A lucky member of the Silver Swan Team recently had the opportunity to visit Dubai for a short business trip, so he’s put together some top tips on how to get the most from your visit. Whether it’s for business or leisure, we hope this Q&A gives you a good idea of what to expect, some great travel tips for Dubai and an idea of how to plan your trip, whatever you plan on doing on your trip, just make sure you are safe and if you want to be extra secure while on your trip then consider getting this International Insurance before you travel.
“Airport arrival, the excitement building, I strut up to self-check in with bag in hand and frown as the self-service machines seem beyond me and I have to, embarrassingly, raise my hand for help. There are only so many times you can scan your passport and double check your booking information as the discerning look of a growing queue watches on.”
When you arrived in Dubai did you find it hard to get into town?
“Not at all and actually I’d recommend getting a taxi. It’s so hot here, for getting around Dubai, don’t bother walking anywhere. Local cabs are cheaper than Ubers and cost about £3 per 5-10 mins. The airport to the centre is around 30 mins, so should cost around £10.”
As you don’t speak Arabic, was communication hard?
“Dubai is a mix of nationalities with people from all over the world and English seems to be the most popular language, so it wasn’t hard at all.
Shortly after arrival I began to realise that despite the international local population knowing solid English, they have discovered the power of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and use them with such repetitive tenacity that tourists are but putty in their hands – there are only so many times you can ‘no’ a ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ a ‘no’ before you have to give in.
For this reason, I had four coffees during my breakfast buffet and allowed a team of 2 concierge staff to carry my one modestly sized bag to my room – both grinning for that all-important tip.”
How did you find the best things to do?
“TripAdvisor! It’s the best Dubai travel guide and everyone is big on it and every place you visit asks for a review. It seems to be the professional life blood of the hospitality and tourism industry in Dubai, without constant positive feedback and reviews staff can dull into obscurity, which in turn can mean becoming irrelevant/unemployed!
I spent so much time looking at my phone doing reviews for every member of staff I encountered (taxi/reception/concierge/wait staff) I was lucky to make it to my hotel room in one piece.
So even if you only have a day in Dubai, this makes things easier and means you’re spoiled for opinion when looking for somewhere or something to do because every previous visitor under the sun has been strong armed into leaving an over generous snippet.”
What’s the weather like?
“In winter it’s around 30 degrees Celsius during the day and 20 at night, so mostly comfortable despite the humidity. However, in the summer it can top 50 during the day and is still around 40 at night. Luckily, EVERYWHERE is air-conditioned!
I struggled for the entire trip to dress correctly for both the outside heat, and the inside cold. My change of outfits each day would give the Generation Game a run for its money, and I’m sure that the hotel dry cleaning staff are certainly earning their keep with me around.”
What’s the best time of year to go?
“The seasons are the same months as ours, so it’d be a great winter break. Summer is almost unbearable so, unless you’re used to that kind of heat, I’d avoid between May and October.
My days were spent in the very chilled hotel with our client and around 40 people we had flown in to interview with them. Most of my evenings are spent on the roof by the pool in the impossible-to-bear heat.
The view is stunning, you can hear the kaleidoscopic cacophony of the city below. Bars play the same cheap euro-trash playlist each night which is then interrupted by the sound of Mosques calling for prayer city-wide.
The contrast is quite remarkable; one minute you have Kyle Minogue ‘Do the Locomotion’ at full blast, deafening staff trying to take orders, and the next you suddenly feel compelled to hide your flamboyant martini out of respect of religious holler echoing around the buildings.”
“One evening I foolishly took a stroll further into the city centre where the Burj Khalifa is (that incredibly tall building you may have heard about). It only took me until I was halfway there to realise that the reason all the streets are totally empty is because no-one walks here in this kind of heat. Once I got there, weirdly no one else was sweating one iota – tourists and locals alike. I decided that I was definitely getting a taxi in future!
The tower is a serious tourist attraction that puts Buckingham palace to shame, the area is a sea of photo taking opportunities although the cameras always seem to fail to capture both their complaining audience and the whole tower, such is its magnitude.”
Can you drink alcohol in Dubai?
“Yes, but in certain places. It’s not legal to drink in the street, however it’s absolutely fine in bars and hotels.
The variety of nationalities here is like no other, and everyone has their role. Martin from Nairobi and I got to know each other very well – ‘Another cube of ice for your now overheating glass of wine sir?’. It was so hot that the cap on the bottle of red wine I ordered on the first night actually bowed in the heat. It was totally tasteless, and I would genuinely struggle to keep a glass of water down at that temperature.
Martin ended up placing it in a bucket of ice to get it to a palatable temperature, but then had to remove and re-submerge it every 10 minutes to keep it at that Merlot optimum of 15.56 degrees Celsius – basically keeping him from being able to serve anyone else. I wish I had a picture of the smile that spread across his face when I ordered white wine the following evening.”
“I visited during the summer when drinking rules are comparatively relaxed, I do know however that during Ramadan things tighten up a bit. Martin basically told me that very little changes in terms of what can and cannot be sold in licenced venues, he just said that they no longer display any alcohol behind the bar or on the menus etc, you kind of just order it blind (and in a hushed voices so as not to offend any Muslims at close proximity). This is as much out of respect as it is out of adhering to the law.
Is there a strict dress policy (on the street or otherwise)?
“Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing in place to enforce a particular way of dress. Tourists and locals alike can dress as they like.
One minute you can be in a suit and tie in your jumeirah beach front office, and the next you can sipping cafe frappes in a bikini on the back of a banana boat 100m away. People wear what they feel comfortable in, and aside from certain religiously focussed times of the year, your wardrobe can be as flamboyant or as demure as you like. Male or Female.”
What’s the local food like?
“Cuisine in Dubai is as cosmopolitan as its inhabitants, so you can pretty much find anything. It really depends what you consider to be local. There is plenty to satisfy the Middle Eastern/Gulf palette, but you’re much more likely to stumble upon a plethora of western cuisines that are now the modal option.
On my first night I ordered a spicy pizza; the two types of heat had me sweating so much my shirt became see-through and I dropped a waist size. The staff actually ran out of cooling towels for me to mop myself down with, and in their devotion ended up pointing a cooling fan directly at my face from behind the bar that made my oh so loved sweaty hair solidify horizontally backward so I looked like a felling axe from the side.”
If you’re not religious, do you feel out of place?
“That depends on how precious you are. If you’re the kind of person who feels out of place or intrusive when attending church on Christmas day along with all the others festive anomalies in the congregation, then you might feel borderline uncomfortable at times. To be honest though, for every religiously/culturally dressed person, there are at least culturally different/western people.
It does depend slightly on where you are and what you are doing of course. If, for example, you are suffering the unbearable summer heat sipping iced lattes along the Jumeirah Palm coastline, then religion is something you will more or less not encounter.
Don’t get too comfortable though, remember it might be Ramadan even prayer soon, and Islam in Dubai demands respect when it matters. You have to love the city-wide respect shown for Islam here, as people sheepishly hide their frowned upon vices during the 10 or so minute ‘Adhan’ and ‘Iqama’ every hour or so.
The Adhan is a sound you will hear city wide around 15 minutes before prayer and any premises playing music will generally pause it out of respect to Islam. The Iqama is played as prayer starts and is generally quieter as it is address to those already at the mosque.”
Did you enjoy your trip?
“I did! I came to Dubai without really knowing what to expect and was delighted with how much there was to take in, the longer I stayed the more accustomed I became to the daily trials and tribulations only a true tourist will face.
Like, on my final night sitting on the rooftop basically naked in the desert heat and gingerly nursing my way through a tomato and mozzarella salad. Eaten fast enough it can’t be served at the wrong temperature.
Typical that just as I adjust to the environment, I have to return home. I will definitely be coming back, and next time have a bit of experience under my jambiya and do slightly more research. I would recommend a trip here to all!”