The first time I went to Dubai, all I could think about was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz saying, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates and is quiet unique, yet very impressive. It’s known to be one of the most interesting and fastest-growing cities on earth!

Over a very short period, this desert city has transformed itself from a humble pearl-diving village into an international hub for tourism and trade and is now a gateway between the East and the West. The official language is Arabic, although English is the most commonly used language in this booming city of over 3.7 million people. Back in 1950, the population of Dubai was just 20,000.

Some of the things we enjoyed while in Dubai are:

Tour “Dubai Creek” in an “Abra” and see outstanding views of the city’s futuristic and traditional architecture. An Abra is wooden row boat that looks ancient, but are now powered by diesel engines and can seat about 20 people.

Shop ‘til you drop and stroll through the endless maze of Souks (markets) and Malls. The Spice and Gold Souks are not to be missed. Amazingly, there are over 50 shopping malls in full operation and many more under construction. My favorite is Dubai Mall which has over 1,200 retail shops. It’s one of the largest malls in the world. On an earlier trip, my husband, Ron, even went “snowboarding” inside the Mall of the Emirates at their ski resort. It features a 200-foot-tall man made mountain and five slopes of varying difficulty— including the world’s first indoor black run…in a desert, no less.

Have some fun walking around Dubai just people watching. We saw many people smoking ‘Shisha’, which is a very social and popular thing to do there. Another local name for it is ‘Hubbly Bubbly’, and it has a sweet, fruity smell. Shisha is a water pipe used to smoke tobacco through cooled water. The tobacco is heated by charcoal at the top and inhaled through a water chamber at the bottom. Shisha pipes date back over 500 years in the Middle East.

No trip to Dubai would be complete without a visit to “Burj Khalifa’, the tallest building in the world. There is an observation deck on the 124th floor called ‘At The Top´ and on a clear day, the views over the city are amazing. While you’re in the area, visit the Dubai Fountain and see the free spectacular water and music show. I was completely captivated by the spectacle of lights and movement of the water.

There are also many wonderful coffee shops and restaurants nearby. We enjoyed dinner at Sammach, an excellent Lebanese seafood restaurant that has a fantastic view of these magnificent dancing fountains.

Most everyone has heard of Dubai’s ‘Artificial Islands’ but we had to see it to actually believe it. In the Persian Gulf, three man-made islands are in the shape of palm fronds and consist of luxury hotels and residences, restaurants, water parks, and sports facilities. Our favorite spot is the stunning Atlantis Palm Hotel. It features guest rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass views of their fabulous Lost Chambers Aquarium. Literally from your bed, you are surrounded by an enormous aquarium where you can watch sea creatures swim around you until fall asleep.

Consider a short day trip – we went on a fun Desert Safari Tour. I don’t know when we’ve laughed more. We really enjoyed an exhilarating drive over huge red and gold sand dunes, camel rides, and a Bedouin Camp for an evening feast while being entertained by belly dancers. We even got a “temporary” henna tattoo which is very popular in the UAE.

Dine at sunset in one of the many excellent restaurants on the waterways in the shadow of the magnificent ‘7-star’ Burj Al Arab Hotel. On my next trip, I hope to have High Tea there. As a hotel guest, you can be picked up at the airport in a Rolls Royce or, perhaps, a helicopter. It is the self-proclaimed most luxurious hotel in the world. The Burj Al Arab is also one of the world’s tallest hotels and is designed to look like a sailboat. Everything is over the top here…guests are even presented with a gold-plated 24-caret iPad worth $9,000 when they arrive.

This Arabian oasis is clearly an exotic place with enormous wealth. Dubai is very clean, very safe with almost no crime, a great education system, up-to-date healthcare facilities, modern infrastructure…and everything is tax-free.

I can certainly say Dubai is a great destination where you will truly have one of the best and most authentic cultural experiences imaginable.

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