Traveling Dubai With Teens
Our buddy Jim Fatzinger The Travel Organizer is back with another epic trip report, his grandest yet! In this travel guide to Dubai he will go over his 6 day journey. The twist on this trip report from others is it focuses on traveling Dubai with teens. This should be a good itinerary for most families and it gives a different perspective on the popular travel destination. A big thanks to Jim for putting this together for us.
Travel, The Gift That Keeps On Giving
My favorite travel-related quote is, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many…need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views…cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” (Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad). My wife and I decided long ago that if there was anything we could do to challenge prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness and/or to cultivate the values of broad-mindedness, inclusivity, and empathy, we wanted that to be a priority in our lives.
Travel Instead Of Toys
So, when our children (now 47 and 45) hit their teens, we unilaterally decided to jump off the gift-giving bandwagon and use the money that otherwise would have bought items on their wish lists for family travel. Years later, we asked them, “Looking back, which would you have preferred; gifts or those trips?” Without hesitation, both responded, “The trips! Our teachers would talk about places we had actually visited.” Now our children have children, and we have told our 4 grandchildren that, when they turn 14, they can pick pretty much any place in the world. The one requirement was that it’s relatively safe (U.S. State Department Travel Advisory Levels 1 and 2). As long as that is the case we told them we will take them, one at a time, there for a week’s vacation.
First Grandchild Finally Turns 14 But Planning Gets Stalled
As luck would have it, our first-born grandchild turned 14 in February of 2021 – during the global travel shutdown caused by COVID-19. On top of that, his first choice of destination was the People’s Republic of China because he’s taken Chinese language studies since 8th grade. While travel there is possible, the State Department has assigned the PRC a Level 3 Travel Advisory. His second choice was Dubai but, because he couldn’t afford to miss a week’s worth of classes, we would have to travel after school let out for the summer. Many readers will immediately recognize is Dubai’s “low” season for travel because average daily high temperatures exceed 100° Fahrenheit! So, we began planning for a destination that wasn’t on our radar at a time we could expect to swelter. Great….
Because we wanted this to be his trip, not ours, I put together a list of possible activities with hyperlinks to their websites and asked our grandson to pick the top 10 things he wanted to do. We ended up doing all but one of his choices (denoted with an asterisk [*]). Feel free to request a complimentary copy of this list through Travel on Points.
I also created a detailed packing list which I’m happy to share.
Finally, because we would be visiting a part of the world with some very specific and different customs and laws, I created a 1-page list of “Things You Shouldn’t Do in Dubai”. This, too, is free for the asking for Travel on Points readers.
How We Traveled To Dubai (Hint: In Style)
We wanted to create memories and there are few better ways to travel to the Middle East than Qatar Airways. I used 280,000 AAdvantage miles to book my wife and grandson into QSuites on a CLT→ATL→DOH→DXB itinerary. Since I’m still on the requalification hamster wheel, I paid for my ticket and earned 42,036 redeemable miles and the same number of Loyalty Points. As the Mastercard commercial says, the look on our grandson’s face when he saw his Qsuite (with a door) was priceless!
Traveling Dubai With Teens: Planning Our Itinerary
Understanding Dubai’s geography and public transportation system was essential to helping us minimize expense and get the most out of our visit. Dubai is roughly shaped like a rectangle that is 40 miles long and 10 miles wide. It is tilted at a 45° angle toward the northeast, with the western long side bordered by the Persian Gulf and the eastern long side transitioning into desert. Dubai is transected by the world’s longest single driverless metro line, Dubai’s 32.4 mile long Red Line.
It takes almost an hour on that line to get from the airport to the restaurant (see below) where we ate dinner at the end of our first full day in Dubai. Trust me, you don’t want to be spending all day riding the Metro. That’s a poor use of time and metro fares (which are distance-based) can begin to get expensive the more riders there are in your party. I’ll indicate below when it turned out to be less expensive, more convenient, or both to take a taxi.
Since geography is so important in Dubai, I’ll arrange this trip report by days rather than group attractions, restaurants, etc., under separate headers.
Where We Stayed
Since we were not going to be renting a car and because the temperatures were going to be so hot, I wanted our hotel to be the following:
- (1) be centrally located
- (2) be very near to a metro station on the Red Line
- (3) include breakfast.
The Hampton by Hilton Dubai Al Barsha nailed all 3 points:
- It is just 1 stop from the Mall of the Emirates and 5 stops from Dubai Mall.
- The Hampton is only 2 blocks from the Mashreq metro station.
- It also offers an extensive complimentary breakfast which always included at least 2 hot items.
The icing on the cake, however, was their hospitality team. They went out of their way to make us feel welcome and were extremely helpful in every regard. We booked 2 adjoining rooms for 5 nights for $612.70 (or an average of $61.27 per room, per night). Quite the deal!
Day 1: Ice skating, Dubai Fountain, Food Hall, Museum of the Future, and Ikigai
Many attractions in Dubai allow / promote securing tickets (often timed) in advance. To allow for flight irregularities and jet lag, I intentionally filled the morning and early afternoon of our first day in Dubai with activities where admission without advance purchase would not present a problem. We purchased our NOL (metro) cards at the Mashreq station and rode north for 5 stops to the Burj Khalifa / Dubai Mall station. The station is conveniently connected to the Dubai Mall by the long (but air conditioned!) Metro Link Bridge. Cost: AED 5 or $1.36 per person for a regular fare. It would be twice that to use the Gold class cabin.
Depending on the information source consulted, the Dubai Mall, with its 1,200 stores and more than 200 restaurants, may or may not be listed as the largest mall in the world. One thing it does have is an Olympic-size ice rink and skating was on the list of things our grandson wanted to do. They offer 90-minute sessions, each accommodating up to 350 skaters, daily. The first starts at 10am each day, and the last ends at 10pm (11:45pm on weekends). DJ sessions, which include a snowfall, are offered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 6:45pm, 8:30pm, and 10:15pm. The location can be found at ground level. The cost to skate is $24.50 / per person normally or $34 / per person for DJ sessions.
After ice skating, we decided to check out Play DXB, the world’s largest indoor virtual reality entertainment area. The entry is on Level 2, next to Reel Cinemas, the 26-screen movie theater in the Dubai Mall. Entry is free, but since our teenage grandson felt like most of the attractions were more suitable for younger children, we didn’t purchase a ticket package. The cost is from AED 200 to AED 500 or about $55-$135.
Teens can be finicky eaters, so we chose Time Out Market in the adjacent Souk Al Bahar shopping complex for lunch. In case you’re not familiar, these upscale food halls are a project of the global media and hospitality business, the Time Out Group. We exited the mall on the Lower Ground level (one level below the ice rink), crossed the bridge to the Souk Al Bahar and rode the escalator up one floor to Dubai’s Time Out Market. With 20 different vendors serving up everything from wood-fired pizzas to burgers/chicken sandwiches to ice cream creations made using liquid nitrogen, there’s something for everyone here.
The Dubai Fountain is (of course!) “the largest musical fountain” in the world. The fountain performance schedule is midday at 1pm and 1:30pm (1:30pm and 2pm on Fridays) and every 30 minutes starting at 6pm until 11pm daily.
- Tip #1:
- Time Out Market has an air-conditioned terrace overlooking the Dubai Fountain Lake which offers one of the best vantage points for viewing the fountain shows.
- Tip #2:
- Inside the Dubai Mall, the panoramic windows at the rear of Nike Town on Level 2 (turn right after entering from the Metro Link Bridge) and the terrace of TGIFridays (Lower Ground level) also offer excellent views of the fountain shows.
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo spreads across multiple levels inside the Dubai Mall. The Aquarium Tunnel is on the Ground level while the Underwater Zoo and glass bottom boat ride across the surface of the 2.6-million-gallon tank are on Level 2. The cost is AED 309 or $84.13 per person.
- Tip #1:
- Since I’d purchased combination tickets for Aquaventure and the Lost Chambers Aquarium for later in our trip (see Day 4), we contented ourselves with the free Ground floor viewing into the aquarium through the largest acrylic panel in the world. We then rode the Red line north 2 stops to the Emirates Towers station which connects to the next item on our itinerary. The cost was AED 3 or $0.82 each for a regular fare, twice that for Gold class.
Museum Of The Future
Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, calls the iconic Museum of the Future* “the most beautiful building in the world.” Each visitor can decide whether this label is well-deserved or self-congratulatory hyperbole. What is undeniable is that The Museum of the Future’s focus on the future (2071 to be exact, marking a century after the establishment of the United Arab Emirates) is unique. All visits begin with a simulated space shuttle journey to the OSS (Orbital Space Station) Hope, where you are guided through an exploration of its missions to help humankind solve its most difficult challenges. The cost is AED $149 or $40.57 per person.
Our grandson loves sushi and Ikigai, a Japanese restaurant on the first floor (second level) of the Millennium Place Marina Hotel, looked like a place worth checking out. It offers a Sunday through Thursday unlimited sushi and dim sum special, as well as a Peking duck special, for AED 109 or $29.68 per person. Our neighbor’s son, who is an ex-pat working as an auditor for a shipping company in Dubai, picked us up at the Museum of the Future and joined us for dinner. Ikigai is just a few minutes’ walk from the DMCC station on the Red line, which we rode back north 4 stops to our hotel. The cost was AED 3 or $0.82 each for a regular fare, twice that for Gold class.
Traveling Dubai With Teens Day 2: Cultural experiences and traditional meals
We didn’t want our grandson’s memories of Dubai to be exclusively of the Las Vegas-on-steroids variety, so we booked brunch at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding and a Lahbab Desert (known for its red sand dunes) safari for Day 2.
Cultural brunch at the Centre for Cultural Understanding:
Here’s a mind-blowing statistic: Expatriates (mostly from south and southeast Asia) make up 89% of Dubai’s population. Here’s another: This ultra-modern metropolis was a fishing village of less than 50,000, a far cry from the ultra-modern metropolis of 3.6 million you see today, until the discovery of oil here in 1966.
But “modern” doesn’t mean “liberal;” Sharia law is woven into Dubai’s Constitution and there are many cultural norms of which visitors should be aware of. The Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding was borne out of the perceived need “…to educate expatriates in the traditions and customs of the UAE” and “…to be a bridge between the many different nationalities living, working, and visiting the UAE.”
One of the ways the Centre does this is through its public programs and among the most popular public programs are its cultural meals. These meals begin with a brief presentation on Emirati customs and dress, include a sumptuous meal and conclude with a Q&A session during which no question is taboo.
The schedule for the various cultural meals is as follows:
- Breakfasts (90 minutes), Mondays and Wednesdays @ 9am (AED 130 / $35.39 per person)
- Lunches (90 minutes), Monday through Thursday @ 1pm (AED 150 / $40.84 per person)
- Brunches (60 minutes), Friday through Sunday @ 11am (AED 130 / $35.39 per person)
- Dinners (90 minutes), Tuesday evenings @ 6:30pm (AED 160 / $43.56 per person)
We needed to meet the guide for our desert safari in the lobby of our hotel @ 2pm, so we opted for the cultural brunch. We took a taxi both ways between our hotel and the Centre for Cultural Understanding because a metro ride would have cost a total of AED 30 each way and involved walking in the heat from the station nearest to the Centre. The door-to-door taxi service cost less than that with tip.
Many operators offer desert safari* packages with a dizzying variety of options (e.g., with or without self-drive quad bike rides in the dunes, priority service at the BBQ meal that is served, etc.) and prices vary widely. They range from AED 95 / $25.86 per person to AED 480 / $130.68 per person or more for a private safari.
OceanAir Travels’ Premium Red Dunes, Camels, Stargazing, and 5-star BBQ at Al Khayma Camp experience gets 97.5% 5-star ratings out of 11,644 total reviews. We booked through Viator to stack the discount Viator was offering with a Chase Offer for $20 off a booking costing $150 or more. For this highlight of our trip, we paid $95 per person for a 9-hour package which retailed for $125.78 per person and included:
- hotel pickup and drop-off,
- dune bashing with a licensed desert safari guide in an air-conditioned 4-wheel drive vehicle,
- camel rides,
- unlimited water and soft drinks,
- 3-menu (Emirati, Moroccan, and Arabian) all-you-can-eat buffet,
- entertainment (3 short presentations including traditional dances and a fire show), and
- stargazing using high-powered telescopes.
Day 3: More Iconic Landmarks & Swiss Butter
“Burj,” in Arabic, means “tower” while “Khalifa” means “successor” (of Muhammad), the “caliph,” or ruler, of the Muslim community. Soaring more than 2,716 feet into the sky, which is more than twice the height of the Empire State Building, over downtown Dubai, it is the tallest building in the world. The superlatives don’t end there though. It can also boast of the elevator (which whisks visitors to the 124th floor in 1 minute) with the longest traveled distance, most floors in a building (163), and the highest outdoor observation deck in the world (on the 148th floor).
The entrance to the Burj Khalifa is actually on the Lower Ground level of the Dubai Mall, so we rode the Red Line north 5 stops (AED 5 or $1.36 per person; twice that for the Gold class cabin) after breakfast. I reserved general admission tickets (AED 169 / $46.01 per person) with an entrance time of 10 AM on the “At the Top” website. Once on the 124th floor, there are several exhibits, a virtual reality experience which simulates scaling the Burj Khalifa, a café, and a gift shop.
Note: Except for our desert safari, I bought all our advance tickets online from the attraction itself instead of using a reseller. In most cases, there was little to no price difference, and I felt this minimized the likelihood we would encounter any difficulties redeeming our vouchers/tickets.
The mile-long walk from the nearest station on the Red Line to the Dubai Frame* didn’t sound appealing in triple-digit heat, so we took a taxi which cost a little less than $6. Gazing south from the top of this 48-story structure, you look down on “new” Dubai which has sprung from the sand over the past 40 years. Views in the opposite direction are of “old” Dubai with its traditional wind tower houses (like the one housing the Centre for Cultural Understanding) and low-rise buildings along Dubai Creek.
One of the most celebrated features of the top floor of the Dubai Frame (which, of course, holds the record for the largest frame structure in the world!) is the motion-activated row of grey panels running down the center of the floor. Step on them and the panels become clear…playing tricks on your brain. Again, I bought our tickets from the official Dubai Frame website. The cost was AED 52.50 / $14.29 per person.
If you’re like our grandson and enjoy a good steak dinner, I highly recommend the curiously-named Swiss Butter. Surprisingly enough, 12 of its 13 outlets are in the Middle East and the only European restaurant is in London. Dubai is home to 2 Swiss Butters. Onne is adjacent to the Dubai Mall, and the other a few blocks from our hotel. We took a cab from the Dubai Frame back to our hotel and walked 9 minutes to the Swiss Butter in the Novotel Al Barsha.
The concept here is simple: you choose 1 of 3 proteins (beef filet, salmon, or chicken), smothered in the chain’s secret sauce of butter and 33 herbs and spices. The protein choice is served with a mesclun salad, bread (to sop up some of that sauce) and choice of fries or baked potato. The cost is AED 87 / $23.69 per person. Dessert choices, if you have room, are pain perdu (AED 45 / $12.25), molten chocolate cake (AED 50 / $13.61), or ice cream / sorbet (AED 22/$5.99).
Traveling Dubai With Teens Day 4: Palm Jumeirah
The largest man-made island on the planet, the Palm Jumeirah, will be the smallest of the three planned Palm Islands if and when the other two are completed. The “trunk” of this palm tree-shaped island is where one finds apartment buildings, retail space, and restaurants. Luxury resorts line the outer crescent, and the fronds are home to gated residential villas with price tags starting at $4.5MM. Atlantis, the Palm, our destination for the day, is located where the “trunk” joins the crescent-shaped breakwater. While it is possible to get here using public transportation, it is not especially convenient, so we took a taxi both ways (about $11 each direction). We bought “Super Passes” which included admission to both Aquaventure and the Lost Chambers Aquarium for AED 345 / $93.93 per person. That is a savings of AED 65 / $17.70 per person over buying the same admissions separately.
Aquaventure holds the Guinness world record for most slides in a waterpark (105). To put that into perspective, if you were able to ride a different slide every 10 minutes, it would take you more than 17 hours to complete every slide! The park distributes complimentary water socks to every guest to protect feet from the paved paths which can get very hot. I was very impressed by the park’s design. Most slides depart from various levels in three ziggurat-shaped, cooled “temples” to keep you comfortable while waiting in line for your turn to ride. A brilliant set up.
Warning: Even the Lazy River here is an adventure as it isn’t a simple, closed circuit. At one point, floaters can divert to a not-so-lazy branch of the river called “The Rapids” which ends at a different beach from where you began. So, while admittedly pricey, we felt like we got more than our money’s worth.
For a late lunch/early dinner, we went to Wavehouse, a restaurant and entertainment center in a mall-like building called “The Avenues”. This is sandwiched between the Atlantis, the Palm resort and Aquaventure. The menu here is every teenager’s dream – heavy with items like chicken wings, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, pasta, chicken quesadillas, etc.
The Lost Chambers Aquarium & Ambassador Lagoon
We ended our day by visiting The Lost Chambers Aquarium and Ambassador Lagoon. The entry for which is almost next to the mall entrance for Wavehouse. While plenty of marine creatures (65,000 or so) inhabit the almost 3-million-gallon Ambassador Lagoon that isn't the focus. The real focus here is on using themed chambers spread throughout a maze of meandering tunnels to tell the mythical tale of the sunken city of Atlantis.
- Tip #1:
- Entry is free for Atlantis, the Palm guests is. It is also included in Big Bus 48-hour and 5-day tickets, as well as, 2- and 3-day City Sightseeing Hop On, Hop Off bus tours.
Day 5: Mall of the Emirates & Transfer To Airport Hotel
When it’s 105° Fahrenheit outside, what do you want to do? Why not play in the snow? We spent the first half of our last full day in Dubai at Ski Dubai. Probably not surprising by now, it is the largest indoor ski slope in the world. It is located on Ground level in the Mall of the Emirates. After riding north on the metro for just one stop (AED 3 or 82 cents each for a regular fare, twice that for Gold class) we redeemed the vouchers we had purchased online for the “Snow Daycation” package. This is not currently offered on Ski Dubai’s website. Apparently the packages offered change regularly, which cost AED 295 / $80.31 per person.
Our ticket included the following:
- Cold weather gear (fleece gloves, snow boots, ski pants and jacket),
- Unlimited chairlift rides,
- Unlimited rides inside a giant Zorb ball,
- A choice of ski lesson, penguin encounter, or zipline ride (we chose the latter)
- Unlimited rides on the bobsled and snow tubing runs, and
Note: The temperature inside the Snow Park is a steady -4° Celsius/25° Fahrenheit. We got cold enough that we took a break to warm up in the changing area.
Quick Bite At The Food Court
Mall of the Emirates has more than 100 dining options, many of them teen-friendly. Our grandson picked the Shake Shack outlet on Level 1, just above Ski Dubai.
After a burger and milkshake, we made our way to Level 2 and Dreamscape. Dreamscape says it …”combine(s) the emotional power of Hollywood storytelling, the visceral excitement of great theme park rides, and…computer-generated worlds…that push the limits of virtual reality”. There were three fully immersive VR experiences to choose from. Each experience lasts 10–14 minutes but it takes another 20 minutes or so to gear up with your personal “magic” projector and state-of-the-art vest. Wrist and ankle sensors allow your fully rendered avatar to interact with each other and the virtual world you enter. We chose “Curse of the Lost Pearl,” which is very much along the lines of the Indiana Jones and Lara Croft movies and had a ball. That was especially true when a descending wall separated our grandson’s avatar from us. The cost was AED 79 / $21.51 per person.
Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre
Because our journey home began with a 5:30am flight from Dubai to Doha, we returned to the Hampton by Hilton Dubai Al Barsha to retrieve our luggage before taking a taxi to our airport hotel, Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre. Here, I was offered an upgrade to a Le Royal Club room. The room included the following
- A private transfer to the airport at 2am
- Afternoon tea
- Happy hour
- Breakfast (which, sadly, we left too early to enjoy)
- A Jacuzzi tub
- A massage lounger in a room roughly twice the size of the one I had reserved
We availed ourselves of the complimentary cocktails while our grandson enjoyed the massage chair and whirlpool bath.
The Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre has 18 bars and restaurants. The Warehouse restaurant adjacent to the Le Royal Club wing featured an American menu, so we chose it for dinner after happy hour.
Day 6: A Lo-o-ong (But Satisfying) Day Of Travel
Ahlan First Class Lounge
Call us gluttons for punishment, but we checked in for our flight at 2:30am so we could maximize our time in the Ahlan First Class Lounge. The lounge is located on the mezzanine level of Concourse D in DXB’s Terminal 1. This 24-hour lounge offers ala carte dining as well as an extensive buffet. You also get good Wi-Fi, and aggressive massage loungers which, as you can see, our grandson enjoyed immensely.
Al Safwa Lounge
Because Qatar Airways treats regional flights booked into business class as first class, we had access to the excellent Al Safwa Lounge when we landed in Doha. Since it was too early in the day to order the Wagyu beef burger from the kitchen, our grandson contented himself with 2 chocolate muffins.
No QSuite For You
Security at our departure gate was a bit chaotic because – cue the groans – Qatar had swapped our QSuite-equipped aircraft for one outfitted with its previous generation business class seats. Because of that we needed to get new seat assignments and boarding passes. Once onboard, our grandson’s disappointment dissolved when he got to view the menu. He now realized he could order filet mignon. Happy grandson, happy life….
There were absolutely no lines for re-entry into the U.S. in Atlanta, so we were back in the domestic terminal in less than 10 minutes! We rode The Plane Train to Concourse B where we used the meal credit from my Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass membership at the Samuel Adams Brew House in the Food Court area. From there, we waited for our flight back to Charlotte in the Admirals Club in Concourse T, directly across from our eventual departure gate, T11.
Traveling Dubai With Teens: ToP Thoughts
The most important note from this report is that we had the best time visiting somewhere we might not otherwise have gone and experiencing the joy of travel anew through our grandson’s eyes. Remember our desire to “…cultivate the values of broad-mindedness, inclusivity, and empathy…” through travel? When asked what he enjoyed most about this trip, our grandson, without hesitation, responds, “The people…they were so nice!” Mission accomplished…or at least off to a good start.
Thanks again to Jim for putting this epic traveling Dubai with teens guide together for us. Be sure to check out his other guides on the site: