Christmas last year we decided a little sunshine would be nice so we booked a trip to Dubai. Finding sun and warmth in the Winter close to Europe isn’t as easy as booking a trip to Mexico or Dominican Republic as we are used to doing as North Americans. Dubai seemed like an exciting adventure and we hadn’t been to the Middle East so we booked our flights and hotel and starting planning.
We are pretty faithful Star Alliance travelers so we booked our flights on Swiss Air traveling from Nuremberg to Zurich to Dubai. We are super lucky to have the Nuremberg airport about 20 minutes from our house and can normally get good deals on jumper flights all over Europe. We booked our flights through Zurich as it is an easy airport to navigate and like most Swiss things generally runs on time and very orderly. Our flight from Nuremberg to Zurich was one hour and then six hours straight to Dubai.
We landed in Dubai at 9:30 PM (they are three hours ahead). American citizens are required to have a Visa to enter UAE and you can get that free at the airport when you go through immigration. For the most part getting through customs and immigration was a breeze. It’s never a problem with the officials, it’s always my boys who turn into little assholes no matter what. The ten minutes that everyone needs to be serious, keep their hands to themselves, present their passports, look the officials in their eyes and answer questions seems to be the time my kids are at their worst. We always manage to get through but not without tempers flared and threats of “maybe we will just go home!”.
We were staying at The Atlantis out on the Palm Jumeirah about a 30 minute car ride from the airport. We had a transfer set up but taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced. The drive to the hotel was super easy and also super cool to see Dubai lit up at night. We were all very excited to get to the hotel and were in awe as we walked through the lobby to check in. We aren’t normally a big hotel/resort kind of family, more like the tucked away AirBnb or boutique hotel kind of family, but for this occasion we decided to do it up right and the Atlantis definitely delivered.
We booked two adjoining rooms which worked out perfect. Boys had their space, we had ours which is always a treat. Since we were blowing it out and it was Christmas we upgraded to the Imperial Club because of the many perks but also mainly to feed our boys who never stop eating! The Imperial Club includes breakfast, snack/happy hour in the afternoon, daily passes to the Aquaventure Waterpark and a private concierge service to book excursions and hotel reservations. The upgrade was well worth the money and took a lot of the stress out of navigating the massive resort.
The boys were a perfect age for this holiday. We would all meet for breakfast in the morning and then they would head to the waterpark and pools for the day and then we met back up for snacks/lunch in the afternoon. We all got to do what we enjoyed. The hotel had several pools, tennis courts, ping pong, basketball, beaches, countless restaurants, shopping, an aquarium, fitness club and a beautiful spa. It really was quite a treat. Scott and I did morning yoga in the aquarium and it felt like we were in a dream.
We tried to balance our holiday with staying on the hotel grounds enjoying the amenities and heading out to explore Dubai. It was easy to get sucked into staying at the hotel because there was so much to do but we felt like it would be a huge miss to not see what Dubai had to offer. On Christmas Day we jumped in a taxi and headed into Dubai to check out the gold and spice markets. Our senses were overwhelmed with all of the smells, colors and vibrant energy. I loved it. Seeing all of the people bartering, buying and selling was so much fun. After the spice market we took at boat across the Dubai Creek which at one time was the pulse of the trading market. We tried to envision what Dubai must have been like when it was first settled in contrast to the glass skyscrapers and ultra modern city that we were experiencing.
We explored the markets on the other side of the creek and then decided to head and check out the tallest building in the world – The Burj Khalifa. The Uber ride was fairly painless and within 20 minutes we were standing at the base of the magnificent building. I hadn’t done much research on touring the building, just knew that we had to see it so we really didn’t know where to start. We quickly realized the Uber driver had dropped us on the other side of the Burj Khalifa and we had to go in through the Dubai Mall in order to access the building. Duh! Well with it being Christmas Day the mall was packed and the line to go up to the observation deck was forever long (I should have bought tickets online!). We had a family vote and it was 4-1 to admire the building from the ground with plans to return someday and go to the top. I felt like it was a miss but my boys felt a huge victory as we pulled an audible and let them choose their favorite fast food to eat from the mall food court. This is not a “luxury” we experience often in Germany. Two went with KFC one feasted on Subway. Not my vision for our Christmas lunch but you can’t win them all!
At this point I knew I had pushed my crew a bit too far with the sightseeing so we headed to the Mall of the Emirates where we had booked an indoor skiing session for the boys at Ski Dubai. For real. They were skiing on Christmas Day in a mall in Dubai. We reserved our tickets online and it was a pretty easy process. After check in we went to equipment rental where they picked up their coats, boots, helmets and skis. Changing out of their shorts into the ski pants they strapped on their boots and hit the slopes. They had a blast skiing for two hours and I had my own fun explore the gigantic mall. Win-win.
Another day excursion we did was riding dune buggies in the desert followed by a sunset dinner. I think this is definitely a must if you visit Dubai as it gets you out of the city and is a pretty wild time. We had a driver pick us up at the hotel and take us out to the desert. About an hour in it was obvious that we had left the city behind. We were surrounded by the desert and after a quick tutorial we were off to the races. We spent a couple of hours driving through the dunes and only one of us nearly rolling their buggy. It was awesome seeing the camels and expansive desert. It got a bit crazy closer to sunset as more and more cars were heading into the dunes. We were definitely ready for a break and dinner and to get out of the madness by the end. The dinner was pretty good and entertainment pretty cool but I think we would pass of that piece of the excursion and just go with the buggy rides. As we were leaving heading back into the city it was a like a scene from Mad Max with trucks driving through the desert racing to find the road.
Ok, the one thing we haven’t talked about is food! We definitely ate super well in Dubai. The Atlantis had a ridiculous amount of options on property. Everything from fine dining to take out burgers to poolside treats. Scott and I splurged and went to Nobu one night which was fantastic and for Christmas Eve we went to Seafire Steakhouse. We did find ourselves going back to the Wavehouse on numerous occasions because of the arcade and bowling ally and nice bar setup that everyone enjoyed. We really loved all of the options and above everything else the top notch service that we have missed since moving to Germany!
Sadly our week came to an end and it was time to head home. Our flight didn’t leave Dubai until 2:00 AM which actually worked out great because we were able to enjoy the hotel and amenities all day. Scott and I lounged at the pool and the boys had one last whirl at the waterpark. The day ended with a last meal at the Wavehouse and then we headed to the airport and back to reality. Dubai is definitely worth a visit. It is like a really fancy Las Vegas in the Arabic desert with delicious food and top notch service. It was sure nice to warm our bones and be spoiled rotten for the week!