We have been frequent visitors to Dubai – maybe a dozen times in the last decade – and when our 15th wedding anniversary was on the horizon we managed to cash in some BA Miles for free flights back to DXB. However – we felt we needed a change, so we asked our lovely Travel Counsellor Michelle for some options hotel-wise- and she came up with 3, one of which was the Emirates Palace just down the road in the different Emirate of Abu Dhabi. So we decided to go for it!
This meant I was able to tell my favourite joke for weeks leading up to our trip:
“Do you know they don’t show the Flintstones in Dubai?
But Abu Dhabi do!!!”
Whilst everyone *may* have mocked my joke, it did get us a mention and anniversary best wishes from Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2 when my sister emailed in to tell him where we were celebrating when he told the same *fabulous* joke on air!!!
Anyway – back to the trip.
As I said, we cashed in the BA Miles and turned left onto the plane to fly to Dubai. However, as we were due to begin our descent we were told it was incredibly foggy – less than 100m visibility – and so planes were being held in a holding pattern above the city as they were having to leave much bigger gaps between planes landing. We had enough fuel for 2 hours – otherwise we’d have to divert to Muscat to refuel!! Having slept for most of the actual flight time, this did give me time to watch a film! And if you’re going to have a delay in landing – then lying on a flat bed is the way to do it. Thankfully we didn’t have to divert to Oman – and landed JUST within the 2 additional hours.
Michelle had arranged for a driver to collect us from DXB to take us to our hotel. Mr P was asleep before we were out of central Dubai. I managed to stay awake a little longer – but there is only so much sand / scrub land / building work you can look at – and I nodded off too. We’d both woken up once we were off the highway and the arrival at our hotel was impressive! It stars in the film Fast and Furious 7 – but was even more impressive in real life.
As it was our 15th wedding anniversary – we’d pushed the boat out and booked a suite – and it was ENORMOUS! We were really impressed. We’ve stayed in some lovely hotels around the world – including the Burj Al Arab up the coast in Dubai – but this is definitely the best suite ever.
The whole hotel is huge – and feels really empty in the guest areas. (The lobby area is always busy because it’s a feature on all of the tours of the city! Although the dress code is strictly enforced so don’t try and get it wearing shorts and flip flops.) My husband tried to claim he’d booked the hotel for our exclusive use – but I’m not that gullible! But it has been nice not to have to worry about racing to get sunbeds in prime position on the beach or by the pool!!
On our first full day we did a tour of the city and it was BRILLIANT. Our guide, Vera, was from Mexico (one of the 84% of the population of the UAE who aren’t Emirati) but has lived here for 7 years and so was very knowledgeable.
We did a couple of museums covering the history of Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a whole.
We then did a drive by of recently opened Louvre. Having been into the original Paris gallery recently, we didn’t feel compelled to go inside this one.
Then we went to Ferrari World – again, we only went as far as the shop – but when we return with our kids we can see this being top of the places to visit.
We then popped round the corner to the Yas Marina circuit – where the final race of the Formula One season is held each November. You can access loads of areas (way more than you could at Silverstone) and you can drive the circuit in a selection of very fancy pants cars. Again – this is on the list for when we come here again with the whole clan.
After that we drove to see the Sheik Zayed Mosque – started by the eponymous founder of the UAE but not completed until after his death. I knew the basic rules of clothing in the UAE from going to Dubai – and covering knees and shoulders – but the dress code here in Abu Dhabi seems to be far more strict, and at the mosque stricter still. The lovely Vera had bought an abaya I could borrow – and I’d thought to pack a headscarf – but less organised people can hire suitable attire at the entrance to the mosque. The husband’s shorts had to be pulled down so his knees were covered at all times.
Once inside it was truly stunning.
Everything is intricately carved with different coloured stones and metals to ensure it doesn’t weather or fade and it looks out of this world. The husband did notice that the tiles weren’t grouted (you can take the builder out of Birmingham and all that…..) but it turns out that’s because there’s a below floor cooling system so that the marble doesn’t get too hot when the weather is 40 degrees plus in the summer. The cold water under there keeps the marble cool to the touch so that the worshippers can still kneel on it to pray. The outside courtyard can have 30,000 people praying at any one time – whilst inside can house 20,000. During Ramadan there would not be a single spare space.
Inside was just as impressive – with chandeliers with ladders inside so that they can be cleaned and the lamps changed (I’m not allowed to say bulbs – although that is what I would normally put – but I get ranted at by my husband that bulbs are what are planted in the ground and lamps are what emit light). The carpet holds the Guinness World Record for the largest single piece of carpet. It was made in situ and weighs over 65 tonnes. It has clever ridges in it so that people praying can line up exactly.
It was an amazing place to visit – and definitely feels like one of the wonders of the modern world.
As the afternoon tea in our hotel is legendary – it had to be done! My only regret is that I hadn’t starved myself for the day beforehand, and consequently couldn’t finish it – and felt ridiculously full for HOURS afterwards!
We managed the cappuccinos with gold on them – but didn’t go as far as the camelccino (cappuccino with camels’ milk!!!)
All in all, we love Abu Dhabi – and will definitely be back with the children in tow. Someone had described it to me as ‘Dubai’s older more sophisticated sister’ and I think they’re spot on. It has the great service you expect of Dubai – but feels a bit calmer and slightly less ‘crazy fake bubble’ – although particularly in the Emirates Palace, if something sits still long enough it will be coated with gold leaf!!
But definitely consider it as a holiday option.
Whilst we were away my Auntie told my (slightly deaf) Nan that we were in Abu Dhabi – to which she replied ‘Oh, I love Aberdovey’. Maybe we’ll save that destination for our next big anniversary …….