AED 3.7 = $1
I was determined to make the best out of my 12-hour (give or take) layover and booked a couple of things in advance. First, a tour on Groupon which turned out to be almost the opposite of what it promised. And second, a ticket to the Bourge Khalifa observation desk, which proved to be everything it promised and then some.
We landed at DXB around 7AM. Armed with a Fast Track immigration coupon, I tried to scan it in the machine, but the machine sent me to a human. Didn’t matter anyway, the lines were empty.
I had a carry-on with me, so went to the Left Luggage and dropped it there. It’s located opposite the Gate 1. AED 20 to get rid of the bag, which was totally worth it.
I’m a fan of using public transportation whenever it works in terms of savings-to-time ratio. In case of Dubai, I was supposed to be picked up on World Trade Road (jumping ahead, they didn’t arrive until 10:30). I had plenty of time, and the Metro ride was pleasant and not too long, maybe about 20 minutes.
Dubai City Tour
I booked the tour on Groupon Dubai, having presumed quite foolishly that it was a semi-private tour. Why? Because it said this:
Choose from Three Options
AED 99 for a city tour in a car for one (56% off)
AED 195 for a city tour in a car for two (57% off)
AED 389 for a city tour in a car for four (57% off)
Car, you see! Little did I know that a car means either an extra large van or a small bus in Emirates English. This, however, was not the only misrepresentation.
I got to McDonalds, next to Spinneys where they were supposed to pick me up between 9:30 and 10:00 and found quite a few people waiting for different tours. That spot seems to be a starting point for several tour operators. After a few phone conversations, the operator finally told me that the bus would arrive in 2 minutes. Ten minutes later I indeed saw a bus, confirmed it was a City Tour bus, gave my voucher to the driver, and took my seat. What could possibly go wrong there, right? Well, you probably know where I’m going with this. I got on a wrong bus.
When my original tour driver didn’t find me at the meeting place, their tour operator called me, but the connection was terrible, and I couldn’t make out what they wanted. Then he called the driver of the bus I was on. After a lot of back and forth they dropped me in front of the Dubai Museum, where I was reunited with my original bus. This museum was the only bright spot of the tour, since I wouldn’t have probably visited had it not been for the fact I was already there. It’s a really great museum located in the 18-th century fort, housing elaborate exhibitions with beautiful and masterfully presented scenes of local life during the centuries. The AED 5 cost is a ridiculous price; go for it when you’re in town.
Unfortunately, that was about the only good thing I can say about the tour. They promised to “pick up any where in Dubai” — refused. Asked them for directions — refused. Picking me up over an hour late was just the beginning — the tour was so rushed, it was laughable. 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there. At Burj Al Arab, they wouldn’t let us go inside, claiming it wasn’t allowed! Rushing us around didn’t make them forget a mandatory shopping stop at an overpriced craft store disguised as an art center. Had them drop me at the Dubai Mall early to cut my losses, enough was enough!
I would’ve been better off hiring a cab. Or getting on the Hop On Hop Off Bus. Or booking something like this. Screw bus tours!
Dubai Mall is amazing, but everybody knows that already. I was debating taking a glass bottom boat tour of the aquarium, but with a prepaid ticket to Burj Khalifa I found myself a little pressed for time. There is nothing new to say about this place except that everything is shiny and costs an arm and a leg. And yes, the skating rink and the aquarium are impressive indeed. I didn’t get a single decent shot of the aquarium, so had to borrow from others.
My impression of Burj Khalifa is a bit unorthodox. It is incredible, yes, but standing at 2717 ft, it does feel and even looks like a middle finger to the world. Just think about it this way. Every newly built world’s tallest structure had been just a little bit taller than its predecessor, but not Burj Khalifa. Towering over the closest contender Shanghai Tower by the whopping 650 feet, it’s almost as if Dubai tells the world:
cheap budget-oriented fella, I bought the last cheap ticket for the 4:30 visit to the Observation Deck, and regretted it very quickly. I wanted to catch the daylight views and the sunset, and I did, but it took me one and a half hours. It’s too long, and it’s tiring; there are no chairs; there is no seating area so you’re bound to walk around endlessly or sit on the floor. Pay premium and get there about 45 minutes before the sunset. Better yet, buy AT THE TOP SKY ticket that includes a personalized tour, access to the higher level, sitting areas, snacks and refreshments. Yes, the prices are steep, but what the hell—you don’t go to Dubai every day, do you?
And yes, the views were magnificent!
Took Metro back to the airport, but didn’t realize what a long walk it was from the mall to the station. About 25 minutes, I kid you not! And the train was door to door full—stark contrast with a pleasant ride I took into the city in the morning.
To Be Continued: Emirates First Dubai-Bangkok