Since my brother, Scott and my best friend, Jayne both relocated to the Middle East, I've had no option but to travel to Dubai on several occasions to visit them. It's been something of a hardship but a sacrafice I've been willing to make in order to see them both. The fact that they live in year-round sunshine with some of the most gorgeous beachs, hotels and restaurants not to mention the most enormous shopping malls is purely coincidencental and in no way my reasoning for regular trips to the Land of the Sand.
Since I've been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time there over the last few years, I'm putting together a series of blog posts about Dubai since there is so much to talk about and way too much to cover in just one post.
I thought I'd start by doing a general overview of Dubai as well as attempting to answer the question I get asked all the time, "What am I allowed to wear??".
First thing is first though, arriving in Dubai. Or, more precisely, arriving in style in Dubai.
My brother set a dangerous precedent the first time I over with my sister Louise to visit him. Unbeknown to us, he had booked the Marhaba welcome service (link here) for us upon arrival in Dubai airport.
Someone from the Marhaba (meaning 'welcome' in Arabic) Service greeted us as we get off the plane (yes, we did feel like A-list celebs) and instead of walking to passport control, we were driven in a little golf cart past the seemingly endless queue at passport control to a special Marhaba queue and right up to the front. You do feel quite bad for the people who have been standing in the really long queue but, like the true A-listers we are, we quickly got over this as our attention then turned to the Duty Free shopping at the other side of barrier. The Marhaba then locates your suitcase and puts it on a trolley for you ensuring that you don't need to break a sweat (or, more importantly, a nail) trying to retreive your heavy suitcase off the conveyor belt.
At this point, it is definitely worth a trip to duty free to stock up on some holiday 'essentials'. Remember, you can't buy alcohol in supermarkets in Dubai, only in hotels where you'll pay, yup - you guessed it, hotel (expensive hotel at that) prices. We stocked up on some wine, Grey Goose and Hendricks for our trip.
The Marhaba service costs from about £20 to £65 and I would DEFINITELY recommend it, especially if you're travelling with children or have no patience when it comes to queuing.
Next, where to stay. My brother lives at Dubai Marina and, for me, it is the perfect location. It is right on JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence) and there has been so much investment in this area over the last couple of years. The Walk at JBR has been completely renovated and there are so many amazing eating places and cute cafes as well as a gorgeous, sandy, spotlessly clean beach.
The Marina is great for running around but make sure you go early in the morning before it gets too hot to walk around never mind run in.
Carluccio's at Dubai Marina Mall is a great spot to do some people watching, read a magazine or watch the sun go down late in the afternoon... and the ice cream is pretty decent too.
The metro system in Dubai couldn't be easier to understand as there is only one route either in or out of the city. It makes it super easy get around and there are stops at all the big malls such as The Mall of the Emirates as well as The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa.
The metro is really safe, efficient, regular and extremely cheap. I would use public transport in Glasgow way more often if it was any one of these things!
Other than taking the Metro, taxi's are easy to find and pretty cheap. Just bear in mind that traffic can get pretty mental, especially on Sheikh Zayed Road in the evening and even in SEVEN lanes of motorway so make sure to leave enough time if you've booked a table for dinner.
On to the main thing people seem to ask me about before a holiday to Dubai, "What am I allowed to wear?"
Some people seem to think that they need to be covered from head-to-toe to go to the beach in Dubai. But, funnily enough, I wore a bikini on the beach. And I didn't get arrested.
I think it's important to always be respectful of other cultures when you're travelling anywhere abroad and it's certainly no different in Dubai.
There are signs in the malls which ask for your shoulders and down to your knees to be covered but I've worn shorts to the malls and not been thrown out. I think as long as you're dressed relatively modestly, no one will bother you. However, if you decide to try and wear a bikini to the malls, you will be asked to cover up. And you will be cold. The air conditioning in malls is extremely efficient.
On night out in Dubai, it really isn't any different to dressing for a night out back home. I've worn short dresses, skirts and shorts and never had any problems whatsoever. Don't worry - you're not required to wear a maxi dress to club. Which is lucky for me as I'm really not a fan of the maxi!
Another thing people always ask about is the weather and if it's really that hot. I've been there over New Year, in February, March, October and July. Other than the time I went on July (on a 3 day stopover on my way back from Australia), the weather has always been perfect. I would never choose to go back in the middle of summer again though as it's WAY too hot. Not only does it make it really uncomfortable to sit outside in but it makes it totally pointless drying and straightening your hair - simply no amount of Frizz Ease will stop your hair looking shit in 45c heat!
Another thing to bear in mind if you're travelling to Dubai during the summer months is to check the dates of Ramadan.
I've never actually been at that time before but during this period, you're not allowed to eat or drink in public during daylight hours. There are areas behind sceens in restaurants in hotels but most eating and drinking (even soft drinks) places will be closed during the day during the period of Ramadan. This means you're likely to get a cheap deal to actually get there but I definitely wouldn't recommend travelling during his month long period.
I'm going to do another few blog posts about exactly where I would recommend to eat, drink and dance in Dubai so stay tuned for them coming soon. You will literally be spoiled for choice as there are so many amazing places to try.
I hope I've covered some of the basics about what to expect based on my personal experiences of Dubai but if there is anything else you'd like me to cover, please leave me a comment and I'll try my best to answer your point.