The decision to travel to Dubai was based mostly on circumstance. We were in the midst of planning our luxurious vacation to the Maldives, and there being no direct flights, we were forced to stopover on the way. At the time, there were limited options available to us, but the most appealing was Dubai. The trip to The Maldives included 4 planes and a boat, over a long 24 hours, and the trip home was expected to be longer. Thus we decided it best to take advantage of the layover and plan for a Stopover Vacation in Dubai on the way home.
After a week-long luxurious vacation at Hurawalhi Resort in The Maldives, we flew back to Dubai, via Sri Lanka. We prearranged for a driver from Blacklane to be waiting for us at the airport to escort us to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in style. The big, luxurious resort, with it’s unmistakable architecture, sits on Jumeirah Beach, directly in front of the iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah Hotel. Planning to stay in Dubai for only 2 nights, we did seriously consider staying at the extravagant Burj Al Arab Jumeirah Hotel, but decided the cost would be better spent on excursions. In hindsight, though I’m sure it would have been amazing, we spent very little time at the hotel, so it would have been money wasted on such an extravagant room. We arrived late in the evening, checked into our lovely hotel room, set out our clothes for the morning and headed right for bed.
At 5:30 am the next morning, we were in the lobby waiting for our pick-up. We had arranged for a private falconry excursion in the desert conservation area of the Dubai desert, with the Royal Shaheen. There are plenty of desert combination tours available from a wide variety of companies, but we were looking for something intimate, special and that did not disrupt the environment. One of the popular excursions offered to tourist in Dubai is dune bashing, which is where guests are tussled inside a car, racing up and down the sides of sand dunes. It may be thrilling, but the vehicles disrupt the sand and ultimately destroy the habitats and creatures living underneath. Many dispute this as false, but frankly, we didn’t want to take that chance. The Royal Shaheen and Platinum Heritage are one of the few organizations allowed to conduct excursions on the conversation reserve, because they respect the land and it’s creatures.
Our driver and guide, Werner, picked us up in the dark and headed towards the reserve. After introductions and some banter, he asked us to look in the back of the jeep. Completely unbeknownst to us, we had been driving with a falcon in tow. He remained quiet, propped up on a custom perch, wearing a leather cap to cover his eyes (called burkas). Once we arrived in the desert area, Werner stopped on a dune and allowed us to watch as the sun quickly rose over the horizon. It truly was breathtaking. After a few choice photographs, we were back in the jeep headed towards the conservation area. Along the way we saw many a gazelle and oryx roaming the wide open space.
Waiting for us when we arrived, was a carpet picnic, where we were offered dates and coffee. Our host, Rahim, explained that it is tradition to offer coffee, but there are subtleties in the presentation; if a host fills the cup, it means they truly want you to stay, but if the host presents you with a half a cup, you have overstayed your welcome and it’s time to leave. The dates were plump and sweet. When I finished devouring my first, I was unsure what to do with the pit. Rahim gestured that I just throw it into the sand. Hesitantly, I did and within seconds a small bird swooped in and carried it away. Nothing goes to waste.
After coffee and pleasantries, Werner brought over the first bird, named Thunder, a peregrine falcon. He clipped a small GPS device to his back, so he could be tracked in case he decided to fly away. They gave us a presentation on how amazing their hunting skills are, using a manual pole and new drone techniques. Thunder was spectacular. Next we were presented with Gamora, a peregrine/gyr falcon. Rahim gently sprayed her face and body with water, as they were unaccustomed to the heat and needed to be kept moist. It was abundantly clear that Rahim loved and cared for these birds. Werner would send Gamora to a post a few feet away and then call her back, to land on one of our gloved hands. Next to emerge was Dory, a squawky barn owl, who did not want to listen. She did manage a few trips over to us, but for an owl who was desperate for the food we had for her, she was uninterested in making any effort.
The next bird was a beautiful Harris hawk, named Tomahawk. We had the opportunity to have him land on our hands and watch him fly over our heads. He decided he liked the freedom and took a detour into a tree, but Werner managed to get him back. The final bird we interacted with was the gorgeous greater spotted eagle named Khaimah. He was huge, and appeared heavy, but landed on us lightly. Werner also had us stand close together, our arms creating a small circle, and called Khaimah over. He extended his massive wings and closed them tightly as he flew gracefully through the circle we created with our bodies. No matter how small we made the circle, Khaimah did not touch us as he passed through. It was beyond amazing.
We begrudgingly said goodbye to the beautiful birds and headed off to a delicious breakfast at the Al Maha Desert Resort, after which, Werner dropped us off back at the hotel. Exhausted and covered in sand, we showered and headed straight for bed. After only a few hours, we were up again and ready for the next excursion. We booked another desert excursion through Platinum Heritage; this time a 4-course traditional dinner in a small camp, with Emirati dancers, Henna tattoos and Shisha Pipes, under the Arabian desert sky. To get to the camp, we rode camels for 45 minutes, slowly stepping across the sand and watched the sun set around us. It was magical. After a delicious meal, we lay on carpets and pillows, looking up at the stars. We headed back to the hotel, and for the second time that day, washed off the sand and crawled into bed.
The next morning, after an extravagant breakfast at The Jumeirah Beach Hotel, we packed our bags and checked out. Let’s take a sidebar on the buffet for just a moment; it was indeed impressive, expanding across multiple rooms and cuisines, but it remains the single most expensive buffet breakfast we have ever had. We were booked on a late flight out of Dubai, but before heading to the airport, we had prearranged one last extravagance. Through Dubai Relax Tours, we hired a luxury vehicle to whisk us around the city before dropping us off at the airport. Unfortunately, I had miss-communicated the date to the agency (our flight technically departing in the wee hours of the morning the next day) and we were left waiting in the lobby.
The concierge at The Jumeirah Beach Hotel offered to call the company to see why they were held up, and thus my mistake was discovered. Between the ever helpful concierge and the lovely Victoria from Dubai Relax Tours, everything we had arranged was re-booked for that day. Within an hour, a luxurious car picked us up from the hotel and whisked us to our first destination of choice, The Dubai Frame. The attraction had just opened to the public a month earlier. Driving towards it, the huge shiny gold building did indeed resemble a ginormous picture frame. From whichever angle, you could frame the view in gold. One entered the unique structure and proceeded to take an elevator up the side of the frame to the top. There you were left impressed with the outstanding view from 150 m high. Peering out the windows on one side, you were blessed with the spectacular view of ancient Dubai, whereas on the opposite side, the lights of modern Dubai sparkled. In addition, the frosted glass square that made up the center of the floor, periodically became clear and you could be found suddenly staring down to the bottom of the frame below.
After an hour of gazing, we left The Dubai Frame behind and headed to The Dubai Mall. We marveled at the high-end shops and the huge indoor aquarium before heading to the tallest free-standing structure in the world, standing 828 m, The Burj Khalifa. Part of the package included VIP tickets to the upper deck of The Burj Khalifa, which not only offered a quiet, spacious floor, numerous lounge areas, but spectacular views of the city. The lights of Dubai sparkled in the night sky. Once back on solid ground, we stood outside the mall, and watched the impressive fountains dance to the music.
Everything in Dubai, old and new, sparkled with brilliance. The people we encountered were gracious, respectful and very proud. It was a short stay, but full of excitement and once in a lifetime experiences that only a city like Dubai could offer.