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Stopping off half way round the globe is a great way to start your family holiday. It gives you a chance to reset the body clock to a changed time zone, and a few days to explore a different part of the world.
Our family had never been to Dubai, so we started forming a wish list for ‘the rents’ and the offspring, bracing for a bit of diversity given they’re 21, 18 and 14. We’ve got some buddies who fly for Emirates based in Dubai, so first stop was to pick their brains and then see what was possible in in 72 hours on the ground.
The wish list went like this: Desert activities, shopping, water parks, beaches, blob by a pool, see some mosques, the world’s tallest building, the man-made palm, scare the pants off us all at Ferrari World, eat and drink with our friends (that was us older folk chiming in) and a whimsical one from the teenage son – sight the renowned Ferrari Police cars.
We had a pretty good go at the list, but that’s Dubai – there’s no shortage of options, so make a bit of a plan before you go.
Day one: If you want to do the desert thing it’s about 45 mins drive from the airport, so not too epic. This is the city that was mostly desert a couple of decades ago – google some before and after shots and you’ll see the extraordinary changes that have occurred. There is something surreal about sitting in an infinity pool looking at the desert that’s for sure. After a blob day post morning flight arrival, we ended it with a safari jeep ride. I asked the driver how he had any idea where he was given it was sand dune after sand dune, but he said this was where he grew up, so it was his hood as such. The beauty of the huge expanses of sand is certainly worth seeing.
Day two: Next morning, we were up bright and early as we’d booked a couple of hours on camel back. Well us girls did, the teenage son meantime went motorbike riding another 45 mins further into the desert. If bikes are your thing- do it. He came back saying it was one of the most amazing experiences of his life. He even saw a herd of camels run in parallel at one point. For the more sedate experience, our camel back morning walk was just what we girls wanted. I do love camels – suspect it’s the saggy bottom lip and huge eyelashes that win me over.
Heading back to the city, the sky line is full of tall buildings, taller buildings and then the tallest building – ah and lots of cranes making new ones too! The Burj Kalifa, at over 828 metres high is the tallest building in the world, with the highest outdoor observation. If you want to see Dubai from above, this is your spot.
The youngsters however wanted to shop (and I was not so averse!) so Mall of the Emirates was dialled into the GPS for day two, with Dubai Mall lined up for the third day. Dubai has shopping and lots of it. Malls here though are far more than shopping, they are an entertainment destination. As we shopped we watched people skiing and ice skating, swimming in a huge aquarium, heading into extraordinary indoor amusement parks for all ages, or flying in an Emirates A380 flight simulator. To put it mildly – shopping is just one part of the mall experience here. Outside Dubai Mall, if you didn’t go up it, you can gaze at the Burj in all its glory and enjoy the sound and light show with the famous fountains.
Day three: We originally had visions of being more active than we were in our 72 hours here. The youngest had psyched herself up to swim through sharks and do some fun water park activities at Atlantis, The Palm, but with only 36 hours and some socialising with our pilot friends to fit in, we did a drive by instead, post shopping. The magnificent Atlantis at the tip of the man-made Palm, is quite some building, quite some complex.
Ferrari World also fell off the list. I had promised I was prepared to ‘woman up’ and have a go at the world’s fastest roller coaster (150mph!) that we’d viewed online in preparation many times, but when shopping became important to the 14-year-old, I was quietly relieved. Formulla Rossa accelerates from zero to a top speed of 150 miles per hour in just five seconds, but does require a (more sedate!) car trip of 130kms to Abhu Dhabi along the coast. This city is also home to one of the world’s largest mosques, so worth a day trip. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a stunning piece of architecture and friends we caught up with for dinner who saw it that day, raved about its exquisite beauty. Mosques are omni present in Dubai and the call to prayers regularly heard. They were the daily wakeup call for us. We headed to a local mosque in Dubai, but remember, you’ll need to dress appropriately if that’s on your to do list. It’s also worth visiting The Creek for a touch of old Dubai for gold souks, spice markets and a bit of good old-fashioned bartering if that’s your thing.
Day four - if you have one! We didn’t manage to tick off the beaches and the associated watersports on offer, nor did we see the Ferrari police cars – but our friends assured us they did exist. However, we did fit in quite a lot whilst also readjusting the time clock ready for the next leg. The biggest problem I suspect you’ll have in a Dubai stopover is deciding what to do. Whatever you decide, by stopping over, you’ll be refreshed and ready to take on your next destination.
Travel tips from Jude Dobson’s pilot friends living in Dubai
Ever wondered how pilots on Emirates’ long haul flights deal with jet lag and packing lightly? Or what they do for fun in between international flights? We got Jude to ask her pilot friends a few quick-fire questions…
1. As a pilot, what’s your best travel tip for passengers flying long haul?
Flying West is easier on the body than flying East. Charles Krebs 'Touch for Health' whizz wheel can mitigate jet lag. Don't overdo the free drinks. Never follow advice on when to sleep and when to stay awake - simply sleep when you are tired!
2. Seeing as you fly all the time, what’s the single best thing you can advise about packing?
Less is more. You never know when you'll have to carry or drag your bag, and soft cases are best - they can squeeze into small rental cars!
3. What is your favourite thing to do as a Dubai local?
Sailing is splendid. There’s a reliable sea breeze every afternoon and The World Islands create a shelter from swells.
4. What’s a must-do Dubai experience with visiting friends?
Wild Wadi and Atlantis the Palm water parks, and The Opera House.
Dubai is an excellent stopover city, especially if you're heading to or from the UK and Europe and have endured a 17 hour flight from Auckland (or you're about to embark on one). Click here for all our Middle East holiday deals.
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