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Egypt

20 Photos to Inspire you to Visit Egypt

Egypt is a destination that is near the top of every world traveler’s bucket list. Egyptophile or not, you cannot help but be awed by Egypt’s jaw-dropping monuments and  history as a powerful civilization that laid the foundations for modern life. Selecting 20 photos to inspire you to visit Egypt was not easy! From chaotic Cairo in the north to laid back Aswan in the south, the present is always juxtaposed with the past. It was a childhood dream to visit the land of the mighty Pharaohs and immerse myself in the enthralling history seen in movies and documentaries. Memories of my most epic journey to date are still vivid and I always dream of returning!

Reasons why I chose these 20 photos to inspire you to visit Egypt

The Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza

I know they’re ultra touristy, but the Pyramids of Giza  and Sphinx are a MUST. Why? They’re the last of the 7 Wonders of the ancient world!

Girl kissing the Sphinx in Giza, Egypt; 20 photos to inspire you to visit Egypt.

I kissed a girl and I liked it!

Girl with arms outstretched at the Pyramids of Giza; 20 photos to inspire you to visit Egypt

Behold the ancient grandeur!

Perspective shot of girl touching the tip of one of the Pyramids of Giza; 20 photos to inspire you to visit Egypt

The Egyptian Museum, Cairo

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is a glorious treasure trove of relics for history lovers. See the mask and possessions of the boy-king King Tutankhamen! And be sure to visit the Royal Mummies collection to view some of the most important rulers in ancient history!

Brunette girl in a white tank top in from of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo

What’re you waiting for…let’s go!

The Luxor Temple

Modern day Luxor was once the location of the city of Thebes, the ancient capital of Egypt. The Luxor Temples will blow your mind with their colossal statues, obelisks and pillars. Dedicated to the worship of sun god Amun, they were important political and religious centers. Luxor Temple was once connected to the Temple of Karnak by an avenue of sphinxes, however, only small number remains today.

Colossi of Ramses II, Luxor Temple, Luxor, Egypt

I felt as insignificant as an ant before these colossi of Pharaoh Ramses II !

Giant obelisk at the Luxor Temple, Luxor, Egypt

Giant obelisk of red granite at the Luxor Temple

Statues of Pharaoh Ramses II as the god Osiris, Luxor Temple, Luxor, Egypt; 20 Photos to inspire you to visit Egypt

Statues of Pharaoh Ramses II as the god Osiris

Giant pillars within the interior of the Luxor Temple, Luxor, Egypt

The Karnak Temple, Luxor

The Karnak Temple was a city of temples that was extremely important as contact point between sun god Amun, the supreme deity, and the Pharaoh, who represented the people. As I mentioned above, the temple was connected to the Luxor temples via an avenue of Sphinxes.

The Incomparable Karnak Temple with Avenue of Rams

Avenue of Rams, Karnak Temple, Luxor , Egypt

Close up shot of the Rams with figures of the Pharaoh between their hooves.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Valley of the Kings

The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut was built by Egypt’s first female ruler of the same name. This audacious woman seized power from her young stepson, Thutmose III, and declared herself Pharaoh! She built this vast tomb complex for herself in the Valley of the Kings.

Horus, the falcon headed god

Hathor – goddess of fertility, motherhood and beauty

 

Abu Simbel Temples, Aswan

Aswan is home to the spectacular UNESCO Heritage site, the Abu Simbel Temples. The temple compound consists of the Great Temple and Small Temple. Both were built by Ramses II to commemorate his battle victory against the Hittites and to honour himself and his favourite wife, Queen Nefertari.

Woman standing in front of Great Temple of Abu Simbel

Great Temple of Abu Simbel

The Small Temple at Abu Simbel, Aswan, Egypt

Ramses II and his favourite wife, Nefertari

Colossal image of Queen Nefertari in front of the Small temple, Abu Simbel, Aswan, Egypt

Queen Nefertari, Ramses II most beloved wife

Nile River Cruise, Aswan

A river cruise is a great way to relax and view the gorgeous scenery of the Nile. Purchase lunch on your way back from touring the Abu Simbel Temples and enjoy it onboard. Later, take a refreshing dip in the cool river waters!

View of the Old Cataract Hotel from the Nile river in Aswan, Egypt

Afternoon boat cruise on the Nile !

Bet el Kerem's Guesthouse's river boat

My guesthouse’s river boat that cruises the Nile river!

 

We’re all aware of recent travel advisories and security concerns regarding Egypt. Note however, that if an incident happens in one area it doesn’t mean that the entire country is in an uproar! As with all destinations, exercise common sense and be vigilant. I hope my 20 selected photos will pique your interest and inspire you to visit this amazing country!

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Abu Dhabi UAE

How to Spend A Weekend in Abu Dhabi

While visiting the UAE, my cousin and I took the opportunity to spend a weekend in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven kingdoms that comprise the United Arab Emirates. The capital city (of the same name) is the seat of the UAE’s federal government and home to the country’s ruling family – the Al Nahyans. While its glamourous neighbour Dubai, specializes in tourism and luxury retail, Abu Dhabi’s mainstay continues to be oil and petroleum exports. The Emirate however, has grown quite popular in recent years as a tourism destination as well as a filming location for both Hollywood and Bollywood blockbuster movies!  Here’s how to spend a weekend in Abu Dhabi!

Where To Stay

From our Dubai hotel, we took a taxi to the Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al -Beri, Abu Dhabi for a 2-night stay.

About 1.5 hours later we arrived at our destination. Did I mention that I love Arabic architecture? I chose the Shangri-La for precisely that reason. I felt like we entered an Arabian palace. We were greeted in traditional fashion with strong coffee and dates and proceeded to check in. I was surprised and pleased to see the welcome message on our room’s flat-screen!

The late afternoon and evening were spent enjoying the hotel. We sunbathed, swam in the pool and took in the view of the spectacular Grand Mosque in the distance. For dinner, we chose to eat at the hotel’s Vietnamese restaurant Hoi An. I highly recommend the duck and fish steamed in a banana leaf!

Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

A trip to Abu Dhabi is incomplete without a visit to the Grand Mosque, the largest in the UAE and a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. It was constructed between 1996-2007, its design a brilliant fusion of Islamic styles brought together to create this modern wonder of the world. The Grand Mosque was the vision of the UAE’s former president, HRH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan whose final resting place lies beside the grounds. The complex covers an area of over 22,000 m2 and boasts 82 domes of varying sizes, accommodating 41,000 worshippers. White Greek and Italian marble provide a stunning finish to the structure.

My cousin and I dressed in traditional black abayas (robe-like dresses) and shaylas (headscarves worn in the Gulf region) that we bought in Dubai and caught the hotel’s complimentary shuttle at 8.30 am to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The interior design of the mosque is equally impressive with the 99 names/ attributes of God (Allah) written in three types of Arabic calligraphy, carved floral inlays and a 5,625 sq.m  hand-made Persian carpet in the main prayer hall. Seven massive Swarovski crystal chandeliers complete the interior.

Inscriptions of God’s name (Allah)

Floral inlays on the walls

My cousin Shena on the largest Persian carpet in the world!

One of the Swarovski crystal chandeliers!

Dressed in my abaya and shayla to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque

TIP: All visitors to the Grand Mosque are required to dress modestly, i.e. no bare arms and legs, with ladies being required to cover their hair. The mosque provides clothing for visitors as a gesture of goodwill. Free guided tours available but you can also explore at your leisure.

For more information please click here: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center

Take a Desert and Dinner Safari

We arrived back at the Shangri-La after our visit to the Grand Mosque and managed to snag the last 2 spots on that afternoon’s desert safari. We were picked up by our driver in a 4×4, 15 minutes later, and set off for the desert. Our first stop was at a camel farm where we had an up close interaction with the “ships of the desert” and met up with a small crowd of fellow travelers.

Tip – If you decide to participate in a desert safari on your UAE trip, I recommend that you do it here instead of Dubai as the landscape is more untouched, with no extreme amount of tourist traffic.

Hello there !

Next up was dune bashing! Our driver was a young Pakistani with superb driving skills who took us on a high-speed roller coaster ride to the top of the high dunes, then slid us down, always in full control of the 4×4 while we screamed ourselves silly in the back seat during the 45-minute experience. The exhilaration of dune bashing was followed by a short rest to admire the beauty of the desert landscape before we made our way to the Arabian “Village”.

Destination Tidbit – The impressive sand dunes of Abu Dhabi were used as the first shooting location of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and were chosen precisely for their incomparable beauty!

The desert is beautiful!

The last stop on the safari was the Arabian “Village”, where I headed to a nearby table and ate some salt to ward off some nausea brought on from the dune bashing and partook of coffee and dates. At the Village, we stopped at the various tents to rest, try on traditional Arab clothing, get henna painted on our hands and take camel rides. As the evening grew dark, a sumptuous feast of Arabic/Indian cuisine was served followed by belly dancing performances and shisha smoking around a fire. Stargazing concluded our safari as all the lights in the “Village” were switched off, giving us an unparalleled view of the desert night sky, free from light pollution.

Tip: Walk with a warm jacket as temperatures plummet in the desert at night!

FERRARI WORLD!

I got a need… a need…for SPEED!

Ferrari World is a must for racing fans, automobile lovers and families alike. From the Shangri-La Hotel , the shuttle took guests to Yas Island, home of Ferrari World about 20 minutes away. After getting your tickets the thrills begin!

Oh yeah !!!

Got my ticket!

As you enter, be sure to visit the Galleria Ferrari to get up close and personal (no touching!) with Ferrari’s gorgeous collection of classic and contemporary automobiles. You will hear the roar of engines as you pass by each model and learn about:

  • The company’s car making history
  • Its participation in the Formula 1 circuit since the competition’s inception
  • Facts about each car as you go along from one model to the other

After visiting the Galleria, make your way to the fastest roller coaster in the world…the Formula Rossa! Get yourself strapped in, put on your goggles and feel your heart hammer before you get shot like an arrow at 240km/hour in 4.9 seconds! The roller coaster scales heights of 52 metres and you will feel the adrenaline rush of 4.8Gs. I crossed the finish line feeling like a champion and… because it was so nice, I did it twice!

For a leisurely change of pace after all the thrill rides, take some moments to fully appreciate where you are by looking up and recognizing the Legends of Ferrari whose achievements on the F1 circuit made Ferrari great!

Afterward, move over to the nearby Bell’Italia where you can get into a scaled down Ferrari 250 California and explore Italy in miniature! The tour takes you around scenic “Portofino”, “Amalfi Coast”, “Monza Racetrack”, the “Colosseum di Roma”, “Venezia”, and  “Maranello”.

On the “Viaggio in Italia”- a simulated ride that utilizes hydraulic technology- you will be taken on a joyride through Italy’s cities, villages and mountains while a member of Ferrari’s team provides narration about the company throughout.

Before leaving, be sure to browse the Ferrari Store and pick up a souvenir item to remember your exciting and action-packed day! My dad loved his red Ferrari World tee. As you can see, he’s worn it quite a bit!

 

 

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Florida USA

The Ultimate Wizarding World of Harry Potter Guide

For fans of the Harry Potter books or movies, seeing this wondrous world made into reality is simply marvelous. The WWOHP is located at Universal Studios Orlando Resort with a new theme park at Universal Studios, Hollywood that opened on April 7th 2016 ! Non-fans can also have a magical time at the WWHOP as the rides, shops, food and interactive features provide immersive experiences for all. The WWOHP is split between Universal Islands of Adventure  (Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle) and Universal Studios, Diagon Alley (opened in 2014). Both parks are connected via the Hogwarts Express train. Read below for my Ultimate Wizarding World of Harry Potter Guide!

Dragon on top of Gringotts Bank, Diagon Alley. Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Orlando

Diagon Alley

The most recent addition to the WWOHP features its signature motion-based ride, the 3D Escape from Gringotts. On the way inside, you will walk through the marble lobby with its massive crystal chandeliers and see goblin bankers on the job. Bill Weasley (in 3D) has a word with visitors before they go into an elevator that leads to the vaults. The thrills begin once you enter your cart. Lord Voldemort with his faithful servant (and baby mama!) Bellatrix make appearances to scare you silly ! The dragon on top of the bank breathes fire every 10 minutes so be on the lookout.

Girl standing in front of Goblin banker inside Gringotts Bank, Universal Studios, Orlando IMG-20160304-WA0008

 

There are many immersive experiences that can be enjoyed in Diagon Alley with an interactive wand. There was no foolish wand waving or silly incantations in Professor Snape’s classes, however, in both parks, you can purchase Harry’s, Hermione’s or another character’s wand to practice spell casting in front of shop windows! You can flush the toilet in the Weasleys’ window, make fountains belch water and send a feather floating upwards using the “Wingardium Leviosa” spell. Remember…it’s LeviOHsa NOT Leviosarr !

Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, Diagon Alley, Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Orlando

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Eat in Diagon Alley

Have your lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, with delicious and authentic British pub food and dessert at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. Alternatively, grab a non-alcoholic Butterbeer served cold, frozen or hot in a tall cup or small tankard. The hot and cold versions are extremely sweet and taste like liquid butterscotch. The frozen version tastes like molten soft-serve ice cream – it’s my favourite!

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The Hogwarts Express

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Transport at the WWOHP got extra magical in 2014 with the introduction of the Hogwarts Express train that takes you between the two parks. Enter King’s Cross Station from “London” at Universal Studios and make your way to platform 9 3/4 where the train takes you onward to Hogsmeade Village Station. Before I entered the station, I enjoyed exchanging banter with the Knight Bus’s shrunken head. The combination of his Jamaican accent and my Trinidadian one resulted in a hilarious chat! On board, the immersive experience continued as the animated train windows took passengers through scenes of London, English countryside past Malfoy Manor and then arrival at Hogsmeade Station. Hagrid , Harry & Co, the Weasley twins plus a Dementor all made appearances !

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Hogsmeade Village

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Here you can find Hogwarts students’ favourite sweet shop – Honeydukes, where you can get your Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans and other sweets mentioned in the books.

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Eat at Hogsmeade Village

Enjoy a hearty lunch at The Three Broomsticks ! Traveling as a family or a group? I highly recommend the Great Feast Platter. Thirsty? Grab your favourite Butterbeer or a bottle of pumpkin juice! Magical folk and Muggles over 21 can try Firewhiskey at the Hogs Head Pub.

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Great Feast Platter!

3-broomsticks 46

 

Hogwarts Castle

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The iconic castle towers over Hogsmeade and features its signature 3D motion-based ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, where Harry takes you soaring with him over the Quidditch pitch and castle ! While visitors wait in line for the ride, the animated and moving Sorting Hat gives safety instructions in rhyme. The journey into the castle is an experience in itself that takes you past settings in the movies and books, such as Professor Sprout’s greenhouse, Dumbledore’s office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom where Harry and the gang (in 3D) greet visitors!

Dumbledore's Office entrance

Dumbledore’s Office entrance

Prof. Sprout's greenhouse

Prof. Sprout’s greenhouse

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The rooms with moving and talking paintings are also a treat to see and hear. Listen to the founders of 3 of Hogwarts’ 4 houses speak in glowing terms about the school, and Salazar Slytherin’s treacherous commentary about admitting Muggle-borns! Don’t leave the park without listening to the Hogwarts choir and attending a Triwizard Tournament Rally with the students of the Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang Academies of Magic! See the videos below.

beauxdurmrally

 

Tips for Visiting the WWOHP

  • Get a 2-day park to park pass (and get a third day free!) in order to experience everything to the max !
  • Download the Universal Orlando Wait Times app to receive real-time information on lines to the rides. Available on iOS and Android.
  • Wear flat, comfortable, sturdy footwear. You’ll be on your feet all day in lines and seeing the sights.
  • Get there early and head straight to each park’s signature rides as wait times can be more than 1 hour long ! You’ll have ample time for photos later
  • Walk with a mini-pharmacy in a ziplock bag in case you fall ill or need to freshen up. I pack aspirin, antacid, mini toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, allergy medication, a compact, lipstick, and sanitizer.
  • Drink water ! Take a full bottle or get one that rolls up and refill at the coolers
  • The parks always have crowds but avoid going during the summer since that is peak vacation season
  • If visiting during January-February, walk with a warm jacket and scarf since Orlando is extremely chilly during that time

 

Where to Stay

My boyfriend and I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Nearest Universal Orlando.  The hotel was located across from a compound that had reasonably priced restaurants, Walgreens pharmacy/convenience store as well as souvenir shops. For the price of an on-site hotel at Universal, we got a non-smoking suite complete with a mini fridge and microwave that came in handy for leftovers ! There is an ATM in the lobby and a ticket desk. There is also a free scheduled shuttle that takes you to and from Universal Studios!

 

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Dubai UAE

Stay At – The JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai

Dubai is currently the business capital of the Middle East and a major stopover destination. No longer dependent on oil, the Emirate specializes in tourism, international finance, and civil aviation. Business travelers, tourists, and sports fans all congregate in this dynamic city to enjoy the world class facilities on offer. I enjoyed my stay at The JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai – the tallest hotel in the world as per the Guinness Book of World Records. Read all about my stay at this record-setting hotel below!

 

About the Hotel

The JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai is one of the top hotels in the city for business travelers, conferences and persons seeking affordable luxury. The design is inspired by a date palm tree and consists of 2 towers standing 72 storeys high, with over 1600 rooms. The hotel is located on the bustling Sheikh Zayed Road among skyscrapers – a great addition to Dubai’s dramatic skyline! On arrival, visitors are met warmly by staff and large fresh flower arrangements in the centre of the lobby. The posh interior decor also provides guests with a visual treat! Photographs featuring Dubai’s revered rulers – the Sheikhs Al Maktoum, greet visitors before the check-in desk.

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Dubai’s rulers, the Sheikhs al Maktoum

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I was relieved of my suitcase and shown to the ultra-modern Lounge to relax until the complimentary shuttle to the Dubai Mall arrived. The Lounge was decorated with lines of coloured glass bottles, which gave off a trendy vibe.

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The hotel offers a complimentary shuttle bus that drops guests to the Dubai Mall, mere minutes away, and picks them up at intervals to return. After my Mall experience, I returned to the hotel after the 3pm check-in time and found that my room was not yet ready. The staff realized I was jet-lagged and invited me to partake of afternoon tea, to make up for the inconvenience. Shortly after, I was pleased to learn that I received an upgrade to a deluxe room on the 45th floor !

 

The Room

My room featured a beautiful king-sized bed and floor to ceiling windows. My favourite feature was the large spa-like bathroom with an oversized bathtub and monsoon shower in the enclosure. Robes and a pair of bedroom slippers were provided for guest comfort. Later on, after my cousin arrived, we received a complimentary fruit basket and an apology for the later than usual check-in! Bottles of drinking water were provided and replenished each day by staff as a courtesy to guests visiting this desert city.

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Things to Do

Guests of the JW Marriot Marquis, Dubai can swim in the gorgeous outdoor pool with a stunning view of the Burj Khalifa.

Relax and unwind with massages and treatments at the ultra-luxurious Saray Spa. At night, enjoy drinks at the chic Vault Bar on the top floor with stunning views of Dubai’s nighttime landscape.

Image source: Booking.com

Image source: Flickr.com

 

The Food

Guests who stay at the JW Marriot Marquis, Dubai can dine at award-winning restaurants such as Garden – a Peruvian gem and The Rang Mahal, that offers modern Indian cuisine prepared by a Michelin star chef ! This sushi lover found the ultra-cool Izakaya to be an upbeat and fun spot to indulge her cravings. Look out for the cute Wasabi Girl who will prepare fresh wasabi at your table!

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Garden – Peruvian restaurant

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I was very impressed with this hotel, not only in terms of its ambience and contemporary design but by the staff’s high level of customer care and pleasant, courteous service. I highly recommend that visitors to Dubai stay at the JW Marriot Marquis for their Dubai trip!

My Tips

  • Request a deluxe room as high up as possible for incredible views
  • Make your reservation at the hotel well in advance. Demand is high during the fall-winter months!
  • Be patient with the elevators with a hotel of this size

More Information

  • Hotel : JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai
  • Location: Sheikh Zayed Road, Business Bay, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Accommodation: 5 star
  • Price Range:$$$

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Disclaimer: All images are my own unless stated otherwise.

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Abu Dhabi Dubai UAE

UAE Trip Planning Tips

A trip to the United Arab Emirates is exciting for many reasons; a first-time visit to the Middle East, a luxury shopping vacation, getaway from the cold etc. Dubai has earned the reputation as a top international tourist destination, thus it is more liberal than the other Emirates and its neighbour Saudi Arabia.  Having said that, please bear in mind that it is still a conservative Islamic country in some respects! In order to have an enjoyable time it’s advisable to pre-plan and review the country’s laws. Please read below for UAE trip planning tips!

Find out if a Visa is Required to visit the UAE

This should be the first question in your mind ! Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) nationals must have a visa prior to entry. Citizens of the USA , Canada, UK and many European countries can obtain one on arrival.

Note: Keep checking the UAE’s immigration policies regularly for updates as information can change! The following link can be helpful, please click here.

For citizens of Third World countries:

If there is no UAE embassy or consulate in your country, a tourist visa can be obtained online from Emirates Airlines. You MUST fly with them since they are processing the visa ! Book your flight and use the Manage a Booking tool to follow the procedure. I received mine via email in less than a week. 

 

Plan When you Want to Go

I recommend visiting during October to April when temperatures range from 24 -33 degrees Celsius. Dubai comes alive at this time and one can enjoy activities such as concerts, festivals, exhibitions and sporting events. Experience the UAE National Day celebrations, Taste of Dubai, Dubai Shopping Festival , Rugby Sevens or spend the day lounging on Jumeirah Beach!

Dubai has something for everyone! For a calendar of events please click here.

 

How to Get to the UAE

Flights are available from major North American, British , European & Indian cities on Emirates Airlines and other top carriers. T&T nationals have the option of boarding via London’s Gatwick and Heathrow Airports as well as New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

 

Plan Where you Want to Stay

Dubai, as I mentioned earlier, has emerged as a top tourist destination in recent years. Hotel prices are therefore competitive with a plethora of accommodation options from which to choose, depending on the district and type of hotel you’re after. Choose from ultra-luxe accommodation, desert resorts, business hotels offering affordable luxury and hip youth hotels. Air BnB has become a popular way to save on hotel costs in Dubai ! A luxurious and well-appointed apartment, suite or bungalow can be yours for well under USD $100 per day, minutes away from all the action !

 

Plan Your Wardrobe

Personally, I encountered no problems with my everyday attire while visiting Dubai, and found the dress code to be somewhat in contradiction to what one usually reads in travel guides. However, I recommend dressing appropriately in public places to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to oneself  i.e. Ladies – keep the shoulders and chest area covered, no hot shorts and outfits that reveal too much skin. Gents- keep the torso covered. You can relax these restrictions in the hotel pool and beach areas but make sure to cover yourself when leaving the water’s edge to enter a restaurant/bar.

It is not uncommon to see Western women wearing mini dresses to dinner or a nightclub! So… what to pack for your trip ? Some basics include:

  • A long pair of jeans
  • Tee shirts – baby tees, long or 3/4 sleeved
  • Blouses – not too sheer
  • A long cardigan for the shoulders and chest
  • Kaftan for the hotel swimming pool and beach
  • Swimsuit
  • Comfortable walking shoes and sandals for sightseeing
  • Heels for a night out
  • Cocktail dress for a nightclub or dinner
  • Pashmina to cover your hair (if entering a mosque) and the shoulders on the way to nightclub or dinner
  • Heavy sweatshirt for evening into night desert tours. Remember, temperatures plummet to low double-digit figures in that environment!

 

Learn some Helpful Arabic Phrases !

Because of large numbers of foreign nationals in Dubai, communication is easy as English is widely spoken. However, it wouldn’t hurt to learn some Arabic words and phrases to immerse yourself in this Middle Eastern city! Some popular ones include:

Marhaba                                         Hello

As- salam ‘alaykum                     Hello or Peace be upon you

Wa ‘alaykum as-salam               And peace be upon you too

Shukran                                          Thank you

Ana asif (m) Ana asifa(f)            I’m sorry

Sabah al-Khair                             Good morning

Masa al-Khair                              Good afternoon

Layla Saeeda                                Good night

Ma’a salamah                               Goodbye

 

Get some UAE Currency

dirhams

Go to a currency exchange in the airport and convert some US dollars or British pounds sterling to UAE dirhams. You’ll need local currency to pay your taxi drivers and make small purchases in the markets. When in the UAE, it is better to use the currency exchanges rather than banks to get more for your money. Alternatively, use your credit card or withdraw cash from any ATM using an international debit card.

At the time of this post:

1 USD = 3.67 AED

1 GBP = 4.76 AED

To help you keep track of your spending, download the XE currency app available on the iOS , Android, and Windows platforms.

 

Be Aware of  Do’s and Don’ts

 

Don’t 

  • DON’T BREAK THE LAW! If you’re not from a first world country your chances of leaving jail are especially dismal
  • Be intoxicated and disorderly in public places
  • Pack anti-Islamic and pornographic materials
  • Drive under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. You WILL be jailed
  • Traffik narcotics into the country. You can face the death penalty !!!
  • Engage in excessive PDAs in public
  • Accept drinks from strangers or even people you think you know well enough. You can be drugged and robbed/assaulted

Do

  • Research the laws and cultural norms of the country and be respectful of them
  • Be aware of Customs laws. Illegal drugs and even many OTC medications are not allowed into the country.
  • Avoid visiting during the holy month of Ramadan if you can help it. No eating or drinking is allowed in public places from dawn till dusk. This also applies to foreigners
  • Be aware of your surroundings! Leave any place/company that makes you feel uncomfortable. Taxis and Ubers are always available to take you back to your hotel
  • Alert a guard or policeman if you’re being followed or harassed
  • Ask permission before taking photos of locals in their traditional garb, especially females. Not doing so is considered rude!
  • Enjoy yourself !

 

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Dubai UAE

Ultimate Beginner’s Dubai Travel Guide

The UAE was a destination I wanted to tick off my bucket list for a long time. Located on the south-eastern end of the Arabian peninsula on the Persian Gulf, I was intrigued by this prosperous, and modern country that sprung out of the desert at amazing speed, with its record-setting mega-structures. I was lucky enough to receive the opportunity to visit Dubai for a girls’ vacation with my cousin Shena. In spite of my excitement, I was bloody scared of the horror stories I read about people running afoul of the UAE’s Sharia laws. I was also anxious about being alone, while awaiting Shena’s evening arrival. In the end, I spent that first day relishing my freedom to explore! Read more about my experience in this glamorous desert city, in my Ultimate Beginner’s Dubai Travel Guide!

 

How to get There

Emirates Airlines flies from major international cities. I took an overnight Emirates flight from London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) to Dubai International Airport (DXB).  Get to your hotel in the city via:

  • Uber 
  • Metered taxi.
  • Ladies and Families Taxi (Pink Taxi) . This service is provided exclusively for ladies, solo female travelers and families. They are driven by females in pink headscarves and jumpsuits (think I Dream of Jeannie!). Note, I never felt unsafe with a male driver at any time!
  •  Dubai Metro – a cheaper option to get close to major hotels and many tourist destinations. Buses can shuttle you between the airport and Ibn Battuta metro station. Most stations also have connecting buses and taxis for onward journeys.

Where to Stay

There is a widely held perception that a vacation in Dubai is astronomically expensive. Not necessarily so ! In recent years, the city has become a top international tourism destination and stopover point.  Hotel prices are therefore competitive with a plethora of options from which to choose, depending on the type of accommodation you seek.

Luxe Accommodation

If you’re after unparalleled luxury and exceptional service, the following options range from USD $500 – $1500 per night:  The Burj al Arab   One & Only Royal Mirage, Dubai   Raffles, Dubai

Affordable Luxury

Consider the 5-star business hotels on Sheikh Zayed Road – Downtown Dubai, close to all the action ! The following options range between USD $200 – $350 per night: Jumeirah Emirates Towers

Shangri-La Hotel  Sofitel Dubai, Downtown  JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai

Lounge – JW Marriott Marquis

Popular Hotel Chains

Accustomed to the consistent quality and efficiency provided by chain hotels? The options below are priced at approx. USD $75-$200 per night: The Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dubai  Holiday Inn, Downtown Dubai  Rove Hotels Downtown – a trendy local hotel chain that bustles with young energy. It caters to modern, hip travelers seeking intelligent and no-frills hospitality.

Air BnB

Air BnB  is a great and popular way to save on hotel costs in Dubai. A luxurious and well-appointed apartment, suite or bungalow can be yours for approx. USD $150 per day !

 

What to Do after the Hotel – The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa

Drop your bags off at the hotel and head down to the Dubai Mall using the following options:

  • Your hotel’s complimentary shuttle (if available)
  • Metered taxi
  • Uber
  • Metro to the Burj Khalifa Station where feeder buses take you directly to the Mall

Ask to be dropped off at the downtown entrance and after a short walk, you will find yourself gazing up in awe at the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world! Walk down the terraces past the many cafes, while taking in the superstructure and then enter the gigantic Dubai Mall. Stand before the floor to ceiling aquarium, watch ice skating at the large indoor rink and enjoy people-watching while you grab a bite to eat.

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The Dubai Mall is a shopaholic’s wildest dream! Catering to the luxury-loving fashionistas and the high street hunnies alike, the Dubai Mall is a one stop shop. The mall is home to the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, a retail bonanza that kicks off in January. The Dubai Mall’s Souk (Arabic for market) is a joy to stroll through, not really for the shopping but for the gorgeous Arabic architecture. I admired the stone corridors, high archways, ornately carved patterns, and mosaics. The subdued lighting gave the whole place a very romantic aura!

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At the Dubai Mall Souk, visit the Majlis Café and try camel milk, a natural lactose- free alternative to cow’s milk !

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Looking for a Unique Souvenir ? – What to Buy

Camel milk Chocolate

Go against the norm of key-rings , refrigerator magnets, and mini figurines. Surprise family and friends with bars of Al Nassma camel milk chocolate as a special and delightful souvenir!

Photo courtesy themajlisdubai.com

Chocolate Image source : www.themajlisdubai.com

Traditional Clothing

I visited a store called Artizana Ahjar where the owner allowed me to try on some beautiful traditional Arabic ladies clothing. I tried sky blue and fuchsia butterfly-style jalabiyas and a black abaya.

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PinkKaftan

immawizard

Oud and Custom-blend Fragrances

The store assistant helped me custom- blend my own fragrance! I chose a blend of jasmine, apple and peach scents. As a personal treat, I also bought a tiny bottle of a traditional Arabian fragrance called Oud. Oud is rare and costly so I use this mysterious and sexy scent very sparingly!
Oud

 

What to Do at the Burj Khalifa – Go to the Top !

Purchase tickets in the Dubai Mall and make your way up to the top of the tallest building in the world to take in spectacular views of this impressive city!

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Where to Bargain Shop : Deira Souks

Bargain hunters will love Dubai’s souks in Deira, one of the oldest parts of Dubai. Here, you can shop for clothing, accessories, souvenirs, electronics, food and household items. Naif Souk is a popular one to visit and is one of the city’s oldest souks.

Don’t miss out on the nearby Gold Souk for 22 and 24 karat gold jewelry and the Spice Souk with its enticing array of aromatic spices! Haggling is expected so never pay full price for anything! Folks who are unaccustomed to this will feel intimidated when confronted with a pushy salesman. I recommend that you go with (or fake !) a confident attitude! If you’re jittery, a local guide  who has experience can help you. The Souks are accessible via taxi and metro. Don’t bother driving, finding parking is difficult.

Spice souk edited GoldSoukedited

 

How to Haggle – My Tips

Haggling is a process that takes some time to master. Everyone has their own method that works for them. These tips work for me:

  • Walk with cash broken down into small denominations
  • Contain yourself if you see something that you absolutely love ! Keep your facial expression neutral.
  • Browse for the best prices and decide how much you want to spend on a particular item.
  • Sort out your money aside from the shop. Don’t open your purse or wallet in full view of shop salesmen.
  • Offer just under half of the item price so that you have some wiggle room to increase if the salesman asks for more. Offering too low a price would be considered insulting. Remember the process is a give and take!
  • Walk away if the salesman is being overly stubborn and time is passing by. Not wanting to miss out on a sale, they will often come running after you and give you the price you offered.

 

Sightseeing & Culture – What to Do

Visit Dubai’s famous landmarks, museums and historical locations via the  Big Bus, Dubai , an open -top, hop on -hop off, red double decker bus. Three routes are available on one ticket that includes free entry to museums, dhow cruises, and shuttles. Step off the bus at your desired destination and wait to catch another one when you’re done!

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Local Culture and Traditions

Many hold the viewpoint that Dubai is a city bereft of any real character and soul. Not true! Emiratis are a patriotic people who are fiercely proud of their national identity and Bedouin culture. Many interesting elements of the city’s history can be seen at the Dubai Museum, from its origin as an important trading and fishing port to the prosperous metropolis it is today. Examples of the UAE’s Bedouin cultural traditions are also displayed.

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Traditional costume Pearl diving Pearlstringset

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SheikSaaedhouse

Experience Emirati culture in a more personal way by visiting the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding located in the historic Al Fahidi District. The Centre was established in 1998 to educate and build respect and understanding between UAE locals and other nationalities in Dubai. Here, one can enjoy a delicious traditional meal, visit a mosque, walk through the Bastakiya district and learn about local customs via interaction with Emirati hosts and hostesses. This interaction includes a Q&A session where no subject is taboo.

SMCCU

Image source: SMCCU

 

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Supercars and Skis !

Bugattis, Ferraris and Bentleys oh my ! Gas brains unite, the UAE is supercar heaven ! Due to Dubai’s concentration of wealth, such envy-inducing vehicles can be seen everywhere ! The local police even added various models to their fleet ! However, from what I’ve witnessed, Emiratis have a special love affair with the Lamborghini.

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The Mall of the Emirates is home to Ski Dubai , the first indoor ski-resort in the Middle East that caters to all levels of expertise! Ski, snowboard, roll down in a giant ball or hang out with the penguins, there is something for everyone to enjoy!

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What to do for Lunch

Try a brunch buffet

Dubai is a gastronomic adventure with food from all over the globe ! There is a wide variety of lunch options in the malls but I encourage you to try  a brunch buffet at one of the major hotels. I loved the one at The Address, Downtown Dubai. 

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 What to do for Dinner

Arabic Cuisine and Dancing Fountains!

Enjoy dinner at the Crowne Plaza’s popular Al Tannour Restaurant with a sumptuous Lebanese spread of salads, hummus, flatbreads made on hot- on -spot, stuffed grape leaves, well-seasoned kebabs, and dessert.  Wash everything down with my favourite Dubai drink – fresh mint lemonade!  If you have the time, stay for the after dinner entertainment featuring belly dancing, local music, and shisha smoking.

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A second great option is the Lebanese restaurant, Abdel Wahab, at the Souk al Bahar  in downtown Dubai. We were lucky to get a table with a stunning close-up view of the Burj Khalifa that sparkled as dancing Fountain started their routine ! The Dubai Fountain is the largest fountain system in the world, created by the one at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Water jets shoot up to 500 ft in choreographed routines to Arabic, Classical, Indian and Western music.

 

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Disclaimer: All images are mine unless otherwise stated.

 

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