Dubai: A Layover

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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: If you’re lucky enough to fly Emirates, you’re lucky enough. But even luckier, when flying Emirates in or out of Dubai you stand a solid chance of having a long layover in one of our favorite cities. I’ve been to Dubai three times now, and two of those were just 15+ hr layovers where I (or we) left the airport for a little fun and excitement before flying home.

On our way home from Seychelles we flew Ethiopian to Addis Ababa for a short layover, then were lucky enough to fly Ethiopian’s 787 Dreamliner to Dubai. On our last trip to Dubai we had gone to the water park at Atlantis, The Palm and loved it. I wanted to try Wild Wadi in front of the Burj Al Arab this time.

With a population of just over two million, Dubai is the most populated city/emirate in the country of United Arab Emirates (UAE). There are seven emirates in the UAE- the capital of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. Each emirate has a supreme monarch who makes up their part of the Federal Supreme Council- isn’t that so delightfully Star Warsian? A president for all the emirates is selected from the FSC, Islam is the official religion and Arabic the official language. However, I’m not sure we’ve ever run into anyone who didn’t speak impeccable English.

Dubai is clean and modern and safe and friendly and outrageously rich and fancy. But not so rich and fancy that the Warckens can’t have a good time. Prices in Dubai are comparable to New York or San Fran. Yes, it’s more expensive than Sand Springs, Oklahoma or LaMoure, North Dakota, but so are most places.

We arrived at DXB- arguably one of the loveliest airports in the world- just after 4:00a, and didn’t have to fly out until 10:00p that night so there was plenty of time for some fun in the sun. Since we got in so early there was no rush to get through customs, and thankfully so since the line was a gazillion miles long. Dubai deemed us worthy to visit again, issued us free 30-day visas, and sent us on our way. We left security and went to find a couple of benches for our morning naps. Right next to a construction zone. I had a jackhammer in my ear but I still slept like a baby.


For day trippers Terminals 1 and 3 offer short-term luggage storage for 20 aed/day, which is about $5.50/bag. We packed our day packs with the essentials- the last of our sunscreen, swimsuits and towels, and enough food and water for the day even though they’re not allowed inside Wild Wadi. There are two ways around this- pack lunch in a secret compartment of your backpack, or take your lunch bag to lost & found and claim you found it just outside the entrance. When you’re ready to eat send the other person in your party over to see if anyone has turned in a bag of food. Voila! We’ve succeeded with both tricks, but this time we used the secret compartment.

A day pass for Dubai’s ultra-modern, super-sleek, mega-clean metro and bus system costs less than $6, and there are large interactive screens in the stations to help find your way. Keep in mind Dubai is HUGE and you want to allow at least an hour to get anywhere from the airport.


The first time I had a layover in Dubai I bought a day ticket on the Big Bus. I learned a lot about the city, but at $66.75/adult, I’d rather take public transit and read a guidebook borrowed from the library. Still, the option for a city tour is there if you want it. That first time I hit up the Mall of the Emirates, the Dubai Mall, the beach, the Gold Souk, the Dubai Museum, and plenty of other souks and sights in between.

We found our directions to Wild Wadi and got on our way. At one point on the train a man came through and kicked Greg and all the men in our compartment out of the womens’ area. Tickets to get into Wild Wadi were about $75/person, and we each got a locker for the day which cost about $9.50 each(!). Rookie mistake. Next time we’re whittling down to one bag and getting one locker. Or none at all since Dubai is so super safe. Some filmmakers from the UK conducted a “lost wallet” test on the citizens of Dubai- 45 times they dropped a wallet in various parts of the city and 45 times that wallet was returned to its owner. Isn’t that incredible?


Once we were in Greg went to men’s bathroom and opened a stall to find a pile of poop in front of the toilet. He went to tell an employee and the employee said he already knew about it and that there were two other stalls with the same problem. I guess some people just can’t handle sitting on a toilet when they’re used to a hole in the ground. I can’t blame them- I detest using the holes in the ground. Disgusting yes, but also just a part of travel. Different strokes for different folks! We both agreed Atlantis was way better than Wild Wadi, and not just because of the poop. Atlantis had an incredible lazy river system and better slides. But both parks offer steaming hot showers with shampoo/shower gel pumps in every stall, which is super convenient if you’re just popping in on a layover. Next time we fly Emirates or Etihad we’re going to Yas in Abu Dhabi.

We were both looking forward to dinner as much as we were the water park so after our showers we headed to the Dubai Mall to eat. We’d both been craving sushi for days and practically ran to the food court. Classiest food court ever, by the way. We got a roll each to tide us over until real dinner- Nando’s in a different food court. While we were waiting on our ½ chicken, chips, and corn, I got us some chips and salsa and queso. Obviously we’d used up all our will power eating pb&j’s for b’fast and lunch.

There’s a covered, air-conditioned walkway from the metro station to the Dubai Mall, which takes about 15 minutes to walk.
Nando’s is super popular in South Africa but we never got the chance to eat there.

Speaking of, while we at Wild Wadi eating the sandwiches we sneaked in, Greg told me to keep an eye on the table next to us who looked like they had ordered a bit too much food. Well sure enough, when they left they not only left all their trays and trash behind, but a full basket of fries too. An employee cleaning tables yelled at them to clean up after themselves but they just walked away. I stepped in to save him a bit of trouble and took those fries right off his hands. He was happy to give them to me and asked if I needed any more ketchup or anything. What a dear! Two bloggers from the US conducted a “lost food” survey on the tourists of everywhere in the world- 45 times someone left fries untouched on a table, 45 times those fries were eaten by the bloggers. Spend less!

The Dubai Mall is my favorite because it’s loaded with shops (over 1200), restaurants and cafes (over 120), and other entertainment (ice skating, aquarium, movie theater, dancing fountains), and it’s right next door to the Burj Khalifa- the tallest building on Earth and one of my favorites. Looking up that thing never gets old! It’s incredible! Tickets to go up to the viewing platform on the 124th floor are less than $35/person.

It’s easy to get out and enjoy Dubai, even for a day!


2 thoughts on “Dubai: A Layover

  1. You’ve really sunk to a new low with the lost and found trick! Also, Amber and I ate at Nando’s no less than three times when we went to the Olympics. Where were you? There’s a couple in DC too.

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