The Beloved Sheikh Zayed
N. The House of Nahayan The house of Nahayan has ruled the emirate of Abu Dhabi since 1793. The erstwhile Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was the principal driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates. His wisdom, foresight and inspired leadership have made him a beloved leader. You can see his face all over town and just about every road is named for him—this can get very confusing. I have also heard that ruler of Dubai, the Sheikh’s relative, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is very accessible and approachable. I have been told that all Dubai-dwellers have access to his direct phone number and they can call him anytime. He also drives around town on his own talking to everyone and checking his amazing city out personally. He is a very hands’ on leader.
Emirates’ Palace front view
P. Palaces (Emirates) / Palms (Jumeriah) & (Atlantis) The UAE is home to some pretty fabulous palaces. The Emirates’ Palace, I am told, was originally built for the Sheikh, but apparently is was just not, well, palatial enough for the big man, and it is now a Kempinski Hotel.* This means anyone can drop in for a 24K gold cappuccino, but you have to fork out over 1K a night for a room. Next door, the Sheikh’s family is building their own sprawling, luxurious palace on the sea.
Dubai is home to two man-made series of islands called the Palm Jumeriah and the Palm Jebel Ali. On the Palm Jumeriah, you will find the luxurious Palm Atlantis hotel and many residences on the fronds of the palm. Gorgeous sea views abound.
Relaxation in the Desert.
Q. Qasr Al Sabr Hotel I have not been to this resort hotel yet. I have heard It is wonderful and so bloody expensive. It’s on my list. Apparently, it’s a UAE must do. This luxurious desert hotel offers every amenity under the sun, but apparently replicates the feeling of being a desert traveller long ago. From the hotel’s website: “By fusing Bedouin culture with modern and refined luxury; guests simply relax and naturally open themselves to the silent power of the desert.” That sounds nice.
Rub’ Al Khali Magnificent Desert Dunes
R. Rub’ Al Khali desert (Empty Quarter) / Ramadan “Taking up a fifth of the Arabian Peninsula, the Rub al Khali (literally, “quarter of emptiness”), or the Sands for short, is the world’s largest sand sea. At more than 225,000 square miles (583,000 square kilometers), it takes in substantial portions of Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates to create an arid wilderness larger than France. It holds roughly half as much sand as the Sahara, which is 15 times the Empty Quarter’s size but composed mostly of graveled plains and rocky outcrops.” —National Geographic
Ramadan is the holiest month in Islam. Devout Muslims fast from sun up, until sun down. I cannot imagine the depths of piety that it must take for people to perform this ritual for a month in temperatures nearing 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Lots of expats skip town for Ramadan because it can be very oppressive for people of other faiths. Restaurants usually close between those hours and only open at night for Iftar. Pregnant women and children 12 and under do not have to take part in the fasting.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Camels by Sunset
That’s what the desert safari is all about, right? And, the Desert Safari is another UAE must do! On a desert safari, one can sleep under a full swathe of bright stars and wake up to a rosy dawn. Pristine night skies are an endangered habitat. It is very hard to find a location with no light pollution from the ever-expanding cities and suburbs. This is NOT the case in the UAE where you simply drive about 20 minutes into the desert to get an unobstructed, panoramic view of the night sky. Most desert safaris depart the cities in the afternoon traveling across the desert. There are usually several photo-stops during the dune drive. Most tours stop at a camel farm. The drive across the desert ends with a breath-taking sunset. Upon reaching the campsite, guests enjoy a barbecue dinner and shisha (the famous Arabic water pipe). Guests then watch belly dancers performing around the campfire by starlight. Before returning to the city, guests have the opportunity to ride a camel (which I highly recommend), sand board and try out a henna design. There are a great many companies who provide these tours. Here is a list of options.
The Finest Ski Conditions Ever…Inside...
Ski Dubai Where else in the world can you ski indoors? Ski Dubai is the only indoor ski area of which I am aware. It attempts to replicate the entire ski experience from snow play to gondola to après-ski with somewhat mixed results, I hear. I have not yet been. I plan to go this winter, but it’s pricey and, well, it’s skiing inside, but I suppose it’s nice to have nearby and to say you once did…maybe?!
T. Tilal Liwa Hotel If you want to have a true Arabian experience, this is your hotel. We are going in a few weeks, so you can expect a full report toute de suite! Aside from being a luxury hotel full of wonderful amenities like a 5 star spa and sauna, the Tilal Liwa boasts many outdoor adventures as well. There is dune-bashing, sand-boarding on the dunes, camel rides, desert star-gazing on the dunes and an Arabian BBQ buffet to boot.
My girls and I at Umm Sequim Beach. Burj Al Arab in the Background.
U. Umm Sequim Beach / Umm Al Quaimm (Dubai) Umm Sequim Beach is Dubai’s answer to Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, or they might say it’s the other way around. Either way, you cannot beat the views at Umm Sequim where the Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world, looms weightily above you. The beach is lovely. It’s also free. There is usually a volleyball game being played, and it is frequented by many local families.
Umm Al Quwain is a beach town about an hour north of Dubai. There is an aquarium, camel–racing and horseback-riding, kayaking, sailing and wind-surfing.
Husband hanging ten in the desert.
W. Wadi Adventure. Wadi Adventure in Al Ain is an extreme sports’ park, which is home of the biggest man made wave in the world (maybe the only?). There is Wild Wadi in Dubai, I am just going to focus on Wadi Adventure because there are more waterparks in the UAE than there are native people, I think. Just kidding. We have visited Wadi Adventure numerous times, and it is great fun for those who like adventure/extreme sports such as surfing, kayaking, white water rafting, et al. It is usually not crowded, but you do have to book in advance to do many of the activities. Please enquire before you go, so you do not get disappointed.
The Vending Machine You Did Not Know You Needed.
X. Extreme, Extravagance, Excess / DXB The UAE’s unofficial motto is bigger, better, faster and, let’s not forget, more. From the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa, to the 24K gold vending machines to man made island formations in the shape of, well, the world, the UAE has it all. Which, of course, segues brilliantly to Dubai, the city of superlatives.
DXB is the airport code for Dubai, so let’s talk about Dubai. Why not? Everyone else is. The UAE is aware that oil reserves are diminishing, as will the west’s dependence on oil as the price skyrockets. So, they have decided to make Dubai a tourism mecca, and Mecca it is! I have blogged about how shopping here takes on an almost religious devotion. The malls are shrines of grandeur; temples to over-consumption. They are also everywhere! Dubai is shopping’s holiest city, by far.
Y. Yas Island I blog about my beloved Yas Island a lot. It is right across the water from my home, and every night and day I get to marvel at it’s beauty. We stayed there when we first got here because it was near to everything for us: husband’s job, kids’ school, et al. It is home to Yas Beach (my mothership), Yas Waterworld (My kids’ mothership), the “opening soon” Yas mall, See top-notch entertainers at the Du Arena, play a round of golf at Yas Links, the Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Viceroy Hotel and Marina, boasts a million great restaurants and some gorgeous views. Here is a fun list of Yas Island Top 10 Must-dos.
Sheikh Zayed Bridge
Z. Zayed Name Crazy! I talked a bit about the ruling families above. The house of Nahayan rules Abu Dhabi while the The Al Maktoum family rules Dubai. Well, just about everything here in Abu Dhabi bears the beloved leader’s name. I cannot tell you how many times I have come to the cross street of Sheikh Zayed Rd and Sheikh Zayed Rd downtown and wondered why on earth there are not more names for roads here? There is also Sheikh Zayed Highway, Sheikh Zayed Sport’s City, Sheikh Zayed Bridge—make that two Sheikh Zayed bridges, and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This list is endless.
* I have no independent verification of this “fact.” I cannot find anything to substantiate it. If you happen to know the real history of the Emirates’ Palace Hotel, please let me know.