We are a family of 3 (2 Adults and a 5-year-old kid) and we recently toured Dubai. I am sharing my dubai traveling experience here, hoping that it could benefit someone like you in the future.
1. Pre Planning the Itinerary
We picked the month of November to visit Dubai, because;
- It's the end of summer, hence the heat is somewhat manageable.
- It's the start of travel season, so less crowd at attractions.
- The hotels were cheaper than the peak season rates.
Once the dates are confirmed, next thing was to shortlist the attractions/places that we wanted to visit and then bookmark the places in Google Maps like below.
Bookmarking places like this helped us in finding a hotel that is closer or at a good distance from all the places we wanted to see. Since ours is a family trip with a kid, we prioritized places that had less adventure. Here's a list of places that we went.
- Day 1: Warner Bros World | Abu Dhabi (needs at least 5 hours to enjoy)
- Day 2: Burj Khalifa / Dubai Mall / Aquarium
- Day 3: Desert Safari (starts at 2:00 PM in the noon and finishes at 9:00 PM in the night)
- Day 4: Lego Land
- Day 5: Emirates Mall / Miracle Garden / Global Village (lot of walking to be done. Better to visit after 4 PM, so stay at the mall till evening)
- Day 6: View at the Palm / Marina walk / Dubai Garden Glow
- Day 7: Dolphin show / Old Dubai
2. Booking flight tickets
We booked flight tickets on Emirates airlines. We bought the tickets first because it is needed to get the Dubai visitor visa. Also, make sure to book as early as possible and plan to travel on non weekend days (Tuesday for example), to get a cheaper flight tickets.
And, if you are planning to visit Yas Island theme parks, I'd recommend to either plan it at start of the trip / or end of the trip and directly fly to / fly out of Abu Dhabi in Etihad airlines. This way, you will save on taxi charge / travel time in traveling between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
3. Getting a Dubai tourist Visa
Getting the Tourist visa was an online process - no need to visit the Embassy in person. Just apply online, upload the required documents and your visa will be ready in a day.
The airlines that you booked your flight tickets provides a Visa service for a fee (Emirates does). But I contacted a travel agent in Dubai who helped me to get the visitor visa in one day. The visitor visa is a separate document and not printed on the Passports (unlike the US visas). So I took a print out of the Visa and carried it with me while traveling.
4. Booking a Hotel / Stay
When selecting a hotel, I looked for the following criteria:
- affordable - places near the down town area were obviously overpriced. So, I picked a place near the airport and across the Dubai creek, in Wasl district.
- accessible - I planned to use Dubai metro. So I searched for places that are in walkable distance from a metro station.
- available - I looked for places with south indian restaurants and groceries available nearby. So, I do not need to worry about my breakfast and dinner. Even though the hotel I stayed at provided the continental breakfast, my 5-year-old had his own dietary needs. So, a nearby south Indian hotel was a must for us. This gave us an option to save on the hotel cost, since I could select a room without breakfast option (breakfast was at additional price).
5. Flying to Dubai and Immigration
The immigration at Chennai airport was very quick - thanks to the newly opened terminal. There wasn't many questions other than the purpose of visit and duration. The officer checked the documents and then stamped the passport. The rest of the day was non-eventful. Finished security check and waited for our flight to arrive.
Thanks to my kid, we get to board the flight first. Most of the 4-hour journey went in sleeping.
We had a separate queue for passengers with kids at Dubai immigration. The officer did not ask any questions at all - just checked our Visa and passport and let us through. We had one more security check before the baggage claim area.
6. Getting a tourist SIM and a mobile data plan
There are two telecom providers in Dubai - Etislat and Du. All tourists are given one free Du sim/passport and a 2GB free data, valid for 24 hours, at the immigration counter. If you wish, you could just purchase a tourist plan from Du and use it.
I personally decided to go with Etislat, since the tourist unlimited data plan seemed to be fine with me. After collecting the baggage, upon exiting to the Metro station, there is an Etislat counter in the airport. I headed to it and got a new connection, that's valid for 30 days. They asked for passport, payment, and I was all set with a new mobile connection within 15 minutes.
I opted for an E-SIM for my new connection. This was because I wanted to have both the Indian SIM and Dubai SIM at the same time, so that I can use Dubai SIM for internet and phone calls, and Indian SIM to receive SMS/OTP messages that will come for the credit card usage/authentication.
Also, WhatsApp calls will not work in Dubai. So, if you plan to use WhatApp calls to talk to relatives back in India, you are out of luck. Either get an international calling plan or use an app Botim to make calls to India.
7. Traveling in Dubai using taxi and Metro train
I used Metro trains for most of my traveling. I did not get a Nol card. Instead, I bought tickets every time I needed to travel. Only at Burj Khalifa station, there was a long queue. But in other stations, the ticket counter was usually without queues. But, if you plan to get a Nol card, you may save a couple of minutes.
For the places that is far from a train station, I used the Taxis and Uber. Taxis are cheaper than Uber and readily available at every metro station exit / popular tourist places. So, it won't be hard to get a Taxi. And, unlike in Chennai / India, the taxi fares are strictly meter/distance based, so you don't need to bargain. Every taxi has the fare amount displayed in a big screen, so you know how much you are going to pay. And, all Taxis accepts credit card payments. In most malls, there's a separate queue for getting the Taxi, and they get crowded in the evening time. So plan accordingly.
8. Paying for things in Dubai
Every business accept credit card payments. I enabled international transactions in my Indian credit card before the journey and used the card to make the payments. Since the credit card usage needs OTP authentications, I kept my Indian SIM on my mobile, so I continued to get the OTP messages. I did not need to buy any international roaming from my Indian mobile provides, as there is no charge for receiving SMS message internationally.
That concludes my experience in Dubai as a Indian tourist. Please feel free to share your experience in the comments. And, let me know if I had missed any tip that should be in the above list.