There is something about Dubai that absolutely fascinates me. It’s unlikely I’ll get there anytime soon, So I’m delighted that Kelly has shared her story about visiting Dubai with a baby. Kelly was en route to Australia and had a three-day stopover that also included a visit with mom. What an awesome adventure and a great way to break up a long journey–if you can handle it!
I love travel, but if you had told me that I would be in Dubai with a baby, my four-month old baby to be exact, I would have told you were nuts. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even have known exactly where Dubai is on a map (it borders Oman and Saudi Arabia, if you’re still unsure). But when the opportunity presented itself to me, I couldn’t say no.
For many Western Travelers, Dubai is a stopping point. The international airports in Dubai and neighboring Abu Dhabi (both part of the United Arab Emirates) are hubs for Emirates and Etihad airlines respectively, so Americans travelling to India, Asia, or the Pacific have a chance to lay over in this desert oasis.
That’s exactly how I wound up in Dubai. My daughter and I were meeting my husband and his family in Brisbane, Australia. When I looked up flights from Boston it was cheaper (and only slightly more flying time) to travel east, stopping in Dubai, than it was to travel to Australia via Los Angeles like I had done in the past.
Coincidentally, my mother and stepfather had just moved to Dubai, so breaking up the flight and visiting their new home was an obvious choice.
I was hoping for a few days of rest and relaxation, but in my mind Dubai was a harsh metropolis, filled with single businessmen from around the globe. When I arrived my biggest surprise was how family-friendly the city was. Carriages were everywhere, pushed by robed Arab women and stylish foreigners alike. The women who worked in the service industries in Dubai loved cooing over the baby, and everyone – from our flight attendants on Emirates to the staff at the local gelato shops – worked hard to accommodate me and my daughter.
Here’s what I did during my three-day stopover in Dubai with a baby:
Day One: The Marina District and JBR…
“Where does your family live?” the customs agent asked when my daughter and I arrived in the UAE. “The marina?” I said, questioning if that was indeed the name of my mother’s neighborhood. “Of course,” the agent replied, giving my daughter’s passport its first stamp and sending us on our way.
The Dubai Marina is a two-mile man-made canal that opens into the Persian Gulf at both ends. The Marina was designed with tourists and expats in mind. The tall residential buildings along the marina are reflected off the canal’s waters, and the whole setup is gorgeous at night, when you’re most likely to be outdoors exploring (it’s simply too hot during the day). The seven-kilometer Dubai Marina Walk is newly paved and easy to navigate with a stroller. The walk is lined with cafes, restaurants and high-end stores. My daughter was too young to enjoy the playground, but we did pass swings and slides set up in the shade beneath the bridges that cross that canal. The Marina’s best draw, however, was the people watching: Strolling along the marina we heard more languages than we could count, and saw families from all over the world.
In the afternoon we walked from my mom’s apartment on the marina to Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), a mile-long stretch of upscale apartments, hotels, and dining along the shore of the Persian Gulf. I can never resist the water, so we began our afternoon on the beach, watching the construction of Bluewaters Island, a new construction project similar to the famous Palm Islands. As a Bostonian I’m used to being shocked by a cool ocean, but the waves in Dubai were truly like bath water. I visited in early October, and my mother said that a month before the ocean had been too warm to even be refreshing.
After swimming, we showered and changed in the public restrooms on the beach (like everything in Dubai, they were impeccably clean). The Walk at JBR features over 300 restaurants and stores, many of them offering outdoor dining overlooking the beach. It was perfect for us to push the stroller directly to the table, and families with toddlers and older kids could certainly benefit from the added space and casual atmosphere of the al fresco dining.
Day Two: Abu Dhabi and The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque…
Our second day in Dubai we set off on a road trip to Abu Dhabi, which is about an hour and a half away by car or public bus. While Dubai is young, fast-paced and international, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is an older and more conservative city (I’ve seen it referred to as Dubai’s sophisticated older sister).
Abu Dhabi is well known for its Formula 1 Track, but our destination for the day was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The Grand Mosque was designed and planned by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and opened in 2007 as a cultural center to promote respect and understanding between religions. Visitors to the mosque can take a free audio tour, which touches on the tenants of Islam, cultural lessons, and the construction of the impressive monument.
I knew that conservative dress is required in the mosque, so I wore a loosely knit sweater and long pants, and brought a scarf to cover my hair. When we arrived, one of the staff members pointed out that the knit holes in my sweater allowed too much skin, and asked me to wear an abaya (a traditional black robe), which the mosque provided for free. I steadied myself for the stale smell of used clothing, but the abaya was perfectly clean, and light enough not to be bothersome in the heat. It was fun to have the chance to dress traditionally, since in downtown Dubai you can wear anything you would wear in the U.S.
It’s clear that the people who work at the mosque respect the sacred nature of the site, and that visitors are expected to as well. I was concerned that the baby would fuss, or need to be nursed, disturbing the tranquility of the site. I didn’t need to worry, however. Babies are a universal language. Tourists from around the world smiled at my daughter, and one Chinese woman who spoke no English even scooped her up for a cuddle. My daughter didn’t need to eat during the time we were at the mosque, but I have no doubt that with all the layers we could have easily nursed without anyone noticing, or we could have retreated to the mosque’s impressive bathroom suite (which was a work of art in itself).
After the mosque, where we spent about two hours, we opted to go back to Dubai for another evening at JBR.
Day Three: The Dubai Mall and The Burj Khalifa…
I’m not a woman who likes to be in a mall, but I considered a trip to the Dubai Mall a cultural experience. After all, high-end shopping is what brings many tourists to the city. Depending on whom you ask, the Dubai Mall is either your worst nightmare or a dream come true. The mall’s website lists over 60 children’s retailers, plus maternity wear and toy stores. My mom and I filled a morning window shopping for children’s clothing that cost more than our trip to Dubai, in stores like Armani Junior, Dolce & Gabbana Kids, and Gucci Kids. If you’re not a big spender there are also American staples like Gymboree and Build-a-Bear. The mall also offers plenty of entertainment options, including the Dubai Aquarium, virtual reality experiences, Dubai Dino (where you can get up close to fossils), and a skating rink.
The most impressive attraction, however, is the fountain show in the mall’s courtyard. Numerous people had mentioned the show to me, but I wasn’t prepared to be impressed by water fountains. I was so wrong. The Dubai Fountain is in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 2, 716.5 feet. The building is spectacular, and even more so at night. The foundation show jets water nearly 500 feet into the air, in a routine that is choreographed to music from around the world. Simply put, the show is magical, for kids and adults alike (even the baby was enthralled). There are large crowds, but getting an outdoor table at one the restaurants on the plaza is a great was to guarantee a view.
Again, on our last night in the Middle East, I was reminded that everyone loves a baby. I nursed in one café, subtly but uncovered, and received only smiles in response. Later in the evening, when my daughter spat up all over me, the laughter from the table of veiled Arab women next to us reminded me again that parenthood really is universal.