Our First Stop In Dubai
The first half of our amazing 51 day cruise was from Athens to Dubai. We stopped in Dubai for two days before we got back onboard our cruise ship to head to Cape Town for Christmas. And after Cape Town, we came back to Dubai for New Years.
As the cruise ship approached Dubai, we eagerly went on board to watch the entry to the harbour. We were excited to see the stunning skyline that was modern Dubai. Unfortunately the sky was very hazy and the landmarks were barely visible. We later realized that much of the haze was fine sand in the air. The lack of visibility is certainly one of the things we were not prepared for.
We decided to do the Hop-On-Hop-Off (HOHO) bus tour of Dubai to get an overview of the city. Despite hours of research, we really did not realize how big Dubai was. The traffic was crazy. Getting around town was slow and we saw much less by bus than we had expected. When we returned to Dubai for New Years Eve, we made use of the much faster public transit options.
The cruise ship terminal had booths for the HOHO buses. The City Sightseeing ticket included 3 full routes, a wide range of tickets for activities, walking tours, Dhow boat tours and bottled water on the bus! We even got our 24 hour ticket extended until our ship left on the second day. Unfortunately, it did not have working audio for much of the time we are on the bus.
A Long Day To See Few Sights
As we crawled along in the traffic, we snapped pictures. The audio cut in and out so we often were not sure what we were taking pictures of. We did recognize the Burj Al Arab in the distance.
The bus travelled out along the Palm Jumeirah. The pink Atlantis hotel was an easy landmark to see. We are regular visitors to the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, Bahamas. It was amazing how much the two properties looked alike. As we walked around the property, it felt very familiar. It was a quick pit stop visit. We couldn’t resist our first Starbucks stop since we had left Toronto almost 4 weeks before. When we finally factored in exchange rate, we realized we had paid $16CND for a frozen drink. Dubai was much more expensive than we had expected!
The trip back to the Dubai Mall was much quicker on the expressway. We did a quick walk-through of this massive entertainment complex. We visited the Dubai Mall with lots of time to spare when we returned to Dubai for New Years.
I only had two things on my shopping list for this visit. I eventually found a bank to withdraw local currency. But never did find a spot to buy a local SIM card. Neither of the international connectivity options that I brought with me would work in Oman or Dubai. Plan to invest in a local SIM when you visit this part of the world.
We waited for the night bus tour but we should not have bothered. Traffic was still backed up. The hazy sky remained after dark. The sparkly neon night of Dubai was just a dull glow. Even the colour show on the Burj Khalifa seemed less interesting when dulled by sand haze. But it was pretty weird to see the neon signs for familiar North American brand restaurants as we drove around.
Our bus tour day of Dubai had been a bit of a frustrating first view of Dubai.
We Explored The Dubai Creek The Next Day
Maybe we are gluttons for punishment. But we left the cruise ship early the next day to finish our bus tour of Dubai. The cruise ship shuttle to the Dubai Mall connected us with the City Sightseeing bus and we headed to the Dubai Creek area. We passed the Al Fahidi Fort but didn’t hop off to visit.
The Dubai Creek area was a historical port area. Today it has been excavated to about 4,000 ft long and six feet deep to support the busy boat traffic. Traditional working dhows were lined up along the shores.
We took a dhow cruise that was included as part of our HOHO ticket. There was much to see as we cruised up and down the canal. An interesting mix of buildings lined the shore. It was the first but not last of the buildings we saw with large paintings of local leaders. On one shore there was a restricted area where the new underwater hotel was under construction. But that did not stop people who still snapped pictures.
When the sun began to set, the birds swarmed in. They seemed to have a set pattern and spots where they stopped to roost. We have seen this phenomenon often we travelled. In Rome the swallows all seem to head to the dome on the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.
When you visit this part of Dubai, you can visit gold and spice souks (or markets). We headed into the spice souk to explore. The bright colours and smells were intoxicating. I thought I was dressed conservatively enough, but apparently shorts to the knees still left too much bare skin. There were lots of stares as we walked the souk. Or maybe it was just because we just smelled and didn’t buy!
We planned to return to the Dubai Creek area to explore more when we returned to Dubai for New Years. But we simply ran out of time. The cable car ride, Dubai Museum, Dubai Dolphinarium and a chance to shop for gold will be on our list for the next visit. We were told that the gold prices in Dubai were really reasonable!
We Returned To Dubai A Month Later
After we finished our amazing 51 day cruise, we spent Christmas in Cape Town. Then we began the first to two luxurious Emirates First Class trips towards home.
The first stop on our return trip was a stay in Dubai for New Years Eve. We landed in Dubai in a fog that defied the pilot to see the runway. First Class Emirates made the flight arrival so easy and we were quickly whisked away in our private car. For this trip to Dubai we were booked to stay at the Intercontinental Dubai Marina. It was out of the main downtown area but had a whole series of things to do in the Marina District.
Our stay at the Intercontinental Dubai Marina was another excellent example of great customer service when you have IHG Rewards status and you stay on the Concierge level. Chocolates greeted us when we arrived and treats continued to appear. Staff went out of their way to anticipate our needs. One night we even got hand massages from the Spa staff to relax.
The food was good and plentiful. Afternoon Tea was a delicious way to take a break in the afternoon. The champagne flowed. While you may have trouble buying liquor in Dubai, hotel guests have no issues.
The Marina Was A Great Location For Stay
The hotel had a great view out over the Dubai marina. Day or night it was awesome to look out at the boats as they went by and the buildings in the distance. We had fog for four days and it was eerie to watch it swirl between the buildings. Then it cleared and we were rewarded with a great sunrise.
The hotel had a great pool that hung over the marina. It was a great spot to relax between busy days as we explored what there was to see and do in Dubai. David made sure that Canada left is mark on the pool.
From the marina, there were lots of transportation options to get around Dubai. The ferries left from the water by our hotel and could get us down to the Dubai Creek area. The local tram connected to the large tram line that took us downtown to the Dubai Mall.
When we wanted to do a desert adventure outside of Dubai, it was easy to get picked up right at the hotel.
The Dubai Marina was certainly a great choice for us to stay on our visit to Dubai for New Years.
We Found So Much To See And Do In The Dubai Marina Area
The Intercontinental Dubai Marina was located right on the canal waterway. Boats of all kinds went up and down. Some were pleasure craft transiting the canal and others were working boats. It was great to walk along the canal and see the interesting buildings towering above the expensive yachts. One day we rented pedal cars to get a better view along the length of the canal.
One night we took an evening cruise out the marina canal and along the Palm Jumeirah. The sun set while we were out. We got a good view of the Atlantis Resort from another angle.
The beach was a short walk from the Intercontinental Dubai Marina. Once at the beach we found no end of things to see and do.
The Marina district was a fun place to stay when we visited Dubai for New Years.
An Exciting Spot In Dubai For New Years Eve
We walked down to the JBR Beach as the sun was setting. The beach was packed with people set up for the night. Lawn chairs and coolers were everywhere. We muscled our way in to find a good spot.
From our vantage point, we got a great view of fireworks around the bay. They seemed to be in synch as the lights moved from one spot to another. We could even see the fireworks out at Atlantis Resort. It was funny to see the fireworks echoed in the cell phones and iPads that the crowd held up to capture the show.
Dubai for New Years was a treat. We loved the chance to experience the over-the-top show we got. It would have been great to have made it downtown to see the light and laser show on the Burj Khalifa. But transportation into the downtown area was a challenge on New Years Eve. It would have been great to be on a boat out in the bay. Or maybe even in a small plane. We would definitely return to Dubai for New Years Eve.
So Many Great Reasons To Visit Dubai
We were excited when we booked our trip with the opportunity to visit Dubai twice. We certainly learned a few tips to help us plan another trip. The Emirates First Class flights just added icing to the cake. We liked staying in the Dubai Marina area. There was so much to see and do from that spot. While it is a fair distance out from the main downtown area, we found transportation options that worked for us.
The Intercontinental Dubai Marina was another excellent choice. The Conceirge service was flawless. The hotel’s location right on the water ensured we were close to everything. And the views from the hotel were awesome.
It was extra special to visit Dubai for New Years. The show was definitely a key attraction of our visit. But the weather at that time of year was another bonus. We flew home to snow and winter!
Are you tempted to visit Dubai for New Years Eve? What is your reason for visiting Dubai?
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That’s crazy that sand can make it look that foggy! #MiddleEastProblems haha. So do you think a day in Dubai is enough time to get a feel for the city?
Tamara, It would be very hard to see much for one day. If you read my blog post on how to get around Dubai, you will see that traffic can really slow you down. I would pick maybe one or two very different kind of things to see in one day that will give you a good taste test. Then if you like that, some day you can return. It is a huge city and even though we visited for over 9 days, we still didn’t see it all. Linda
I’ve never been to Dubai but now I’m becoming much more interested! I’ve always thought that i seems so superficial, but actually the day trip you took and your visit to the beach looks lovely! I might have to add it to my list now 🙂
Gabby, Dubai was one of those places I wanted to tick the box off. Reading in advance made it seem so over the top. Certainly much of what you will see and do is superficial. But like many spots, there are still nice spots to explore in Dubai and as day trips. The other UAE countries can be very different. Linda
Marina area of Dubai looks beautiful. Reading your post gives me a sense that Hop on Hop off tour means getting stuck in Dubai Traffic. Do you think using the Metro would be a better idea for Dubai? I am assuming there is not much that you can see in a day.
Anu, We really enjoyed staying in the Marina area. I would definitely plan to use the Metro is I was coming in from the Marina area. It is great for places along the line. Check out my other blog post on getting around Dubai if you come. There are different options to get around faster depending on where you want to go. If you come for just one day, pick one or two things you really want to see. Trying to do much more may frustrate you in getting around. Linda
Bummer to have sand haze during your first visit. Thank you for sharing about the traffic problem, I will avoid taking the hop on/off bus for sure. Your images of the Marina are incredible, such great memories!
Sherianne, We were very disappointed that the visibility was not great on either visit. Getting around Dubai was such an issue, I actually wrote a totally separate blog on this. I did not expect the bus to be such a waste of time. We were indeed happy to stay in the Marina – a little out of the crazy centre and such good views. Linda
A 51-day cruise? Lucky!! Such a bummer that it was hazy when you were in Dubai. Great night shot of the Burj Khalifa. I’ve been to Dubai several times but not for New Year’s.
Debra, Our cruise was definitely a trip of a lifetime. We put two cruises together (one that ended and one that started in Dubai). That is what got us to Dubai. As you know from having visited Dubai several times, there is still something new to see on every trip. Linda
It’s interesting that it was fine sand dust and not smog or fog that made Dubai hazy. I am glad when you visited again it wasn’t hazy. The pictures of the second round turned out so clear and beautiful. The marina sounds like the perfect place to stay, while exploring Dubai.
Chris, We too were very surprised with the sand haze we got. When we then arrived in dense fog, it was disappointing. But once the fog cleared, it was beautiful. We were happy to stay out in the Marina district but it is really a far way from downtown. People may not realize what this means if they book without some research into how to get around in Dubai. Linda
You sure saw a lot of Dubai in a short time although it’s a pity about the sand haze, the traffic, and the broken audio in the bus on your first stop. But you certainly made up for it on your return trip during your stay at the Marina! The New Year’s fireworks must have been out of this world.
Linda, We did try to maximize the time we were in Dubai. But we still left with much on our list for next time. We may use Dubai as a gateway to other places in the future and would plan a stay over. The fireworks were the perfect finish to our second trip. Linda
Camels on the beach in the Marina district- that picture was totally unexpected. What an amazing adventure in Dubai. This is one fascinating part of the world I’d love to visit. Wow, a 51 day cruise…what an experience! Did you like being on the ship for that long? Great tips about Dubai, especially to avoid the traffic and take the local metro system.
Rosemary, The 51 day cruise was an adventure that covered so many things on our travel to-do list. It was a good test about whether we could handle a long voyage. We managed not to kill each other! But we were glad to reach Cape Town for Christmas. Dubai was a great discover. We were glad to have a first short trip to get our bearings in Dubai. After two trips, we still have more to see. Glad you found the tips helpful. Linda
What a great idea to do Hop on Hop off tour – it must have saved you lots of Money. I was trying to travel around with normal bus, but the public transportation sucks and people use taxi a lot, which was for me expensive. I will do the same like you next time!
Veronika, We often use HopOnHopOff buses to give us a great overview. IF you do it in Dubai, take a multi day pass if you want to use all the lines. Linda
Lately, Dubai has gained a lot of traction among travelers. Entry to Harbour of Dubai is really picturesque. I am sure this is the most modern skyline in the world. Incredible to know about Haze which was created by the flying sand. Would love to hop on a HOHO bus to explore the city. Dubai Mall and Atlantis resort wounds great. Being a history and heritage lover, Dubai creek would be a must see place for me.You have taken some best of the shots of Dubai.
And, would love to read more on your 51 days cruise.
Himanshu, Thanks for your feedback on our photos. We try to capture great views to everywhere to travel. There is so much to see and do in Dubai that you won’t be disappointed when you visit. The skyline was a continual delight. Linda
My goodness, you packed so many adventures into your two visits. I’m pleased to see someone with IHG status make the most of the program with a pampered stay in the marina. What incredible views! Thank you for the rich display of photographs. It’s an amazing collection.
We were excited when we got to plan two visits to Dubai on that trip. The first gave us an overview so we were more effective with our time on the second visit. IHG status was great at the Intercontinental in the Marina district. Nice to have some pampering to finish the trip.