Once upon a time (6 months ago to be exact) we took off to the land of sand. Our trip lasted eight days and was a mix of family vacation, 30th birthday celebrations for me, and work for Nick. It was my first time to the UAE and I already have my list of things to see and do on our next trip. A week and a half wasn’t enough time to fit it all in with a toddler in tow. Below is our trip itinerary showcasing how we got there, where we stayed and what we did.
Day 1: Travel & Brunch
We flew Emirates direct from Tokyo. The flight was comfortable even for economy seating, they had nice handouts (pouch, eye mask, socks) for all passengers plus a treasure trove of handouts for William. He is still using his panda wipe board 6 months later, thanks Emirates! Seriously, check out all this swag.
Thanks to our 1st Class Kids Travel Pillow, William slept just about the entire flight. I can’t say enough good things about this invention. It’s simple, but in my opinion, necessary for long flights with a little one. Here he is, happily snoozing:
Dubai Airport (DXB) is just what you’d expect: big, beautiful and new. One thing to note, is that even if you gate check your stroller, as we did, you won’t see it again until baggage claim. There are complimentary McClaren umbrella strollers to use once you deplane, look for those if you’ve got a non walker or bring your carrier. William was happy to walk after the long flight so we opted to just let him run. Granted, this could just be an Emirates policy, not sure, but good to know ahead of time!
From the airport, we headed to our hotel. We stayed at the Fairmont Dubai, it’s a bit dated for Dubai but overall a great hotel, scroll down to Day 6 for more on our room and the property. Since we arrived in the morning, we decided to keep the train moving and after a quick pit stop at the hotel, it was off to an infamous Dubai brunch to ring in my 30th. The Jumeriah Mina a’Salam Hotel has a great brunch that is family friendly, complete with a cute kids section stocked with fun food and activities.
The brunch was fabulous with unlimited champagne and more food than we knew what to do with. William tagged along, it wasn’t his most favorite activity, but I didn’t feel right leaving him with a sitter straight away. We rounded out Day One with a walk around Dubai Marina before heading back to the hotel.
Day 2: Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi was on my must see list during our trip. This was Nick’s third trip to The UAE, but he still hadn’t been, so off we went! Our first stop was Emirates Palace, where we enjoyed tea time. The big draw there is the 24 karat gold latte and it was pretty amazing.
The Palace is actually a 5 star hotel so be sure to have a destination at the resort upon entering. They will most likely ask why you are entering and often times the answer of, “just visiting” will get you turned away. A missed adventure for William as he was napping but he woke up just in time to take in the Abu Dhabi skyline.
From the Palace we went to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest in The UAE. I think it may have been my most favorite stop of our entire trip. We arrived at dusk and were able to hear prayer time and take in the sunset, it was absolutely beautiful.
William also loved the mosque and it was a great introduction to the prayer time ritual which we would hear throughout the trip. By about day four, he wanted to go in every mosque we passed and would recognize and call out prayer time. I found it to be quite kid friendly and didn’t feel a toddler was viewed as out of place there at all. There is a dress code. For women, you must cover your head. I chose to wear a full abaya, but I saw many other tourists with simple scarves covering up and that was fine. Men must wear long pants as well. Children are exempt from the dress code, William wore shorts and that was fine. Also, shoes must be taken off prior to entering the interior.
I highly recommend getting out of the city and making the trip out to Abu Dhabi, it was a huge highlight for us and gives you a better sense of life outside the Dubai bubble. And, if you’re making the drive, be sure to plan a stop at Last Exit, a food truck park. We didn’t stop and I completely regret it, just add it to the list for next time!
Day 3: City Walk & Mattel Play! Town
After two days of adult centered sightseeing, it was time for William to have some toddler fun. We took a quick ride over to City Walk, a beautiful, outdoor multi purpose facility consisting of restaurants, shops and entertainment. After stopping for a quick snack, we arrived at our destination, Mattel Play! Town.
Mattel Play! Town is comprised of five different themed areas including: Thomas, Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, Angelina Ballerina and Barney. My little guy (2 years old) LOVED it and I think it would be suitable for children up to 5 years old. I loved the fact that everything was new, clean and the space was not crowded at all. Additionally, the staff is amazing!
Each area has it’s own dedicated staff and they are so happy to interact and play with your child. I actually felt as though I had dropped him at a play space. There is also a floating photographer to capture cute moments for you. We spent a few hours and visited each area, definitely a great stop if you’re traveling with little ones!
Day 4: Dubai Mall & Parent’s Night Out
By day William and I explored Dubai Mall. The “mall” is ginormous and more of a compound really. We spent the entire day just meandering around, browsing and eating. There is a large aquarium which we didn’t go in however, we spent a good half hour just taking in the huge tank in the center of the mall. The candy store across from the aquarium was also a hit, we loved the conveyor belt sushi style treats going around! I enjoyed walking through the replica Souk area and we even found their resident dinosaur. The Burj is also attached to the mall so you can get a great view of the world’s tallest building while there.
By night, we enjoyed some adult only time. We secured a sitter through our hotel and had a fabulous dinner at Play, located inside the H Hotel, just down the road from The Fairmont. It was the perfect date spot with low lighting, excellent food (a blend of Mediterranean and Asian) and no children in sight!
Day 5: Big Bus Tour
With Nick off to work again, I booked a Big Bus Tour through our hotel. It was a perfect way to see all of Dubai in one day, with a toddler in tow. The ticket allowed us to get on and off at any stop and use any of the bus routes. Our first stop was Dubai Museum which is outside of the “bubble” so I loved that. Also, the museum was great for kids, tons to explore and the replica old village was a lot of fun as well. Admission to the museum was included in our bus tour ticket. From the museum, we stopped as a local cafe to grab lunch. William had a total meltdown and so we took our food to go and ate at the bus stop, looking like total tourists.
Once we got back on the bus, William fell asleep so I just enjoyed the ride and took in the sights. I had really wanted to stop at the traditional souks along the way however, I felt I wasn’t dressed appropriately. Don’t get me wrong here, you can wear whatever you want in Dubai, no one is going to arrest you or yell at you. However, you may get some looks outside of the expat, city bubble. Anyways, it was completely a personal choice for me to not stop and explore. Next time I will just always bring a scarf and wear capris, pants or a maxi skirt/dress. Once the munchkin awoke, we swapped bus routes and hopped off at the beach for a quick tour break, then hopped back on and went to Atlantis on The Palm. We could have spent an entire day at Atlantis and I wouldn’t even mind staying there next time we visit, it’s huge and a lot of fun. We simply walked around and explored, definitely worth the trip. Plus, being on The Palm was pretty cool.
Overall, the bus tour was a really great option. Hindsight, I would have brought my stroller along, I was trying to keep the gear light but in reality, it made the day a lot more challenging.
Day 6: Rest & Relaxation
After our day of touring, a pool and hotel lounging day were in order. The Fairmont, has two different outdoor pools open at separate times during the day. One also has a small, children’s pool. We were there in the middle of the week so it wasn’t too crowded. After tea time in the lounge, we headed back for an afternoon nap.
A note about hotel lounges: I always recommend booking a hotel room with lounge access if available when traveling with family. At face value it is more expensive however, we’ve found that overall we save. We are able to enjoy breakfast (sometimes twice if we’re up really early), tea time and a generous evening spread (usually with alcohol included) each day of the trip. Plus, it’s just super convenient to be able to pop in at any time for a latte, tea or soft drink.
We were lucky and got upgraded to a Junior Suite (subpar photos below) which was the perfect amount of space for us. I alway appreciate when a hotel room has a separate sleeping space so we don’t all have to clock out for the night at the same time. This suite was very spacious and overlooked the pool. The hotel itself is a bit dated especially for Dubai standards, but the service is excellent and the rooms are comfortable. They also have a complimentary car service that will shuttle you to and from the malls and beach which is awesome and saves you the cab fare. There is a spa onsite as well, but sadly, I didn’t get to try it out.
Day 7: Burj Khalifa
If you’ve read my review of The Tokyo Sky Tree, you know that I’m not a huge fan of the whole observation deck activity. Still, I felt we had to do the Burj Khalifa while we were in Dubai. It is the world’s tallest structure after all. I was able to book our ticket for the Burj through the hotel and timed it so that William would be napping. This way, I could enjoy the view as we were on our own for the day. We headed out to Dubai Mall for the morning which was a nightmare, as William was just not into it and an all over terror. Yes, when raveling with toddlers, there will be tantrums.
Anyhow, I finally got him to nap in the stroller just as we were waiting in line for the Burj… success! Or so I thought until I was informed that strollers are strictly prohibited from entering the Burj. If I had known this ahead of time I would have just tackled it first thing in the morning. But, I didn’t see this tidbit anywhere when researching and the hotel didn’t seem to know either. End result was me waking an already cranky toddler to tour a place that really isn’t very kid friendly. So, we went up, checked the box, and went down. If you do plan to visit with young kids just be sure they’re rested or bring a carrier along to tote them.
Day 8: JBR Walk by Night
After spending a lazy day at the hotel enjoying the pool and packing up for our early flight the next day, we headed to The JBR Walk. You can easily spend a full day here, they have a great splash pad for kids plus loads of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. We enjoyed the family-friendly night scene complete with carnival games, mini train rides and balloons! Since alcohol is only served at hotels in Dubai, we headed to The Hilton for dinner. The food was great and they were very tolerant of our hyped up toddler.
We had an amazing time in Dubai and found it to be very family friendly! Have you visited this cosmopolitan city? I’d love to hear what you thought and what fun family activities, you enjoyed!