Doing Dubai Without a Black Amex

If you don’t have a shiny black Amex burning a hole in your pocket or a suitcase of money to blow in Dubai, UAE some would advise, don’t bother going.  It is known as the Las Vegas of the Middle East for a reason. To get a look around and have one cocktail in the world’s only seven-star hotel shaped like a sail, the Burj Al Arab, will set you back $100 or more. And that’s not including the tip.

Rather than drowning in a quagmire of self-pity for not being able to do Dubai like a rockstar, I determined to unearth a Dubai that was both budget-friendly and quite possibly more interesting than the Black Amex approach to travel. Here are the highlights:

Burj Khalifa:

Instead of hiring a private helicopter to view the city with its bizarre man-made islands, take a rocketing elevator up 124 floors in the world’s tallest building. Get tickets in advance to save 300 dirhams. Just for kicks, while you’re in the building, stop at the eighth floor to take a peek at the uber-slick Armani Hotel.

Abdel Wahab:

A favorite with locals and tourists alike, reserve a patio table (far in advance as its packed every night) to see the fountain show that makes the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas look like a leaky faucet. Their warm pita bread with Baba Ghanoush is worth the visit even if you can’t sit on the patio. Fountain show is from 6 – 10 pm nightly.


Camel Milk Soak:

In the land of camel burgers and camel races, a camel milk scrub at the Thai Privilege Spa was a splurge but the exotic factor was worth it.  Sorry guys, women and children only, as are a few other things like certain days at the beach, specific metro cars and taxi cabs.

Dancin’ in the Sand:

Atlantis The Palm was the first resort on the man-made palm tree shaped island. The Palm offers club dancing on the weekends and when you’re tired, relax on a bean bag, order a double apple shisha (hookah) and take in the beauty of the night sky listening to the gentle waves break.

Water Taxi:

If you want to see Dubai Creek, skip the $10,000 an hour yacht or touristy dinner cruises with bad food and even worse music and opt for a more local experience, take a water taxi instead. (1 dirham or 35 cents)


Souk It:

For an alternative to the sprawling designer malls, get lost exploring the traditional markets known as souks. Refine your haggling skills and stock up on exotic spices, gold jewelry, fabrics, and regional crafts.

Jumeirah Beach Hotel:

When you’re ready to take a dip in the crystal blue Arabian sea, avoid the crowded Jumeirah Beach Park, which you have to pay 5 dirhams to even access the beach. Go directly to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. It’s one of the only beaches where both a swim and a cocktail are available. Regular beach attire is appropriate on the beach but ladies, do yourselves a favor and cover up thoroughly before going back to public areas.

Ski Dubai:

It’s the only reason, besides people watching, to visit a mall when you’re in Dubai. The Mall of Emirates has the freaky side-show of Ski Dubai, the third largest indoor ski resort in the world with lifts and a Snow Park for kids.

Desert Safari:

Zoom through the rusty-colored dunes of the desert in a four-wheeler. When the roller-coaster drive ends, eat dinner in a make-shift desert camp while watching some fierce belly-dancing.


Dubai Culture Tips:

Although Dubai is one of the most liberal cities of the UAE in terms of freedoms, it still has it’s laws to be respectful of. You can get arrested for appearing to be intoxicating – so don’t prance around the streets singing “You Have a Right to Fight To Party” unless you want a free ride to Dubai jail. Also, this is not Paris, so refrain from PDA beyond holding hands or you may also get the free tour of the jail system and a hefty fine.

Wardrobe Sensitivity:

As I mentioned before, women should dress modestly when in public – no tight or short clothing, keep your shoulders and cleavage covered. When in the hotels or clubs, Western attire is appropriate, just keep a shawl or scarf with you in case you need it for covering up or to keep warm – they love to blast the AC.


Best Time to Do Dubai:

Summer is a no-go. As temperatures soar to 120 degrees, even the sea gets too warm to swim in and all the outdoor clubs, shisha lounges and restaurants close. It is a ghost town in the summertime, so visit between late Sept – early May.

A great resource for nightlife, art, music and restaurant reviews in Dubai:

For all things Dubai, visit Dubai’s tourist office:

Lanee Lee Written by:

Lanee Lee is a Los Angeles based writer who uses her craft to pursue her passions - travel, artisanal food/spirits and maximizing quality of life. Lanee has traveled extensively - always in search of those golden moments of bliss. When she's not gallivanting the globe, she enjoys learning french cooking from her boyfriend and emulating Grace Kelly style. You can follow her latest adventures:, @wanderlushdiary on twitter.