Few cities can compete with the extraordinary modernity of Dubai. While it once lay as a remote desert fishing settlement, visitors to Dubai now step into a futuristic city of epic proportions!
South African passport holders do require a visa to enter the UAE, however, the application process is simple and convenient if you fly with the flag carrier Emirates (with direct flights from Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, dare we ask if there is any other way to fly to Dubai from South Africa).
For those who haven’t yet been, Dubai has shaken its reputation as a “transit destination”, a status that limited tourism beyond the impressive airport’s doors in recent years. The glitz, glamour and all-round otherworldliness of Dubai is a sight every globetrotter should experience – it’s an over the top structural paradise where big and shiny constructions sprout from the desert sand literally to the clouds at an alarming rate.
To discover Dubai beyond the desert safari we spoke to Francesca Berta, Dubai based Online Marketing Manager for Travelstart UAE; she recommends the following Dubai attractions on a visit to the immaculate megacity.
Emirates A380 Experience, The Dubai Mall
It seems fitting that Emirates, the Dubai based carrier which now has the largest A380 fleet of any airline, has an awesome presence at The Dubai Mall. The Emirates A380 Experience which launched in April 2014 invites everyone to the flight deck of the airline’s biggest bird.
Take flight as Captain of Emirates’ A380 and soar through the skies on a 30-minute adventure in the realistic simulator. Wannabe pilots can choose from 12 destinations, and even set the weather conditions before taking off.
At AED350.00 (about R1050) it won’t be the cheapest 30 minutes of your Dubai holiday, but it’s probably the best way to relax after a busy day’s shopping at the mall.
BBQ Donut, Dubai Creek
It’s like they knew the South Africans were coming! For something truly different in Dubai, and the chance to braai while floating on the water, try the BBQ Donut at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.
The famous Boardwalk BBQ Donut is the perfect choice for a memorable lunch, dinner or afternoon tea with a difference! The Boardwalk BBQ Donut offers you the opportunity to dine with friends and family while floating on the creek. Choose from our a la carte menu or grill your own on our special BBQ as you enjoy the spectacular surroundings and city skyline.
DubaiDino, The Dubai Mall
Step back 155 million years ago into the Jurassic Era with a visit to DubaiDino on display at The Dubai Mall. This original dinosaur skeleton was discovered in 2008 at the Dana Quarry in Wyoming, USA, and air-freighted to Dubai. No comparable exhibit, with nearly all bones completing the skeleton, exists elsewhere.
Cultural Meals at the SMCCU
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) is a cultural awareness platform in which expats and visitors to the UAE are invited to join in various cultural activities in a friendly welcoming environment hosted by local Emiratis.
Francesca on the SMCCU:
It’s a real Middle Eastern dinner hosted by the Sheikh who founded the Cultural Center. After dinner there is time for a 100% open discussion about local culture. People were asking all kinds of questions; even the more sensitive ones, and none of them remained unanswered.
An icy oasis in the middle of the desert, Chillout Lounge is the Middle East’s first sub-zero lounge. An excellent alternative to the ever-popular Ski Dubai (the indoor ski slope), at -6 degrees Celsius Chillout is the coldest place to enjoy a meal or drink.
It’s just had a major refurbishment and now features ice sculptures, ice seating and tables and a uniquely illuminated interior. When you arrive you’re given thermal clothing; thereafter you should spend a few minutes in a buffer zone area to acclimatize. The temperature in the buffer zone is set at 5 degrees Celsius which gives the body time to adjust to the low temperature in the main Chillout Lounge.
By now I’m sure you’re noticing a trend with all these artificial but oh so alluring Dubai attractions, and iFly Dubai won’t disappoint. They’ve recreated the rush of skydiving indoors via a vertical wind tunnel that moves air up in a perpendicular column, offering the best possible flight experience for rainy-day skydiving. It’s safe for all ages and instructors are close at hand should you need help. There’s a range of iFly packages; the First Time Flyers Standard package costs AED220.00 (about R660) and includes your training session, use of all the flight gear, two flights (one min each) and one on one personal assistance from your instructor.
Dubai Miracle Garden
The Dubai Miracle Garden aims to develop the world’s biggest flower garden with state of the art landscaping features. The Miracle Garden is located in the North West Quadrant of the Arabian Ranches interchange along Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Road and when it reopens next month (November 2014) visitors can expect to be stunned by millions of blooming flowers with different artistic designs and remarkable structures.
Cruise on Dubai Creek, Old City
When the glitz and glamour of the modern city exhausts you, a cruise on the creek in Dubai’s old city is a must if you’re looking for some authentic Middle Eastern downtime in the evening. Hop aboard and enjoy an unforgettable evening, where the height of opulence combines with a heartwarming sense of Bedouin tradition as you glide down the shimmering creek on a genuine wooden Dhow. Cruises depart Deira Creek at 8pm and include water, tea or coffee, soft drinks, a buffet dinner and safety gear. Bateaux Dubai and Al Mansour Dhow (organised by the Radisson Blu Deira) are good options for cruises on Dubai Creek.
If you don’t have time for a cruise I recommend a tour of Deira and then a transfer to the other side of the creek using the Abra (water taxi). It’s very traditional and only costs 1 Dirham.
The Act Dubai
Exclusive award winning international performances await you at The Act Dubai – the city’s most extraordinary option for dinner and a show. Mind-bending theatrics inspired from the world of vaudeville and cabaret create a show unlike any you’ve ever experienced. The 10 000sqft, multi-level venue, located on the 42nd floor of the Shangri-La Hotel, is the highest theatre-venue in the world, and for a showboating evening of entertainment, dining and sophistication of the highest level, this venue is surely a hard Act to follow.
Francesca on The Act Dubai:
It is very cool for a night out, similar to Madame Zingara but in the Shangri-La Hotel on a very high floor. It’s also way edgier than Madame Zingara so parents should leave the kids at home.
At.mosphere Restaurant, Burj Khalifa
A meal in the sky to cap it all waits at At.mosphere Restaurant at the Burj Khalifa – the structural engineering pride of the world. The building dwarfs the city’s most impressive skyscrapers, and at 828 metres (163 floors), it is the tallest building on Earth.
At.mosphere Restaurant is on Level 122 and is one of the finest luxury dining and lounge experiences in the world. Led by Executive Chef Jerome Lagarde, the restaurant presents a unique dining concept that captures the imagination of all epicureans. The restaurant holds the Guinness World Record for being the Highest Restaurant from Ground Level and offers the best views of the Arabian Gulf.
Summing it all up Francesca recommends saving some time for shopping at the Mall of the Emirates and the Dubai Outlet Mall, take a stroll in the Marina and enjoy a glass of wine at the Yacht Club, go on a desert safari, engage with UAE culture at the Mosque and the Gold Souk, and live it up with a visit to Atlantis The Palm – another one of Dubai’s iconic engineering accomplishments that South Africans can lay some claim to as it is the creation of SA hotel magnate Sol Kerzner.
Through it all, keep in mind that Dubai is a foodie’s city with some of the most incredible eat out options on the planet.