Spotlight on: Dubai

Top Reasons to Visit Dubai Pin
Pin it for Later!

Dubai is a city of contrasts. Between the old and new, between the glitzy and the humble, and the modern skyscrapers and the expansive desert. Whether you prefer a fast-moving pace or a slow quiet walk, you can find a little bit of everything in Dubai. Originally a trading port, Dubai’s culture is imbued with a deep sense of acceptance, hospitality, and growth. Don’t let the heat deter you. Dubai is a city that is carefully crafted for visitors. With plenty of indoor, sheltered, and water activities, Dubai’s bright sunny skies turn into a paradise. And, with winter temperatures in the 80s, you’ll be able to enjoy everything the city has to offer. Here is our little introductory guide to Dubai.


Getting Around

Dubai is a long, spread-out city on the gulf coast. Here you won’t find a traditional city center as much as a conglomeration of different neighborhoods to explore. Where you stay and spend most of your time will depend on what kind of trip you want to have, but the city accommodates getting from one end to the other.

It’s easy to walk within neighborhoods but it’s not so walkable between them. However, they have a fantastic metro system with wifi and comfortable seats. The metro is mostly above ground so you’ll pass by many of the iconic landmarks and it’s a great way to sightsee as you travel from place to place.

The city also boasts a decent bus line and an extensive network of taxis which you can hail or order through apps. 

So what kind of things can you do in Dubai?

[Photo Credit:Fredrik Ohlander via Unsplash]

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai is an impressive jungle of glistening modern skyscrapers, promenades, luxury shopping, and pop-up markets. The modern construction is incredibly intentional, with a pedestrian-friendly design. While you walk down the boardwalk, with the fountain on one side, you’ll pass tempting restaurants and inviting stores, sprinkled with pockets of greenery and sculpture. Downtown Dubai is home to a unique concentration of world-record breakers — here you will find the largest observation wheel, the tallest fountain, and the tallest building.

Top Sites

The Burj Khalifa – At 160 stories tall, the world’s tallest building is an incredible feat of engineering. Visitors can ride the elevator to the 124th floor for breathtaking views. Or, head to the 148th floor to marvel at the views from the world’s highest observation deck. Because it sells out quickly, purchase your tickets in advance.

Ain Dubai – The world’s largest observation wheel allows you to enjoy sweeping views from over 250 meters in the air. It’s a perfect way to get a constantly shifting, unique perspective of the city.

Dubai Fountain with multiple, incredible shows every day, the Dubai fountain even outshines Vegas. Reaching unprecedented heights there are now viewing platforms allowing you to get even closer to the action.

Old Dubai

Just as Downtown Dubai is full of modern wonders, Old Dubai is bursting with key heritage sites. A collection of neighborhoods winds its way along Dubai creek, with low gypsum and coral buildings. They mark the site where the city was originally settled. And today they are a historic hub of typical Emirati culture. Wander the narrow winding streets, soaking in the fragrant spice souk and traditional cuisine. Here you can discover the traditional wind towers, art galleries, markets, and museums. You can dine in cafes tucked into scenic courtyards and in the evening, unwind with a sunset ride on an abra.

Top Sites

Al Fahidi Fort – built in 1787 for defense purposes, it now houses the Dubai Museum. Journey through the history of Dubai from its beginnings as a trade port to the glittering hub it is today. Learn about Emirati culture and the customs of the region.

XVA Art Gallery Hotel& Café an internationally acclaimed art gallery and restaurant. Specializing in contemporary works from established and emerging artists from the Arab world.

 Abra– a traditional wooden boat. Boats carry about 20 people. Gently float along Dubai Creek with the city as your backdrop. The trip is relatively quick and is particularly stunning at sunset.

[Photo Credit: Nikhita Singhal via Unsplash]

Luxury Shopping

Shopping in Dubai is its own adventure. Malls here are more than just a collection of shops. They have gaming zones, ski slopes, ice rinks, aquariums, cinemas, and VR experiences. You can spend an entire day exploring a wide range of exclusive shops and high-end brands. The Dubai Mall in downtown features over 1200 retail stores and hundreds of restaurants. The slightly smaller Mall of The Emirates promises a “shopping-resort” experience. This mall features fashion shows, family events, and the latest haute couture on display. Anyone who enjoys shopping will have an incredible time in Dubai.

Visit in January to enjoy the Shopping Festival and get in on all the best deals.

Souk Shopping

Souks or Bazaars are open marketplaces with multiple small stalls and shops. Bursting with sights, smells, and activity, you can find these traditional markets in the historic Bur Dubai neighborhood. Souks allow you to indulge all of your senses in a shopping experience. Run your hand over soft silk and delicately embroidered fabrics in the Textile Souk. Soak in the glittering lights and irresistible reflections as you browse the jewelry and watches in the Gold Souk. Or follow your nose to the aromatic Spice and Perfume Souks. Some souks hold specific wares, and some feature a little bit of everything. But, in all the markets, you’ll find friendly vendors waiting to haggle with you. In addition to a local bargain shopping experience, you can enjoy an expansive variety of street food and traditional restaurants.

[Photo Credit: Fadi al Shami via Unsplash]

Beach

Sitting on the gulf coast, Dubai has gone from a humble trading port to a vibrant beach destination. Adding to their already impressive soft sand beaches, they’ve created a series of man-made archipelagos. So, whether you prefer the luxurious Palm Islands full of underwater villas, overwater bungalows, and high-end beach resorts, or something with more of a chill So-Cal vibe, you can find it here. Stroll past bright-pink bougainvillea villas, trendy cafes, and chic beachfront shopping in the Jumeirah neighborhood. Make a beeline for Kite or Sunset beach to try your hand at a myriad of watersports. Or, spend the day with your family at the waterpark!

Top Sites

Palm Jumeirah – Soak up the sun as you lounge in luxury at the exclusive beach clubs. Watch the sea life swim past your villa. Or take in the stunning views from the world’s highest infinity pool. This palm-shaped archipelago spares no expense.

Palm Jebel Ali – This not-quite-completed archipelago is for adventurists. Feel the rush of adrenaline as you embark on the shooting range or motocross track. Then, cool down in the bright blue waters by kite-surfing or on a jet ski.

Deep-Dive Pool Enter another world, an underwater fantasy, in the world’s deepest diving pool. Descending 60.02 meters this pool offers divers a unique sunken city to explore. You can explore up to 12 meters down without any certification.

Desert

Contrasting the blue coastal waters are the brilliantly orange-red desert sands. The Dubai desert is both quintessential and full of surprises. Within the Dubai Conservation Reserve, you can step into ancient traditions with a camel ride and an Arabian feast in a Bedouin tent. Get your adrenaline pumping with quad bikes and sandboarding. Or relish the romance of luxury glamping under the stars and hot air balloon rides at sunrise.

Top Sites

Glamping Resorts – There are a few luxury glamping resorts in the Dubai desert. Featuring beautiful tents, private pools, and access to the best activities.

Safari– Your guide maneuvers over the dunes in a four-wheel drive Jeep while you keep a watchful eye on the sands. You’ll see the striking Oryx with their long, straight horns, herds of graceful gazelle, and many rare bird species.

Camel Racing– Dubai’s favorite sport and a unique experience. From the grandstand, you can cheer on your favorite as sixty camels rush down the track. Arrive before the race and take the opportunity to pet the camels and take photos.

Tips & Customs

Dubai is a very safe city to visit even as a solo traveler. As with any city or country, Dubai does have its own customs, traditions, and social rules. And, it is important to be respectful. Try to follow some of the unspoken rules to avoid social faux pas.

– Modesty is important. Try to wear clothing that doesn’t show too much skin, tattoos, or other body mods. Women should wear a headscarf when visiting a mosque. And tone down the PDA in public locations.

– Don’t take photos of the locals without asking their permission. Unsolicited pictures posted online can result in major fines.

– Because they take public safety seriously, public drunkenness isn’t allowed. It’s best not to ‘bar hop’ but rather stay in one licensed establishment as you party with the locals till 3 am.

– Electronic cigarettes and vapes will be confiscated at the airport.

– Remember to drink lots and lots of water. Even in winter, the temperatures are high. Therefore, it’s easy to underestimate what you need to stay hydrated.

– The weekend is Friday & Saturday while the work week begins on Sunday. It’s good to keep in mind when you’re planning popular weekend activities.

– The Dubai airport is huge. Therefore, it takes quite a bit of time to get from one side to the other, which is why we never plan any activities immediately after arriving.

Are you ready to explore the many sides of Dubai? Let us know! We’d love to help you plan the perfect itinerary.

12 Little Travel Splurges That Are Totally Worth It

12 Little Luxury Travel Splurges that are totally worth it pin
Pin it for Later!

Given the chance, we’d all love to travel in luxury, with the most comfortable, memorable, and unique experiences possible. But many of us struggle to strike the balance between luxury travel and reasonable spending. We don’t all have a never-ending budget to indulge in every luxury available. So how do you decide which luxury travel splurges are worth it? Consider if it will save you time, make you more comfortable, or improve your experience. Here’s our list of top travel splurges that we think are worth every penny:

Splurges to Increase Your Comfort

1. Airport lounges– If you have a long layover, buy a day pass for the airport lounge. Enjoy some comfy chairs, free food, and drinks, and wait in a relaxed style. Alternatively, for an even lengthier layover, book an airport hotel to grab a couple of hours of sleep and a shower. If you happen to be spending one of your valuable vacation days in the airport, it’s worth treating it like part of the fun. Plus, indulging in some pampering at the airport will start your trip with a sense of relaxation and comfort.

2. Business Class – For those long flights, try upgrading to Business Class. More leg-room and seat space will ensure you catch some sleep and land in your new destination with a spring in your step. Plus, you’ll enjoy upgraded meals, drinks, and amenities while you’re on board.

Pro-Tip: If you’d rather book just one leg in Business Class, make it the overnight flight so you can sleep comfortably. ( Usually the one to Europe or home from Hawaii)

a beautiful balcony overlooking the sea
Photo Credit: Andrea & Eric via Shared Adventures – read about their epic adventure to Greece & London here!
king corner hotel room in Block Island Rhode Island set in blue tones with two windows
Photo Credit: Annie via Shared Adventures – read about here mini-adventure to Block Island, RI here!

3. A Room with a view- If you’re staying more than a few days in one location, your hotel room becomes a big part of your vacation! On a cruise ship with a small cabin, at a beautiful beach resort, or in the heart of the city, a stunning view — or maybe even a private balcony or terrace — is worth the splurge. After a long day of exploring, you’ll return each night to a lovely space where you can enjoy a glass of wine and toast to your adventure.

Pro-Tip: If the bigger room is just a bit too much for the entire trip, split your stay between two hotels. Start in the more budget hotel, then end your trip in luxury with a more expensive suite. 

4. Book the hotel a day early – Is your plane landing in the wee hours of the morning? Most hotels have late-afternoon check-in times, and it’s no fun to have to kill the day waiting to get into a room. However, if you want to go straight to your hotel room for a shower, a soft pillow, and a fresh change of clothes, book your hotel starting the night prior so you can get right in. No need to wait around!

Splurges to Save You Time

Time is your most valuable commodity on vacation! Anything that lets you spend more time enjoying your adventure, experiencing the destination, or relaxing on the beach is worth the extra expense.

5. TSA precheck – Not stressing about waiting in line at the airport can save you so much time and energy. You won’t need to worry if you’ll make it to the plane in time. Or spend the first part of your adventure waiting in a long line. For smooth, easy, and fast comfort, consider one of the many ways to fast-track airport security.

6. Airport to Hotel Transfer – When you finally arrive at your destination, you’re often a bit tired, disoriented, and ready for a shower. Navigating public transportation in this state is no way to start your journey, certainly. Splurging on a private transfer is well worth it. Walk into the Arrivals Hall, look for the driver holding a sign with your name on it, and off you go. Confident secure, and at ease.

Photo Credit: Maxime Steckle via Unsplash
Photo Credit: Mia & Matt via Shared Adventures – read about their Italian honeymoon with a fabulous private tour guide here!

7. Skip-the-line passes – What if you are finally in Paris for your big Parisian adventure and so excited to see it all, but you only have a few days? Spending hours outside the Louvre, just waiting to get inside is not ideal, for instance. Getting a skip-the-line pass for major sites maximizes your efficiency. And leaves you more time to explore the rest of the city!

8. Private Driver –Splurging on a private driver for the day will save you time and enhance your experience. There’s no better intro to a destination than having a knowledgeable local take you to all the best places. Especially if you’re visiting several towns close together, like the Amalfi Coast. Sure, you could probably navigate the multiple trains and busses, but having someone to take you to each spot is well worth the cost.

Travel Splurges to Enhance Your Experience

9. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences – Unique experiences that you can’t have anywhere else are expensive for a reason. You’re not going to have another chance to do them. So take that helicopter ride over Hawaii or dine inside a volcano in Iceland. It will be a memory that you keep forever, the highlight of your trip, what you always tell people about, and what you’ll never regret doing.

10. Professional photos – This is one of those great travel splurges if you are traveling with a group or on your honeymoon! Having a professional follow you around for an hour or an afternoon will give you travel photos like you never knew you could have. Almost certainly, they’ll end up being your favorite vacation photos. And if you’re in a group, it means having everyone in the pictures. Instead of always missing one person or having a poorly taken every-one-is-blinking photo by passing strangers, consider this splurge.

Photo Credit: Matteo Innocenti Photography via Shared Adventures – read about Ann’s luxury trip to Tuscany, Italy here!
hawaii jack harter doorless helicopter ride
Photo Credit: Molly & Matt via Shared Adventures – read about their Hawaiian honeymoon here!

11. Small group tours – The best thing about using a tour guide is getting context for your surroundings. Even if you have a guidebook, a knowledgeable local guide offers something more. There is often a history, some little details, or folk-lore stories that only a local guide can tell you. But it can be hard to hear that story amid a big tour group. And, feeling like cattle as you are shepherded from one spot to another adds more negatives than positives to the adventure. Having a small or private group not only saves time (no waiting for stragglers), but it also allows you to ask questions and get individual attention. It gives you the sense of a friend showing you their hometown.

12. Amazing meals– Food is an important and unique part of every culture. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “foodie”, enjoying a good meal will make you smile. Learn about the culture through the food and bring home a taste memory to talk about for years.

Pro Tip: If you are in love with a specific high-end restaurant, but not the price tag, make a reservation for lunch instead of dinner


Are you ready to add a touch of luxury to your next adventure? Let us know! We’re always excited to help you decide which extra details and travel splurges will lift your adventure to the next level!

A Fabulous Fairmont 40th

Megan is one of my best clients (not to mention my sister) and this was no ordinary vacation. You only get to celebrate your 40th birthday once….and I knew she wanted to do it in style. It sounds like the Fairmont Mayakoba in the Riviera Maya was the perfect choice! Better start thinking now about her 45th….

Thanks for your help planning my quick 40th birthday escape! I was really torn on having a birthday party ― with all the planning that would involve ― or simply escaping it all and relaxing with Jim. Given how insane my summer started out (work, house renovation…) the escape won out and boy am I ever glad it did!

Resort and Room

I’ve long heard about the Mayakoba resorts and was eager to try one. For this occasion, I wanted something extra special so, at your suggestion, we booked a beachfront casita at the Fairmont Mayakoba which was simply amazing. These casitas come with a butler who was extremely helpful and stayed in touch by SMS all weekend. He planned our reservations and spa trips, brought our towels and set up our pool and deck daily and, perhaps most helpful, arranged our golf-cart transportation to/from our casita whenever we wanted (vs. having to wait at the stops ― not that waits were that long). The resort was supposedly at 90+% capacity but it never felt that crowded. The only time you could see much crowding was around the pool ― but we had our own pool so it didn’t matter to us 🙂

a beach front casita with private plunge pool and the view of the beach in Cancun

Our casita had one huge bedroom, 2 bathrooms, a private pool and was set directly on the beach. We had our own beach access and were even able to get beach waiter service right to our pool/deck.

Food

I never worry that you’ll steer us wrong, given how long we’ve worked with you and how well you know our travel expectations. For this trip I wanted to do something different than the Mexican resorts we’ve done before ― but an all-inclusive really helps Jim relax and enjoy more. Most places that appealed to me didn’t have an all inclusive option. The Fairmont Mayakoba with their ‘Appetite for Luxury’ optional add-on was the perfect solution!

The food was very good and the way the plan works never makes you feel like you’re at an all inclusive. No bracelet to wear or ID card to show and very few restrictions (a handful of menu items, liquor over $18, room service, bottles of wine and craft beer).  We ate everything from fresh guac and chips at the lobby bar to amazing entrees at their signature asian fusion restaurant El Puerto and everything was great.

One thing to note: the Fairmont is very family friendly, but we didn’t feel it detracted from our romantic vacation. Instead, we actually talked a lot about coming back with Jane!  Each restaurant and each meal had a small kids buffet already set-up (no waiting for hungry kiddos!)

Spa

If you like like a strong deep tissue massage, the spa at Fairmont was outstanding, ask for “Cielo”

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)