Dubai is one of the world’s fast growing cities and offers a rapidly increasing number of attractions for tourists. By 2015 an estimated 195 ships and 575 000 cruise passengers will dock at Port Rashid, Dubai’s cruise terminal, including many from South Africa as this destination is firmly in the sights of travellers from the southern tip of Africa.
But what is it about Dubai that is so attractive? I recently had the privilege of spending a week in this part of the United Arab Emirates and was astounded by the amount of entertainment and activities on offer. The current ruler, Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has been instrumental in creating this slice of paradise in the Middle East.
Dubai truly is a destination that the whole family can enjoy, offering a wide variety of attractions, beautiful beaches, superb service, delicious food, iconic hotels and an abundance of traditional Arabic charm and hospitality.
From the timeless tranquillity of the desert to lively bustle of a Souk, Dubai offers a kaleidoscope of attractions for visitors. And it also offers an incredible range of activities and entertainment for children through Ski Dubai, Kidzania, Wild Wadi Water Park and Aquaventure to name but a few.
Wet and wonderful
The Wild Wadi Water Park located at Jumeirah Beach. This beautiful water park features waterfalls, cliffs, swimming holes, a tidal pool and loads of waterslides. Look out for the Jumeirah Sceirah – a 33 metre high slide designed to propel riders up to 80km per hour downward or the Breakers Bay – a wave machine creating 1.5 metre waves.
You can also enjoy a fish spa at Wild Wadi if your feet are not too sensitive. Immerse your tootsies in the tank and within seconds lots of little fish will swim up to you and nibble on your feet.
Aquaventure at Atlantis, The Palm is the largest water park in the Middle East. With thrilling rivers, rapids, speed slides and master blasters set in tropical landscape Aquaventure is a great day out for the whole family.
If you’re brave enough you can take on the Leap of Faith, a 28 metre high near vertical waterslide that plunges the brave (or foolhardy) into a tube surrounded by sharks.
Hand feeding rays
At Aquaventure you can also get up close and personal with rays and dolphins. The experience is outstanding and very safe. On my trip I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of hand feeding rays at Aquaventure. In waist deep water, standing in a straight line with a like-minded group of travellers I was treated to an array of cow nose, porcupine and eagle rays all eager for a nibble.
These graceful creatures have all been de-barbed and are like hungry little puppies swirling around, sucking onto your hands and legs until the tasty mouthful of prawns on offer (in your hand) is wolfed down. It is perfectly safe and the rays love being tickled on their tummies.
Let’s not forget the shopping… with a plethora of world-class malls offering a full range of consumer goods to the traditional Souks where bargaining for gold and silk are the order of the day. Excellent souvenirs to remind you of your Dubai dalliance include Arabic coffee pots, soapstone figures, jewellery boxes, Persian carpets, marble goblets and of course the very competitively priced electronic products like watches and cameras.
The Dubai Mall is the undisputed flagship of Dubai at present. With 40 rugby fields of wall to wall shopping it will take you days to work your way through. Other notable shopping malls include Festival City, the Mall of the Emirates, Deira City Center and the Madinat. For bargain basement genuine knock off handbags and watches you have to visit the Karama Shopping District. It is well worth the taxi fare alone.
Eating out in cosmopolitan Dubai is an art form and there are so many top notch restaurants to choose from that you could eat a different cuisine morning, noon and night and never repeat the menu. The Anise at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City offers a wonderful ‘chef to diner’ experience. With a wide variety of dishes from around the world prepared using authentic techniques at cooking stations you are sure to enjoy a wondrous meal. You can start with sushi, have an Arabian influenced lamb dish for mains and enjoy French crepes for dessert. All in one gorgeous restaurant.
For superb Japanese cuisine head to Honyaki in the Madinat Souk, Jumeirah. Try delicacies such as Edamame, Miso Shiru, Sashimi, Nigiri Sushi, Temaki, Moriawase and Mizugashi, along with Chef Keneth Kim’s selection of signature dishes.
The renowned chefs Giorgio Locatelli and Nobu both have excellent restaurants at Atlantis, The Palm. At Locatellis the pastas and pizzas are heavenly with fresh ingredients such as Buffalo Mozzarella and Wagu Beef on offer. These delectable dishes that are sure to be palate pleasers.
At the Sheik Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding travellers can get to grips with Arabian and Muslim culture. Lunch at the SMCCU is an absolute must if you want to experience incredible local food in a traditional. You will be hosted by Nasif, in a traditional Kandora complete with the Ghtrah headdress, who will talk openly about the Arabian culture. Feel free to ask him any question you want. Nasif takes you through the history of coffee and explain the many uses of the Ghtrah.
Apart from keeping the head scarf from blowing away when folded in half, this nifty accessory also doubles as a shackle for wayward camels.
Potentially sensitive topics such as why the women wear black and the men white, the use of the Niqab (female face cover ups) and more are also broached. Lunch at the SMCCU, found in the old Bastikiya, is a worthwhile outing and the food is excellent.
Buildings of record proportions
The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest free standing structure at 2717 feet. It also holds a number of notable records such as the tallest skyscraper, the building with the most floors (163), the world’s fastest elevator (an ear blocking ten floors per second) and is home to the world’s highest restaurant (Atmosphere on the 123rd floor). Built at a cost of $1.5 billion (US) it truly is a wonder to behold.
The surrounding desert is the perfect playground for dune bashing or a desert safari. Caravans of 4×4 vehicles take you on a tour across the dunes followed by a traditional Bedouin dinner under the stars. You can also try your hand at sand skiing or sand boarding down the dunes, as well as a quick trip around the camp on a camel.
Snow in Dubai?
And to escape the heat, head for Ski Dubai – the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East – 6000 tons of snow and open seven days a week, all year round, between 10am and midnight.
The change in temperature from 45 degrees Celsius to minus 5 is quite extreme, but also very welcome. At Ski Dubai guests can enjoy tobogganing, snowboarding, snow ball fights and proper skiing under the guidance of a ski professional. Boots, pants, jackets and disposable socks are provided, while beanies and gloves can be purchased at the Ski Shop.
Theme parks are the pride of Dubai and Kidzania, in the Dubai Mall, is one of the best. This safe and interactive edutainment centre shows children how to lead independent lives and to understand the world of grown-ups better.
Children enter Kidzania through the Emirates boarding gate, after which they are issued with a cheque to be cashed into the official Kidzania currency called Kidzos. Inside this children’s paradise they will learn how to fly an aeroplane, get their ‘drivers’ licence, be part of the fire brigade and star in their own theatrical production amongst other careers. And they will be ‘paid’ for performing their duties.
If You Go…
Local time in the UAE is GMT +4.
The currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (AED), which is divided into 100 fils. The Dirham is fixed against the US Dollar. One Dirham is roughly two rand making the cost of your purchases easy to convert.
Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, but English is widely used.
Entry requirements for South Africans:
South Africans may enter the United Arab Emirates with a visa issued on arrival (arranged in advance). Visas are valid for 30 days for tourism, 14 days for business, and 96 hours for transit. Travellers must also be in possession of all tickets and documents required for their next destination and have a sponsor in the UAE – present at the airport on arrival – to cover their stay.
All visitors to the United Arab Emirates must hold a passport that is valid for six months from the date of entry.
Tipping practices are similar to most parts of the world. Where no service charge is included, 10 percent is adequate and many hotels and restaurants add a service charge, so it is best to check the bill.
The Emirates states are all Muslim, therefore alcohol is not served except in hotels. It is an offence to drink or be drunk in public and penalties are severe. Dress and behaviour should be modest, particularly during the month of Ramadan when it is disrespectful to smoke, drink or eat in public between sunrise and sunset. Women’s clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs
Some facts on the Port Rashid Cruise Terminal
The Port Rashid cruise terminal in Dubai was officially opened on 23 February 2010
The terminal was opened by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai
The Port Rashid terminal is operated by the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM)
The current port capacity is for 4 cruise ships at a time, but this will increase to 7 ships concurrently by 2015
The Dubai Cruise Terminal is the best in the Middle East. DCT received the “Middle East’s Leading Cruise Port award” for 2010, and the “World’s Leading Cruise Port award” for 2008 and 2009 from the World Travel Awards (WTA)
The Cruise Terminal offers a business centre with conference room, cafes and restaurants, Duty Free, retail shops, a Post Office, heritage and culture exhibits showcasing the UAE, information centre, concierge service, Internet facilities, money exchange and a VIP lounge
Cruises departing from Dubai start from R5790 per person sharing and include seven nights onboard the Costa Atlantica, all meals and entertainment onboard. Ports of call visited include Dubai, Muscat, Al Fujairah, Abu Dhabi and Khasab.
This particular cruise departs 14 December 2012. Top this with a three night pre or post cruise stay in Dubai priced from approximately R2740 per person sharing. This includes three nights’ accommodation with breakfast daily, travel bag and a Sundowner Dune Safari. Flights to Dubai from Johannesburg on Emirates start from R7260 per person. These rates are dependent on availability and the current rate of exchange.
For more information or to book a cruise and stopover trip to Dubai contact Cruiseabout on 0860 600 787 or visit http://www.cruiseabout.co.za