A trip to Dubai can be summarized very simply, in a few words more or less: Oh My God, followed by a few jaw drops and an enraptured sense of awe. The United Arab Emirates once sleepy port town on the Arabian Gulf is now wide awake and begging for you to come and play. Often dubbed the “Las Vegas of the Middle East,” once living and breathing in Dubai it feels more opulent, luxurious and futuristic than its American casino-centric counterpart. Dubai is similarly a man made tourism mecca smack dab in the middle of a desert. The mastermind behind it all, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the country’s entrepreneurial leader and magical thinker.
After a 20 hour travel day via Istanbul I arrived to my hotel shortly after 2am looking like a zombie. I would be spending the duration of my stay at the newly opened Oberoi Dubai, a luxury hotel brand which hails from India. After hopping out of my taxi I stepped onto a red carpet which led to the hotels elegant crystal chandelier adorned lobby. I was greeted by a choir of front house staff who quickly bowed their heads, shook my hand and chirped, “Welcome to The Oberoi Dubai Mr. Dobson.” As always before unpacking my bags, having a shower and jumping into bed (all of the activities your body so badly wants to experience after such an exhausting day) I grabbed my Canon EOS 6D DSLR and filmed a tour of my suite.
The following morning I was in a bit of a daze and had to pinch myself after walking into the bathroom and standing in front of the towering Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and Dubai’s skyline champion. I hopped into a massive bathtub and spent my first hour rejuvenating while staring out at an unforgettable view of the city. I was dealing with a serious bout of jet lag that morning and found the perfect cure during my visit to the hotel’s 24 hour spa. I indulged in their signature Oberoi Massage treatment which featured soothing aromatic eucalyptus oil. I spent the majority of the treatment weaving myself in and out of ecstasy.
I was thrilled to be visiting Dubai as a Canon Canada Ambassador via their #blogtography program. This would be my second sponsored trip (my first being the Beaver Creek Wine and Spirit Festival this past August) with my new Canon EOS 6D DSLR. I’ve now had a few months to get used to my new DSLR and I think my photos are really starting to pack a punch! The following are my personal tips and tricks when shooting with your DSLR in the UAE based on my recent lux adventure in Dubai:
1) Dubai’s weather conditions created some unique photographic hurdles. The city is indeed located in a desert and that means plenty of sand and dust finds its way onto the lens. Be sure to pack a heavy duty lens cloth which you can whip out whenever your camera needs a cleaning. When desert dust isn’t an issue you’ll find that the temperature gap indoors (air conditioned heaven) and outdoors (40 degree and climbing dry heat) will cause your camera to regularly fog up. You’ll need to give your DSLR a few minutes to acclimate to the new temperature so the inevitable moisture build up easily swipes away with your cloth. Remember patience is a Virtue!
2) My press trip to Dubai was planned down to the minute and only allowed me to sleep 3-4 hours a night. On such a busy schedule I fell in love with my cameras WIFI capabilities. The cameras wireless settings allowed me to communicate with my camera, internet free, via Canon’s EOS Remote App. After setting up my camera for WIFI compatibility and downloading the app for my iPhone I was able to save high quality images taken with my DSLR directly to my phone with a quick tap of my screen. In Dubai I regularly found myself zooming between restaurants in the backseat of a chauffeured SUV. In an attempt to be productive I utilized my “free time” by downloading my favourite images of each dish onto my phone and sharing them on Instagram live. A serious time saver when on the road!
Getting around Dubai was a piece of cake as I had a tour guide and driver from Arabian Adventures to get me from here to there in a shiny new SUV. We zoomed across the city from one luxury hotel to the next in style! The following are highlights from my adventures in Dubai, a checklist of must do’s for your next visit:
Sips and Nibbles
Dubai is a food lovers paradise offering a colourful diversity of cuisine, a testament to its multicultural makeup. Alcohol is only served in hotels so tourists (and the cities large expat community) tend to wine and dine in the cities world renowned skyscrapers. My visit included the following feasts: Ristorante in The Armani Hotel, Iz Restaurant in the Grand Hyatt, Kitchen 6 at JW Marriott Marquis and Seafire Steakhouse at Atlantis Hotel.
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum the Ruler of Dubai saw the need to reach out and educate expatriates and foreign tourists in the traditions and customs of the UAE. He opened the SMCCU in 1995 to act as a welcome centre for those eager to learn more about UAE history and customs. Every Dubai itinerary should start with a visit to the SMCCU which includes a fantastic heritage tour of the Al Fahidi Historic District, one of the oldest traditional Emirati neighbourhoods in Bur Dubai. A visit to the Jumeriah Mosque became renowned as the focal point of the SMCCU’s “open doors, open minds,” programme as it is the only mosque in Dubai open to the public and dedicated to receiving non-Muslim guests. The tour finishes with a traditional Emirate meal where guests sit propped on pillows and serve themselves from ornate silver platters on the centre of the floor. I had my first sip of Arabic Coffee here (roasted coffee spiced with cardamom and saffron) and enjoyed a hearty feast including chicken biryani, fish machbous, vegetable salona stew and lugaimat a round sweet dough ball covered in date syrup.
Exploring Old Dubai
After lunch we walked over to the Dubai Museum which is housed in Al Fahidi Fort built in 1787. A terrific example of a desert fort, complete with canons and battlements. The museum brings the city’s past and present together in a series of life-size dioramas and archaeological exhibits from desert excavations. Visitors gain a better understanding of who first called the UAE home: the pearl fishers who first settled the banks of Dubai Creek, the desert Bedouins who roamed the heartland and the date farmers who irrigated the land. Once finished at the museum we hopped in a water taxi and chugged across Dubai Creek. Once on the other side we spent the next hour strolling through the cities famous Spice and Gold Souk markets.
The best way to explore desert life is by rollercoasting your way through it! Arabian Adventures offers a fantastic tour dubbed The Sundowner which includes a falcon show, dune bashing in a 4×4 (hold onto your hat!), camel ride and belly dancing show at a Bedouin-style camp. My desert feast under the stars included Emirate BBQ, fresh salads and a cold beer. Before heading back to the city I slouched myself into a pillow at the hookah bar and toked a few sweet apple scented puffs.
Arting at DIFC Gate Village
Dubai’s top art galleries live simultaneously with the white collared in the heart of the city’s Financial District. There are over ten top notch art galleries here mixed amongst high end boutiques and cafes. Opera Gallery offers a wild and whimsical collection of contemporary pieces from artists across the globe. This international franchise has other locations in New York, London, Paris, Geneva and Monaco. During my visit they had a special exhibit highlighting three of their favourite Canadian artists. Ayyam Gallery seeks to raise awareness for Middle Eastern artists. It’s owners from Beirut are committed to bringing the new wave of Syrian artists to international attention as well as promote skilled painters from the wider Middle East region.
Watch the Sunrise from a Hot Air Balloon
Waking up at 4am isn’t always the ideal when you are on holiday but well worth it to catch the sun rise over the Emirate Desert while floating above in a balloon. Balloon Adventures Emirates flies early bird thrill seekers next to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve at the crack of dawn. During their flight guests have an opportunity to look over Royal Palaces, Dubai’s largest camel market, date farms and a never ending dune filled desert. Prepare to catch the crimson sun rise at 4000 feet an experience you won’t soon forget!
The Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall
Dubai is a city known for building the biggest and best of everything. No visit to the city would be complete without a visit to the worlds tallest building via The Burj Khalifa “At The Top” Observation Deck. Located on level 124 of the world’s tallest tower the sunshine filled observation deck allows guests to take in a 360 degree view of the Dubai skyline. Guests arrive via Dubai Mall, a sprawling luxury shopping centre whose motto is “Everything You Desire.” Dubai Mall is ranked as the largest in the world and cost a whopping US $20 billion to build. The worlds top designers can be found here: Stella McCartney to Versace, Prada to Roberto Cavalli. Dubai Mall caters to the worlds richest fashionistas.
Apres Ski Cake
Those looking to get out of the desert heat find refuge at Ski Dubai a 22,500 square meter indoor ski resort located at Mall of the Emirates. The resort includes an 85 metre high indoor mountain with 5 slopes, a truly jaw dropping marvel. Be sure to pop by the Cheesecake Factory for a sweet treat post ski, their dining room offers brilliant views of the “indoor mountain.”
Splash on the Beach
Soak up the sun and swim to your hearts delight in bath-tub temperature turquoise waters at Jumeirah Public Beach. From the soft sand bikini enthusiasts can get a perfect view of the world’s only 7 star hotel the iconic Burj al Arab Hotel (which cost over US $2 billion to build).