Unless you’ve been totally disconnected from social media this winter, surely you heard about the infamous Etihad Airlines travel “glitch.” In the early hours of Christmas morning, rumors of unheard of $190 round-trip fares for flights to South Africa, India and the UAE spread. Many gambled that Etihad Airlines would honor the cheap fares and made the purchase. Since then hundreds of young professionals have discovered what the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has to offer.
Why not keep the good deals going? Groupon.ae does! Not only will you find deals on just about everything you were hoping to do in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but it will also help you to better plan your trip. Groupon.ae gives both tourist focused and insider deals so that you’ll be able to learn about activities you would not have otherwise considered, from spa days featuring a traditional Moroccan bath to yacht rentals and 4-wheel drive off-roading excursions in the desert sand dunes.
You may have heard conflicting stories about the UAE. Part of being a conscientious traveler is learning about the place to try to have your experiences in context. Doing your research before your visit enhances your experience, especially regarding cultural norms that are different than the United States. If you are visiting the UAE, below are few places and experiences you must plan to check off your list.
The Burj Khalifa, Dubai
You will quickly find out that the Emiratis are on a mission to have the biggest, the best or the only of everything. The largest shopping mall in the world is Dubai Mall. It has the world’s largest choreographed water fountains. The fastest roller coaster in the world is located in the largest theme park in the world – Ferrari World, in Abu Dhabi. The Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, is the best illustration of this superlative craze. Nearly twice the height of Willis Tower in Chicago, this modern marvel is a must see.
Dubai Spice and Gold Souks
A maze of wide and narrow alleys make up the Spice and Gold Souk located in the old part of Dubai. In each alley you will find stalls with fabric, traditional Emirati and Indian clothing, crafts, souvenirs, scarves, jewelry, perfume oils, teas, spices and much more. The shop owners aggressively call out to you, drawing you in with the promise of a good deal, better quality items than the next guy and letting you feel like you’ve won a hard earned bargain.
Jumeirah Beach, Dubai
Jumeirah Beach is a beautiful, white sand beach lined by upscale hotels and resorts. Tourists and expatriates swarm this beach so there is no concern about some of the modesty issues you might find on other UAE beaches. Spend the day swimming, playing and eating with Burj Al Arab hotel in the background. You can even catch a camel ride or take a break from the sun to do some shopping.
Whatever you do, schedule your trip so that you are in Dubai on a Friday afternoon. The work week in the UAE is Sunday through Thursday so Friday is the equivalent of Saturday. While the religious Emiratis recognize Friday as their Sabbath, the expatriates take the day to party. A trend that has sprung up from that is “Drunch.” By law alcohol can be served at hotels so on Friday hotel restaurants and lounges serve all you can eat buffets AND all you can drink cocktails. New York Sunday Brunch has nothing on Dubai Friday Drunch. The brunches have a set seating time for all tables and a set ending time. As a result, there is no rushing you like New York brunches. No one is waiting for your table. Find the best Friday brunch restaurants listed at Time Out Dubai.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Completed in 2007, Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the largest mosque in the UAE. It can accomodate 40,000 people and is the most expensive in the world. Both the exterior and interior of the mosque are so ornate that they border on fantastical. Whether or not you are Muslim, you have to admire the beauty and attention to every small detail. The chandeliers drip with crystals. The walls are covered in marble. Precious stones seem to glow and capture light.
Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
Saadiyat Island is off the coast Abu Dhabi. The island is undergoing major development that will include a cultural district that will be home to a new Louvre Museum and the largest Guggenheim Museum in the world. The island’s beaches are serene and clear water showcases its natural beauty. The public beach has loungers and towels for rent. A hosts of ecologically friendly water sports are available along with a cafe.
Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi
Owned by the Abu Dhabi government, the Emirates Palace is the pinnacle of luxury. Full of soaring ceilings, grand staircases, gold light fixtures and plush seating, the hotel is a study in opulence. Hotel workers march through the hotel with urns burning frankincense so that even the air smells rich. From the etched glass windows at the rear of the hotel, you can see the dreamlike view of the private beach and the marina where super yachts are docked.
Ever wonder what gold tastes like? At the hotel’s Le Cafe, you can order the signature Palace Cappuccino. The barista draws an Arabian Palace in the foam and uses 24 carat gold flakes as the sand. The Camel Burger (yes, made out of camel meat) and Golden Fries are also dusted with 24 carat gold flakes. Since your plane ticket was such a good deal, you might consider buying a keepsake from the gold bar vending machine. The cheapest is only about $250.
Come back after dark to Etoiles, rated one of the best clubs in Abu Dhabi, especially for hip hop. If you’re traveling with ladies check the club’s facebook page for Ladies’ Night. All of the bars, clubs, and lounges have one night a week where ladies get top shelf drinks free all night or free entry if there is a cover.