A place where traditional Islamic life meets grand shopping malls and towering cityscapes. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) you can take in the metropolitan cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but this diverse collection of emirates also provides natural, desert and beach destinations with more traditional Middle Eastern vibes.
Situated in Eastern Arabia, close to the entrance to the Gulf, travelling by cruise is a fine way to explore this designer desert. Many cruises depart from the UAE itself so you need to fly there first, but others leave from European destinations like Rome, and travel through the Suez Canal and into the Arabian Sea. For example, check out Celebrity Constellation for its Arabian Sea & Suez Canal cruise.
Here’s a look at some of the best UAE ports of call and the top excursions in the UAE.
Alluring Abu Dhabi
The capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is a developing city, but as it moves forward it still has a firm grasp on old culture. This city of contrasts mixes upmarket boutiques with traditional bazaars, air-conditioned taxis with camel rides, and haute cuisine with Bedouin hospitality in a desert tent. The sweeping line of clean, shining skyscrapers is interspersed with Eastern gems like the glamourous Emirates Palace and the fairytale-like Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, dressed all in white.
City tour including Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Whether you take a half day or full day Abu Dhabi tour, it’s sure to include a visit to the most splendid of the city’s mosques, the shining new Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The UAE’s main site for worship, its white facade is adorned with gold details and intricate floral patterns, and the interior is said to have the largest hand-woven carpet in the world. Ladies will need a form of ID in order to get a cover dress upon entrance, and men must wear long trousers.
Other tour highlights include visiting the Corniche waterfront area and Blue Flag beach, the Heritage Village for an insight into traditional life. Also, for contrast, you should see the under-construction Masdr city, which, when completed, will run solely on renewable energy.
Evening Desert Safari
Setting off in the afternoon, you’ll start with a spot of dune bashing in a 4×4 vehicle on the way to the desert camp for sand boarding, camel riding and a BBQ dinner. After which, you’re free to enjoy traditional Arabian coffee and shisha while watching the belly dancing and folklore show.
Dubai is a huge show-off as far as cities go, but rightly so. With a skyline that soars into the clouds of the Middle East, it boasts the world’s largest building and is even in the middle of beating this record with a new design. If you’re not afraid of heights, make your way up the Burj Khalifa and take a look at the amazing city laid out before you, or stick to ground level and get some serious shopping done in the highly cosmopolitan Dubai Mall or at one of numerous souks and bazaars.
Modern city tour
With developers constantly striving to produce everything bigger and better in Dubai, touring some of the city’s modern wonders is fascinating. You can whizz around the vast and ultra-glam manmade Palm Jumeirah islands by speedboat, as well as ascending the lift to the viewing platform of the world’s tallest building. The Burj Khalifa is 830 metres high, but if you don’t have a head for heights you can explore the beautiful gardens and famous fountains at the base.
Desert wildlife tour
You’ll traverse the most carefully preserved wildlife area in the United Arab Emirates on a Range Rover trip out into the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. As well as seeing native gazelles and oryx, you can also go for a camel ride and learn about the centuries-old tradition of falconry.
Dubai shopping tour
Literally shop until you flop back to the cruise ship on a tour that takes in the best of Dubai’s malls and souks. The Dubai Mall is the largest in the world by area, and alongside 1,200 shops are the aquarium, ice-skating rink and a theme park. The Mall of the Emirates has a considerable 600 stores and the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort, or go for pure shopping at the Madinat Jumeirah Souk boutique mall. Other stop offs include the city’s colourful spice, textile and gold souks.
Wildlife-rich Sir Bani Yas Island
The world’s newest cruise destination, the island opened to cruise ships at the end of 2016 – Seabourn, Silversea and MSC all sail here and tender to shore. The island is 16 by 9 kilometres and is centred by a wildlife reserve full of indigenous animals, as well as being circled by beaches full of sunloungers, cabanas, bars and spas. At the watersport zones you can do anything from mangrove and sea kayaking to land sailing and pearl diving, or you can just sit on the beach and watch the flamingos wade in nearby lagoons.
Arabian Wildlife Park jeep safari
Covering half of the area of the island, the Arabian Wildlife Park is home to 13,000 indigenous animals, including gazelle, giraffes, ostrich, peacocks, cheetahs and hyenas. Learn how the animals were introduced to the island by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Al Nahyan as part of his Greening of the Desert programme. You can also see some of the 400-strong herd of Arabian oryx on your jeep safari – animals that are otherwise extinct in the wild.
Your guide will instruct you on how to handle a one or two-person kayak through the scenic waterways that wind around the island. Paddling peacefully along, you get the chance to see exotic mangrove animal and bird life, such as getting up close to feeding flamingos, spotting turtles and the amazing flying fish.
What you’ll need
The UAE has scorching summer temperatures that can rise over 40˚C, and still stays hot in winter, averaging 19˚C during its coolest month of January. While you’ll want to wear cool, cotton clothes, you should also respect the Muslim custom of covering knees and shoulders, as well as taking layers for when you’re in air-conditioned buildings or if you’re planning an evening desert excursion.
You should take some United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) to spend when out and about, and will need cash for souk shopping and tipping onshore. Before you go, you’ll also need to apply for a 30-day holiday visa and make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months from your date of arrival.
If the exotic and cosmopolitan charms of the United Arab Emirates have won you over, take a look at the latest UAE cruise deals.
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