- 305 days / 7320 hours / 439,200 minutes / 26,352,000 seconds
- 18 countries
- 4 continents (including Africa Pre-COVID)
- 57,377 miles (across air, land & sea)
- 33 flights
- 5 guided tours (with Contiki, One Life Adventures and Wanderlands Travel)
- 79 hotels/hostels/AirBnb’s
- 6 hire cars/campervans
- 148 Grab/Uber taxi rides
- 7 pairs of shoes
- 4 broken electronic devices
- and a lifelong amount of burgers, chips, pasta and pizzas consumed…
Time flies when you’re having fun.
For one last time, here’s my travel diary for what was an epic last week in the metropolis that is Dubai. I must admit, we didn’t think about the cost of ending in Singapore and UAE when planning this trip!
The UAE is made up of 7 Emirates – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah & Fujairah. Each Emirate is ruled by a different family.
Noticeably, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (who owns Manchester City) is the president of the country and ruler of Abu Dhabi, whilst His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum rules over Dubai.
Due to its vast oil resources, Abu Dhabi is considerably the wealthiest Emirate, whereas Dubai is the tourist hub and is far more multicultural being home to people from more than 200 nationalities.
89% of UAE’s population of 10 million are ex pats. The largest ethnic community are Indian’s and Pakistani’s who constitute 28% and 13% of the population, whilst Bangladeshi’s make up 7%. Incredibly, native Emiratis only constitute a measly 11%.
It’s not hard to see why people eulogise over the way that this country is governed when there is a stable and well-developed economy where income tax isn’t levied on individuals. Only foreign banks and companies that extract oil, natural gas, and other minerals are obliged to pay taxes.
On the other hand, there are extremely strict laws. To name just a few, public displays of affection are frowned upon, women are required to dress modestly when in public areas like shopping malls and to wear a abaya & shayla when in a mosque and alcohol can only be consumed in hotels and licensed establishments.
Flying to Dubai
After a 23-hour day, we eventually arrived at our apartment-style hotel situated on the Dubai Marina at 06:30 AM. Dubai is an extremely widespread city with poor transport links, so it’s impossible to pinpoint a central location.
It took two hours to leave Dubai International Airport when we arrived from our 9-hour flight from Singapore via Doha because our luggage was the last off the conveyor belt. Our bags were then randomly selected to be searched.
Day One: Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo + At The Top Burj Khalifa Viewpoint & Palm Fountain Display
We set our alarms for midday knowing full well we would be jet lagged and tired, but we didn’t want to waste any spare second with this being our last week.
From the Marina, it was a 25-minute Uber ride to the Dubai Mall – the second biggest in the world attracting a whopping 100,000,000+ people each year. This huge complex in the ‘Downtown’ area of the city is where several of the main attractions are.
You’re going to get sick of me saying UAE has the largest of this and the first of that because the country has a habit of building the very best of everything in the world. It wouldn’t surprise me if the country has its name in half of the Guinness Book of Records!
The first attraction we checked out was the Aquarium and Underground Zoo in the Dubai Mall where an ‘Ultimate Experience’ ticket set us back 299 AED / £68 p/p.
To be fair, this included a behind the scenes and glass boat tour, as well as entry to the 270 degree underwater viewing tunnel, penguin cove, an interactive platform and four 20 AED / £5 vouchers to use at the cafe and in the retail shop.
Seeing 80,000 fish over 140 different species in a 10-million-litre tank was a very enjoyable experience. I particularly liked watching the hundreds of manta rays and sawfish who just by happened to share the same name as my Mum – Sheena.
Afterwards, Emily purchased the most expensive Kinder Bueno doughnut she will ever eat in her life for £8.50. Naively, we hadn’t yet come to terms with the exchange rate. Nonetheless, I will never let her live to forget that!
UAE might not have the world’s biggest mall or Aquarium, but it does boast the tallest skyscraper. At a towering 830m, the Burj Khalifa dominants the city skyline trumping it’s nearest competitors – Kuala Lumpur’s Warisan Merdeka Tower at 679m and Tokyo Skytree at 634m (both of which we’ve been to).
The views from the outdoor observation terrace on the 124th floor at 456 metres high overlooking the ever-growing skyline were very, very impressive.
(You can pay 553 AED / £124 p/p for the premium ‘At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY’, ticket which enables you to relax in a public lounge and take in the views from the 148th floor at 585 metres. However, we thought paying 244 AED / £55 for the general admission ticket was steep enough.
Before heading back to the Marina, we watched a short three minute dancing waterfall performance from the Palm Fountain in front of the now illuminated Burj Khalifa. You’ll never have guessed, this is the world’s tallest performing fountain.
Day Two: Abu Dhabi Day Trip
Just over an hour away from Dubai is the capital of UAE, Abu Dhabi. We originally allocated two nights here, but when we looked at more detail into the main sightseeing attractions, we realised it was possible to see almost everything in an 8-hour day trip from Dubai.
As always, we looked at the best reviews on GetYourGuide to decide which tour operator to book with and in the end decided on a company called OceanAir Travels.
The first point of call was a visit to Qasr Al Watan – The Presidential Palace. This is a working mosque used only for business with government officials. I could feel the grandeur as soon as we entered the grounds. The structure and open halls echo its significance in Emirati culture.
In one hallway was a huge chandelier made up of Swarovski crystals hanging above a large gold sculpture labelled as ‘The Power of Words’. In another room was a library with books and resources piled high.
Outside was equally as impressive with a fountain and huge sprawling green gardens overlooking the city. We made the most of snapping photos at this picture-perfect location.
A 5-minute drive later led us to the Etihad Towers. Here, we we went up to Observation Deck at 300m to get amazing panoramic views of the skyline and Fairmont Marina Hotel – a lookalike to the iconic Atlantis Hotel on the manmade Palm Jumeirah island in Dubai.
Our final attraction was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque comprising 82 domes, 24 carat-gold chandelier and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. Em had worn suitable clothes to adhere to the beliefs in religion, but she was also required to wear a hijab in order to cover her hair.
If we hadn’t have already seen the Taj Mahal in India, we would have been completely blown away by this building. The white Greek and Macedonian marble laid throughout was blinding.
Day Three: Infinity Des Lumières Art Exhibition & Dubai Frame
With time on our hands, we decided to have more of a relaxed day. We headed back to the Dubai Mall to have a look around the Infinity Des Lumières Art Exhibition – an immersive experience inspired by the work of Gaudí, Kandinsky and Klee.
Standing tall at 150m, we then went to the Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park for more views of the city’s famous skyline.
Day Four: Desert Safari
One of the best highlights from our time in Dubai. We decided to book onto OceanAir Travels’ small group Desert Safari tour for 415 AED / £95 p/p because we enjoyed their day trip to Abu Dhabi so much.
Ziad, our tour guide picked us up in a 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser at 08:30 AM and then we made our way over to the Lahbab Desert which was around an hour away.
The first thing on the itinerary was to hit the gas on quad-bikes at speeds of up to 50 km/h for 20-30 minutes on the undulating dunes across the desert in a sectioned off area. This was good fun because we had free rein.
It wasn’t the first time we had quad biked on sand dunes before. We did it on Stockton Beach in Port Stephens, Australia, but on that occasion we were required to follow a guide. To read more about that, click here.
Our next experience was dune bashing / off roading. To be honest, I thought we would have done this for a longer than 15 minutes and been thrown around in the back of the 4×4 more than what we were, but it was still a good laugh.
We then tried sandboarding but didn’t have the confidence to strap the board to our feet. Instead, we shuffled down the golden dunes on our bum. Em and I then proceeded to roll around in the sand.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Al Khayma camp. Here, we enjoyed a BBQ dinner before going on a camel ride, holding a falcon, putting on traditional desert attire (where I pretended to be a King). Emily also had time to get a henna tattoo.
In the evening, we got walked along the Marina and got a closer look of Ain Dubai, the world’s largest ferris wheel from Marina Beach.
Day Five – Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour & Sky Glass Slide
For those that are regular readers of my travel diary blog posts, you’ll know that we love a city bus tour because we find it’s the best way of seeing the main sights. 1-day tickets cost 260 AED / £60, which was reasonably priced considering Dubai’s extortionate prices.
By now, we’d seen most of the iconic landmarks already except from the Palm Jameirah – a tree-shaped archipelago of artificial islands spanning 5km. Unbelievably, this can be seen from space.
It is at the end of the Palm where the 5* Atlantis Hotel is situated. Prices to spend the night here start at a cool £555.
We also thought we should venture out of the Marina and Downtown areas to see the different Souk’s (Arabian markets/bazaar’s in the Old Town of Dubai).
Described as being ‘one of the latest and most popular attractions in the city’, later we went on the 25m-long ‘Glass Slide‘ on the 53rd floor of the Sky View Tower. Sliding 25 metres down one floor was never worth 80 AED / £18 p/p. The experience was over in a flash!
Day Six: The View at the Palm, Marina Beach & Emirates Topgolf Driving Range
Today, we decided it would be a good idea to get 360 degree views from 240 metres high of the Arabian Gulf, city skyline and predominantly Palm Jumeirah from The View at the Palm. Expedia quoted this luxurious area as being ‘one of the world’s must-see architectural wonders’. I can see why.
Afterwards, we made the most of the sunshine by sunbathing on Marina Beach. In the evening, we ate at an Italian on the Marina and then used E-scooters to get back to the apartment.
Soon after, we headed over to Topgolf – a driving range with 96 bays overlooking the skyline. Surprisingly, this was an activity Em and I had never done together.
When we arrived at 21:30 PM, there was a two-hour minimum wait so we played games in the arcade and then watched Liverpool in the bar. I was gobsmacked when the barman charged us £28 for two ciders!
Whacking golf balls using a wide variety of different clubs from drivers to irons to sand wedges with such a stunning backdrop was another really fun experience, albeit we were both absolutely dreadful!
Day Seven: Yacht Tour
What better way to round off our once in a lifetime travelling adventure than spending the afternoon on a three-hour luxury yacht tour with a company called Xclusive Yachts around the shores of Dubai for 720 AED / £164.
Over three hours we sailed by Ain Dubai, Atlantis Hotel and Burj Al Arab, the famous 7* hotel where prices start at £1438 p/night. The photographer on board tried selling us a bundle for £55 but our photos were just as good! We never did get the nack of haggling a price down.
Our flight out of Dubai to Doha wasn’t until 23:50 PM, so we enjoyed one final meal at one of our favourite restaurant chains, Black Tap.
The flight from Doha to London Heathrow in the middle of the night was long. By the time we arrived back in the U.K., it was 06:30 AM with the -4 hour time difference. We were absolutely exhausted but still had one more flight to Manchester at 09:30 AM.
We managed to travel around the world without a hitch when it came to our luggage, but Em’s suitcase didn’t make it on the final stretch. Luckily, it was on the next flight out of Heathrow, which meant it was able to be delivered to her front door the next day.
Greeting my Mum at Manchester Airport and giving her a huge hug for the first time in four months was a lovely moment, but it was perhaps even more special for Emily who hadn’t seen her parents for the whole time we were away.
As Dr Suess once quoted: “don’t be sad it’s over, be happy it happened.”
As always, if you’d like to keep up-to-date with our adventure, you can either enter your email at the bottom of this article to receive instant notifications every time I post a new blog; click the Follow ‘Al’ Around The World link, or drop me a follow on Twitter at @AlecW95 or on Instagram at @AlecW95 or @alatw95.
Alternatively, you can follow Emily on her travelling TikTok account at @emstraveladventure.
Thanks for reading, until the next time…