I’m not know for doing things by halves…never have been.
So when we knew we would be flying to South Africa for a friends’ wedding, and that the flight would likely include a layover, we were already looking for ways to extend that into a mini-trip.
Between Doha and Dubai, we chose Dubai, simple because we know a lot of people who have been there before and had heard good things.
Extended our 2-hour layover to 24 hours was one of the best, most exhausting and exhilarating decision we’ve ever made. I have never felt so tired in my life.
We arrived in the cosmopolitan city at around 7am and made our way to our hotel so we could freshen up and drop our bags for check-in later on; we had a lot planned.
I find a lot of friends and family provide safety advice when travelling abroad which is incredibly important when you’re unfamiliar with a city and its culture. We didn’t quite listen to sense when we landed and ended up hiring a private driver, with no formal identification that’s what he was, or that he was a taxi, to take us across the city and for 20 painful minutes, I wondered if I was going to feature in my own Taken adventure…
Just entering the lobby of our hotel and we knew we’d made the right choice – it was well swanky!
Even when we told the concierge we wanted to go The Palm, I loved the guy in the waistcoat who went out front to clap his hands to summon the taxi – I mean, who does that?!
We zipped across the sandy city to one of the most luxurious areas and my eyes were literally bugging out of my head; it was incredible! I’d never seen anywhere like it.
12-minute helicopter tour
Officially, it was Lee’s birthday that day, so that meant he got first choice on what we would do that day. And his birthday wish was to do a helicopter tour of Dubai. Good choice.
We arrived a little early and appreciated the extra half an hour to just sit down. It was going to be a long day and we were both functioning on just a few hours’ sleep – did I forget to mention we’d driven straight from work the previous day and hopped on a plane? #exhausted
We watched the obligatory safety video and were then weighed so we could be evenly distributed in the helicopter.
Lucky for us, we’re both quite small people, so we managed to ride shotgun which meant we definitely had the best view.
The 12-minute flight went by far too quickly. The pilot was really friendly and would happily point out different features of the cities and ask us questions about our travels.
We got to get up close and personal with the Burj Khalifa, before flying past The World islands, although there was a bit of a sandstorm making it hard to see far.
Booking agent: Alpha tours via Headout
Recommend? Yes, although we struggled getting a good price and had the first tour cancelled because it wasn’t at the time we requested. Trying to squeeze this all in in a day was tough and that was our biggest challenge.
Atlantis, The Palm
Whilst we were on The Palm, we decided it would be rude to not stop by Atlantis, one of the fanciest hotels in Dubai. And it did not disappoint. We made our way to the boutique shops and restaurants where you could find their aquarium.
The birthday boy suggested it might be good so we spend almost an hour wandering between the largest fish tanks I think I’ve ever seen, filled with so much marine life, it was hard to process.
And it really did feel like we’d entered The Lost City of Atlantis.
Knowing we couldn’t spend too much time there – we were on a tight schedule, after all – we grabbed a taxi and headed back to the main part of the city, to Dubai Mall.
Booking agent: The Lost Chambers Kiosk
Recommend? Yes. We had a great time, although it’s not the biggest aquarium. I’d love to have spent more time there and maybe even do their scuba diving experience in the large tank.
Now I’ve been to mall or two before. A couple in the UK, a few in the US, but I don’t thin anything quite prepared me for the sheer scale of Dubai Mall.
We entered straight into the part that’s all styled like an Arabian market, and I made a friend:
After exploring for a few hours, we went back to the hotel to check in, have a shower and change – I’ll come back to this in a minute – before going back to the mall to encounter the strangest thing I’ve ever seen:
Yep, that’s right. A mall aquarium. And the photo doesn’t really do it justice because – I kid you not – there were people scuba diving, to the entertainment of passers-by. Personally, I was more interested in the Candylicious store next door:
We ate at the Cheesecake Factory, one of our favourite American places, before needing to head on to the final paid-for activity of the day. But before I get to that…
DAMAC Maison Dubai Mall
We’d spent ages looking for the right kind of hotel. And with a lot of expensive cities, it can be hard to find something within budget that’s half decent. This one ticked all the boxes; it was clean, modern, central, within walking distance of a main attraction, and not too expensive.
It took us a while to check in – I think they’d had an influx of people within the same half an hour and hadn’t quite got chance to finish cleaning our room.
Whilst this sounds pretty bad, I should mention here that we were given a complimentary room upgrade because it was Lee’s birthday and our standard double room suddenly became a junior suite with a view of the Burj Khalifa. Heaven.
Price: £135 per night – we got upgraded to a Junior Suite because of the birthday boy so the room wouldn’t have been as big.
Booking agent: Expedia
Recommend? Yes, the staff were really helpful, friendly and the service was impeccable.
The Burj Khalifa
The final paid-for activity of the day was a trip up the Burj Khalifa. The tickets for this were reasonably priced and we decided to pay extra to go to the second viewing deck about twenty floors above the one you get access to with a standard ticket.
Depending on what your budget is like, it could definitely be worth paying the extra amount. You can only do it at night, but you do get to skip the queues, are provided with complimentary drinks and get access to a private lounge at the top. It was only when we came down to the second viewing deck did we realise how crowded it could get.
I won’t lie, it was bloomin’ scary being at the top and was really not what I expected. The building swayed an alarming amount and it was super windy! But it was such a great experience and we got to learn how the building was made and all this history behind it.
Booking agent: Expedia
Recommend? No, I think you’d be better doing this one during the day. We enjoyed the experience, and loved that we got to go right to the top but considering the normal ticket price is so much cheaper, this wasn’t worth the money.
It was about 9pm by the time we made it back down from the top of the Burj Khalifa, but we weren’t quite done yet. After an emergency pitstop in KFC, we watched the fountain display out the front of Dubai Mall.
I’d never seen anything like it. Regularly throughout the day, you can see the fountains dance and jump around to music which sounds a little crazy. It was mesmerising.
We managed to get a good viewing spot and got completely suckered into the performance. And I may have gotten slightly jealous of those who were sat across the water in front of some very nice-looking restaurants. There were also a few floating jettys that you could sit on to really enjoy the display – but we had a schedule we needed to stick to. And there as one last important thing we had to before we called it a night.
Festival City Mall
By this point, we were seriously flagging – if you’re thinking about doing a whistle-stop tour of Dubai, I’d recommend scheduling in more than 24 hours.
We queued for a taxi outside the Dubai Opera House and headed across the city to Festival City Mall. Why? You might ask…after all, it’s about 10 o’clock at night…
I have three words for you: Hard Rock Café
*Confession time: About four years ago, my dad took me to HRC Hamburg as a belated birthday gift. There was a great deal on where we got a burger and a t-shirt for about €30. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with stopping by every single HRC I can when we book our trips. When we went to Florida, I wasn’t content with just the one in Orlando. No, we had to visit the ones in Miami and Key West too!*
So HRC’s have kinda become our thing. Every time we visit a new city, or plan a trip, we’re looking for the nearest HRC. To date, I have 13 t-shirts in varying designs (all limited editions).
And yes, I even took a cringy photo with the guitar prop – not my finest, I was tired.
To compensate for dragging Lee across the city, we also stayed for the IMAGINE laser and light show which was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it!
And we were done
By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was about midnight. And the hotel staff had left a little gift for Lee; a slice of cake with Happy Birthday written on the plate in chocolate sauce – the perfect end to the perfect day.