At the beginning of 2013, while most of you were making resolutions, I was making magic happen in the United Arab Emirates. I went off to the Dubai for work for a sales and marketing meeting. Though I really knew little about the area before traveling, the more I researched the country the cooler and cooler it sounded. We had rooms booked at the JW Marriott Marquis, which is the world’s tallest hotel-only hotel (specifics) in the world. As the hotel was just opening, we happened to be the first company to have a meeting there and got to experience the hotel’s many different restaurants and entertainment. The best part of the hotel-only hotel (what does that even mean?) was that it had a bar on the top floor called The Vault, complete with bank vault doors at the entrance. I got a grapefruit infused vodka for 40 dirham, which is a little under $11 US dollar. Alcohol = Expensive in Dubai. There is also a cigar lounge, so you can a smoke indoors, if you’d like. Not that I did or anything. 😉
I had to travel to Dubai early to help set up for the meeting. Normally I would have loved this opportunity, but in some terrible twist of fate I was sick beyond belief. That, piled on top of a 14 hour plane ride, made for a pretty grouchy Amanda. But I got there, my team hammered out some last minute details, we worked on the musical (yeah… we flew actors to Dubai to put on a musical), did run-through’s for lighting and sound, and I loaded up on cold medication. Basically anything that would help me swallow, breathe, or sleep.
The next few days were honestly a bit of a whirlwind. I had been in charge of producing the opening “skit” (it was a WWF parody), which went smoothly. The opening reception went off without a hitch and when the reception was done everyone meandered up to our private (poolside) bar to continue doing what we do best: drinking. I mean, networking.
I won’t bore you with the details of the whole meeting, but I will say that the last night was something extremely special to experience. Our closing ceremony was in the middle of the desert in a man-made stadium. There were different stations for food, drinks, and activities to make it a more “authentic” Dubai experience. I was able to hold a falcon, ride a camel, and get a henna tattoo. There were also Arabic hand writing stations, palm readers, and fireworks. I thought six hours in the desert was going to be a ridiculously long time, but the time flew by and I still hadn’t gotten to all the stations by the time the night was over.
Unfortunately, all the energy put into the meeting made me feel even worse once it was all over. After the meeting there was a tour for the people who had helped and didn’t get to go do any activities. And it was fun, don’t get me wrong. We got to go shopping in the spices and textile souks, do a bit of sight seeing, a little bargaining… but by the end of the day I was napping in the van while the rest of the group continued on. The souks were beautiful, though. So many rich textures and colors and even the smells were unique and delightful. I walked away with four different pashmina scarves and a few other knick knacks for the family.
The next day a smaller group of us went sandboarding and dune-bashing– the dune-bashing was enough to test even the strongest of heads and stomachs. We also went inside the Burj Kahlifa, the tallest building in the world. All of this would have been great, if it weren’t for the fact that I was still sick. I had scheduled to stay a few extra days with my friend Rohit, who lives and works in Dubai. I obviously stayed, but my fever made me unable to attend a VIP party at Atlantis (an underwater club in a fancy hotel) with a group of his friends. My consolation prize was going to bed around 9pm and waking up at noon the next day. Rohit really saved the day by getting me some more medicine and my co-worker Brad and I still got to see some cool additional sights while Rohit was at work. I bought a really unique soapstone chess set in “Africa” in Dubailand, a theme-park area that has markets with food and merchandise from all different areas of the world. It was like a magnified, yet less cheesy version of Disney World’s “It’s a Small World” ride. The night after we had dinner and watched the fountain show at the Burj Khalifa.
All in all, it was a great time and adventure. I don’t know if I will ever make my way back to Dubai, so I can honestly say it was a once in a lifetime experience. If you are planning a trip to this region, here are some odds and ends/tips that may help your journey:
Because it is a Muslim country, alcohol is super expensive.
And if you want to get any of this said alcohol, you must be in a hotel
or in a restaurant that is attached to a hotel. Brad and I ate at a remote Applebee’s *cough shut up don’t judge us we were in a bad mood cough* and almost ordered some tasty adult beverages before we realized they weren’t very adult at all.
Dubai is a strange culture of the very rich and the very poor. When the recession hit, it hit Dubai hard. So hard, in fact, that rich business men dropped their cars off at the airport and just left, never to return because they knew they had gone broke. You will see extravagant and beautiful buildings next to worn down, half-built structures with construction tape wrapped around it.
Bring sunglasses. Not only is it bright, it’s a desert. There are dust storms.
Be conscious of the culture- in Muslim countries it isn’t appropriate for women to be scantily clad. They aren’t making you wear a burka- but they don’t want you wearing short skirts and strapless tops either (although, to be honest, we did see our fair share of those too). Open homosexual relationships are also not allowed.
14-15 hour plane rides suck. I did a non-stop in order to get there faster, but maybe take flights in segments if you get the chance. Your body might thank you.
THE TRAVELIN’ SONG: You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello (The Beatles). Obviously, with a post title like this one, it would be a shame to not to put the song in the playlist.
BUDGET: It was a 14 day work trip; the company paid for airfare, lodging, and most food and activities. I spent approximately $300 in the last 3 days I was on vacation.
TIP FOR TRAVELERS: Be mindful/respectful of the fact that Dubai is a Muslim country. You don’t need to dress in the standard attire, but you probably shouldn’t wear anything too provocative either.
DEFINITELY CHECK OUT: A camel ride. Sure, it’s pretty touristy, but seriously? Camels are so cool (and I’m not talking cigarettes).