The first time I went to Dubai (not on transit) was almost twenty years ago and my memories from what it was to what it is now, is in total contrast to each other.
In my opinion, Old Dubai was mostly 'blank' with a lot of sand, lots of taxis and just a few shopping malls, some five star hotels, an exciting Duty Free shopping selection (back then) in DXB airport. It's statement landmark had to be the Burj Al Arab. I remember walking around in Bur Dubai, a.k.a Old Dubai with my mother, near the Spice Souk with every consecutive shop selling exactly the same spices and souvenirs, one after another. The Gold Souk was her favourite, while mine was the local 5 Dirham shop (basically Dubai's equivalent of a Dollar store or a Poundland). As a child, being told by your parent(s) that you can buy whatever you want... was a bit of a shock. In fact I think it was confusing. Anyway, I bought a lot of tat that I don't remember. The locals a.k.a. the Emiratis were incredibly helpful and eager to help us as tourists. I had very fond memories of Dubai as a child.
Ten years later, we went to Dubai again and it was an eclectic mix of Wanabe-Western culture and local Emirati culture (and a lot of South Asian culture... from plenty of workers who had moved to Dubai for work). M&S was considered 'cool' in this Dubai. We struggled to find a bar and we were eventually bored of the shopping malls selling over-priced imported brands. We had decided to escape the modern side and attempted the Desert Safari, which was actually a lot of fun.
A chauffeur-driven, hefty four-wheel drive took us to the middle of the desert and gave us quite the rollercoaster ride. My mother did not enjoy it, but the rest of us had a blast. This was followed by a (pointless) 2 minute camel ride, after queuing for over half an hour in the heat. However, the evening concluded beautifully, with talented Belly Dancers and generous portions of local food, a BBQ and Shisha a.k.a. Hookah. I can't remember everything I ate, but I do remember having Machboos which is basically like a Biriyani (and I love Biriyani).
Ten more years later, my brother and his family decided to relocate to Dubai, so we went there again. Now the scene is completely different. They have changed the face and map of Dubai completely. There isn't just one Palm Beach, there are two: Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Jumeirah, the latter being the more popular one with locals and tourists.
We hired a car and decided to drive through Old and New Dubai. We drove through the Palm Jumeirah which is all man-made, and is home to The Atlantis Hotel and Resort, a huge waterpark and plenty of other hotels and upcoming theme parks, apartments, more and more buildings. It's endless. Their Royal Bridge Suite has been occupied by our very own Kim Kardashian, Shah Rukh Khan, Michael Jordan... for around $24,000 per night. Start saving guys....
Or for now, just look at the standard room or watch this video.
THen there was gold...
We drove to The Fairmont, a beautifully decorated and fancy hotel, to eat... chicken. Not just any chicken though. It was gold-plated chicken which we paid around 40 Dollars for, at their Trophy Room. Slightly more expensive than my butterfly chicken and peri peri chips at Nando's.
Would I recommend it? No. The service was great, and ambience was peaceful, but all I really got out of eating golden chicken is a metallic aftertaste and an instagram story (yay).
living in dubai
We stayed near Dubai Marina, which is a very good location, near JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence). We went hotel-hopping to dine out, and the food was generally very good in most places, despite generally being expensive. If you enjoy an alcoholic beverage, it's not going to be cheap for you in Dubai, but maybe it's a good thing. Consider it as a Detox holiday = Win-Win. And if you're a lady, don't forget to check out 'Ladies Night' on Tuesdays and Wednesdays where women can drink all-night for FREE. That should balance out the average costs for everyone. It's also worth keeping an eye out on Time Out Dubai for latest offers for meals, resorts, 2-4-1 theme park tickets, etc. which will save everyone some cash.
For the young (and wealthy) party animals out there, we happened to be close to Barasti Beach which could be considered as an alternative Ibiza for Dubai. Bikini-clad young ladies and Speedo-sporting young men, with arms and abs of steel (slight exaggeration), were enjoying their music, beers and cocktails and sun and sand. There are plenty of watersports available in the area, being near the resorts, but I am sure at a price worth thinking about twice.
I'm not sure whether this would be my regular hangout if I lived here, not only because of the pressure of perfection, but also because I have turned into a granny in my head and what I would rather do on an evening is have a nice glass of wine overlooking the city at one of the several rooftop bars in Dubai. Sadly, I didn't get to go to any this time round, but just so I don't miss out entirely on my little nephew's childhood, I may have to visit Dubai again in a couple of months. For now, here's a nice list of rooftop bars recommended by Time Out.
Our hotel InterContinental Dubai Marina was exactly what I would describe as a five-star hotel stay (we got a good deal via Tripadvisor.com). Modern decor, flawless and friendly staff and service all-round, all week and almost every facility to make our stay feel effortless and relaxing. Although the pool was smothered with confused families and children everywhere, the view was very special. The view from our room on the 18th floor was as stunning... some may call it a 'concrete jungle', and despite initially despising the fact that I couldn't see the beach from my room, I started to warm to waking up to buildings. So many tall buildings, so many swimming pools... so much capacity for more humans to come and visit or even live there. Dubai is making space and preparing itself for more people.
My overall impression of Dubai has changed, although it's still very much 'fake' and man-made and the advert for winter clothes in a magazine made me LOL (for those who want to go Skiing in the indoor ski resort Ski Dubai). It is very expensive and usually very hot, and it has an endless number of new projects for even more flats, more luxury resorts, more tall buildings... it's home to the tallest building in the World (Burj Khalifa), which I refused to pay $90 each just to get to the top, but the evening fountain show from the base was in fact spell-bounding enough.
Having said all that, Dubai is really trying to improve and evolve and this time round, it felt very multi-cultural, open-minded and quite similar to London. In fact, it's common to bump into people from London who have moved to Dubai for a short while or even several years. And we mustn't forget that, even though Dubai is all new and shiny, Old Dubai still exists. It's still possible to go to Bur Dubai and have a local meal, mingle with the shop-keepers, haggle for the price of Saffron and actually feel like you're in the U.A.E.
Modernisation has been defined by Dubai, so I suppose it's worth a visit at least.