After we finished our tour of the Burj Khalifa, we did a little more shopping in Dubai Mall and then had dinner at Mario Batali’s Eataly. After dinner, we went to see the Dubai Fountain which is located in a man-made lake adjacent to Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. The Dubai Fountain is the world’s largest choreographed fountain. It is similar to the one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, as it was designed by the same company. The fountains light up and “dance” to music. I was shocked by the number of people waiting outside for the show to start, especially since it happens every 30 minutes in the evening. It was definitely an impressive show, one worthy of its larger-than-life neighbors.
We had purchased tickets for the Burj Khalifa for 3PM on Tuesday in advance. This was one of the attractions that I was the most excited to visit. The Burj Khalifa currently holds many records, such as the tallest building in the world, the tallest free-standing structure in the world, and the world’s longest travel distance elevators.
Ironically, the observation deck, which is not at the top of the building, is called “At the Top.” It’s located on the 124th floor (452 meters up), out of 163 floors (829 meters). Even though this is the tallest structure ever built as well as the tallest current structure, the observation deck is actually the second tallest in the world, behind the Canton Tower in China. So, we managed to be At the Top without actually being at the top of anything at all!
The line for the elevators was a bit long, but not terrible and seemed to move along at a decent pace. I was really impressed with the elevators. They are incredibly fast at 10 meters per second. Not only that, but the ride was so smooth that, by the time I even noticed we were moving, we were several floors up already.
The view from the observation deck was unreal. We were so high up in the air that the entire city almost looked like a scale model! My only complaint is that the only amenity on the observation deck was a small souvenir shop. It would have been nice to have a cafe or restaurant there.
There is an aquarium inside Dubai Mall that features what is supposed to be the largest viewing panel in the world. It’s full of lots of different creatures, including more sharks and stingrays than I have ever seen in one place. There is a tunnel of sorts that allows you to walk through and underneath the aquarium which was pretty cool. We bought the admission tickets that include a glass-bottom boat ride over the aquarium. This turned out to be kind of a silly activity in which the guide used a series of ropes to pull our boat around the surface of the aquarium. We also got to see more penguins. Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet them like the ones at Ski Dubai.
Tuesday, January 21st was our last day in Dubai. The only thing we had scheduled that day was a visit to the Burj Khalifa in the afternoon. Since there was still so much we hadn’t seen at the Dubai Mall, and the entrance to the Burj Khalifa is actually attached to the bottom of Dubai Mall, we figured we would just spend the day there.
We had breakfast at a cafe in the mall that features camel milk in its espresso drinks. They also sell boxes of camel milk chocolates. I had a caramel camel milk latte. It tasted. . .different, not horrible, but different. I probably won’t ever order one again, but I was glad I tried it. When in Rome. . .
Late in the afternoon on Monday (January 20th), we took a taxi out to the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel. This is the building on the beach that is in the shape of a sail. There is a security check point in front of the hotel, and they won’t let you through unless you are either a guest staying at the hotel or have a reservation to do something at the hotel, like a spa appointment. We had made reservations in advance for afternoon tea service at the Skyview Bar, located on the top floor. This was something I was really looking forward to, as I love tea and have always wanted to see the Burj Al Arab.
We wandered around the lobby area for a while and took some photos then proceeded to the elevator up to the Skyview Bar. The back of the elevator was a floor-to-ceiling window which looked out onto the Arabian Gulf. Even though we were early, we were seated almost immediately. The waiter explained the tea service to us – seven courses including a flute of champagne and unlimited tea and coffee. The tea menu was the most extensive I had ever seen. It had every variety you could imagine, and then some!
The first course was a pastry with berries and cream. Next was a small beef carving with sauce and breadcrumbs. Then small sandwiches followed by a bunch of small desserts and scones. Next was sorbet, followed by petit fours. I think I had about seven different types of tea!
After tea, we went to Madinat Jumeirah, a nearby shopping center. It had a mixture of retail shops and souq-like stores and kiosks as well as restaurants, cafés, and a theater. The building appears to be new but its architecture is of a traditional style. There are canals that run through Madinat Jumeirah. You can even take a Venetian-style boat ride, but the boats had stopped running by the time we had arrived.
On Monday morning (January 20th), we went to Dubai Mall and did a bit of shopping. This was the mall whose basement we ran through on Friday night to get a taxi to the Mall of the Emirates. Today we would actually get to experience more than the basement! Dubai Mall is absolutely enormous. There are over 1,200 stores, an aquarium, and an ice skating rink, among other things.
I felt incredibly overwhelmed by the number of stores, almost to the point where I actually didn’t want to shop! I would say that I am more of a goal-oriented shopper, not a browser, which is probably why I felt so overwhelmed. Some of the highlights of the mall for me were the Fashion Avenue, which features luxury shops like Chanel and Hermes, and the Level Shoe District, which is a 96,000 square foot space that “takes shoppers on a journey of beautiful shoes.” We had coffee at the Armani Cafe in Fashion Avenue and did a bit more browsing before heading back to the hotel to change for our tea reservations at the Burj Al Arab.
We left the hotel around 4 pm on Sunday for our “dune desert safari.” I honestly don’t know why the travel company referred to it as a safari, but I’ll just roll with it. It was about a 40 minute drive out to the desert in Sharjah, the third largest Emirate in the UAE behind Dubai and Abu Dhabi. For some reason, we were picked up late in an SUV with two couples from another hotel instead of with the travelers from our hotel that had been on our other group activities. We would later find out that there were many SUVs all bound for the same campsite in the desert, and we ended up seeing the other travelers from our group there. Neither of the couples in our SUV seemed to speak much English, so it was a rather quiet car ride. One couple was from Korea. The other couple was from Argentina. The Argentinian couple claimed to speak French, but when Laura tried to engage them in conversation, they didn’t respond. I think they just didn’t want to talk to anyone else!
Once we got onto the sand in the desert, the driver deflated the tires while we took some photos. It was quite windy and starting to get chilly. I was glad I brought my jacket along. One of the other travelers had mocked me back at the hotel for “bringing a jacket to the desert,” but I had the last laugh on that one! Laura did a log roll down a sand dune, and I think she is still cleaning the sand out of her pockets! Then we all got back into the SUV, and somehow I ended up in the front seat. There were many other tourists out at the same time as us. I would say at least 20 other cars worth. We did some dune bashing for about 30 minutes, which was a lot of fun. Then we were driven to a campsite back in the desert of Dubai.
The first thing we did was ride the camels. It was sort of like a pony ride, but with camels, so I didn’t have to put my runaway camel knowledge from The Worst Case Survival Handbook to test! Next we looked at the souvenir shop and got henna tattoos. After that, we ate dinner and watched performances by a whirling dervish and a belly dancer. The driver had explained to us that the campsite has to be in Dubai rather than in Sharjah because Sharjah has stricter laws and doesn’t allow alcohol or belly dancing. After dinner wrapped up, we were driven back to the hotel.