Highlights from an Israeli trip to Dubai - opinion

Dubai is so over the top, it makes Las Vegas look like Lincoln, Nebraska. Every new building, every attraction is vying to one-up whatever came before it.

 GLOBAL VILLAGE entrance in Dubai. (photo credit: BRIAN BLUM)
GLOBAL VILLAGE entrance in Dubai.
(photo credit: BRIAN BLUM)

Jody was eating vegan mushroom risotto at the Global Village theme park in Dubai. My wife and I had flown to the United Arab Emirates with our daughter, son-in-law and four-and-a-half-month-old grandson who, with his infectious grin, makes friends everywhere he goes.

A family sitting nearby was enchanted by the baby. Jody struck up a conversation.

“Where are you from?” she asked. 

“Iran,” replied an eight-year-old boy. “And you?”

“Israel,” Jody said. We had thus far received nothing but positive comments about where we were from.

 MIRACLE GARDEN flowers. (credit: BRIAN BLUM) MIRACLE GARDEN flowers. (credit: BRIAN BLUM)

This time was different.

“Israel?” The boy’s face dropped. “Ooh, that’s a very bad place.”

It was a shock, but we were determined not to let it ruin our trip, which was like nowhere we’ve ever been.

Dubai is so over the top, it makes Las Vegas look like Lincoln, Nebraska. Every new building, every attraction is vying to one-up whatever came before it: The world’s biggest mall. The world’s tallest building. The world’s widest highways (eight lanes in each direction in some places).

About the only thing that was not sky high was the price of gas, at about NIS 3 a liter, about half the cost than in Israel.

We were only four days in Dubai and, with a baby in tow, our pace was deliberately slower. Yet, we packed in so much it felt like we were away for a month. With the Abraham Accords still seeming to hold tight, we highly recommend a visit.

Here are a few highlights.

  • The Miracle and Butterfly Gardens. Two separate attractions. The former is a massive complex of 150 million flowers and 250 million plants, shaped around airplanes, mermaids, Smurfs and saxophones. The butterfly garden has some 15,000 flying critters who will be happy to land on your head.
  • Global Village. This colossal collection of pavilions from all over the world is now in its 26th year. Ethnic food is everywhere – Asian food in the Thai-inspired floating market, Indian snacks, Bosnian barbeque, Mexican tacos and dim sum.
  • Expo 2020. The Global Village is a going concern, whereas the expo closed at the end of March. (It will be back – in Japan – in 2025.) Imagine 192 countries strutting their glitzy Eurovision finest with uniquely designed pavilions highlighting each nation’s best and brightest. Israel’s pavilion was charming (yes, we’re biased) with TV personality Lucy Ayoub hosting a 360-degree wrap-around video highlighting our hi-tech and agricultural prowess.
  • Burj Khalifa. No trip to Dubai is complete without a ride to the 124th floor of the world’s tallest building. The view is spectacular (and if you come with a baby, you can skip the hour-long line and go straight to the front; we were at the top in under 15 minutes).
  • Dubai Fountain. Every half hour, from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m., there’s a sound and light show at the Dubai Fountain. Grab an outdoor seat at one of the Dubai Mall’s many restaurants to watch the free show. The Burj, the Fountain and the Mall are all part of one complex.
  • Desert Safari. The men in our party took out extra extreme travel insurance to cover an afternoon of dune bashing in the Gulf’s striking brown-red sand. The drivers deflate their tires to just 15 psi, as they careen over the dunes.

            “Should we eat lunch beforehand?” I asked our safari manager, an Egyptian-American with perfect English.

            “Definitely not!” he WhatsApp’d me and, after 45 minutes of crazy twists and turns, I understood why. It took a couple of Sprites to calm my stomach. For an extra fee, you can drive your own Razor ATV.

  • Dubai Marina. The most laid-back part of our trip was a stroll along the seven-kilometer marina, with its restaurants and street vendors. Think Herzilya, but with traditional dhow boats.

It’s a quick three-hour flight from Tel Aviv to Dubai but getting there has been plagued with complications – a security disagreement between the UAE and Israel has led to daily cancellations of flights, including ours. The solution is to fly into Abu Dhabi on Wizz Air, an hour’s drive from downtown Dubai. The flights are also significantly cheaper. We rented a car which is the best way to get around, since everywhere you’ll want to go is at least a 30-minute drive.

 THE WRITER and the sand dunes. (credit: BRIAN BLUM) THE WRITER and the sand dunes. (credit: BRIAN BLUM)

In terms of picking a hotel, there’s one for every budget and even the 5-star properties are less than what you’d pay in Israel for something similar. Many are tens of stories high and boast rooftop infinity pools. Customer service is impeccable.

If your Hebrew is proficient, join one of the Facebook groups for Israelis traveling to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where no question is too dumb.

Dining out can get expensive unless you eat as the foreign workers do. Skip the fancy restaurants in the mall or your hotel and head to one of the Indian cafeterias. We also found a cute American-style cafe run by a lovely Pakistani expat that we used as our breakfast base.

Dubai no longer requires PCR tests to enter if you’re fully vaccinated. Indoor masking is still the rule, but it’s enforced sporadically. That would have bothered me more if we hadn’t just recovered from COVID a week before our trip!

On the way back from dune bashing, another vehicle had broken down. The driver asked if we could transport his passengers part of the way. It turns out our new car-mates were also from Iran. “It’s a two-hour flight from Tehran,” they explained.

When the Iranians subsequently asked, “And where are you from?” I braced for a repeat of the Global Village put down.

The reply this time was quite different.

“Israel? We love Israel!”

And then came the kicker: “We’re sorry about our government!” ■

The writer’s book, Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. Visit www.brianblum.com.