information about this particular safari here.
Are there any more tips for first-timers out there? Does anyone have any amazing Dubai stories to share or questions about this one-of-a-kind city? Leave them in the comments!