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Abu Dhabi & Dubai

After spending the past few months traveling around the U.S., visiting family and friends, my husband and I finally went on the first big trip of our adventure! We spent one week in the United Arab Emirates and two weeks in South Africa [find out here why we chose this as our first trip abroad.] I’m breaking the post into two because that would be way too many pictures!

Since flying to South Africa required a layover in Dubai, we decided to spend a week there. Aside from the typical draws to visiting the area (i.e., incredible architecture, malls and beaches) they also have an abundance of theme parks! My husband is a major theme park fan, so we decided to add a week to our trip.

And let me just say, we were not disappointed!

I took this picture on the bus ride from the Dubai airport to Abu Dhabi. I mean I knew that Dubai had the world’s tallest building, but the Burj Khalifa is seriously SO much taller than I expected! It gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘skyscraper!’

[Little tip: If you fly Emirates to Dubai, they offer a free shuttle the day of your flight from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.]

I left the majority of the planning for this part of our trip to my husband since he wanted to go to the theme parks, which meant we spent our first day at Yas Waterworld and Ferrari World! What better way to fight jet lag than going to two parks in one day, right?!

Our first stop was the water park. Before leaving for our trip, I researched culturally appropriate clothing, especially swimwear. I made sure that it was okay to wear a two-piece bathing suit to water parks, pools and beaches. EVERY site I checked assured me that it was acceptable to wear bikinis. I usually wear a high neck bathing suit top to cover up my port scar [an implanted device for infusions], so I figured I was wearing a relatively conservative bathing suit.

Until we walked outside. And I was the only person wearing a bikini.

In the entire water park.

I was so embarrassed! I made my husband rent a towel so I could walk around the park wrapped in it! I should add though—when I say I was the only one there wearing a bikini, I mean the only one out of like 30 people. The park was completely empty! Which was a bummer for me in my bikini wearing struggles, but great for my husband who got to ride every ride as many times as his heart desired!! Thankfully, after a couple of hours the crowds picked up, and I was no longer the only one in a two-piece!

After lunch, we headed to Ferrari World. The best part about the park is it’s indoors! Since temps can reach up to 120 degrees in Abu Dhabi in the summer, AC is a must and waiting in line for a ride outside would be awful! Fun fact about the water parks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi: they have to chill the water because it gets so hot! Thankfully since we were there in the winter, the weather was much milder. I even wore a sweater most days!

Yes, we rode the world’s fastest roller coaster. And yes, I almost peed my pants.

Formula Rossa goes 150 mph—you have to wear goggles while on the ride to protect your eyes! My husband claims it’s just to make the ride seem more intense and that you don’t really need to wear eye gear…I suspect he was lying just to convince me to go on it with him.

Another cool thing we noticed on most of the rides is that they offer special head coverings for both men and women. Since things like abayas and burqas are loose and would fly off during the ride, instead of making people take them off and break their religious practices, they just give them something to wear on top of them.

Don’t be fooled…this picture may make Formula Rossa look nice and easy, but trust me…you don’t breathe the entire ride, and it rattles like crazy! But of course, my husband LOVED it!

The next day, we headed to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It was beyond beautiful! The word ‘grand’ is an understatement when it comes to describing it! We were in awe of the entire place. It was easily my favorite part of our week in the UAE!

We started the next morning bright and early at Dubai Parks and Resorts. A stop at Starbucks was a must, but I mistakenly ordered a ‘tall’ flat white and received the world’s tiniest coffee cup! [It also came in an old Christmas cup, but I definitely didn’t mind!]

Dubai Parks and Resorts consists of three parks: Motiongate, Bollywood and Legoland. Thanks to my husband’s wonderful friend, we had free tickets to all three parks!

Bollywood: the most beautiful theme park EVER! Everything was so colorful and so well done! We weren’t big fans of any of the rides, but some of that was because they were all based on movies we’d never seen.

We loved Motiongate and Bollywood, but both parks were surprisingly empty! Which again, was great since we didn’t have to wait in long lines, but also sad since they built such nice parks and hardly have any visitors.

After finishing at the other parks, we decided to quickly check out Legoland since they built a scene of Dubai out of legos.

Now for the malls: they are nothing short of amazing! We went to both The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates. It’s a good thing that Cardin and I are minimalist travelers (aka I only have a 35L backpack with no room to spare) so neither of us has any room to shop—otherwise, I don’t think I would have been able to resist so many stores!

Honestly, I’m not even sure you can consider these places malls. They’re more like an aquarium, ice skating rink, shopping, dining, and fountain show combo! You could spend an entire day just walking around The Dubai Mall without even stepping into a store.

Before leaving for our trip, everyone kept asking if we were going to go indoor skiing at Mall of the Emirates. Well, we went to see the indoor ski resort, which was completely crazy, but unfortunately, you need to have at least 4 hours to devote to it, and we didn’t have enough time before our desert safari. It’s definitely on our list for our next trip though!

We were SO excited to find a store with Cardin’s name on it!

They have a huge fountain show outside of The Dubai Mall. It’s very similar to the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, except the fountain is directly under the Burj Khalifa—the world’s tallest building!

Keep in mind the building is even taller than it looks in these pictures since I couldn’t get the very top to fit in the frame! They also do a light show on the building, which is amazing! It alternates every half hour between doing the fountain show and the light show. And they extended the New Year’s celebration show since it was such a big hit, so we got to see that too!

On the last night of our week in the UAE, we did a desert safari. They start the afternoon by taking you out in the middle of the desert and doing something called dune bashing. It’s ridiculous and completely terrifying, but SO fun! A must if you go to Dubai! Our driver was great, but he was, of course, the one person who kept deviating from the group and driving off huge hills, which was hilarious, but so nerve racking! They end the night by taking you to a campsite where they have camel rides, dinner, and belly dancing. The camel ride was really cool, but we weren’t big fans of the dancing and other activities at the campsite since they felt so touristy.

Overall, we had an amazing time in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai!! Stay tuned for part II of our trip: South Africa!