Rich. Innovative. Ever-Changing.
These three words always come to mind whenever people ask me how Dubai was like during our family trip last February. And when invited to share about it, I can’t seem to choose which superlative to highlight — their towering skyscrapers, each boasting of a unique identity? Their grandiose hotels and malls with lavatories bigger than some actual retail shops in the Philippines? The Emiratis’ crazy rich citizenship benefits?
Dubai is a place that will constantly make your jaw drop, especially if you come from a much simpler environment. Nonetheless, like any other city or country, it is possible to travel here on a budget. I’ll be discussing that on a separate post, so don’t forget to subscribe to the blog for updates 🙂
As usual, we booked our tickets a year before our trip, during one of Cebu Pacific’s seat sales. I managed to book round trip tickets with preferred first row seats and 20kg baggage allowance for a little over P15,000/pax. Sans the baggage allowance and pre-selected seat, the fare could even go as low as P10,500.
Not counting our flight dates, we had 6 full days to explore Dubai and nearby Emirates. For a more relaxed pace of exploration, I’d recommend 10-14 days. Don’t underestimate a week-long trip to Dubai though, because if you plan your itinerary well, you’d definitely be able to cover many places.
In this short period, we were able to see the old and modern sides of Dubai, and even got to visit two nearby Emirates — Fujairah and Abu Dhabi. Some of our favorite sights include the beautiful Al Bastakiya, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, Al Badiyah Mosque in Fujairah, Dubai Miracle Garden, Dubai Creek Harbour, Dubai Creek Park and Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
And if you were to ask me what’s one thing you absolutely can’t miss when in Dubai, my answer would be DESERT SAFARI. Our overall experience with our tour operator of choice, Platinum Heritage, was excellent!
Our breakfast with a Bedouin, which means a nomadic Arab living in the desert, gave our experience depth and wisdom. We learned a lot, like how they navigated through the dessert before Google maps came to light and how they survived with limited resources (a true misconception), among others.
Also, we got to enter the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve which is not open to other operators, using a vintage Land Rover! There, we were able to spot Oryxes out in the wild.
This week-long trip is definitely one for the books! 🙂
DUBAI 6D 6N ITINERARY
For a quick overview of what we were able to cover during our week-long trip, here’s a summary of our itinerary:
Day 0: Dubai Arrival / Rest Day
Day 1: DIY Old Dubai Walking Tour, Dubai Mall
Day 2: Jumeirah Open Beach, Burjuman Mall, Al Badiyah Mosque in Fujairah (oldest mosque in UAE), Dubai Creek Harbour, Ikea, Dubai Festival City
Day 3: Desert Safari at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, Al Ghurair Centre, City Walk
Day 4: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi, Mall of Emirates
Day 5: Palm Jumeirah, Mercato Shopping Mall, Souk Madinat, Deira City Centre
Day 6: Dubai Miracle Garden, City Centre Mirdif, Dubai Creek Park / Flight back to Manila (Next day arrival in the Philippines)
TIPS FOR A BUDGET-FRIENDLY FAMILY TRIP
1. Consult with the experts. There’s a great chance that you have a relative, a friend, or a friend of a friend who’s currently working in Dubai. There are a LOT of Pinoys there. In fact, expats take up 80% of Dubai’s total population. Ask them for recommendations on accommodations and activities, and consult with them if your itinerary is feasible or not.
In our case, I have a sister who’s been working there since 2008. She’s actually one of the main reasons why we flew to Dubai, we wanted to visit her and see where she’s been living for the past nine years. She helped us not only in coming up with the itinerary, but also in touring around. She was with us from Day 2 – 6, and my brother-in-law even drove for us on some days. Most Pinoys will be willing to do this for loved ones, for sure. So don’t be shy and start chatting with that friend/relative 🙂
2. Prepare for a long-haul budget economy flight. As mentioned on the first part of this post, we booked budget economy tickets from Cebu Pacific. This means that there’s not much legroom, no in-flight entertainment, no free pillows, blankets and meals. This could be unbearable for some, but manageable for those who are on a tight budget.
Work through the limitations by preparing a fully-charged tablet loaded with your child’s favorite videos and movies, cozy blankets and pillows, and food and water, enough for a 9-hour flight.
If your budget permits, get first row seats because they make a huge difference when it comes to the legroom. Also, it will give your child enough space to play around in and wander when boredom strikes.
3. Choose your accommodation wisely. Greatly consider the location of your hotel, especially if you’re doing a DIY trip and will be commuting most of the time. Make sure that it is accessible via multiple transport options (trains, buses, taxis).
We initially wanted to book a nice Airbnb located in the posh Jumeirah Beach Residence, good enough for the whole gang, composed of seven adults (2 of which are senior citizens) and two 3-year-old kids. It was on the pricey side but I thought it was worth it.
Luckily, my sister was able to grab a nice deal at Auris Hotel Apartments in Deira through booking.com. According to her, Auris not only beats the Airbnb I was looking at in terms of price, but also with the location. Auris is a mere 5-min. walk away from the Al Rigga Metro Station, and is surrounded by a lot of food joints. We had no problem in getting out of and getting back to our hotel, at all.
4. Go for food courts: Since there are literally more expats than Emiratis in Dubai, food variety won’t be a problem. We often chose to eat at food courts to make sure that everyone from the group get to order something they like. The kids for example, always preferred chicken fingers or fish and chips, while the rest were looking for rice meals or noodle dishes.
Based on our experience, servings in all the food courts we tried were huge, especially if they were Chinese or Japanese dishes. So if you’re not a heavy eater, better share a meal with someone. Or if you’re not sure, there’s no harm in observing other customers and checking out the size of the servings on their plates. Just make sure you don’t stare 🙂
Also, bring bottled water whenever you can. Keep hydrated without spending too much.
5. Plan what to wear. There’s no dress code for tourists in Dubai, except when visiting mosques of course. Pay respect to their religious sites by ensuring that your whole body is covered. No tight-fitting clothes. You wouldn’t want to buy a whole outfit just to get inside a mosque when you could’ve just prepared, do you?
But no need to worry when visiting the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, because female tourists can borrow abayas if needed. The rule doesn’t seem to apply to kids though, because my niece Yara wasn’t required to cover up during our visit.
Oh, and remember: Always bring your sunnies! It’s almost as important as putting on sunscreen before leaving your hotel, believe me.
6. Bring strollers during DIY walking tours. A DIY walking is definitely doable, just make sure that you bring a stroller with you so that when the child gets tired, no one would need to carry him/her for the rest of the tour. We learned this the hard way during our first day. Fortunately, my sister knew a couple of kabayans who were willing to lend their kids’ strollers to us.
Also, you don’t need to worry about bringing your kids to tour groups because tour operators give high regard to child safety. To give you an idea, our desert safari guides had car seats ready and specially installed just for Yara and Lucas.
7. Rent-a-car vs. Taxis. If you’re a big group, you’ll be saving a lot by renting a car and driving around, than commuting via metro and taxi. We were fortunate that my sister took care of dealing with the rent-a-car company, and that my brother-in-law was willing to drive us around. This helped us a lot in lowering our travel expenses. If you don’t have a relative or a friend who can drive for you, someone from your group may just secure an international driving permit so he/she can do the driving.
8. Bring travel adapters. Dubai uses type G sockets (see picture below). So better come prepared with universal adapters, else you’ll be forced to purchase some just to charge your gadgets. Not unless your hotel has USB sockets enough for all your gadgets, of course.
That’s it pansit! Hope this post can help you in planning that long-awaited family trip to Dubai 🙂
If you have more tips to share, please feel free to comment below.
Specific directions to listed destinations, travel time & costs, plus additional maps, can be seen on our mobile-friendly Dubai artinerary. Plus, a free pre-departure checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything before you head to the airport. Download it HERE. (You have to be subscribed to this site to get access to our freebies. Click here if you haven’t.)
Make sure to save all images on your mobile phones in proper order. Enjoy!
P.S. For a step-by-step guide on how to apply for a visa, please wait for our next post 🙂