Dubai was a place I’d wanted to visit for quite some time and once my local airport starting hosting Emirates flights daily a few years back, it made the decision to go that much easier! A friend of mine Andy was looking to get away for New Years Eve who had done lots of New Year trips in different parts of the world but hadn’t yet tried Dubai. I’d never tried it either and was up for a visit over New Year too so we both booked up for December 30th, 2013 for four days.
I’d been looking forward to trying Emirates as I’d never flow them previously but we’d be flying back via Amsterdam with KLM due lack of seat availability on Emirates as we’d booked the trip only two weeks earlier. There was no issue travelling via Amsterdam, adding only a couple of hours to the return journey back to Newcastle.
We had no real agenda planned before we left except me wanting to do my first ever tandem skydive! And where better to do it than over the Palm I thought! I’d also booked us in on New Year’s Day evening for a visit to the infamous Burj Al Arab Jumeirha hotel and their Skyview Bar as a way of wrapping up our stay. More of this place later but it’s enough for now to say it was the start of a cycle of events that led to an unplanned extra day in Dubai!
The Emirates flight was great, the service was fantastic and for two people easily bored, there was enough in-flight entertainment right to keep us occupied for the 7 hour flight along with a generous helping of in-flight bar hospitality! Once we arrived, a taxi took us to our hotel, a modest Ibis hotel not far from the Mall of the Emirates and a short drive from Dubai Marina but as we hadn’t planned on staying in the hotel all day, it served its purpose well, even if Heineken was £10 /$12 US a pint!
Water, Coffee & Chill……
A visit to Dubai Marina is well worth the time and it’s easy to relax and watch the world go by.. it was probably the most time we spent “doing nothing” but drinking coffee but felt the better for it. They have standard and ‘premium’ taxis in Dubai to help get your around the city and due to my hatred of standing in a queue/line, we took the premium option most of the time and it only cost us a little more than the standard fare.
We took a small one hour boat trip to see the Dubai coastline from the afar at sea and to take a closer look at the Palm and the Atlantis hotel, both impressive to see up close. The coastline has clearly changed massively over years; it’s still quite incredible to look at pictures from 20 years ago and see not a single high-rise building in sight yet now it’s almost impossible not to see them from just about anywhere!
Shopping and Sharks
Our next stop was the Mall of the Emirates, a very large indoor shopping mall, a huge 200,000 square metre expanse of shops, restaurants with an indoor ski centre no less – Ski Dubai – a place that looked great and was extremely popular, thus too busy really to enjoy it properly on this trip. A place therefore added to my Dubai “To Do” list for next time.
The Mall also hosts an indoor aquarium and zoo (only in Dubai, right?) – Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo. The aquarium is huge and quite an impressive sight, bigger than many I’ve seen in dedicated aquarium centres, let alone a shopping mall! The first thing I noticed inside the tank were the sharks and then a sign offering opportunities to dive inside the aquarium itself! This was an opportunity too good to miss!
An enquiry made to the local aquarium staff led us to complete a short course – PADI’s Discover Scuba course, lasting only a couple of hours at at a local registered dive club – Al Boom Diving – to make sure we were comfortable underwater etc. and could work with the SCUBA gear safely. Anyone already PADI qualified can book a dive straight away (something since December 2015 I’ve now completed too!).
The dive session into the aquarium lasted approximately 30 minutes where we were slowly guided to the bottom of the tank in fours to a safe but close enough distance to see the sharks and all the other marine life up close and personal! Those with an Open Water PADI certification or higher get the opportunity to dive more freely around the tank! A fantastic experience which I would highly recommend to anyone not scared of the water or the marine life held within it!
At the Top
The Mall of the Emirates provides access to the Burj Khalifa, the current tallest structure in the world at 829.8m high! They have an observation deck to check out the view named “At the Top” half-way up at 452m. Despite not being right up at the top, the views afforded were well worth the queues to get up there and the elevator ride up is enough to get most people’s ears popping!
The fountains are clearly seen from up high ‘At The Top’ but you can get a much closer view at ground level via various exists from within the Mall, just follow the signs and hope not to get lost! These fountains are great to see during the day, but are especially good at night. There are regular musical fountain shows throughout the day to enjoy so do wait around to see one, it’s all very Las Vegas!
A quick YouTube search of ‘Dubai fountain’ will show you the variety on offer but one particular favourite someone captured I’d like to share here.courtesy a YouTuber Anette Bell: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKht7_pScDwPuvlCA0pa9Sw
I’d been wanting to try a skydive for quite a while before I got to Dubai but had never settled on where or when, but after checking out “Things to do” in Dubai online, a skydive at Skydive Dubai stood out as a must do activity so my mind was made up, this is the time and the place! Where else could you fall from 4000m (13,000ft) and see such wonderful views on the way down as the Dubai coastline, the marina, the Palm and The World Islands all at once!
We arrived mid-day with the weather nice and warm at 28’c (82’F) and checked in at reception who confirmed our details, had our weight checked to make sure we weren’t over the 100kg (220lb) limit. After waiting patiently for our name to be called by the professionals who would be our tandem instructors for our dive, the time arrived!
We were both met by our respective professional skydivers, given a harness to wear, some goggles to protect our eyes and they explained the process of what to do and when (not much in all, just enjoy the ride!) All of their kit is kept within their main building and the aircraft waiting area is a short walk away. The turnaround of flights mean there’s rarely a moment when the aircraft aren’t either dropping off or picking up new jumpers. As soon as it was our turn to board, we were guided carefully to the aircraft and asked to sit on one of two opposing bench seats (no luxury here!) while the others joined sat on the remaining seats, all of us squeezed in together, sixteen of us on-board. Most paying visitors had never skydived before so there was a mix of calmness and relaxation from the pros and a look of fear and panic from some of the new jumpers! No going back now….
We climbed to our jump height of 4000m (13,000ft) in 15 minutes at which point the hatch door was opened. The cabin quickly cooled to match the temperature outside and my friend, . who hadn’t been to keen on a skydive to begin with, was ushered near to the hatch and without much delay, off he went out the hatch and through the clouds! The look on his face just before he went said it all really but before I’d had a chance to take in what had just happened, it was my turn! Closer to the hatch I got….right to the edge…. chin up, arms folded, thumbs up and out we went!
Exhilarating is the best word I can use to describe it, the first 60 seconds in free-fall with no parachute open at around 195kph (120mph) hurtling face forward towards the ground! The wind noise was extremely loud but the sensation felt fantastic! The free-fall stage ended as the pro pulled the chute release toggle and there was a jolt as we slowed down. Now we’d slowed down a lot and the noise was quiet enough for us to chat to the pro taking us down safely to the ground! All I mainly recall is staring down and seeing my legs with nothing but air below them far above the ground!
We did some sharp turns and dives on the way down but finally made it back for a perfect landing. The drop-zone at Skydive Dubai is a category D so it’s only for those who’ve jumped solo 500 times or more who are eligible to jump here… not hard to see why with the relatively small landing area available… surrounded by brick buildings, a runway, a main road and lots and lots of water! Judge it wrong and it could all go terribly wrong very quickly! Thankfully the pros offering the tandems were all seasoned jumpers with 1000’s of jumps under their belts, so in true fashion they landed us both perfectly, clear from any danger
Despite me jumping after my friend Andy, I was the first one down followed seconds later by him and his pro. Despite him not being keen to jump initially, he was buzzing and so was I! We were both tempted to book again straight away but unfortunately the place is so busy we had to make do with just the one jump on this occasion, but what a jump it wa for each of us!
I made a decision then and there to follow it up with more tandem jumps and by checking out locations on my travels that had a local drop-zone I’ve managed a tandem jump in Cape Town at Skydive Cape Town, in Pretoria at Pretoria Skydiving Club and in Girona, Spain at Skydive Empuriabrava! All have been utterly amazing!
New Year’s Eve
We made our way to the Mall and outside to find the best viewpoint of the Burj Khalifa where some of the fireworks were to be shown (there was also a huge 20+ mile coastal firework display on at the same time but we decided the view at the Burj would be better so stuck with this place!). Around a milllion people gathered by the time midnight was upon us and immediately the fireworks started and went on for at least 10 minutes, a quite spectacular display bettering even those I’d seen in places elsewhere.
Champagne with a view
To round of our short trip, we headed out on New Year’s Day evening, exuberant after our afternoon’s skydiving, to the gated entrance of the Burj Al Arab hotel. Pre-booked paperwork for their Skyview Bar assured us a pass through for our taxi driver to the main entrance where we were promptly greeted by their welcoming staff and welcomed inside.
Inside we were again checked for our booking reference then led to the dedicated elevator which would take us up to the Skyview Bar floor. We were handed over to the staff of the Skyview bar who led us to a table adjacent to one of the huge oval windows that looked out over the Northern coastline. Nice way to round of the trip I thought!
There is a minimum spend here of 180 AED (approx 50 USD) which we satisfied with our first drinks order and well surpassed it after our second! It would have been perfectly acceptable to have left the bar at that point, after an hour enjoying the ambience, the view, the drinks, and headed back to the hotel for an early night ready for the 8am flight next morning. Both Andy and I had different ideas however…. “Another please!”… then shortly followed by “champagne please” then “one more please”…by which time we’d been offered a prime table right next to the the main end of the bar overlooking the north coastline and had our own dedicated waiter for the evening! If they offered this service to everyone they’d need a lot of staff….. of course they didn’t and they were simply responding to the ever increasing bar tab!
Just one more….
When we eventually decided to call it a night around midnight, some four hours later, we waved our goodbyes and headed to the front door, jumped into a taxi and back to our hotel.
“See you in the morning Andy”
“The bar’s still open though? Pint”
“Erm, yeah why the hell not, mine’s a Heineken!”
Cut to one hour later, a few more beers down, now 2am with a flight departing only a few hours later.
“See you in the morning, I’m good at early mornings Andy, I’ll ring you at 4am no worries!”
“Sounds good, night”
Cut to 7.3oam and the phone ringing in my room…
“Les, it’s half 7, our flight departs in 30 minutes!”
Our night out had cost us dearly. Not only the bar bill from the Skyview, but now an extra nights stay and a new pair of flight home! At least the flights home were direct and no longer via Amsterdam so every cloud and silver lining springs to mind! And it certainly was one hell of a way to round of the trip!
Notes for my next visit…
Things to do if i ever return:
– Go to Abu Dhabi and visit Ferrari World to ride the world’s fastest roller coaster
– Go skydiving again at Skydive Dubai
– Go shark diving as a qualified diver
– Snowboard at Ski Dubai
– NOT drink anything the night before the flight home!