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Abu Dhabi UAE

How to Spend A Weekend in Abu Dhabi

While visiting the UAE, my cousin and I took the opportunity to spend a weekend in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven kingdoms that comprise the United Arab Emirates. The capital city (of the same name) is the seat of the UAE’s federal government and home to the country’s ruling family – the Al Nahyans. While its glamourous neighbour Dubai, specializes in tourism and luxury retail, Abu Dhabi’s mainstay continues to be oil and petroleum exports. The Emirate however, has grown quite popular in recent years as a tourism destination as well as a filming location for both Hollywood and Bollywood blockbuster movies!  Here’s how to spend a weekend in Abu Dhabi!

Where To Stay

From our Dubai hotel, we took a taxi to the Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al -Beri, Abu Dhabi for a 2-night stay.

About 1.5 hours later we arrived at our destination. Did I mention that I love Arabic architecture? I chose the Shangri-La for precisely that reason. I felt like we entered an Arabian palace. We were greeted in traditional fashion with strong coffee and dates and proceeded to check in. I was surprised and pleased to see the welcome message on our room’s flat-screen!

The late afternoon and evening were spent enjoying the hotel. We sunbathed, swam in the pool and took in the view of the spectacular Grand Mosque in the distance. For dinner, we chose to eat at the hotel’s Vietnamese restaurant Hoi An. I highly recommend the duck and fish steamed in a banana leaf!

Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

A trip to Abu Dhabi is incomplete without a visit to the Grand Mosque, the largest in the UAE and a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. It was constructed between 1996-2007, its design a brilliant fusion of Islamic styles brought together to create this modern wonder of the world. The Grand Mosque was the vision of the UAE’s former president, HRH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan whose final resting place lies beside the grounds. The complex covers an area of over 22,000 m2 and boasts 82 domes of varying sizes, accommodating 41,000 worshippers. White Greek and Italian marble provide a stunning finish to the structure.

My cousin and I dressed in traditional black abayas (robe-like dresses) and shaylas (headscarves worn in the Gulf region) that we bought in Dubai and caught the hotel’s complimentary shuttle at 8.30 am to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The interior design of the mosque is equally impressive with the 99 names/ attributes of God (Allah) written in three types of Arabic calligraphy, carved floral inlays and a 5,625 sq.m  hand-made Persian carpet in the main prayer hall. Seven massive Swarovski crystal chandeliers complete the interior.

Inscriptions of God’s name (Allah)

Floral inlays on the walls

My cousin Shena on the largest Persian carpet in the world!

One of the Swarovski crystal chandeliers!

Dressed in my abaya and shayla to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque

TIP: All visitors to the Grand Mosque are required to dress modestly, i.e. no bare arms and legs, with ladies being required to cover their hair. The mosque provides clothing for visitors as a gesture of goodwill. Free guided tours available but you can also explore at your leisure.

For more information please click here: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center

Take a Desert and Dinner Safari

We arrived back at the Shangri-La after our visit to the Grand Mosque and managed to snag the last 2 spots on that afternoon’s desert safari. We were picked up by our driver in a 4×4, 15 minutes later, and set off for the desert. Our first stop was at a camel farm where we had an up close interaction with the “ships of the desert” and met up with a small crowd of fellow travelers.

Tip – If you decide to participate in a desert safari on your UAE trip, I recommend that you do it here instead of Dubai as the landscape is more untouched, with no extreme amount of tourist traffic.

Hello there !

Next up was dune bashing! Our driver was a young Pakistani with superb driving skills who took us on a high-speed roller coaster ride to the top of the high dunes, then slid us down, always in full control of the 4×4 while we screamed ourselves silly in the back seat during the 45-minute experience. The exhilaration of dune bashing was followed by a short rest to admire the beauty of the desert landscape before we made our way to the Arabian “Village”.

Destination Tidbit – The impressive sand dunes of Abu Dhabi were used as the first shooting location of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and were chosen precisely for their incomparable beauty!

The desert is beautiful!

The last stop on the safari was the Arabian “Village”, where I headed to a nearby table and ate some salt to ward off some nausea brought on from the dune bashing and partook of coffee and dates. At the Village, we stopped at the various tents to rest, try on traditional Arab clothing, get henna painted on our hands and take camel rides. As the evening grew dark, a sumptuous feast of Arabic/Indian cuisine was served followed by belly dancing performances and shisha smoking around a fire. Stargazing concluded our safari as all the lights in the “Village” were switched off, giving us an unparalleled view of the desert night sky, free from light pollution.

Tip: Walk with a warm jacket as temperatures plummet in the desert at night!

FERRARI WORLD!

I got a need… a need…for SPEED!

Ferrari World is a must for racing fans, automobile lovers and families alike. From the Shangri-La Hotel , the shuttle took guests to Yas Island, home of Ferrari World about 20 minutes away. After getting your tickets the thrills begin!

Oh yeah !!!

Got my ticket!

As you enter, be sure to visit the Galleria Ferrari to get up close and personal (no touching!) with Ferrari’s gorgeous collection of classic and contemporary automobiles. You will hear the roar of engines as you pass by each model and learn about:

  • The company’s car making history
  • Its participation in the Formula 1 circuit since the competition’s inception
  • Facts about each car as you go along from one model to the other

After visiting the Galleria, make your way to the fastest roller coaster in the world…the Formula Rossa! Get yourself strapped in, put on your goggles and feel your heart hammer before you get shot like an arrow at 240km/hour in 4.9 seconds! The roller coaster scales heights of 52 metres and you will feel the adrenaline rush of 4.8Gs. I crossed the finish line feeling like a champion and… because it was so nice, I did it twice!

For a leisurely change of pace after all the thrill rides, take some moments to fully appreciate where you are by looking up and recognizing the Legends of Ferrari whose achievements on the F1 circuit made Ferrari great!

Afterward, move over to the nearby Bell’Italia where you can get into a scaled down Ferrari 250 California and explore Italy in miniature! The tour takes you around scenic “Portofino”, “Amalfi Coast”, “Monza Racetrack”, the “Colosseum di Roma”, “Venezia”, and  “Maranello”.

On the “Viaggio in Italia”- a simulated ride that utilizes hydraulic technology- you will be taken on a joyride through Italy’s cities, villages and mountains while a member of Ferrari’s team provides narration about the company throughout.

Before leaving, be sure to browse the Ferrari Store and pick up a souvenir item to remember your exciting and action-packed day! My dad loved his red Ferrari World tee. As you can see, he’s worn it quite a bit!

 

 

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Abu Dhabi Dubai UAE

UAE Trip Planning Tips

A trip to the United Arab Emirates is exciting for many reasons; a first-time visit to the Middle East, a luxury shopping vacation, getaway from the cold etc. Dubai has earned the reputation as a top international tourist destination, thus it is more liberal than the other Emirates and its neighbour Saudi Arabia.  Having said that, please bear in mind that it is still a conservative Islamic country in some respects! In order to have an enjoyable time it’s advisable to pre-plan and review the country’s laws. Please read below for UAE trip planning tips!

Find out if a Visa is Required to visit the UAE

This should be the first question in your mind ! Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) nationals must have a visa prior to entry. Citizens of the USA , Canada, UK and many European countries can obtain one on arrival.

Note: Keep checking the UAE’s immigration policies regularly for updates as information can change! The following link can be helpful, please click here.

For citizens of Third World countries:

If there is no UAE embassy or consulate in your country, a tourist visa can be obtained online from Emirates Airlines. You MUST fly with them since they are processing the visa ! Book your flight and use the Manage a Booking tool to follow the procedure. I received mine via email in less than a week. 

 

Plan When you Want to Go

I recommend visiting during October to April when temperatures range from 24 -33 degrees Celsius. Dubai comes alive at this time and one can enjoy activities such as concerts, festivals, exhibitions and sporting events. Experience the UAE National Day celebrations, Taste of Dubai, Dubai Shopping Festival , Rugby Sevens or spend the day lounging on Jumeirah Beach!

Dubai has something for everyone! For a calendar of events please click here.

 

How to Get to the UAE

Flights are available from major North American, British , European & Indian cities on Emirates Airlines and other top carriers. T&T nationals have the option of boarding via London’s Gatwick and Heathrow Airports as well as New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

 

Plan Where you Want to Stay

Dubai, as I mentioned earlier, has emerged as a top tourist destination in recent years. Hotel prices are therefore competitive with a plethora of accommodation options from which to choose, depending on the district and type of hotel you’re after. Choose from ultra-luxe accommodation, desert resorts, business hotels offering affordable luxury and hip youth hotels. Air BnB has become a popular way to save on hotel costs in Dubai ! A luxurious and well-appointed apartment, suite or bungalow can be yours for well under USD $100 per day, minutes away from all the action !

 

Plan Your Wardrobe

Personally, I encountered no problems with my everyday attire while visiting Dubai, and found the dress code to be somewhat in contradiction to what one usually reads in travel guides. However, I recommend dressing appropriately in public places to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to oneself  i.e. Ladies – keep the shoulders and chest area covered, no hot shorts and outfits that reveal too much skin. Gents- keep the torso covered. You can relax these restrictions in the hotel pool and beach areas but make sure to cover yourself when leaving the water’s edge to enter a restaurant/bar.

It is not uncommon to see Western women wearing mini dresses to dinner or a nightclub! So… what to pack for your trip ? Some basics include:

  • A long pair of jeans
  • Tee shirts – baby tees, long or 3/4 sleeved
  • Blouses – not too sheer
  • A long cardigan for the shoulders and chest
  • Kaftan for the hotel swimming pool and beach
  • Swimsuit
  • Comfortable walking shoes and sandals for sightseeing
  • Heels for a night out
  • Cocktail dress for a nightclub or dinner
  • Pashmina to cover your hair (if entering a mosque) and the shoulders on the way to nightclub or dinner
  • Heavy sweatshirt for evening into night desert tours. Remember, temperatures plummet to low double-digit figures in that environment!

 

Learn some Helpful Arabic Phrases !

Because of large numbers of foreign nationals in Dubai, communication is easy as English is widely spoken. However, it wouldn’t hurt to learn some Arabic words and phrases to immerse yourself in this Middle Eastern city! Some popular ones include:

Marhaba                                         Hello

As- salam ‘alaykum                     Hello or Peace be upon you

Wa ‘alaykum as-salam               And peace be upon you too

Shukran                                          Thank you

Ana asif (m) Ana asifa(f)            I’m sorry

Sabah al-Khair                             Good morning

Masa al-Khair                              Good afternoon

Layla Saeeda                                Good night

Ma’a salamah                               Goodbye

 

Get some UAE Currency

dirhams

Go to a currency exchange in the airport and convert some US dollars or British pounds sterling to UAE dirhams. You’ll need local currency to pay your taxi drivers and make small purchases in the markets. When in the UAE, it is better to use the currency exchanges rather than banks to get more for your money. Alternatively, use your credit card or withdraw cash from any ATM using an international debit card.

At the time of this post:

1 USD = 3.67 AED

1 GBP = 4.76 AED

To help you keep track of your spending, download the XE currency app available on the iOS , Android, and Windows platforms.

 

Be Aware of  Do’s and Don’ts

 

Don’t 

  • DON’T BREAK THE LAW! If you’re not from a first world country your chances of leaving jail are especially dismal
  • Be intoxicated and disorderly in public places
  • Pack anti-Islamic and pornographic materials
  • Drive under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. You WILL be jailed
  • Traffik narcotics into the country. You can face the death penalty !!!
  • Engage in excessive PDAs in public
  • Accept drinks from strangers or even people you think you know well enough. You can be drugged and robbed/assaulted

Do

  • Research the laws and cultural norms of the country and be respectful of them
  • Be aware of Customs laws. Illegal drugs and even many OTC medications are not allowed into the country.
  • Avoid visiting during the holy month of Ramadan if you can help it. No eating or drinking is allowed in public places from dawn till dusk. This also applies to foreigners
  • Be aware of your surroundings! Leave any place/company that makes you feel uncomfortable. Taxis and Ubers are always available to take you back to your hotel
  • Alert a guard or policeman if you’re being followed or harassed
  • Ask permission before taking photos of locals in their traditional garb, especially females. Not doing so is considered rude!
  • Enjoy yourself !

 

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