Dubai and Middle East Cruise

Over the last two weeks, we’ve spent time in the Middle East within the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and on a Middle Eastern cruise. When we started planning this trip and talking about where to go, we kept coming back to the idea of finding a way to visit the Middle East in a way that would make our parents happy…so after some thought and research, we found a cruise that left from Dubai, U.A.E. and starting planning around that.

We started our time out in Dubai for a few days, boarded a 7 night Royal Caribbean cruise and then returned to Dubai for several days. And honestly, it was all so nice.

I’m not sure what you picture when you hear the words “Middle East.” But for me, there was definitely a lot of sand, hot temperatures and Islamic clothing. If you thought of these things then you’d be correct most of the year (it can sometimes reach almost 130 degrees in the summer, but it “cools” off to the 70s and 80s in the winter, which is now…). But I think too, I have a lot of images that are true for part of the Middle East in my head as well- the ones that the media show us of war-torn lands with devastation abounding. And this image is true for part of the area, but for the part we were in, it’s not true at all. The two countries that we visited, the U.A.E. and Qatar, are quite the opposite, at least where we were. Given we only spent time in four cities/areas: Dubai (U.A.E.), Sir Bani Yas (U.A.E.), Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.) and Doha (Qatar), but these four places were amazing and quite impressive.

The United Arab Emirates is the country that we spent the most time in. It was formed as a coalition of seven emirates (or city-states) in 1971. There are six royal families within the U.A.E., one for each of five of the emirates, and one family rules two of the smaller ones. They exist as a constitutional monarchy with their own local and federal governments. Within the last 15-20 years, the U.A.E. has really worked hard to move into the 21st Century and become a world-power. Dubai in particular is really impressive. Since the early 2000s, it went from mostly desert land to skyscrapers and one of the most modern and luxurious cities that I’ve ever seen. As I’m sure you know, there is A LOT of oil money in the U.A.E., and it has been put to use with its skyscrapers and unique architecture.







There are shopping malls everywhere, and as Perry put it one day: you basically go to Dubai to spend money. The city is full of western restaurants and retailers, which we couldn’t complain about too much as we ate cheesecake and drank strawberry lemonades at the Cheesecake Factory one night :)


For our first couple of days in Dubai, we spent time exploring a few different areas. 

As the city sits on the Persian Gulf, there are beautiful beaches lining the coastline. Two of the beaches that we visited were the Jumeirah Beach and Kite Beach. The Jumeirah Beach is such a fun area with a boardwalk full of shops, restaurants and people. And Kite Beach is unique with food trucks, a long boardwalk and areas dedicated to surfing and kite boarding.











There is an area of town known as the Dubai Marina, which is full of amazing apartment, hotel and office buildings surrounding a beautiful marina filled with yachts and boats. It was impressive and as one of our first introductions to Dubai, we realized quickly that it was a city of wealth and luxury.





As I mentioned above, Dubai is full of shopping malls…there are about 65 malls in the city. They are everywhere. And in someways it’s hard to comprehend, but when you start to think about the temperatures in the summer, you realize that for people to be able to do anything in that heat, a mall is a perfect spot. The two malls that we spent the most time in were Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall. Both were huge! Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski slope complete with quad-chairlifts, 5 ski slopes taking up over 70,000 sq. ft., a “Snow Park” (with sled and toboggan runs), and a penguin enclosure. Dubai Mall has an aquarium and ice skating rink inside. My favorite parts of these malls though? The food. Dubai Mall has a Raising Cane’s Chicken (Louisiana-based version of Zaxby’s), Mall of the Emirates has a Marble Slab and California Pizza Kitchen, and they both have a Cheesecake Factory :)










The evening before we left for our cruise, we ventured to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and took a super fast elevator to the observation decks on floors 124 and 125. It was impressive and quite high at 2720 feet at the very top. The views over the city were beautiful, especially with the buildings lit up all around it at night.







The next day, we headed to Port Rashid Cruise Terminal in Dubai to board Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas for seven nights. We love cruising and were quite excited about this part of our adventures. The ship was set to cruise to Sir Bani Yas Island, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Being on a cruise made it super easy to be able to visit these cities. Plus the relaxing, vacation-y side of being on a cruise ship was wonderful and a delightful way to spend a week.




Our first stop of the cruise was Sir Bani Yas Island, which is located within the emirate of Abu Dhabi. This island was really nice as it was mostly just a beach that the ship was able to dock at and we could just relax at the beach for the day. The beach was beautiful and the waters were a gorgeous light blue. Over half of the island is made up of an animal reserve where animals like giraffes, cheetahs, Arabian gazelles and other wildlife can roam and guests can do “safaris”. We didn’t do one of these, but it did sound interesting! We spent our day at the beach instead, and it was lovely.







From Sir Bani Yas, the ship travelled to Doha, Qatar where we had booked a shore excursion to tour the city. Our tour took us to the Islamic Art Museum, the Pearl area and Souq Waqif. Similar to Dubai, we were amazed by the beauty and modern style of Doha. So much of the city appeared to have been built very recently. The Islamic Art Museum has the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, and the building itself was beautiful on the inside and outside. The Pearl area is a large marina full of shopping and expensive boats. And the Souq Waqif is a bazaar area where there are tons of little shops and restaurants run by locals. Each of these places was neat to see and explore.



















From Doha, we spent a day at sea laying by the pool, playing mini golf and enjoying the beautiful sunsets over the Persian Gulf.








Our at sea day lead us to arrive at Abu Dhabi where we docked for two days. Abu Dhabi is the U.A.E.’s capital, and similar to Dubai, it’s very modern. We did a shore excursion one of our two days there that took us to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in the U.A.E., and it is beautiful. As you can see from our pictures, it’s made almost entirely of white marble. It’s one of the largest mosques in the world with 82 domes and more than 1000 columns. It was impressive.











From the mosque, we traveled to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is basically a much smaller version of the Louvre in Paris that Abu Dhabi opened in 2017. They have a partnership with the Paris Louvre as well as other museums around the world to feature different items. It was filled with interesting pieces, and similar to the Paris Louvre, we could have spent hours there and still not seen everything.









Our final port on the cruise was Dubai where we docked overnight. Perry and I decided to spend the day relaxing on the ship since we were about to have many more days in Dubai. Overall, we really enjoyed the cruise experience. It was nice and easy, and I think we would recommend it to anyone looking to explore the Middle East in a relaxed way.

Once we were officially back in Dubai, post-cruise, we settled in and began another week of sightseeing around this beautiful city!

Our first stop was at the Dubai Museum, which is a pretty small museum dedicated to the history of Dubai and the U.A.E. The museum has boats from the past and is located within the Al Fahidi Fort, which was built in 1787 and is the oldest existing building in Dubai. Because of its desert roots, Dubai really wasn’t much of a city until the 20th Century. Like I mentioned before, it wasn’t until the 2000s that almost all of the city’s skyline began to be constructed. The museum helped give some context though of how the city went from a small desert town full of pearl divers to the business hub that it is today.






That same day, we spent time exploring the Dubai Creek area which included exploring the Al Bastikiya area and a ride on a traditional abra boat across Dubai creek to Deira where the famous gold and spice souks are located. Al Bastikiya is an area set up along the Dubai Creek. While none of the previously existing buildings are still there, the area itself is old and they’ve recreated what it used to look like. The gold and spice souks of Deira were really interesting to explore as well, especially because the gold souk is full of stores with tons of gold everywhere. Gold in Dubai is the cheapest in the world because they don’t include any taxes on it except for the VAT, which you can get refunded at the airport as a tourist. So for this reason, one of us may have purchased a shiny new gold ring…

















One of our favorite days in Dubai and one that we were looking forward to for a while was our Desert Safari out to the Red Sand Dunes on the outskirts of the city. Our day included sand bashing, where you drive around on the sand dunes in a Land Cruiser; sand boarding, where you basically get to sled down the dunes on a snowboard-like thing; and dinner and shows at a desert camp.

The sand bashing was a blast as we went all over the dunes with our driver blasting loud music along the way. It was pretty cool also seeing the other vehicles drive around the sand spraying up on their sides.




We both loved the sand boarding. It was super fun getting to slide down the dunes. Perry attempted to stand on the board a couple times because he’s braver than me, but he also may have wiped out both times as well…either way, it was really fun and something to laugh about.



We also took some time just looking out over the Arabian desert and it’s beauty. We were in awe of the endless dunes that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was breathtakingly beautiful and not like anything either of us had ever seen before.












Our desert safari ended at a desert camp where we enjoyed a traditional Arabic meal as well as traditional dance shows like the tanoura dance, a fire dance and belly dancing. Each of the performers were really talented, and we enjoyed the glimpse into their culture. We also took another short camel ride, which was fun and funny again, and we were able to hold a falcon at the camp, which was awesome. The U.A.E. is known for its falconry, and these birds are amazing.







Our last couple days, we left the sand and desert behind and returned to the more modern areas of Dubai. The city has a beautiful area called the Souk Madinat Jumeirah with an indoor souk made to look like a bazaar of the past. This souk was located close to the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, which is a 7 star hotel and claims to be the “world’s most luxurious hotel.” Dubai also has two artificial islands that are shaped like palm trees if you look at them from above. One of the islands, the Palm Jumeirah, is home to an Atlantis Resort, like the one in Nassau. We didn’t visit it, but we did enjoy seeing it from the outside as we walked along the boardwalk on the outer edge of the island. We were able to watch the sun go down over the beautiful waters of the Persian Gulf. Absolutely beautiful.











When we were planning our time in Dubai, we kept seeing over and over this place called the Global Village. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect when we got there, but I’ll say we weren’t prepared for what we encountered. I’m not even really sure how to describe the Dubai Global Village, but maybe think of EPCOT with over 70 country buildings, a carnival/fair complete with amusement park rides, and fountain and stage shows with neon lights everywhere. There was even a stunt show that you could pay extra to see. It was CRAZY, and we kind of just walked around gawking at the craziness of it one night. If you’re ever in Dubai, please go here so we can talk about what a funny experience it is together.














Our final night we spent at the Dubai Mall seeing their fountain and lights show. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I LOVE fountain and light shows so I wasn’t going to leave Dubai without seeing theirs. It was so pretty and the lights on the buildings around it, especially on the Burj Khalifa, made for a perfect way to end our time in Dubai.







Looking back on our time in the Middle East, we definitely loved it. It was neat to be able to spend time in a culture that neither of us really had experience with before. It allowed us to break down stereotypes and have a small glimpse into their way of life, and for that I am grateful. Yes, I know that most of what we saw these two weeks isn’t really what life is like in a lot of the Middle East. But some of it is, and that was interesting to see. It would have been easy to shy away from this area of the world because of the negative media and publicity around it, but I’m thankful that we found a way to get there, even if it was just to dip our toes in.

The other day, I read a quote by Mark Twain that says, “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I hope that I can live by this quote for the rest of my life.

So for today, I’m hoping I will always say “yes” to experiencing new places and new things so that 20 years from now I’m not disappointed by what I missed out on. I’m thankful that I didn’t miss out on getting to experience the U.A.E. and Qatar. They are places that I know I will forever look on favorably. And I hope that you have the opportunity to do that one thing that you weren’t sure about no matter what or where it is. May we all have the chance to feel the wind in our sails and to explore, dream and discover.

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