Trusted Adviser Lewis shares his tips and recommendations on travelling to Dubai during Ramadan.
Those of you who have already been to or are considering a trip to Dubai might have heard people warning you to never go during the month of Ramadan. Well, this is exactly what I did on a recent trip – and I had a brilliant time. Here’s why you should never be afraid to visit the UAE during the holy month, and how you can make the most of what is a fantastic opportunity to make it a memorable holiday.
There’s a lot of stigma surrounding the idea of visiting Dubai during Ramadan. Granted, Ramadan currently falls within the summer months and the UAE can get uncomfortably hot in the afternoon peak (indeed, during our June visit, temperatures were regularly exceeding the 50s during the day and staying at about 30 in the evening), but don’t forget that the air conditioner is king in Dubai. Every time you walk into any building, you’ll be hit by a wall of cool and you’ll forget about the scorching sun outside.
It’s never too hot to take a dip in the pool and if ever it does get too much for you, there are plenty of activities to do indoors. Consider a visit to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai’s largest covered souk, offering a huge array of luxury and traditionally crafted products. All vendors are strictly vetted by the Jumeirah Group and bartering is optional (but give it a try – consider it a first timer’s introduction to bartering!). This lovingly recreated Middle Eastern Souk is conveniently located within the Madinat Jumeirah complex of hotels, with lots of different accommodation and dining options to choose from.
Of course, if you’re looking for a different kind of shopping experience, you can’t beat Dubai’s fantastic malls. The best bit? During Ramadan, they are often much quieter and offer big discounts that draw in the savvy shoppers. All of our hotels will offer complimentary shuttles to the Mall of the Emirates and many will offer a shuttle to a range of other malls, too.
Other issues that often get mentioned are not being able to eat during daylight hours and no alcohol being served in hotels. This simply isn’t the case anymore. The Emirs of each of the seven Emirates set guidelines to the hotels about how they can operate during the holy month and these are very sympathetic for tourists. As long as you are just as respectful as you would normally be abroad then you will be just fine (just bear in mind that restrictions can differ between the seven kingdoms of the UAE).
Within the confines of the hotels, you are welcome to visit the beaches and pools in your bathing costumes and you can eat and drink around them too. Most hotels actually bring you a little cooler bag with water and fruits the moment you plonk yourself down on your sunbed. If only it were like this the world over! The hotels do all they can to make their non-Muslim guests as comfortable as possible whilst still adhering to the laws of the land.
When it comes to dining, you may notice one or two bars or restaurants will be closed in your hotel. This will only be the case for establishments that have no way of covering themselves from public view, so likely just the lobby bar. Many restaurants will put up wooden hoardings outside their premises to block diners from public view. After a while, you really won’t notice.
If you do anything in Dubai during Ramadan, you must take part in Iftar; the tradition of breaking the fast when the sun goes down. Now I’m not suggesting you must fast while you’re on your holiday, but rather just take part in the fantastic cultural experience that sees families and friends from all over Dubai meet in restaurants to dine together at sundown.
We partook in this particular event at the stunning Jumeirah Zabeel Saray on the Palm. This hotel is modelled on an Ottoman Palace and has beautiful marble columns, with gold leaf on almost everything! There is a beautiful spa (one of the best destination spas in the world) and a fantastic array of restaurants to dine in. For food and drink, Dubai is like the centre of the world. You can enjoy every type of cuisine from anywhere in the world and the Zabeel Saray is a great place to start – it’s a truly opulent hotel.
We arrived at the main buffet restaurant, Imperium, just as the call to the evening prayer began. Prayers were shown on TV screens and played through speakers and once it was over, Iftar could begin. As a community event, the best Iftar is buffet-style and Imperium had a fantastic selection of Arabian and Indian delights. An absolute highlight was the lamb, slow cooked with saffron and rice and carved before your very eyes by the expert chefs. For dessert, there were local juices and sweet treats to choose from, as well as beautiful dates.
Imperium was a beautiful restaurant to behold – the huge marble pillars and ornate furniture gave the whole occasion an extra sense of grandeur and style. It was really an awe-inspiring experience and leaves you with that warm feeling of knowing you have taken part in something truly special.
One of the most popular activities to do in Dubai is to visit one of the two big waterparks: Wild Wadi in Jumeirah Beach and Aquaventure on the Palm. We paid a visit to the latter for a quick afternoon of fun in the sun.
Aquaventure is by far the largest waterpark in Dubai and during Ramadan, there really are no visible changes to the way it runs. Food and drink is available with a range of quick service eateries to choose from. As well as the huge number of slides and tubes available, one of the best attractions is the not-so-lazy, lazy river. This thing is gigantic! It takes around an hour to go around the whole course but this doesn’t take into account the different diversions and slides you can join along the way. This is great for kids because every time you encounter a slide or the rapids, you will always find nearby a separate route to take for a gentler journey around. As you float around the course, photographers take snaps of you enjoying yourselves on your holiday, which are saved at the front desk. You can then retrieve these using your entry wristband at the front desk. Don’t forget to visit some of the fantastic tube rides with your friends or family, but just make sure you hang on tight – there is a slight risk of the odd man overboard or two!
Again, most hotels will offer a complimentary shuttle to Aquaventure and some hotels also offer complimentary passes into the park. If you are a guest of Atlantis The Palm, you receive complimentary entry during your entire stay. If you are staying in a Jumeirah hotel, you’ll have complimentary access to the Wild Wadi waterpark in Jumeirah Beach (speak to your Trusted Adviser for more details).
Staying at the Waldorf Astoria
The hotel I stayed in for this trip was the beautiful Waldorf Astoria Dubai The Palm, one of my absolute favourites in Sovereign’s worldwide portfolio. Compared to many of the other hotels in Dubai, the Waldorf is small at 319 rooms, so the staff’s attention to detail is spectacular.
Originally destined to be a spa before Waldorf Astoria took over the project, the hotel has an enviable position on The Palm. The location means that the sun never sets or rises behind the hotel, so the pool and beach areas get sun all day long. Rooms face either the Arabian Sea or back over to Dubai’s famous skyline, and all have luxurious bathrooms with double-sized showers and a bathtub with its own television.
Guests staying at the Waldorf can make use of the famous ‘True Waldorf Service’. Simply provide the hotel with your contact details before you travel and you will be assigned a personal concierge throughout your stay, who will make contact before you travel to organise any experiences or reservations you wish, meet you on arrival to take you to your room and complete check-in, and have your bags packed for you while organising your swift check-out from the hotel. A stay at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai will not disappoint!
What makes Dubai unique is the fact that so many people pass through on their way to further flung destinations – and that’s exactly what I did on this particular trip. Later on, I headed to Mauritius for a change of scenery. If you have ever considered a destination but decided against it due to the length of the flight time, it really helps to break up the journey. Being able to experience different locations and different cultures on one holiday leaves you coming home with a sense of accomplishment that you have really made the most of your time away.
So, take a fresh look at Dubai and have a good, long think about a stopover here on your next long-haul getaway.