In The UAE

Itinerary for Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Today, Dubai is so opulent and luxurious that you can easily forget that just around 20 years ago it was nothing more than a desert. 

The Burj Khalifa view at night

From the moment you arrive at the airport (which looks like a fancy shopping mall) you instantly feel like you’re about to live in the lap of luxury. 

From MIA to DXB on a direct Emirates flight it takes about 14 hours to arrive in Dubai. Keep in mind if you’re traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic you will need a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of your flight to Dubai. 

Side note when flying Emirates: Their planes are massive and offer great service with more luxuries available than a typical airline. So it’s a great experience no matter what class you fly, but I definitely think business is worth it! 

5-Day Itinerary:

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Detailed Itinerary:  

Day 1: 

    There is an 8-hour time difference between Dubai to Miami, so the day we arrived we were out until 3am (because of the jetlag). This day we took it easy, walked around the famous Dubai Mall and watched the Dubai Fountain show at night. Pro tip: make a dinner reservation at any of the restaurants that border the Dubai Fountain so you can watch the show from the comfort of your seat with food/drink in hand (it gets pretty crowded around the varanda to watch the show). 

    The fountain show goes on every 30 minutes from 6pm to 11pm and it is a total spectacle that is worth a watch. There are also boat rides in the fountain which you can pay for if you want to be up close and in the water while the show is taking place. 

We ate at Thiptara (Thai food) inside the Palace Hotel and the food was amazing, plus the views were epic. 

The Dubai Mall
FYI – there’s an ice skating rink and full aquarium in this mall so you can imagine its size 
view of fountain show from our table at Thiptara

Times of COVID-19 in Dubai: You must wear a mask in public places (although they’re not as strict when you’re outdoors than they are for indoor places). 

I would also like to address some “rules” I had always heard before traveling to Dubai:

1. You can’t show PDA – this one is true… mostly. You shouldn’t, in order to respect the culture norms, that being said they aren’t going to arrest you for holding hands. By habit I grabbed Jeremy’s hand a few times and when we realized people were staring we would let go until we caught on. Basically, unless you’re kissing all over the place they likely won’t tell you anything. 

2. You have to cover up – I don’t know how many times I was told this before my trip, this one is not what people make it out to be… I think they understand you’re a tourist and don’t expect you to dress as they do (believe me we saw some people wearing sheer shirts and bikinis etc). 

3. They don’t sell alcohol / you can’t drink in Dubai – this one is not true… see following photo for a rooftop bar with so much alcohol we felt like we were in Vegas (they even played Bad Bunny). 

Ce La Vi is a rooftop bar in the Address Sky View Hotel (beware on weekends they do have a $250 spend minimum for a table reservation). 

We also rode the metro in Dubai. 

You can go to any station and get a “Nol” card – this is comparable to a refillable metrocard in NYC. We got the Silver Nol card with $25 and it was all we needed during our trip. 

The metro is super clean and we felt very safe while riding. 

Note: the first 2 train cars are for women and children only. 

Our 1st Hotel:The Shangri-La in Downtown Dubai. Prior to this trip I had never stayed at a Shangri-La Hotel. Truly, I only booked this hotel because I used my AMEX reward points for the hotels on this trip, and this one was on their portfolio and pretty affordable for its location. I cannot stress enough how much we LOVED this place. Their service is top notch and the facilities are impressive. We booked the horizon club and it was worth it, in my opinion. With horizon club you get access to the 42nd floor where you have private gym, indoor pool, lounge area (with complimentary breakfast / tea & coffee throughout the day), and an outdoor terrace with gorgeous views of the Burj Khalifa and downtown. Hotel Link: Shangri-La Dubai Hotel

Main Lobby
Main Lobby
4th floor pool
(bar available here)
Horizon Club (42nd floor) outdoor terrace
Horizon Club indoor pool.

Day 2:    

The next morning, we took the metro to the famous Dubai Souks in “old” Dubai. When you arrive, you understand why the locals refer to this area as “old” Dubai. There are no skyscrapers or fancy malls here. It is where many locals live and here, you can see them commuting in boats across the canals to get to work in the mornings. The locals who work in the Souks sell anything from spice to gold. It’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed. 

After the Souks, we took a taxi to the Dubai Miracle Gardens. Be warned it is about 30 minutes outside of the main city area. Still, this is a must see when you visit Dubai. The entrance fee is $12 per adult and you can easily spend hours walking around the park admiring the gorgeous topiaries. There are a lot of food/drink stands to help with the heat (tip: go early morning and beat the midday sun).

Link to purchase tickets ahead of your visit online: Miracle Garden Tickets.

From here, we took ANOTHER taxi back to our hotel to get ready for the Dubai Desert tour pick up.

We booked this tour on tripadvisor after reading a bunch of reviews from the thousands of different types of tours and different tour operators. We ended up going with ABC tours because it had everything we wanted to do while in the desert. For us this was: 4×4 dune bashing, camels, self-ride ATV quad bikes, dinner and shows (as a plus they also had free Henna tattoos for the females, and a falcon you could take photos with). I also liked that it included pick up and drop off from your hotel (as long as you’re staying in the city). Tour started at 2pm with hotel pickup, and we didn’t get back until around 10pm so you definitely get your money’s worth from this tour (I think it was about $80 per person). The tour guides were very knowledgeable and great at communicating to provide us with all the information for the tour through whatsapp. We did stop to pick up another couple from another hotel while on the way to the desert. If this is a deal breaker for you, they also offer private pick up and drop off for an extra fee. We also upgraded to the VIP food service once we got to the desert camp (I think it was like $30) which includes plated dinner service (instead of you going to the buffet tables during the show), as well as better seats and views for the shows. There’s a belly dancer, a traditional dance, and a fire show to end the night. 

Here’s the link for our tour: Dubai Desert Tour.

Day 3: 

We woke up and took the metro over to The Dubai Mall (there’s a metro stop inside the mall) and had breakfast at L’ETO Caffe. I definitely recommend this place, they also serve lunch and dinner and it is all very delicious. The café located inside The Dubai Mall has great fountain views, so for dinner this could be a great spot for viewing the fountain show. 

View from L’ETO Caffe of Dubai fountain
Mozzarella Filled Croissant
The ice cubes are actually made frozen coffee so that your iced coffee never gets watery
Pistachio latte = perfection!(Jeremy had a “Spanish” latte that comes with condensed milk and it was equally perfect)

After breakfast, we checked out of our amazing hotel (The Shangri-La Dubai) and got an uber straight to Abu Dhabi. The uber will cost about $100 and it’s an hour and twenty minutes from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. *Disclaimer: the COVID-19 restrictions are different in each UAE state so make sure to check those before crossing state lines (scroll to the bottom for more information on the pandemic regulations in the UAE).* 

Hotel in Abu Dhabi: We stayed 1 night in Abu Dhabi and this was Jeremy’s pick. 

He choose the W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island because it has the F1 race track running through the hotel (it also sits on the marina). The hotel is super fun and has great food options, so overall I was happy with his decision. It is also across the way from Ferrari world in Abu Dhabi (which we couldn’t visit because it was a muslim holiday the 2 days we were here). There’s luxury cars or go karts that you can rent and race on the track going through the hotel. From your balcony or the pools you can watch the races happening on the track. Also, the buffet breakfast at the hotel is delicious and a huge plus! Yas Island Mall is also just a few minutes away, and great for shopping and food.  

Link to hotel: W Yas Island

Ferrari World seems very fun, although we didn’t go. They have the world’s fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa and all things Ferrari so plan accordingly if you would like to visit. Tickets Link: Ferrari World Tickets.

Breakfast buffet was included & very good!

After checking in to our hotel, we took a taxi to The Emirates Palace which is basically a misk of residences, hotel, restaurants, and shopping. It’s a gorgeous building and this area of downtown Abu Dhabi is actually very similar to Dubai in terms of the skyscrapers. Fun fact on Emirates Palace: It is the 3rd most expensive hotel ever built. The Presidential Palace is next door and we couldn’t take photos, but it is a marvel. 

From here, we took another taxi to the Wahat Al Karama (a memorial for Emiratis who are killed in the line of duty). People mostly visit it for its unsurpassed views of The 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: 

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at sunset from across the highway

We then went to Yas Island Mall for dinner at L’ETO (yes, again). 

Then we had coffee and pastries at Forever Rose Cafe. This is a unique 2D coffee shop with very yummy lavender latte’s if I may say so myself.  

Day 4: 

Tour of The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The star of the entire Dubai/Abu Dhabi trip for us. This place is grandeur and magnificence. Link to booking tickets for your visit online: Tour tickets. You cannot miss this, I mean just look at it in all its splendor. 

You need to wear an “abaya” like the one photographed above to enter the mosque. They used to loan them out before COVID-19, but currently you need to buy one. They sell plenty at the different shops before entering the mosque. 

Note: The guards are very strict on taking any photos outside the designated photo areas. Also, make sure not to show any affection to the opposite sex here (even for photos they ask you not to touch)!

We had to head back to Dubai to catch our flight to the Maldives the next morning so we ubered back and stayed the night at our next hotel: Aloft Palm Jumeirah. This hotel has great views of the Burj Al Arab. The facilities are very nice although we were only here a few hours we did enjoy the area a lot. 

Link to hotel: Aloft Palm

Views of the Burj Al Arab from our hotel

This was the iconic hotel in Dubai’s skyline until the Burj Khalifa was completed in 2009, it is still very much a staple to “new” Dubai. 

FYI: Atlantis The Palm gets booked about a year in advance, so we wanted to stay here but it was too late by the time we booked our trip. So instead, we opted to visit the Resort and have dinner at Nobu at Atlantis. Which we recommend 10000%!

The Lost Chambers Aquarium at Atlantis The Palm
Nobu Restaurant Inside Atlantis, The Palm

This is where our short trip ended, since we flew out the next morning to the Maldives.

Overall, we loved both cities. Definitely felt like Dubai was about modern luxury while Abu Dhabi was more cultural. Looking back, as I am writing this blog, there were so many beautiful things we got to see and experience on this trip (albeit too short for my liking) that I am thankful for. I would recommend, if possible at least a week in the UAE in order to see more of each city. We only touched the surface and still we were left in awe of both places. 

Other things to note: 

  • Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi aren’t walkable cities. Be prepared to take lots of taxis (readily available everywhere) and Ubers, so budget accordingly for this. 
  • The Dubai metro is great but only runs in the major downtown areas of the city (like The Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa areas etc.).
  • COVID-19 Pandemic tip: Dubai and Abu Dhabi are VERY different. Although they are both UAE states their rules and regulations on COVID are not synonymous. In Dubai, other than the PCR test you show when you arrive at the airport, you never get asked for COVID test results again. In contrast, in Abu Dhabi you need a “green pass” to do ANYTHING. This includes to enter the public beach or walk the streets. Even your hotel will ask for it on check-in. In order to obtain the “green pass” you have to show a negative PCR taken IN THE UAE within 48 hours. So, this means the one you took in the USA before arriving (even if 48 hours ago) does not work in Abu Dhabi. Pro-tip: take a PCR test in Dubai at least 24 hours before entering into Abu Dhabi. We didn’t know they were this strict. We had a PCR test done in our hotel room in Dubai only because we needed it in order to fly into Maldives in a few days later. Luckily, since we had done it for the Maldives it worked for us in Abu Dhabi. Info on the Green Pass: Green Pass UAE (always check current COVID restrictions before you go). 
  • If you need PCR tests while in Dubai to fly back to the USA or anywhere else, the hotels have medical staff to test you (you don’t need to go to public clinic). We requested it the day before our trip to Abu Dhabi at the concierge desk of the Shangri-La Hotel and the next day they had a doctor sent to our room to test us (super simple). We had the results in about 10 hours ($170 per person). 
  • We had reservations for the Atmosphere Lounge at the top of the Burj Khalifa but ended up cancelling them while in Dubai because we realized the view we liked was more of the actual Burj Khalifa and less so the view from it. We figured the view from the top of the Burj Khalifa was not worth the price tag just to see the tops of other buildings. But truly, if it’s something you want to experience for yourself then book it here: Atmosphere Restaurant and Lounge

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