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Jumeirah Beach with the Dubai city skyline behind.

One of the most beautiful and vibrant places I have always dreamed of visiting is Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. It seemed like the most idyllic destination for people like myself, who dream big.

My dream finally became a reality this past December – and it was a trip that did not disappoint.

For Canadians, the imposed visa that plagued us for several years was lifted in 2014, making it easier and less costly to visit. When I learned that I only needed a passport to visit Dubai, I decided it was time to experience it first-hand.

A flight attendant serving champagne.

I flew out of Seattle with Emirates, and spent almost 14 hours on a Boeing 777.

For those who can afford to splurge a bit, traveling in business class is the way to go. The pods have incredible room on Emirates, with seats that flatten down into beds. The impeccable service, including dinner served on china plates, is also highlight.

However with that being said, the economy seats are much like flying business class when compared to other carriers – with ample leg room and food, beverage, and entertainment included.

I stayed at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, located along the Arabian Gulf, which has the most incredible beach for guests. Known for its wave-like design, the hotel’s beauty is obvious from both outside and inside. The Jumeirah boasts many activities for families, including scuba diving, tennis, Sinbad’s Kids Club, and access to the Wild Wadi Water Park located next door. There is a huge marina next to the hotel, with yachts and sailboats that can be chartered, as well as water skiing, wind-surfing activities, and five swimming pools.

Jumeirah Beach Hotel

The Jumeirah Beach Hotel. [Kelley Scarsbrook]

The food is fantastic and accessible at any time from several of the restaurants on the property. I adored the Uptown Bar located on the 24th floor, which has stunning views of the city, not to mention divine drinks, and a stylish and sophisticated ambiance.

After my first full day enjoying the warm temperature (around a balmy 26 C) and lounging on the beach, I was excited to see Dubai’s landscape.

Firing up the hot air balloon


The desert in Dubai as seen from the morning hot air balloon ride.

The desert in Dubai as seen from the morning hot air balloon ride. [Kelley Scarsbrook]

I took an early morning hot air balloon ride with Balloon Adventures, which gave me a new vantage point on the city.  It was lovely seeing it against the backdrop of the sun rising over the desert – it’s one of those rare experience that you wish could last forever. The ride itself was very smooth, peaceful and remarkably silent, but what was truly memorable was seeing the herds of Arabian Oryx wandering below, as well as the camels making their way through the dessert. The company also records the whole experience from every angle for guests to purchase as a great souvenir.

City of Gold

Visiting the markets in Dubai is a definite must for visitors looking to get a better sense of the culture. Women are encouraged to cover their shoulders and legs to the knee, and though I did see some women who were not adhering to this cultural rule, I felt it was impolite to disregard local customs. I found long sundresses, along with a short, light sweater to cover the arms, to be an ideal solution.

I enjoyed exploring the Souk Madinat, which is an authentic recreation of an ancient marketplace with a traditional bazaar-like atmosphere. The sights and smells are delightful, and visitors can explore a maze of winding streets and open-shuttered shops that spill out in to the streets. There’s even a market packed with shops upon shops filled entirely with gold items, called the city of gold. It must be seen to be believed.

A local merchant speaks to a passerby in the Souk Madinat in Dubai.

A local merchant speaks to a passerby in the Souk Madinat in Dubai. [Kelley Scarsbrook]

The shopping in Dubai is a bit surreal. For example, The Dubai Mall is unbelievable. It’s one of the largest shopping malls in the world at more than 12 million square feet, and contains over 1,200 shops. The mall features the world’s largest candy store, an ice rink, one of the largest aquariums in the world, and more than 100 restaurants and cafes.  The mall is divided into sections, and if you end up in the wrong one you could be walking for miles – literally. Luckily, there are information pods set up throughout the mall, so when in doubt, visitors can just ask.

Miracle Garden in Dubai

Another extraordinary place I visited in Dubai was the Miracle Garden, a flower garden with more than 45 million flowers on display. It also boasts some of the most imaginative, one-of-a-kind flower displays I’ve ever seen. Think Jurassic Park for flowers.

The view from the top of the Burj Khalifa

Of course, no trip to Dubai is complete without visiting the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. The skyscraper is one of the most impressive landmarks in the city, with stunning views from the 148th floor that give a great opportunity to see the beauty of Dubai from above.

The night skyline in Dubai.

The night skyline in Dubai. [Kelley Scarsbrook]

A lunch at 122nd floor restaurant At.Mosphere can make a great afternoon out of your visit to the Burj Khalifa. The restaurant is pricey, and features a well-enforced dress code, but the food, service, and gorgeous views make it worth the extra dollars. I had the truffle pithiviers (foie gras, perigueux sauce, and miner’s salad), with the chateaubriand for my main course.

The appetizer and main course had generous portions (considering it was lunch time) and were both beautifully plated and delicious. If you still have room after all that, the desserts are equally as impressive.

The "Straw-biosphere" dessert served at At.Mosphere in Dubai.

The “Straw-biosphere” dessert served at At.Mosphere in Dubai. [Kelley Scarsbrook]

Me with a falcon in the Dubai Dessert.

An experience that truly exemplifies Arabian life though, is the desert dinner safari with Platinum Heritage. The trip beings with a journey through the Dubai conservation reserve, with stops along the way to watch the wildlife. Guests are then presented with a falconry demonstration at sunset, which was one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen. The falconer is an expert, and explained the history of falconry in the region, as well as both ancient and modern techniques.

That evening under the stars, we were treated to a delectable, six-course traditional dinner, served on decadent table settings alongside silk carpets and beautiful cushions. It was all capped off with henna tattoos, traditional dances from both men and women, and a relaxation area with aromatic shisha pipes, which I tried and found delightful.

Camels waiting for riders during the Safari evening in Dubai

Another huge hit with the safari guests was the opportunity to ride a camel. As someone who has only seen pictures, it was a thrill to finally get a chance to see and touch these magnificent creatures. Having the opportunity to get up-close and personal with the camels, not to mention riding one, was absolutely the highlight of my entire journey.

Traditional dinner served in the desert with Platinum Heritage.

Traditional dinner served in the desert with Platinum Heritage. [Kelley Scarsbrook]

My time in Dubai seemed to go by too quickly. I recommend setting aside two weeks to truly appreciate everything the city has to offer, as there’s a great deal of things to see and do.

Dubai is a city that will seduce your senses. It entices the adventurer within and welcomes you with open arms to experience one of the most remarkable places on earth.

Camels wandering in the dessert in Dubai

It’s a place where dreams and reality collide, a destination that continually inspires and awes visitors from all over the world.