Update: Bumping this 2017 trip report in honor of the historic peace agreement between Israel and the UAE. Perhaps next year we’ll be able to fly to Israel in Emirates or Etihad shower class with a stopover in Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
The Jewish Community in the UAE has been coming out of the shadows and you can catch a minyan at the JCC there led by Chabad Rabbi Levi Duchman, who dined with us back in 2017. You can email for more info at Info@JewishUAE.com or order food at KosherDubai.com. A kosher restaurant at the Burj Khalifa is in the works as well!
Originally posted on 6/18/2017:
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This post is continued from: Maldives Trip Notes Part 1: Flying Emirates Shower Class To Dubai…We were supposed to land in Dubai at 8:05am on Monday, but due to the delays we didn’t arrive until 2:26pm. My carefully crafted Dubai itinerary would have to be reworked.
Upon landing I put on my Indians baseball cap. Immigration and customs didn’t ask us a single question. They couldn’t care less about the Israeli immigration sticker on my passport either.
I will admit that walking through baggage claim and seeing where other flights were coming from is a bit of a surreal experience:
But the Dubai airport itself is truly stunning. It’s a shame that most US airports make such a poor first impression on visitors:
Most of the advice on the DansDeals Forums was to take taxis and Ubers around Dubai. However Uber is banned from operating from Abu Dhabi and transportation between Dubai and Abu Dhabi takes 1-2 hours and wouldn’t be cheap.
I found a car for $25/day including tax from Avis and decided to go for it. I wasn’t sure whether they would honor my Chairman’s Club status, but sure enough they were waiting with an Infiniti QX80 for us.
In Dubai and Abu Dhabi I used Project Fi for my phone service. Phone calls over the cell network were 20 cents per minute, but I made phone calls over the 4G data network where they are are practically free. Data is just $10 per GB.
It was rather tricky to find a hotel that would keep our kosher meals frozen and heat them up when we needed them.
I didn’t want to email about having frozen kosher meals, so I explained that I traveled with my own meals due to a food allergy.
While many Orthodox Jews will only vacation in places they can find kosher food, I have no problem traveling with food so that I can explore more remote places. For this trip Miami based Kosher Private Chef provided meals for us to eat and review. With the help of a Polar Bear cooler suitcase you can keep food frozen for days and travel anywhere your heart desires.
The Grand Hyatt and the Fairmont Palm Dubai both refused to keep our meals frozen. The Park Hyatt Dubai on the other hand said they were more than happy to keep the meals frozen and warm them up for us on demand.
The Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi is supposed to be amazing, but it didn’t make sense to base myself out of Abu Dhabi when my flights would arrive and depart from Dubai.
I had 2 Fairmont nights that were expiring at the end of March though and wasn’t thrilled about them going to waste, so I located the email address for the Fairmont Palm’s general manager and asked him if he would be able to help us. He was more than happy to provide the authorization to store and warm up our double wrapped meals.
Another benefit of the Fairmont Palm was that it is on the way from the Dubai airport to Abu Dhabi, where I wanted to drive to after dropping off the frozen meals at the hotel.
Both the Park Hyatt and the Fairmont Palm have free valet parking.
Here’s some context of where in the world we were:
Google Maps Timeline is both awesome and creepy at the same time. It shows our driving on Monday from Dubai to Abu Dhabi:
We arrived at the hotel at 4PM, some 7 hours after our planned arrival. Unfortunately the front desk agents had no idea how to deal with our frozen meals.
The agent wanted to leave our bag of food in a unlocked Coke fridge. I wanted the bag sent down to room service for frozen storage and to provide instructions on which meals were to be warmed up.
However the room service manager on duty said that there was no way for them to store our meals. Luckily I had the chain of emails with the General Manager which I forwarded to the front desk agent. It took over an hour, but finally we found the right people and got the meals into the room service freezer. However next time I’d definitely stay at the Park Hyatt in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
The Fairmont Palm is located on Palm Jumeirah, one of Dubai’s artificial archipelagos as can be seen in these NASA photographs:
The Fairmont Palm lobby is quite beautiful:
Fairmont Palm Deluxe Room:
Fairmont Palm Deluxe Bathroom:
View from the balcony of the Fairmont Palm Deluxe Room:
At 5PM we finally left the Fairmont Palm and started driving from Dubai to its rival UAE city of Abu Dhabi.
I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Back in the day I ran off a mountain to go hang-gliding in Rio. Today I get my kicks by visiting Cedar Point, home to the best roller coasters in the world.
When Ferrari World opened in Abu Dhabi it caught my eye. I have many vices, but cars are not yet among them as my 2011 Altima would attest, so it wasn’t the Ferrari aspect that interested me. It’s the record breaking roller coasters that put the park on my to-do list.
Ferrari World is located in Yas Mall. It took an hour to drive to the mall from the Fairmont and there was plenty of free parking there.
There are various ticket options available to skip some of the lines. In Cedar Point I always pony up the funds to skip the long lines for the best rides there. But at 6PM on a Monday evening, the park was empty and it didn’t look like there was any reason to buy anything but the least expensive ticket, which is about $65 versus fast pass options that will set you back up to $150.
Due to the heat of the desert the park is indoors, however you’ll exit the building while riding on the roller coasters.
Our first ride was Flying Aces, designed after flying in a bi-plane.
My favorite roller coaster in the world is Cedar Point’s Millenium Force, but wow did this ride give it a run for its money. It features the steepest and fastest lift as well as the highest loop in the world while flying at 75MPH. The craziest thing about this Intamin built ride is that there is only a waist restraint, there’s no shoulder restraint as you’ll typically find on roller coasters that take you upside-down. This makes for a terrifying, yet amazing feeling as you’re flipped backwards on the ride. It’s worth going to the park just to go on this ride several times.
There was no line for the ride, though we waited for a few minutes in order to secure the front row.
Next up: Formula Rossa. This takes the concept of Six Flags’ Kingda Ka and Cedar Point’s Top-Thrill Dragster to the next level. Formula Rossa shatters the roller coaster record books by flying at 150MPH. It takes less than 5 seconds to get there.
The ride accelerates so fast that it’s hard to catch your breath. You will feel the skin on your face fly backwards as it jolts forward with acceleration like I’ve never felt before.
Riding this in the front row however is a mistake. Water is used to cool off this ride between runs and it whips into front seat riders like glass at 150MPH.
Goggles are provided and are required for all riders. They’re not particularly comfortable.
The sheer speed is something worth experiencing, but at the end of the day I might actually prefer a ride like Top Thrill Dragster. Apparently there is such a thing as being too fast.
We rode Formula Rossa a few times before going back to the magic of Flying Aces. This time there were so few riders that we had to wait for people to show up just for them to operate the ride. The incredible ride is well worth the wait and I was just happy that I didn’t waste any money on skip the line passes!
There are other attractions and shows at the park as well as a lot of Ferraris to gawk at, but nothing that struck my fancy.
By 8PM we had our fill of coasters and drove to Abu Dhabi’s famous Sheikh Zayed Mosque. As Islam is a monotheistic religion, most Rabbinic authorities say that Jews are allowed to visit a Mosque. Most Mosques in the UAE are off-limits to non-Muslims, but the grandest of them all is open to everyone.
Originally I had planned to arrive here at 5PM for a free guided tour that many DDF’ers enjoyed. A 5PM arrival also allows you to see the view from the library before it closes and to see the Mosque during daylight and night hours.
Alas, we arrived at 8:30PM due to the flight delay, so we missed all of that.
Parking was free and plentiful.
The pictures do this place no justice, it is truly stunning. It made me yearn for a time when Jews had the Temple built by King Solomon and how awesome it would be to behold such a sight with my own eyes.
As I went through security I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d be recognized as a Jew. Instead the security guard started chatting away with me in Arabic and seemed shocked that I wasn’t an “Arabi.” The same scene repeated itself a few times in the UAE. I’m pretty white, but I guess with a baseball cap and my beard I can pass as a Muslim?
Sheikh Zayed Mosque:
These nighttime pictures really do the place no justice:
Fountains surround the Mosque:
Courtyard inside the Mosque:
We didn’t go inside the actual prayer room:
After 45 minutes of gawking at one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen in my life, we drove back to the Fairmont. I called them and asked them to warm up our frozen meals for an hour in the oven.
I was exhausted and raced back to the hotel. Little did I know that driving 21KPH over the speed limit would trigger a camera fine of $177. Luckily I only exceeded 20KPH once. The previous renter of my car did it several times in just one day!
We hosted the local Chabad shliach for dinner. He covers territory throughout several Arab countries with various Jewish communities that prefer to stay on the down-low. Now that is one fascinating job for a 23 year old single guy.
We feasted Monday evening on hot meals from Kosher Private Chef including sliced tongue in mustard with rice pilaf and tater tots. The tongue was incredible and the tater tots were great as well:
Sesame Chicken was among the best versions of the dish that I’ve ever had. Moist and delicious, I could eat it every night!
The Cashew Coated Flounder was very good as well and came with quinoa pilaf and garlic brussel sprouts:
View from our balcony:
I signed us up to go on a Platinum Heritage Falconry and Wildlife Desert Safari the next morning. It offers a half day tour including taking a 1950s Land Rover to view Arabian desert wildlife, camel riding, and Falcon flying for about $130.
Tuesday: Driving out to the desert and local Dubai sites:
We woke up at 5:30AM on Tuesday morning only to find that the sandstorm had turned into a rainstorm. Rain in the UAE desert? Who knew!
Platinum Heritage sent a driver to pick us up from our hotel and he insisted that the rain would go away and the tour would go on. So we drove an hour out to their location, where we were presented with Arabic Coffee and dates:
However the rain never did let up, so while there were falcons, they couldn’t fly.
While there were camels walking in the rain, they said they were unpredictable and that we couldn’t ride on them or go on the desert tour:
And so they provided a full refund and drove us back to the hotel where we walked around the soggy grounds:
The Dubai Yellow Boats are one of the top rated activities in Dubai. Unfortunately they closed for the day due to the rain.
With the rain pouring outside, I burned some of my expiring Fairmont Platinum certificates on a wonderful free hot stone massage. Sure enough by the time the massage was over the rain had cleared up.
AJK told me that I couldn’t go to Dubai and not visit the world’s only 7 star hotel, the Burj Al-Arab. Of course the trick would be getting in there, officially it’s only open to guests or people dining at one of the pricey restaurants. I wound up making a reservation online for the Skyview bar. No credit card is needed to make a reservation.
Valet parking at the hotel was free.
The Burj Al-Arab is beautiful from the outside:
Inside it is gilded in gold, just as you would expect from showy Dubai:
Looking up is breathtaking:
We walked through the hallway to get to the elevators that go to the Skyview bar:
They had us wait a few minutes in the waiting area by the elevators:
Finally we went up to the top:
View from the skyview bar:
Once at the top they informed us that we couldn’t just order a drink, we would have to pay some $200/person for a full afternoon tea. So we went right back downstairs 🙂
Burj Al-Arab house car:
After gawking at the hotel we drove next door to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, where once again, parking was free. The market has everything to buy from souvenirs to rugs.
There’s even a Jamba Juice!
After buying a pink camel for my daughter, Talia:
We walked outside to get another view of the Burj Al-Arab:
Not a police taxi, just a cab advertising Police watches…
Just a couple minutes away from there is the Mall of the Emirates, home to Ski Dubai. And once again, parking was free.
Now I can ski for less money closer to home, but it is fun to see skiing in a mall:
The malls in the UAE are massive and full. They don’t seem to be suffering yet from the ails of US malls due to the internet…
But speaking of that, we passed by a toy store where everyone was playing with these awesome Squap Paddles that were a lot of fun. Before buying a set for Rafi though I looked on Amazon, and sure enough they were available for less than at the mall. And Prime shipping sure beats shlepping a toy home from Dubai!
The UAE has numerical licence plates, and people spend millions of dollars on the lowest numbers. The lowest we noticed was 444:
After the Mall of the Emirates we drove to the Gold Souk. Alas we couldn’t find any parking there, it was the one time in the UAE where it would have been easier to not have a car.
So we drove to the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world. Calling it massive is the understatement of the year. Parking is free here as well.
There is an aquarium inside that you can pay to enter, but you can also view a nice amount of it for free from the mall:
Attractions in the mall:
A Dubai style souk:
Dubai Ice Rink:
I had pre-booked tickets online to go the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and more than twice as high as the Empire State Building:
The entrance to go up to the top of the Burj Khalifa is in the Dubai Mall.
Model of the Burj Khalifa:
Regular admission is about $35, but we paid an extra $15 to go up before sunset, so that we would be able to view the city during the day and at night. That ticket allows access to levels 124+125. If you want to go to level 148 it will set you back $95 off-peak or $136 for sunset.
I didn’t time it well enough to see this however:
It was pretty hazy, but still offered a nice view. I don’t think the view would be better from the higher floor option.
View from the top:
Be sure to catch a birds eye view of the Dubai Fountain Show:
View of 124 observatory from 125:
If you do take one of these silly photographs, be sure to negotiate and pretend to walk away. I paid about 10% of the original asking price:
Another cool souvenir for the kids, painted at the top of the Burj Khalifa:
I also sent postcards from the top to friends and family back home.
Word to the wise though, the stamps they have are massive, so apply them before you start writing…
There are “Digital Binoculars” that shows you the live view and other views that change based on where you point it:
Here’s a video of how it works:
Historical view from the screen:
Clear night view from the screen:
Clear day view from the screen:
Live view from the screen:
Burj Khalifa at night:
After we got down we took a wonderful boat ride on the lake to view the incredible Dubai Fountain Show up close at night. It’s easily the most impressive fountain show I’ve ever seen and the boat ride was just $18.
Here’s a video that shows just a small part of the show, but gives an idea about how grand it is. The music varies by show. You can also watch my original Facebook Live broadcast here.
View from the Burj Khalifa from the boat:
And if you want to crane your neck to see the Burj all lit up and sparking at night:
For dinner on Tuesday we had delicious honey mustard chicken and tater tots with a rice and corn medley:
Awesome flanken in a merlot reduction with mashed yukon potatoes and roasted beets:
Topped off with delectable and spicy sriracha chicken wings with chicken fried rice:
The Fairmont also gave us a fruit plate with some delicious kiwi and passion fruit:
View from the Fairmont balcony at night:
On Wednesday morning we drove to the airport to fly from Dubai to the Maldives. Dubai has a separate terminal for business and first class passengers.
Here’s a free amenity you will never see in the US:
You won’t mistake stunning Dubai airport for 3rd world LaGuardia anytime soon…
Emirates only allows first class lounge access to passengers with a departing flight in first class. As I had arrived in first class but was departing in business class I was relegated to the business lounge.
Except Emirates doesn’t do “lounges” in Dubai.
Coach passengers have their own terminal on the bottom floor. Business class passengers have the 2nd floor as an dedicated terminal with boarding gates. And first class passengers have the 3rd floor as their dedicated terminal with boarding gates.
Just a few newspapers to choose from:
Looking down at the coach level from the business class level:
Emirates business class lounge:
The kids room in the business class lounge looked awesome!
Emirates business class lounge:
Boarding gate from the Emirates business class lounge:
The weather didn’t cooperate for us in Dubai, but I did enjoy myself in the city. I’m not going to discuss the human rights aspects or politics and clearly you need to be careful not to get in trouble with the law. But as an Orthodox Jew I felt more comfortable in Dubai than I did in many parts of Europe.
Even with the $177 camera speeding ticket, I don’t regret renting a car, parking was plentiful and free everywhere in the UAE besides for the Gold Souk and the driving was very easy. Just be sure that you don’t exceed 20kph over the speed limit if you decide to drive.
Finally it was time to board the Emirates 777 for the 4 hour flight from Dubai to the paradise of the Maldives. Emirates’ only planes are 777s and A380s, which is pretty mind-boggling if you think about it.
My main concern was would the flight take off on time? Even a short delay would mean having to overnight in some dive in Male instead of in an overwater S. Regis Villa as the seaplanes to the island resorts don’t operate in the evening. Our flight was scheduled to arrive in Male at 2:55PM. The hotel informed me that if we arrived after 3:30PM we would have to overnight in Male.
To be continued…