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Trip Report: Dubai (2011)

KLM Flight SFO – Amsterdam – Dubai
Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is a pain to navigate. I’ve transferred through this airport twice and it always feels like a 5 mile hike getting from one gate to the next. At one point, I thought we were going to miss our flight.

When we finally arrived, there was a security checkpoint in front of gate. I took my sweater off, dropped my purse through the scanner, and went through the nude-o-scope. As I was preparing to step out, a female security agent came at me with both hands and practically attacked me in her version of a pat-down. If I had known that being ogled wouldn’t exempt me from being publicly fondled, I would have opted out of the former. I grabbed my bag and walked away, a little stunned.

The flight to Dubai was very pleasant. I can’t emphasize how wonderfully efficient KLM’s onboard service is. While the flight attendants aren’t the most warm and fuzzy, they are polite and very professional. The entire onboard experience runs like clockwork. You never feel rushed during meals, nor are you left sitting too long with a pile of garbage on your tray.

KLM was the first airline I remember flying on (my first flight was from Kabul to Poland in 1989, when I was 2 years old), so I’ve always had a soft spot for them. The plane was comfortable, the food was as great as I remember, and I was so excited about Kabul, I barely got a wink of sleep.

We had two options when we booked our trip: We could spend one day in Dubai and fly directly to Kabul, or spend four days in Dubai and route to Kabul through Kandahar. The thought of going to Kandahar (even for a few hours) did not sit well with my mom, so my dad decided booked the first option. It ended up being working out, since we saw all the sights and wanted to move on to Kabul as quickly as possible.

Hyatt Regency Dubai

We  landed in Dubai at 7 AM, to lovely weather. The airport was nicely air conditioned and we made our way to immigration, which as a breeze. I noticed a lot of the other passengers had to get eye scans and were thoroughly questioned. Maybe it was the US passports, but they simply said “Hello,” looked at my passport, didn’t bother glancing back at me, stamped it, and sent me on my merry way. It was the same for the rest of my family.

We headed to the luggage carousel, where our bags were already making the rounds. When we dropped off our bags at SFO, my mom tied a beige ribbon around the handle of my bag to make it easier to identify. Every single piece of luggage that circled the carousel was black or navy blue, so this was a great idea – or so I thought. We were impatiently waiting for our last bag (mine), when my mom spotted it. It had the beige ribbon tied to the handle and looked exactly like mine. My dad suggested we open it to make sure, but my mom and I insisted it was the right bag. After all, how many people would have the same bag as mine, with a beige ribbon tied around the handle? With that, we took off and looked for a cab to take us to the Hyatt Regency.

Stepping outside felt a lot like walking into a sauna – unbearably humid. We located the Taxi line and the guy working the counter matched us up with one.

Female Taxi in Dubai

Nearby, there was a designated Taxi  for females only. I thought this was a great idea and ideal for women traveling alone. My dad was with us, so we just took a regular old cab. The ride to the Hyatt Regency was around $15, though on the way back, it cost just $8. I’m told the discrepancy is due to a higher surcharge that airport Taxis have to charge.

 

What struck me during the ride was how clean the city is. They have really put a lot of effort into making this an appealing vacation destination. Though I gotta be honest- more than a few days in Dubai can get boring fast. There is only so much to do in a city that offers nothing of cultural or historical value. It’s a city that prides itself on its ostentatiousness: The world’s largest mall, the world’s tallest building. What does it offer in terms of history? That’s where Dubai disappoints.

We arrived at the Hyatt Regency, which is in the Deira area of Dubai. The hotel was very sleek and the service was good in general. My only issue is with the front desk. I’ve been here twice now, and both times I was turned off by the hustler attitude of the front desk agents. They act like car salesman working on commission. I had booked standard rooms and the associate was desperate to up sell us to a suite. When that didn’t work, she was persistent in selling us a club room. Since it was only $50 more and offered club lounge access, plus free transportation to the airport, I purchased the upgrade. At checkout, the same agent was trying to talk me out of using a Hyatt gift certificate that was about to expire. I’m not sure what her angle was, but she was very persistent.

Hyatt Regency Dubai

The room was on the 19th floor and very nice – sleek, minimally decorated, comfortable, though a bit cramped. I fell right asleep and everyone else headed to the club lounge for breakfast. I woke up an hour later to unpack something from my bag, only to find it filled with someone else’s belongings. Apparently I wasn’t the only person on that flight who decided to tie a beige bow around the handle of the same exact bag to differentiate it from all the others.

Normally, I would have stressed myself out over this kind of thing. Maybe it was the jetlag, but I was in a different mindset by then and remained calm. I was more upset for the other person whose bag I took, and hoped it wouldn’t ruin their vacation. The front desk called the airport for me and I was told where to go upon arrival. We took a cab back to the airport, where I dropped off the wrong bag. I was escorted to a room full of lost bags, where a friendly airport worker kept pulling black and blue bags out of the bunch and asking “Is this your bag?” That beige ribbon did help after all, as I spotted my bag based on the ribbon, checked the inside for my stuff, and took off. “Don’t worry – this happens all the time” I was told, “Every bag is the same color nowadays.” Note to self, buy a bright red bag for the next trip. And make it a carry-on.

Dubai, UAE 

What struck me as odd was how slowly time goes by in Dubai. We landed at around 7:00 AM, drove to the hotel, had breakfast, headed back to the airport to look for my bag, back to the hotel to drop off the right bag and spent the day shopping and sight-seeing. In any normal time zone, the second airport trip would have put us behind on time. For some reason time was passing super slow and we ended up with plenty of time to see all the sights, come back for dinner, and catch up on sleep.

First, we took the hotel shuttle to the Dubai Mall (I know, don’t judge me!). It was basically like any mall in the US with the same stores, but with an aquarium, ice skating rink, and about a thousand other amenities. Scratch that, it was nothing like any mall in the US.

I found the contrast between the Emiratis and the foreigners interesting. The Emiratis make up just 15% of the population and seem very tolerant of the migrant population which comes from all over the world. I saw burqa-clad women walking alongside westerners dressed in shorts and tank tops. At one point I saw a young woman dressed in a leopard-print mini-dress, sporting 4 inch heels in front of two traditionally-dressed Emirati men. Neither of them gave her a second look.

Their women may have been wearing burqas, but each of them was carrying expensive designer handbags. You could see their designer shoes as they strutted confidently in their abayas. This definitely was a stark contrast to the typical image of a burqa-clad woman as backwards and oppressed. The abayas and traditional men’s locthing seemed like a status symbol in this environment.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

The Burj Khalifa was right outside the Mall, so I snapped a photo of it. Snapping a vertical shot of the world’s largest building is no small feat, so this is the best I could do.

After the Mall, we headed to Deira’s Nayef Market. It’s an indoor bazaar where you can find lots of beautiful pashminas and just about anything else at very reasonable prices. As it turned out, the majority of the shop keepers were Afghans, mainly from Pakistan and the Federated Tribal Areas.

 

Mosque near Nayef Market, Dubai

 

After Nayef Market, we hailed a cab back to the hotel. The driver spoke to someone on the phone in Pashto and didn’t realize we understood him. He expressed his disappointment that it was only a 5 minute drive back to our hotel. When he hung up, my dad told him we all spoke Pashto too. He seemed a bit embarrassed we overheard his conversation, but he was very friendly and began chatting with my dad about life in Dubai. Our driver lived in Sharjah and financially supported  his family, who lived in Pakistan. We asked him about living in Sharjah, and he explained that it’s a much more conservative area. He also explained that as a Taxi driver, he was required to speak (and even tested on) English, Arabic, and I believe Urdu. This amazed me. In the US, the President doesn’t speak 2 languages, yet the cab drivers in Dubai speak at least 3.

Burj Al-Arab, Dubai

We asked him how far Jumeirah Beach was and it turned out to be just 15 minutes. Instead of heading to the hotel, we asked him to take us there and show us the sights in between. I’m sure he was happy about this. On the way, he pointed out the few historical landmarks the city had, then asked if he could drop us off at the beach and pick us up, as he would otherwise be late for Friday prayer. With our t-shirts on, we weren’t exactly dressed for the mosque, so we  spent a nice 30 minutes hanging around the beach. It was very humid and I’m not sure how the other beach-goers could tolerate it, but at least we caught a glimpse of the famous Burj Al Arab hotel.

 

Our driver picked us up and gave us a 1.5 hour tour of the city, including the Palm Islands. The cab drive of over 1.5 hours cost just $45. We definitely got our money’s worth. We headed back to the hotel and after ordering room service, everyone passed out, exhausted. It was an extremely long day and we had a 6 AM flight the next morning.

That night I called the front desk to request a car service and let them know how many people we were and how many bags we needed. The next morning at 4 AM, we headed down to the lobby to find that they had reserved a compact Mercedes just big enough for 3 passengers, which didn’t have room for any of our luggage. The front desk associate was of no help and watched as the bellhop loaded our remaining bags into a cab to be transported to the airport. I later complained to Hyatt about this and they apologized, credited some Gold Passport points to my account, and offered me a room upgrade on my next stay. Hyatt’s customer service department has to be one of the best. They take care of even the smallest complaints, which is not the case with some of their competitors.

Overall, we had a nice stay and I recommend the Hyatt Regency. It’s in a great location, rates can be as low as $109 when booked in advance, and its a beautiful hotel that is luxurious yet comfortable.

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Ariana Arghandewal

2 Comments

  1. I plan to visit Dubai in the end of July 2013. Besides steamy weather do you know how is life there in Ramadhan. Are the shops and markets open all night? Can you eat in the day time?

    • @ caveman, I haven’t been to Dubai during Ramadan but I do know you can’t eat or drink in public between sunrise and sunset. Only restaurants inside hotels will remain open. Shopping malls stay open later than usual, though I’m not sure about markets. The Iftar dinners at hotels are supposed to be great. If you want to splurge, I recommend Al Dawar. It’s a spinning restaurant on the top floor of the Hyatt Regency, with an amazing buffet that is pricey but worth it. They revamp the menu especially for Ramadan, which I hear is fantastic.

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