Dubai is definitely on my top 10 list of all-time favorite vacations! This incredible city is known for its state-of-the art architecture, luxury shopping, and poppin’ nightlife. If that's not exciting enough, Dubai is also home to the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa. A 13-hour flight from Chicago on Emirates Airlines was a new record for me. But, it was worth every second!
Here are top 10 things you'll want to experience to make the most of your trip to Dubai:
1. Stay Sky-High at the JW Marriot Marquis Hotel
The JW Marriot Marquis Hotel is the second tallest hotel in the world—and according to Forbes, it’s one of the best hotels in Dubai. It’s located in the heart of the downtown district and is minutes away from several hot attractions. The rooms are luxurious, and the hotel has a collection of over 15 award-winning restaurants—my personal favorite being Prime68.
2. Eat Like Drake at Prime68
Okay—maybe not exactly like Drake, because I don’t know what he eats, but Prime68 Steakhouse is definitely premium! This award-winning steakhouse is located on the 68th floor of the JW Marriot Marquis hotel. As soon as you step out of the elevator, you are instantly hit with a sophisticated, elegant vibe. The lighting is dim, the ambiance is sleek and sexy, and the panoramic views of Dubai’s skyline are amazing! For those that like to dress up, this spot is right up your alley.
The service at Prime68 is impeccable, and the attention to detail is on point. I ordered a cocktail and the truffle gnocchi as an appetizer. Even now, I still can’t understand WHY it was so.damn.good!! But that wasn’t the best part. Right before the main course, I was presented with a briefcase containing a variety of quality steak knives for me to choose from. I mean, when was the last time someone presented you with a spread of knives to cut your meal in gourmet style?? *Alexa, play “Fancy” by Drake*
For the main course, I had Prime68’s filet mignon paired with a side of mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. Everything was well-prepared and delicious – ALL OF IT! A trip to this restaurant can get pricey, but I would absolutely return. #takeallmymonies
3. Shisha on the Beach at Shimmers
I enjoyed a light Greek dinner at Shimmers restaurant, located on the Madinat Jumeirah private beach; but honestly, I really came just to take in the beautiful scene. The menu is small, but it’s equipped with tons of great options. For me, the highlight was the Loukoumades (Greek donuts), which were great! The wait staff was amazing and very interactive, even offering to help me capture the perfect photo with the 5-star, glamourous Burj Al Arab in the background.
After dinner, my waiter helped me grab a section on the beach, a glass of champagne, and shisha (“hookah” in the United States). Even if you don’t like hookah, the atmosphere is worth the trip. Listening to the sound of the waves crash as you lounge on their comfy, beanbag-like chairs was perfect. At night, it was very peaceful and romantic, so this would be a perfect spot if your trip to Dubai also happens to be a baecation. *wink* Overall, Shimmers is a great place to visit in Dubai at night.
4. Turn Up at Saffron for Brunch
Saffron, Dubai’s largest buffet located in the Atlantis Dubai hotel, is known as a Friday hotspot for its party brunch. That’s great, because there are two things I absolutely love: a good party and a good brunch! They kicked off the party with complimentary champagne, while the buffet consisted of a wide variety of food and desserts from around the world. I channeled my inner Beyoncé, opting to enjoy my cocktail in a full-sized watermelon. *singing* I’ve been drinkin'...watermelon.
As soon as the go-go dancers showed up to hit the tables, it turned into a party-party. Pace yourselves, friends!
5. Experience Arabian Nights on a Desert Safari
As you can imagine, there are several different companies that offer desert safaris in Dubai. I was very happy with the Premium Red Dunes & Camel Safari with BBQ at Al Khayma Camp experience by OceanAir™. This 7-hour excursion included a convenient pick up and drop off at my hotel, and clear communication with the guide via WhatsApp. Everything was very organized and prompt.
The adventure kicked off with dune bashing* in the red dunes of Dubai’s Al Lahbab desert. As the journey continued, there was a camel ride, sandboarding, henna tattoos, a falcon interaction, belly dancing, and a Tanoura show, as well as a buffet.
*Disclaimer: I don’t get motion sick ya'll. I’ve inhaled cheese fries right before boarding the Raging Bull at Six Flags, and I’ve been on many Gravitrons at local carnivals back in the day. However, NOTHING could have prepared me for what I experienced with dune bashing—not even the warnings on the internet.I foolishly thought, “Oh, I’m good!” Hint: I was not. Overall, dune bashing was exhilarating! It’s the type of fun that leaves you giggling uncontrollably...until you’re not. After a solid 10 minutes into the ride, life came at me fast. I broke into a sweat and suddenly felt incredibly motion sick! It was rough. Fortunately, with water and a stable seat at the camp, I was able to pull it together and enjoy the rest of the experience.
My motion sickness snafu aside, I highly recommend joining a desert safari tour! Just know your limits.
6. Enjoy High Tea @ At.mosphere in the Burj Khalifa
High tea in the tallest building in the world > simply visiting the tallest building in the world. I love high tea, so booking a reservation at At.mosphere, the Burj Khalifi’s premier restaurant, was obligatory. After being whisked away to the 123rd floor, I was greeted by a gracious host and seated at a table near the window (a must). The menu consists of at least 100 different teas from across the globe, accompanied by a selection of light sandwiches and sweets. While waiting for the tea to arrive, a violinist worked the room and even made a personal visit to my table. *SWOON* But the best part? Although I was high up, I didn’t experience any motion sickness from the building swaying. #wonthedoit
7. Soak Up Some Vitamin Sea on a Luxury Yatcht Cruise
Clearly, I was trying to live my best life in Dubai; so, I booked a 2-hour, luxury, shared yacht tour on Sunday evening for the sunset tour with Xclusive Yatchts. The meeting location was at the Dubai Marina, which is where all of the fancy boats are docked and there was a red-carpet entrance. *Drake VO* “Shout out Yachty but this ain’t a lil boat!”
Once all passengers were accounted for, they promptly went over the safety procedures and itinerary before departing. However, there was one thing I found to be weird: while on the boat, you had to take your shoes off. If you’re like me and carry socks to wear so your feet don’t touch the bare airport floor when going through security, this might be a hurdle to get over. Also, the protocol may be different now with COVID, so be sure to check the latest guidelines.
We sailed past major attractions and sights like the Ain Wheel, Burj Al Arab, JBR, and Atlantis, The Palm. The tour also included a selection of staple foods like burgers, hotdogs, salad, chicken skewer, etc., as well as a variety of sweets. Overall, I’d definitely book with this company again. Maybe next time I can get a group of friends to come with me, and we can rent the yacht exclusively.
8. Seek the Souks for Gold, Spice & Everything Nice
I pride myself in being able to say a firm no to the best-of-the-best salespeople. However, a visit to the Gold & Spice Souks put my will power to the test. If you’re a negotiator, you will be just fine. Going in, my original goal was just to sight see and scout the stores for some souvenirs for my family. I can’t lie though—some of the streets were narrow and sketchy, so at times, I got Taken vibes.*calls Liam Neeson* Thankfully, my path led me to finding the most beeeeauitful black-and-gold beaded Abaya. After a short game of hard-ball with the owners, I was able to haggle the price down to something that I felt comfortable paying. I got to sport this stunning piece during my day trip to Abu Dhabi.
9. Day Trip to Abu Dhabi to See the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
What’s a trip to the UAE without a day trip to the capital, Abu Dhabi? Because my desert safari experience was so great with Ocean Air™, I booked with them for a semi-private Abu Dhabi City Tour. We covered a lot of ground within 8 hours, including a stop at Ferrari World and the Etihad Towers, famously featured in a scene from Furious 7. We stopped for lunch at the Marina Mall and went on to explore the UAE Heritage Village, which is where I found and purchased a handmade (and now my favorite) scarf!
The primary reason I booked this day trip was to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the third-largest mosque in the world and a certified world wonder. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the structure is an incredibly spectacular sight to see! From the marble domes to the jewel-encrusted columns and Swarovski crystal chandeliers, the detail and opulence is seriously jaw-dropping. Here is where I got to rock my newly-purchased Abaya from the Souks. Women are required to be fully covered, wearing both that and a Hijab. If you don’t have one, they can provide one. Seeing this beauty in person was worth every bead of sweat that ran down my back—and then some.
10. Shop ‘til You Drop at the Dubai Mall
The Dubai Mall is massive! Believe the hype. It has hundreds of shops, from high-end favorites like Christian Louboutin down to family fun attractions and activities like an aquarium, ice skating rink, movie theater, electric go-karts, and so much more. It was honestly fun just to walk around and sightsee. But caution: wear your walking shoes and enjoy!
Dubai has a ton of other incredible activities to offer, like museums and food tours—so do you, boo! The options are truly limitless.
As always, do your research, as things may be different due to COVID.