Soul Of America







Alisha, Sherri and Toya with Jumeirah Beach Resort in background

Dubai, Rising Above The Persian Gulf

by Sherri Crawford


    We embark on another overnight trans-Atlantic flight destined for adventure in a far- away land.  When daybreak arrives, the plane is fast approaching our destination, cruising smoothly over the friendly azure skies.  Then you see it rising from above the sea as the jet continues its final turn in the Persian Gulf and there she is, the crown jewel of the Arabian Desert -- Dubai.

    Our escapade into the lifestyles of the rich and famous started from the time we landed.  We rode in a pink cab (pink is for ladies) to our hotel.  We were instantly hit with an influence from home, as we entered the Atlantis Dubai lobby.  A giant burst of vibrant colors reds, oranges, and blues on the hand blown glass sculpture in the lobby  that captures your attention.  As we admire the sculpture, we are trying to recall the artist’s name as we recognized his work from his Dallas exhibit earlier this year.  The desk clerk cleared up the confusion by verifying the name of famed artist Dale Chihuly.

Dale Chihuly sculpture in The Atlantis lobby

    After checking out the nicely appointed, spacious room that lived up to the Atlantis reputation, we decided its no time to sit and watch the menu selections on the hotel television screen.  Let’s hit the streets of Dubai and get this vacation on the road!!!

    Architectural designs captivate you from the moment your eyes lay hold of the skyline.  The dazzling skyscrapers unique in design and shape are like watching contenders for an episode of Next Top Architect.  As your eyes grasp one building, another grabs your attention until you gaze upon the magnificent grand dame of them all -- The Burj Khalifia.  This is the world’s tallest building, as your neck cranes your head to upwards to see the top, the tip of this 2,722 foot statuesque structure pierces the blue Arabian sky, like a spear during the day.  At night, Burj Khalifa shines bright like a diamond.

Dubai skyline at night

    We are surrounded by several restaurant choices for dinner, local and chain.  We decide to dine at a local spot, the chic Café Leblanc’ to try out the Lebanese cuisine.  Our palettes enjoyed some of the food selections especially the bread, maybe that’s a Southern girl thing.  But I’m not sure how authentic my dish was since it came with French fries.  My friends enjoyed their meal selections and decided that the hummus was some of the best they had ever tasted.  The beef patties were shaped like small pears with a crunchy coating on the outside but tasty beef on the inside.  As we headed out to see the water show, I caught a glimpse of a familiar Chicago favorite inside the Dubai Mall and my feet headed straight for Garret’s Popcorn.  I may have missed the beginning of the water show, but I did manage to get a good late night snack!!!

    A new dawn has arrived.  We are refreshed and ready to go with a full day of planned activities.  We started with a city tour that included several stops and filled our heads with loads of information.  The tour even included a trip to the Dubai Museum which provides an in-depth look at how Dubai came into existence focusing on the culture, religion, education, spice trading, pearl diving, life of a Bedouin, and of course crude oil.  The museum helped clear up misconceptions that many people have.

    After leaving the museum, we got a taste of Old Dubai as we hopped on-board the water taxi to cross Dubai Creek over to Deira, the heart of Dubai business district.  Once the water taxi came to a stop, we were front and center for a stroll through the Dubai Spice Souk.  A few streets over is the Dubai Gold Souk.  The spice souk carries every spice variety you can imagine and some you can’t.  They come in every color in the rainbow with aromas that linger in the hot humid air.  The merchants were friendly and seemed to enjoy tourists as they told us stories of how Dubai became their home.  Many residents and merchants in Dubai are not native Emiratis.  We met several people from Bangladesh, Kenya and Pakistan that now make Dubai home.  Now on to streets where the stores are lined with gold, pure gold that is.

Gold Souk in Dubai Mall

    We were bedazzled wandering in and out of various stores in the gold souk. Our tour guide advised us that the government keeps a tight restraint on the merchants to ensure your purchase is authentic, with harsh consequences if there is a violation.  With options of 18k and 21k pure gold at cheap prices, diamonds, precious stones, no tax, store after store after store, this is a place where a girl can lose her mind in all the sparkles.

    The day ended with our first trip to the sand dunes as we headed out for dinner in the desert.  We had no idea that our first driver would only drive part of the way, then drop us off in the middle of the desert for a rendezvous with our 2nd driver.  The second driver was waiting for us in a 4 wheel drive.  Well I was a little nervous until I realized that the original driver’s vehicle was not equipped to handle the desert terrain.  The driver began charging the sand dunes as the 4 wheel drive went full speed ahead up and over the dunes.  We were bouncing and jerking around in the jeep like hand puppets at the mercy of the driver.  As soon as the jeep slowed and we felt ok, here comes another sand dune and here we go again.  We managed to giggle out loud as we tried to mask our fear, I don’t know if the seat belt was any help.  Nothing seemed to keep us stationery.

    Finally we reached the location for dinner in the desert.  Camels were dressed in their festive attire waiting to give rides to the tourists.  Up, up, and here we go for a quick ride before the dinner and show begins.  The popular show was entertaining, and the meal included lamb, fish and other Lebanese selections.

Camel ride in the desert at night

    Next day, we decide to see the sand dunes from a vehicle that we could control.  Our adventure is a morning ATV ride in the desert.  The reddish orange sand dunes appear to be sculpted like a movie scene.  This sounded like a fun activity until our driver whispers in my ear “Please don’t fall, we don’t have any insurance.”  Since we are not dare-devils, decided to ride the ATV gingerly.  We had a fenced-in perimeter to ride until we could no longer bear the heat.  Later that evening, we make our way to the swanky Atmosphere Lounge inside the Burj Khalfia to watch the sunset in style.  As you feel the elevator rocking from left to right, the elevator whisks you to the top in less than 60 seconds.  We climb to the 122nd floor for impressive views of the city. Once we enter, we see a large group of African-Americans.  I hear them speaking and ask where they are from.  They answer New York City, visiting Dubai for a 40th birthday celebration.  If you just want to enjoy the views, the Observation Deck is on the 124th floor.

Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort

    Our time is starting to diminish and I need a splash at the pool.  I dash my way down to the famous Atlantis water-slides.  My friends slept in and had breakfast, while I soaked up the morning sun rays.  What a time I had, screaming at the top of my lungs like a child carried by the exciting Poseidon water-slide.  To round out the morning, I caught an inner tube and chilled while floating down the lazy river.  Then it was time for the crew to visit the Lost Chambers Aquarium at the Atlantis.  Our friendly guide was from Kenya and provided information about marine life at The Atlantis.  Did you know that if you are certified diver, you can scuba dive in their aquarium?

    I was privileged to be granted a tour of the world’s only 7 Star ultra-luxury hotel, the iconic Burj Al Arab.  The hotel stands alone on Jumeirah, and its distinctive outside design mirrors the sail of a ship.  The hotel boasts the tallest atrium in the world at 590 feet.  This atrium can accommodate the Statue of Liberty and have ample space left over.  It is simply exquisite and filled with opulence at every turn.  Our escorted tour was led by concierge, Nikolay.  He was ever so gracious furnishing facts about this hotel.  The hotel prides itself on superb customer service for its guests.  The hotel has 200 rooms but they employ over 1400 employees that are accessible and conscientious to your every desirable need, want, or wish.  Arrival to the hotel is by one of the Phantom Rolls Royce’s or you may choose to arrive by helicopter.  There is no main registration desk.  Each floor has its own private reception desk.  Discreet check-in is inside your room.

Burj Al Arab, 7 Star Luxury Hotel

    We were allowed access to view the private infinity pool area, the spa, the underwater restaurant and one of the hotel suites.  All suites are on 2 floors and include iMacs.  There is mosaic detailing inside the bathroom area, rooms come with a full kitchen and of course, a butler.  One of the extravagant amenities is each guest receives a 24k gold iPad upon check-in.  The gold iPad acts as a virtual concierge and is bundled with other interactive software for the hotel.  Now this is living the “high life”.  If you can’t make it to the Burj Al Arab, the gold iPad will only set you back $10,200.  This personalized luxury and incomparable service suits their motto well, “Stay different.”

    The last day has arrived and we have just enough time for turn-around side trip to Abu Dhabi.  Just want to kick around and see the digs in the capital city and check out one of the world’s largest mosques.  The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is massive in size and brilliantly white.  Our cab driver was perplexed and had trouble navigating to the visitor’s entrance, with the meter running, we nixed the tour and just opted for some quick photos outside.  Having a few more hours to burn, we catch another cab to the Dubai Marina for lunch and another round at the Dubai Mall for souvenirs.  It is the largest mall in the world and yet, we’ve only skimmed the surface.  If only we had more time to shop -- every store under the sun seems to be at this mall.  Although ladies here wear the traditional Abiyah when out in public, underneath, they are dressed in haute couture from Chanel to Jimmy Choo with flawless eye make-up.

Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai

    Dubai is rich in culture, lifestyle, safe, spotless beyond reproach, no graffiti, and no one walking around with sagging pants. Yes, it is the desert and there is that small heat issue mixed with humidity, which settles into a haze over the city.  But it is a fascinating and exotic place to visit.  Should you get the opportunity don’t sleep on it.  Come to this mirage in the desert that’s worth the journey.



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