I recently spent three days in Dubai, and it was not at all what I expected. The Dubai malls are literally a way of life here, and we saw very few people outside on the streets. The Dubai malls, though, are a completely different way of life to ones you might be familiar with from home. They are massive, highly air conditioned, and overwhelming at times.
the dubai malls
seven tips for surviving the dubai malls
There are multiple Dubai malls: the Wafi Mall, the Dubai Mall (near the Burj Khalifa), the Mall of the Emirates, and the Jumeirah Mall at the Dubai Marina. They are elaborate and ornate; prepare to be astounded. Gold, silver, statues, and stained glass all makes appearances at the Dubai malls. Malls here are a way of life; there are few other attractions for expats and locals to amuse themselves with. A mall with everything a person could want is ideal. These malls have supermarkets, food markets, cheap knickknack stores, designer brands, and luxury shops, not to mention entertainment complexes, aquariums, and ski fields.
The Dubai malls play by the rules of go big, or go home. Rachel and I watched a live game of Monopoly at the Mall of the Emirates. You could win a $500 shopping spree. The catch? You had to purchase $300 worth of stuff in order to play. Convert that to USD, and it’s about $100. Not at all difficult! Here are seven tips for surviving the Dubai malls.
know your transport options
The Dubai malls are not really near any of the backpacker or inexpensive accommodation. They’re actually hardly near any of the accommodations in general, since the luxury hotels are closer to Jumeirah and the low-end business hotels are on the opposite side of the city, near Al Jarah and the Dubai International Airport. Most of the malls are accessible via the metros, but you will need to walk sometimes at least one kilometre through the tunnels to get to the mall. Others, like the Wafi Mall and the Jumeirah Mall, are near the metros but not accessible via a tunnel.You’ll have to walk outside, in the heat, for upwards of ten minutes to get to those malls.
Most hotels in Dubai offer complimentary shuttle services to nearby attractions, like the Dubai malls. If your hotel does, take advantage of either the coming or going. Knowing your options for transport will cut down on the time spent figuring out where to go.
wear comfortable shoes
The Dubai Malls are BIG. B.I.G. Additionally, the metro stations are connected, but not necessarily close. For example, Rachel and I walked nearly a kilometre between the metro station and the Dubai Mall, all inside the skywalk tunnels. Sure, they have moving sidewalks, but honestly my feet hurt at the end of the day! Comfortable shoes are a must if you’re heading to any of the Dubai malls.
take a pashmina or sweatshirt
Dubai is hot. Very hot. Bloody hot. But inside every single building, it is blisteringly cold. The Dubai malls are no exception; the air changes the minute you step from the metro train into the long tunnel that transports you to the mall proper. The malls are chilly, Arctic even, and that’s outside the skifield! Throw a pashmina/cardigan or sweatshirt into your bag and prepare to drape it over yourself as you meander from floor to floor.
As mentioned above, Dubai is HOT. Dubai is also, as most websites will tell you, the most relaxed of the Emirates states. There are enough foreign travellers here and most local Emirati are accustomed to the tourists who parade about in short skirts, shorts, singlets/tank tops, and more. HOWEVER, this does not mean that you should wander about Dubai malls in next to nothing. It is possible (although unlikely) that a security guard may approach you if your attire is not respectful. Entrance signs list potential infractions, from public displays of affection to not wearing respectful clothing.
As a long-term traveller, I think its respectful for us travellers to cover up if a country’s customs request it (if not require it). I was appalled at the number of women I saw walking around the malls in butt-hugging shorts, strappy short dresses, and worse. I understand that Dubai is understanding of us, but I thought it was rude for someone to blatantly disrespect the culture. (And there I have just showed my age! I was surprised at myself for being so shocked, but I chalk it up to having just come from Nepal.)
expect to pay premiums
The Dubai malls are expensive, but then again, so is Dubai. Anything that you buy at the mall – anything that you can get elsewhere – just know that you can get them cheaper in other countries. My recommendation is to not buy anything like clothes while you’re there. You can find (almost) every store in the Dubai malls in the UK/Europe, US, and Australia/NZ. For things like kitschy touristy things, you’re likely to pay a bit more than you might somewhere else (like a street market).
The food courts at the Dubai malls are literally an attraction in themselves. The Dubai food courts are like a vast football field with every possible food you could imagine eating. They are a far cry from the sticky-table food courts of the UK and US. McDonalds and Subway are side by side with fine-dining restaurants with white tablecloths and wineglasses already set on the tables. If you aren’t hungry when you get here, you will be when you leave, so make it a point to get to the food court to explore the international options that await you.
know that everything isn’t listed online
We really wanted to watch the penguin march at the SkiDubai attraction in the Mall of the Emirates. The website lists it as a free attraction, but what it doesn’t tell you is that you have to purchase a ticket into the attraction before you can see the penguins. The website lists ski packages and entrance for the tubing hill and the zorbing, but nowhere does it mention that you must be inside the attraction already before you can watch the (very cute and adorable) penguins march across the ski slope.
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