• Hilary McCormack

Dubai, home to dreamers & believers

Updated: May 20

"If you can dream it, you can do it" Walt Disney.

Having navigated the various covid travel hoops and hurdles for a weekend in Dubai, I finally made it to the UAE! For me, it is a return to see friends and a country I called home for many years.


Truth be told, I don't think there is anything I can write about Dubai that you don't already know. But here is an interesting fact: Did you know that some of the biggest brand names in Dubai were built from the inside by the Irish?...


Here are a few names you might know, Jumeriah Hotel Group, Emirates Airlines, The Irish Village, Dubai Duty-Free, McGettigan's, Boddingtons Hotel, Godolphin Horse Racing, and the online shopping portal Cobone... Never mind the numerous schools and hospitals that employ highly valued Irish teachers, doctors, and nurses.


Today, Dubai is home to over 200 nationalities, which equals to around 3,400,800 people, and there are about 12K Irish in all of that. It's a pretty outstanding achievement by the Irish, even if I am a bit biased in my thinking!

So back to the '90s, where this story really begins. It was in the early 90's when Dubai started to wrestle with Manama, the Capital of Bahrain for the crown of number one post-oil economy in the Arabian Gulf. Slowly, Bahrain began to lose its grip as the GCC's only strategic business and financial capital in the region.



It was also around this time that I had my first trip to Dubai, it was circa 1994. You might well ask what was in Dubai in those days? Well, truthfully, not a lot, to be very frank. But Dubai had ambition in its blood and sheer grit and determination in its heart, so it adopted "a build it and they will come" approach to expanding its city limits. It had already started its own airline in 1985, then came the hotels, and from there, it steadily grew into the colossus it is today.


Dubai Marina Harbour

Dubai rose from the ground at an astonishing rate, and we all flocked there because we could not believe our ears that such extraordinary opulence existed in the middle of the desert. Moreover, the naysayers all said it would never last!


Everything was imported to build the dream, from food to workers, ideas, and investors. And Dubai has not only lasted, and it has thrived. Today I don't think any of us could imagine a world without the glitzy city called Dubai.


Dubai Metro

Fast forward to 2022, Dubai welcomes visitors from all over the world, including Tel Aviv, Israel. On my most recent trip to Dubai, I met a school trip of young students and exhausted teachers from Tel Aviv, all excitedly waiting to return home to tell their families about their action-packed and exciting trip to Dubai.

Kite Surfing Jumeriah Beach

It really is true, Dubai is exhausting because there is so much to see and do there for all ages and at every price point. Here is my list of favorites going from A – Z of Dubai.


Arabian Adventures for Tours, Luxury all the way.

Bur Dubai: Sensory shopping in the Old Souk area of Dubai.

Catch a show: it can be a concert, a musical or an opera.

City Centre Deira. Good for bargains, especially electronics.

Dubai Mall: is the world's largest destination for shopping leisure activities such as ice skating or its virtual reality indoor park. I love the dancing fountains myself, and of course, it is home to Burj Khalifa as well. The mall backs on to Souk al-bahar, which is home to a wonderful selection of restaurants and eateries.

Dubai Safari Park, a wildlife reserve, animal sanctuary, and education center: Spanning 119 hectares, the Dubai Safari Park is home to 3,000 mammals, birds, amphibians, and invertebrates. The Park features African elephants and giraffes, and other rare animals, including the Komodo dragon, Spiral-horned antelope, Arabian Oryx, colored African wild dog, gorilla, gibbon bongo, and lemur.

Hop-on hop-off Bus: Iventure card

Invest in a Metro Card called Nol and travel around the city by Metro.

Mall of the Emirates: For some snowboarding at Ski Dubai

Mercato Beach. This charming and peaceful beach is located along Jumeirah Beach Road. it has a great promenade and cycling track, and you can walk all the way to the Jumeirah Fishing Harbour, where you can find some nice cafes and restaurants

Mercato Shopping Mall – it is easy to get Mall fatigue in Dubai, but this mall is small and easy to navigate, and it has all the brands I love. Check out their nail spa, and it's the best around!

Private Yacht Hire: works out to be about 499AED for an average size boat per hour. So for an afternoon between friends, it's good value. You can bring your own food and drinks if you wish.

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary: All year round, you can see the Pink Flamingoes and other migrating birds who flock to the mangroves forests of Ras al Khor, it's a great spot to catch a glimpse of other various reptiles, fish, and the curious Ethiopian hedgehog and the best part is the Park is free to visit.

Scuba Diving in the Atlantis Tanks: The Ambassador Lagoon is an 11-million-liter marine habitat and one of the largest aquariums in the world. It is also the largest open-air aquarium in Africa and The Middle East at just over three million gallons. The artificial habitat is home to marine life found in the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea, including the Zebra shark, Grey Reef shark, Bowmouth Guitar shark, White Tip Reef Shark, Black Tip Reef Shark, and the Arabian Carpet shark. It costs Dh1,100 per person for a 30-minute dive.


It is hard to put a number on this, but I prepared a list of my favorite places to eat or have a sundowner across Dubai. Let's call this Hils Top 22 because it is 2022...


Delicious & Cheap Eats

1. Al-ustad-special-kabab, Bur Dubai

2. Bu Qtair Restaurant, Jumeriah Beach Road

3. Sammach Souk Al Bahar


Sundowners

4. Bahri BarBar : Jumeirah Mina A’Salam

5. Barasti, Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina

6. Boardwalk, Dubai Creek Marina

7. Vista Restaurant & Terrace, Intercontinental Hotel Festival City


To-be-Seen

8. White Beach, Atlantis The Palm

9. The Meat Company, Souq Madinat Jumeriah

10. Buddha-Bar Dubai Grosvenor House

11. McGettigans, (5 venues to choose from, look them up to find the venue nearest to you).

12. Irish Village Al Garhoud (3 venues to choose from, which one is nearest to you)

13. The Rooftop, Arabian terrace at the One&Only Royal Mirage


Really Dress-up

14. Pier Chic Al Qasr at Madinat

15. Pai Thai at Jumeirah Al Qasr

16. Tagine One&Only Royal Mirage

17. Skyview Bar and Restaurant, 27th floor Burj al Arab


Romantic

18. NOÉPE in the Park Hyatt

19. Monty's, Address Montgomerie

20. Palm Grill, The Ritz Carlton JBR Beach

21. Shimmers in Jumeirah-Mina-a-Salam

22. Al hadherrah, Bab Al Shams


When it comes to accommodation in Dubai, there is oodles of choice, from Airbnb to Serviced apartments and any kind of star hotels all over the city. My rule of thumb for where to stay is to opt for something within walking distance of a Metro station to make it easier and cheaper to get around.


However, many hotels offer shuttle services to the nearby malls, which is also an excellent value add to your booking. Properties like Atlantis and Souq Madinat Jumeriah have on-site family entertainment, which is good value for money when traveling with kids.


Dubai Marina Beach

As a place to stay Dubai Marina area works well for me. But another fun and newer way to travel around Dubai these days are by water taxi which travels between Dubai Marina and the Palm, or you can use the water taxis that travel between the Creek and the newer water canal.


Dubai has completely reinvented itself in the twenty-five years I have been in the Gulf. I expect Saudi to do something similar now that it opens the country up to new business and new business opportunities. Exciting times ahead, so let's see if I am right!

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