Saturday, February 1, 2014

Five Things to do in Dubai if You're Cheap

Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world
I don't know. Do you enjoy the sun? That enormous, wobbly hot thing in the sky? To be honest, I like it best when it's setting or rising than when it's just hanging there blazing like a bare light bulb in an interrogation room.

I've just come back from six days at sea--it might have been seven--cruising from Dubai to Khasab, Oman and back on the Costa Fortuna (more about the cruise later). For the next few days, I'll be telling you about the trip, the high points and the low. It's going to get hot in here, so shed some of your clothes, don a sexy pair of shades and toss a towel on your sun chair. I'm gonna make you sweat.

Today, let's take a trip to Dubai. Twenty years ago Dubai had one skyscraper; now it has 900? Was that the number I heard? Over 900? That's a lot of empty office space in buildings made of glass in the middle of a desert. Dubai swelters in the winter and feels hot enough to spontaeously combust in the summer.

The first time Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector and I were in Dubai was about a decade ago. We were visiting a wonderful person. It was summer. The temperature was around 50 C (120 F?) outside, so the pool at the Le Meridien was cooled to around -50 C. Our choices were fry or freeze. Nothing in between--unless you go to the mall. Which we did.

And we did this time as well. There are several enormous malls in Dubai, and you might be tempted, as we were, to run for them when it's too hot outside to enjoy a good walk. Here, though, are a few things you can do in Dubai if shopping is not high on your list of leisure time activities.

1. The Atlantis Hotel

Yes, it's a hotel but it's a grand hotel. Situated at the tip of the artificial island called The Palm, The Atlantis is worth a visit. The drive to The Atlantis is a haul, but the hotel has a lot to offer once you're finally there. The aquarium kept my jaw dropped for quite a while. The scene is a sunken Atlantis--could this be the real one?--with lots and lots of pretty fish. Rays and sharks and, um, other ones. Lots of them.

The Acquarium at the Atlantis Hotel

I wanted to sit at one of the pretty blue tables in front of the acquarium and have an overpriced coffee, but Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector x-snayed that. There was even a table free with our name on it.

"I do not see Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector anywhere on this table," Oxsnard says--he's a very literal type.

"It's written in disappearing ink," I say.

"This sound improbable since now someone has taken the table and they have neither my nor your name."

It was true. A family of four were making themselves comfy at our table. Moving along.

The acquarium, though, is not the only thing to do here. There's a water park, which we didn't go to, and lots of great shops and restaurants--none of which we entered. If you're cheap, you can also take pictures of the ceilings. Here are a few of mine:

At some point in the future, there will be a train running from the city to The Atlantis Hotel. This will overcrowd the hotel impossibly, so I hope you get the chance to visit this place before the masses have easy access to it.

2. Dubai Creek

The Creek, with its proximity to the "old town" and other tourist-trap magnets like the gold souq, is a good place for an evening stroll. Don't bother going during the day unless you really want to buy a pashmina or have a guy foist a headdress on you and then beg you to buy it.

The Creek really comes alive at night, and I suppose it is a good place to have dinner. Dozens of dinner cruise boats line the shores, so you won't have any trouble finding one. I haven't tried any of them, but here are a few people who have.

Getting from one side of the creek to the other is easy. There are small boats shuttling people for 1 Dirham (about 20 cents). You'll need to be stable on your feet to climb onto these boats. You'll also need to hold on tight once the boats gets going. Everyone sits in the middle and faces out. When waves come from bigger boats, you feel as if you'll be pitched into the water. Great fun.

Don't miss The Heritage Village in the evening. It's not a grand experience, but if you came here looking for culture this is the place. Entry is free. This is also a bit of a tourist trap, but I didn't feel as if anyone was grabbing at me and begging me to buy anything. Dubai is a gigantic modern city, so a place like this--even if it is a bit hokey and artificial--gives the city back some of its character. With a few performances and demonstrations of traditional cloth making and food preparation, The Heritage Village is worth a visit--especially if you've been walking up and down the promenade at the Dubai Creek looking for the toilete. They're inside The Heritage Village.


3. Dubai Acquarium

Shhhh. It's another acquarium, and it's in the Dubai Mall. Yes, I promised to tell you about things to do other than shopping in Dubai, but this is really worth seeing. Fish. More fish. Actually, too many fish, if you ask me. The largest acrylic panel in the world. And fish. Lots of them.

It's free if you stand in the mall and simply gawk at it, but you can pay around $16 to walk through it. We didn't pay. We're cheap; you're probably not. But even if you're as cheap as we are, you can enjoy it.

A few facts about the Dubai Acquarium:
  • 51m x 20m x11m
  • Features one of the world's largest viewing panels at 32.8m wide and 8.3m high
  • Squishes together more than 33,000 living animals, representing more than 85 species including over 400 sharks and rays combined. It's like the Calcutta of acquariums.
  • Don't even bother bringing a pole: fishing is not allowed. 

Burj Khalifa
The Dubai Mall is also a good place to take pictures of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. This spire certainly overwhelms the skyline of Dubai. Often on hazy days the top half of the building simply disappears, but I got a few interesting shots. I like the way the clouds seem to frame the structure, which is so tall that getting it into a good shot proved a challenge.

A few facts about Burj Khalifa:
  • At over 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) 
  • More than 160 storeys
  • Highest occupied floor in the world
  • Longest elevator ride in the world 
  • Highest observation deck in the world
  • Hardest building to get a picture of in its entirety with someone standing at its base. Trust me. I've tried.
  • Read more HERE

4. The Burj Al Arab Hotel

Yes, another hotel. But this one is billed as the only 6-star hotel in the world. You won't get anywhere near the hotel if you're not staying in it or on a tour. You can buy tickets online or just do what we did: hang out at the hotel next to it and take pictures of the Burj Al Arab from there.

OR... you can book high tea at the Burj al Arab for as little as 300 Dirham a person. That's only $60. I wonder if they serve gluten-free high tea.

From our table at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

The Burj Al Arab from the entrance to Souk Madinat Jumeirah

If you don't need to see the lobby of the Burj Al Arab--which is reported to be higher than the Statue of Liberty--you can take great pictures of the hotel from Souk Madinat Jumeirah, which is just around the corner. Souk Madinat Jumeirah is also a great place to have dinner or just shop in a traditional but relaxed market.

The Waterways surrounding Souk Madinat Jumeirah

5. The Beaches

Joke! Oh my Lord. Why would anyone want to bake in the sun on one of Dubai's beaches? OK, if 50C-degree heat is your thing, go for it. There are lots of beaches around Dubai. Just follow the rules. Remember this is an Islamic country. But instead of going to the beach, why not cool off by going downhill skiing? Yes, you can do that in Dubai at Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates. They suit you up for the whole day for around $35 a person. And there are penguins. I'm not sure you can get a better deal than this with penguins included. Wait. You could, if you're as cheap as I am, just take pictures through the window and laugh about you aren't back in freezing Munich shoveling snow right now.

Next time, I'm going to take you to Muscat, Oman where--surprise, surprise--it's going to be hot.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen.