I know a lot of people who have no interest whatsoever in visiting Dubai but then some who absolutely love it. I have been there a few times: on three occasions as a stopover, a couple of times for a week-long holiday and once to go to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (which was amazing). There are some things I love about the UAE city and I made a list of reasons why Dubai is a great place to visit, especially with children, a while back. These included the convenience of it being a hot destination only a seven hour flight away, the selection of luxury hotels and the impeccable service. But, there are some things I don’t like so much, like the lack of culture, the overt opulence and the busy hotels. There are definitely pros and cons to consider but whenever I think of a negative, there always seems to be a positive to counter it. Here are five reasons why I have a love/hate relationship with Dubai.
1. ‘It’s a bit fake’
I hear people saying this a lot and yes, it is a bit fake. Dubai is a very modern city which has rapidly expanded over the past 50 years following the discovery of oil. The UAE Emirate is essentially a desert which has been developed on – in epic proportions – with an ever-expanding skyline of towering skyscrapers, including the Burj Khalifa, the largest building in the world. Everything has been done to excess, with no expense spared. From the opulent hotels to the oversized malls (where you have the option to ski), man-made waterways and islands, huge cascading water features, and immaculately kept golf courses and green gardens. You name it, they will mimic it and I think they pride themselves on doing it bigger and better than ever before. It is very glitzy city but does not have a huge amount of natural beauty. It certainly lacks the idillic setting of tropical places like the Maldives and Caribbean, especially with building work ongoing (see point 2).
It’s a vibrant city where people from all over the world come to work. It has got some great hotels and restaurants with some of the top chefs from around the world clamouring to set up restaurants so you have your pick of fine dining and it is pretty glam too so an excuse to put your glad rags on. Some of the beaches may not be completely natural (like those on ‘The Palm’) but the golden sand is and the beaches are large and wide with few rocks and stones. The sea is deliciously warm and calm so perfect for children (and people like me who aren’t keen on freezing cold water and large waves). Oh, and the (very natural) sunsets are pretty spectacular too.
2. Noise Pollution
There is a lot of construction work still going on in Dubai. You’d think the building boom would have eased off a bit, certainly after the 2008 property crash, but no, it continues. The massive land reclaim project, The Palm, is still being developed on (although work on another such project ‘The World’ has halted). Our view across the sea from one of the hotels we stayed in was basically a construction site with all the noise which comes with it too. Not massively relaxing. In addition, there were aeroplane and helicopters taking off overhead, jet skis and speedboats. Many of the hotels are very big too so there can be quite a lot of people around you (depending on where you stay).
Newer hotels and better transport links are being built to make the city easier to navigate for those who live there and boost business and tourism. They have ambitious plans which are hard to knock. Although big, the hotels have excellent facilities. There is pretty much anything you want to do from water sports to volleyball, mini golf and massages or just plain sunbathing. And that’s just for the adults. There are water parks and kids clubs to keep children amused and service is tip top too. Cold towel and fruit anyone?
3. Lacks Culture
It’s a hugely diverse city where lots of different cultures converge so Dubai is very cosmopolitan (and has great food) but because it is so new, there is not a great deal of history. There are some old parts, by the docks and there are the gold and spice souks to explore or you could indulge in a desert safari or camel racing for a slight taste of Emirati life. And of course, there’s the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (read about our visit here), but it is very much a hotel resort type place.
Some hotels are so huge it’s like a mini city of its own – with everything provided for you. But, there are no little shops to nip out and get some water or cute towns to have a mooch around like you get in Europe. The hotels have been designed so you don’t even have to leave during your stay, if you don’t want (and I suspect a lot of people do this).
As much as I like adventure and exploration, sometimes it can be a it of a relief to just relax and not have the pressure of cramming in loads of sightseeing (especially if you are visiting on a short stopover). There’s not a huge amount to do, so you don’t feel so guilty just chilling by the beach/pool.
Although Dubai lacks a bit of culture, it is still an interesting country to visit where you can learn lots from the people, of all different cultures, who live there. Plus, there are those ostentatious buildings to marvel at as well as the beautiful hotels, designed with incredible attention to detail which channel Arabian architecture and decor. Then there are the (nicely air conditioned) malls which have every activity you can imagine at your disposal, particularly for children. It really needs to be seen to be believed.
It can be an expensive place to stay, with Dubai prices pretty much on a par with London (although certain things like taxis are cheaper). As it is a Muslim county, alcohol is especially expensive.
You get what you pay for. In the luxury five star hotels the staff are friendly, welcoming and cater for (almost) every whim letting you relax. The beaches are private so you don’t get hassled and many of the children’s activities are free at the large resorts so you have the option to leave your little ones at the kids club while you chill. There are also some great deals to be had – for flights and hotels combined – so look out for them. The food is also of a very high quality so a great place for foodies. As it is a Muslim country, there are restrictions on licensed premises and bars have to be attached to the hotels. Wine and champagne is particularly pricey but we often get a bottle at duty free when we land to enjoy in our hotel room.
In the summer months it can get incredibly hot and humid so avoid June, July and August, especially if you have young children. We once went en route to South Africa for our honeymoon in August. We struggled to sit outside even in the evening when temperatures are still 40 degrees. The humidity is crazy too. Every time we walked out of the hotel our sunglasses steamed up. It’s like one big sauna.
It is beautiful hot weather when it is cold in the UK so a great winter break in the sun! January was one of the best times of year we have visited Dubai!
Those are just a few of my pros and cons of Dubai. There is certainly something about it that keeps drawing us back and it is a great stopover before going to explore countries further east. We went before children and enjoyed going out to fancy restaurants, fabulous bars and chilling out on the beach but now we have a little one, I can see why it is so popular with families too. There’s so much to keep them entertained. Now Mrs T is older she has been loving the children’s water park and large swimming pools. She had a great time. I know we will go back at some point, for as many ‘faults’ I find with it, it does tick a lot of boxes and it is somewhere you should experience at some point in your life. What do you think? Have you been to Dubai? Would like to go? Do you love or loathe Dubai or are you like me? I’d love to know your thoughts. Please comment below.
Other posts you may enjoy reading
Ten Things To Do At Dubai Mall (Other Than Shop)
Going Up The Burj Khalifa