If you look beyond the high-rises and the glitzy malls, you’ll find Dubai to be a multi-dimensional travel destination with something to appeal to all tastes and ages.
For a typical tourist, Dubai’s appeal lies in its man-made architectural leviathan and unparalleled consumerism. It takes a native touch to steer one towards a side of the city that shows the real, honest and simple beauty of Emirati culture.
I, along with four other journalists from Pakistan, had the wonderful opportunity to be invited by the Dubai Tourism Board on a mission to discover the true Dubai – “My Dubai” as the residents and locals call it – home to the most generous hosts who treated us like royalty!
#mydubai experience was a journey of heritage, benevolence and grandeur. It opened my eyes to the fact that beyond the desert safaris and swanky shops, there exist myriad opportunities for any and everybody to have a truly great time. Here are some of my recommendations for discovering Dubai off the beaten track:
Hot Air Balloon/Conservation Safari
It takes a few ingredients to create my perfect memory.
The day needs to start early, very early. Eyes starry, in a dream-like haze. The air cool, crisp and clean.
Breathe. Inhale. Exist.
The focus: an activity, an outdoor activity that exhilarates;
I crave adrenaline – fight or flight.
The backdrop: nature, virgin nature untouched by man, unstudied by science, with a sense of distance from technology, from social constructs, from the unnatural.
Fly, far and away, in a wicker basket –
like a magic carpet ride over the desert.
A hot air balloon ride by Balloon Adventures Dubai is one of the “ultimate things to do in Dubai” and was a much-anticipated event on our itinerary. The renowned company has teamed with the finest falcon trainers enabling them to host a falcon show whilst airborne.
Stunning falcons (that are also incredibly essential to the heritage of the region) have been taught to fly from the hot air balloon across from the distant sunset over the Hajar Mountains in a breathtaking spectacle.
In-flight, one can spot below the ecology of the region – powerful Arabian Onyx, gentle gazelles and curious camels roam their natural habitat with pride. This is an eco-friendly way to view the wild animals that does not harm the creatures.
Upon landing, members of the management drive guests in beautifully maintained, vintage 1950s Land Rovers, transporting them from the private desert conservation reserve to an authentic Bedouin camp for breakfast. The Gourmet Breakfast menu includes eggs Benedict, smoked salmon, a range of caviars, freshly squeezed juices, fruits, coffees and teas.
Suitable for all ages (with the obvious exception of babies, the sick and the very elderly), families with children, honeymooners, friends, tour groups and solo travellers have the opportunity to feel the Arabian magic aboard a historical mode of transportation, creating an unforgettable experience. #DestinationsGirl #PerfectMemory!
Dress like Dubai. Work like Dubai. Eat like Dubai!
In a country that boasts a deep-rooted culture of sharing sustenance, it came as no surprise that we were continually served hot Arabic tea and offered fresh, juicy dates.
Our hosts intelligently planned an international variety of foods throughout our itinerary, and ensured that our palates got a taste of the “global”, the essential spice of Dubai.
These restaurants stole the spotlight:
The Artisan by Enoteca Pinchiorri
As the manager proudly claimed, “We are not just a restaurant, we are yet another chapter in a rich culinary history, an institution of gourmet excellence… A feast for the senses!” Classic Italian fare served in a cozy setting, the menu includes delights such as refreshing sweet beetroot salad tossed in yoghurt and hazelnut, creamy pumpkin soup, and beautifully seasoned lamb chops. I loved the lamb chops and I do not eat lamb! (Word of caution: these were on the special menu but one can call in and inquire their availability; the staff is delightfully Italian and charmingly engaging!) #fangirl.
Ask for Kesha on the wait staff to wait your table; she will guide you through the Argentinean experience in a fun, quirky way. 8.5 only because by the time our steak arrived, I was too full to enjoy my main!
Raffles Hotel & Solo Italian Restaurant & Bar
During the first half of our trip, we stayed at the Raffles Dubai Hotel and what a delight it was! The hotel, built in the style of the pyramids in Giza, offers its respect to the grand and luxurious personality of Dubai. Dinner on our first night (after a relaxing afternoon in our wonderful accommodations) was scheduled at the homegrown Solo Italian Restaurant and Bar. The chef prides himself for bringing a modern twist to classic cuisine at this Italian fusion restaurant. Each course was served family style and all guests had the chance to sample each plate. The Diavola Pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella, spicy beef soppressata salami, roasted red peppers and chilli oil sauce was a unanimous favourite
Thiptara, Palace Hotel
“Thiptara” which means “magic by the water” specializes in Thai cuisine, especially Bangkok-style seafood. The views at the restaurant, located by the Burj Lake, facing the iconic Burj Khalifa, give the restaurant’s dinner service some serious pressure to perform. The various seafood appetizers are phenomenal. I also highly recommend giving the miso soup a try. After dinner, ask the staff to direct you to the single bench outside: the Voilà! It’s the perfect spot for proposals and honeymooners, right under the vibrant sparkle of the Burj and gentle splashing of the fountain show. True to its name, there is magic by the water at Thiptara.
Dubai Parks & Resorts Theme Park
Accompanied by over 1,500 members of the global media, UAE dignitaries and celebrities, we had the chance to attend the Dubai Parks and Resorts (DPR) inauguration and closing galas. The festive occasion celebrated the official opening of Dubai’s largest theme park destination.
The event showcased the three individual parks (Motiongate, Legoland, and Bollywood Park) in phenomenal performances by the actors and dancers from DPR’s live entertainment team.
The occasion marked a milestone in UAE’s history. His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammad, who was in attendance, applauded the first-ever collaboration between three of Hollywood’s most renowned studios, Columbia Pictures, DreamWorks and Lionsgate, to create the Hollywood-inspired Motiongate. Moreover, Dubai has become home to the first Legoland in the Middle East; and to Bollywood Parks, a first-of-its-kind amusement park that showcases rides and attractions based on some of Bollywood’s biggest superstars and hottest blockbusters. The music celebrated the evolution of Bollywood’s music industry – grandparents, parents, teens and tweens all swayed under its glory.
Additionally, the parks will also host the Legoland Water Park, the region’s first water park accommodating families with young children between the ages of 2-12. The complete destination is interconnected by Riverland Dubai – a distinctively themed retail and dining destination, and guests will be able to stay at the Lapita Hotel, a Polynesian themed family hotel part of the Marriott chain.
Our favourite, no surprise, was the Bollywood Park for the #win! The entertainers break out in dance at different spots throughout the parks and the Bollywood-themed souvenirs are well worth the acclaim for their ingenuity.
Dubai Shopping Festival 2017 at the Dubai Mall
Inaugurating on the 26th of December 2016 and closing on the 28th of January 2017, this year the Dubai Shopping Festival has been specially organized to entertain landmark sales and be an unprecedented shopping experiences for all ages.
Our last day in Dubai was spent testing out our shopping potential at the Dubai Mall. The mall, which prides itself for being the home of the Dubai Shopping Festival, is one of the world’s largest shopping malls, offering a diverse range of retail, dining and entertainment options. It is so big that I would advice wearing some comfy kicks from Zara, carrying all your valuables in a strappy leather backpack from Mango, and sporting leather camouflage jogger pants from Berksha. It’s best to keep your style sporty chic as to allow maximum movement and visual appeal. Remember, when in Dubai, dress the part!
The morning of, I sat down on my hotel bed and worked out a game plan. I believe that shopping abroad, like travelling, requires a high level of discipline. I matched everything I needed with a shortlist of stores that provided those commodities. My extensive list included fashionable sportswear, formal footwear, gifts for younger siblings and grandparents, chocolates and candy.
I was in a state of zen as I proceeded to step 2: downloading the Dubai Mall app and marking a shopping route within the mall, minimizing emotional stress and physical exhaustion. As a super tech-savvy millennial, I pride myself for the maximum utilization of my trusty iPhone, and this was a proud moment. Getting to know your bearings before heading to Dubai Mall can help narrow the chances of aimlessly wandering, wasting time, or getting intimidated by one’s surroundings.