We stayed in a 4-star hotel with its private beach with breakfast ,internet and what they call "snacks" included (yes we are posh lol ). The snacks ended up to be enough for us to have dinner there almost every day and soft drinks and even alcoholic drinks were also included during the snack time from 6 to 8 pm. Our hotel was called: Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi
I have to say that we have been to many hotels around the world and in this one we received the best service we have ever had. Breakfasts were good and food international (we realised that there were onto typical meals of the emirates but more of other neighbours countries, such as India), not excellent but definitely tasty. The rooms were very comfortable , super clean and with everything you need, a huge shower and a separate bath-tube. They also have a small gym and swimming pool. Before going to Abu-Dhabi I read that the singing to pray for muslims, was a bit loud and if you are in the city, it may not let you sleep, the first one being before 6 am. The good part about our hotel is that it was a bit away from the city and it was very quiet.
We have been there in January, which is great since it's not very hot, temperatures around 23 to 25 degrees. In the summer it can reach up to 55 degrees and I would not recommend you to go there with that heat. The only thing for me is that it was a bit cold to go and swim but we could rest on the beach and read a book peacefully.
We we arrived at the airport there is an official line for taxis (other people may approach you before when you arrive, just say no and go to the official airport taxi-line) and we grab one to the hotel, it was only 20 mins away and it costed us 55 dirhams, which is around 12 euros. If your hotel is in town, it may cost you around 80 dirhams (depending on the traffic). All the taxis are very modern and the moment you get in the taximeter has a voice that welcomes you to the taxi and start counting. They never charge you more of what the taximeter says and they will give you a receipt if you need to.
To get by in Abu-Dhabi it's ok to move by taxi and also our hotel had a free-shuttle to town that we managed to catch several times. We also took the bus once , it's actually very cheap only 2 dirhams from our hotel to town but it stops in every corner and neighbourhood and even though the bus stop was in front of the hotel, it took us more than an hour to get there, whereas by taxi it would be 25 mins max, so we decided not to take it anymore. Additionally on the bus women and men cannot seat together , there is a sign at the front saying "ladies only" that we saw for the first time when Andres was seating by me just behind the driver upps.. so he had to move back and we went in separate part of the bus all the way. The men were paying at the front and getting into the busy by the back door. A lot of separation between man and women.
To go to Dubai, we hired a chauffeur for 8 hours from the hotel, which was very expensive 800 dirhams but as we only had one day to see Dubai it was the best thing we could do since without knowing the city and the traffic we saw, we would not have managed to see as much as we saw in a few hours. The chauffeur happened to be from India, he was an excellent driver and took us to everywhere we told him. It was a pity that we did not have more time to stay in Dubai, to be honest.
So to summarise the main highlights for us:
- Very impressive mosque in Abu-Dhabi (a must see before you die!): Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. There are a few rules about how you should dress to get in, we decided to live the full experience and the day before we bought the typical costumes: Scarf for my head, long dress with long sleeves and for Andres, the typical Emirate men white costume (his costed us 80 dirhams in a city centre popular shopping centre). Tour around the mosque happen a few times a day, check online to be able to join, it's free and they tell you a bit the history and Muslim tradition. Take at least 3 hours to stay there and see it. There are plenty of taxis that you can take to go back to the hotel or town.
- Madinat Zayed shopping centre just in town is good to find more traditional shops, you can buy souvenirs , scarfs, men sandals (very comfy and good quality) and the typical men costumer (if you are as crazy as my husband, of course).
- Marina Mall area - beautiful view of the port and high-scrappers; Also good to go shopping or to have an Starbucks! Inside the mall there are a few bars and restaurants, otherwise it's difficult of find bars outside hotels or shopping malls.
- Corniche beach , public beach very clean and great to go on a bike or for a long walk. Being public you have to respect their rules and women cannot show much e.g. being topless, which was not an issue for me, to be honest.
- We also had a funny anecdote with one local taxi-driver that did not speak much English and let us into the taxi and was engaged in a conversation in Arabic for 20 mins while we were waiting to tell him where to go, then he stopped talking and we couldn't avoid it and start laughing at the situation, then he started laughing and with hands and a few English words he told us to go to his friend taxi and kicked us out, basically ha , ha.
- A few anecdotes in terms of communication since they always wanted to be friendly and never say no to our questions , for example we asked about taking the shuttle and they always say yes and then when we get there the shuttle was gone but they did not want to tell us that and be rude.
- It was also a bit difficult for me to be cold to me husband in public since I usually like holding his hand or give him a kiss.
In Abu-Dhabi there was not many more things to see, only the Ferrary Theme park or if you want to go for a ride on an hellycopter or a limousine and of course there are a few more shopping malls.
Abu-Dhabi is more a business city and it's also far more traditional than Dubai, you see many more of the typical Emirate men dressed in their typical suits covering their heads and with their wives or on their own with other men. You did not see many emirate women hanging out on their own. All the men with their iPhones or the latests technology devices and they love Starbucks as much as I do. At the beginning, if you have never been in the Emirates it's a bit strange to see women all covered, first being when you arrive in the airport and the men at the security points are already dressed in their typical costumes but after a few days, you get used to it and you stop thinking about it. We liked the call to pray, it reminded me of the Flamenco singing, it sounded beautiful and it did not bother us. We understood that this is their culture and we respected that. We even saw men praying in the middle of the road with their car by their sides. In the shopping centres they have small praying rooms.
To be honest i had not see so many modern and high buildings in another location , in the city centre it's all new and luxurious , in both in Dubai and Abu-Dhabi. Abu-Dhabi does not have metro but Dubai has it. There is also a train going over the sea that we took where you can see the Palmera complex. Totally recommended, it's unbelievable to see what men can build on water.
We also went to see the highest building in the world, very impressive from the outside, we did not manage to get in since it was sold-out , if you go , make sure you book it online way in advanced, they will not let you in if you try to buy the ticket at the door. It's called Burj Khalifa:
We also went to the public beach just by the only 7-star hotel in the world: Burj Al Arab
Again if you want to get inside, the only way is by booking a table in one of their expensive restaurants, we decided not to do this this time. I was surprised that on the beach by it, there were a bunch of tourists wearing tangas and even in topless.. not sure if this is normal there but I did not expect to see that in a muslim country where you are expected to follow their rules, for example it's illegal to sleep in the same room if you are not married (luckily we are married!), the same applies to show passionate affection in public, homosexuality is also illegal and there is zero tolerance to drunken behaviour. Something that drew my attention was that it was all wealthy, there were not beggars or homeless in the streets. Also Dubai is very cosmopolitan and I noticed that there are many more places to eat or even to have a drink. We went to the main mall called the Dubai Mall: http://thedubaimall.com/en/Index.aspx ; when you go inside you can see again how much money they have, there is a huge aquarius with live sharks inside the shopping centre; fake waterfalls; an ice rink and even an Armani Cafe! It's one of the biggest ones in the world and you will need at least a day to see it all, we didn't manage! Also in one of the exists you can see the beautiful Dubai Fountain, the tallest building in Dubai and a other modern buildings.
In Dubai traffic was heavy and it was hotter than in Abu-Dhabi. We also did not see so many typical EAE men as in Abu-Dhabi, you can easily forget that you are in the emirates.
In general, we felt very secure everywhere we went to, only when one taxi driver thought that I was rich because I work in Facebook, I thought pups… but in the end, nothing happened, it was only a comment. Most people working in the hotels are from other neighbour countries and all very friendly. Also the Emirate airlines is excellent, one day we will go on pearl business class, they even have their own entry to the terminal in the airport! They really like dividing between class and money.. we felt a bit small in that sense.. working so hard and not having half of the wealth that millionaires have in there.
Definitely if you are planning to go to Abu-Dhabi or Dubai, save to be able to enjoy it. Our hotel was not that bad, around 700 euros for 7 nights with all the meals as I explained before and a 4-star hotel in the emirates, in Dubai it's definitely harder to get this price. Try to go when it's not high season. In relation to the language, don't worry all of them speak English since tourism is very important there and all the signs are in Arabic and English.
Last but not least if you ask me if we enjoyed it, yes we did, it was something different but I think I'd be bored if I had to live there.. I'm used to Ireland with loads of pubs with live music , concerts, theatres and without restrictions regarding what to wear or where man or women should seat. There are also tours you can take to go to the dessert and be a bit more adventurous, we did not do it because we just wanted to rest. The building constructions are impressive!