Tuesday 21st May 2011 – Shopping at Dubai Mall
The second day of our holiday in Dubai and we decided that the first thing to do when in Dubai would be to shop. So we decided to head directly to Dubai Mall, one of many of Dubai’s massive super malls. We headed out into the heat but only for a few minutes before we were back in air conditioned heaven within one of Dubai’s many shiny new metro stations.
They are all built like lobbies of 5 star hotels with marble looking surfaces left right and centre, and at union Square, where we were boarding our train there was even a Time Capsule containing a message to the future from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum himself. The metro is easy to navigate in Dubai, there is only a single line that runs east to west across the entire city and is imaginatively called the red line, although a second line that runs mostly through Deira north to south is currently under construction but has already been equally wonderfully named as the green line.
Once you have gone under the Creek the metro comes over ground and you follow alongside the route of Sheikh Zayed Road through the financial district of Dubai with its many new sky scrapers. It’s quite an experience riding the totally driverless automated metro trains, they are quite fast and smooth and since most of the track is raised high above the ground like a monorail you get great views as well and the every time we used them they were never crowded.
After a short trip we arrived at our destination, Dubai Mall metro station, which is actually not connected to the mall but just a short distance away. There is a connecting bus which you can ride for free if you hold onto your metro ticket, which uses a contactless card system similar to that used in London. It is here that we got our first view of the world’s tallest building the Burj Al Khalifa. Exiting the metro station it is the first thing you notice as it just dominates the skyline at 828m high and glistens in the desert sun. We stopped, as did pretty much everyone else, to take a picture or two before getting on the bus to the mall.
Once in Dubai Mall it is similar to any large shopping mall you have ever been in before, but like everything in Dubai it’s bigger. Comparing it to what I know best, the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham, they are very similar internally with many similar shops, but the Bullring, according to Wikipedia has a retail space of 125,000sq meters and Dubai Mall, well that has a total of 3,770,000sq meters, plus Dubai Mall has a massive ice rink and also one of the world’s largest aquariums right in the centre and then there is Sega Republic a huge indoor theme park and a 22 screen megaplex cinema and at least two massive food courts with hundreds of choices from around the world. So maybe after thinking about it not quite that much of an easy comparison with the Bullring after all.
We spent some time looking around and exploring the mall, it’s quite easy to get lost in there simply because of the size of the place, but a long walk later we had found the food court and decided to take a break from our exploration and stop for lunch. The exploration hadn’t ended though as we entered the food court just like everywhere else the place was massive, it was probably about 20mins to walk around the whole court taking in the selection of world food choices, including places such as western brands like Taco Bell, McDonalds and Pizza Hut, but we finally picked our choices and took a break.
We continued our hike around the mall, finding along the way the indoor ice rink and water fall before we discovered the malls centre piece, the Aquarium. It was two floors high with apparently the world record for the largest acrylic panel at 38m x 9m. It’s very impressive and the range of aquatic creatures on display was numerous, there were hundreds of fish, and at least a dozen different sharks and stingrays.
The aquarium included an underwater tunnel which we decided to pay to explore, and it was worth it because once you go inside you get an amazing view from inside and actually get to see a lot more of the larger sharks which were hiding in the shadows of some of the larger rock formations within the tank, there were even a couple taking a sneaky rest on the roof of the glass tunnel.
The admission to the aquarium also includes admission to the zoo which is a few floors above after you exit the aquarium. Here there are a lot more aquatic wildlife to view, including turtles, beavers, friendly penguins and some very interesting looking crabs. There was even a tank full of all the varieties of fish from the film Finding Nemo to keep the kids happy, these though as with all Hollywood celebrities were difficult to photograph as they wouldn’t bloody stay still so all I have on film are orange and blue blurs.
There were a few other interesting and slower fish to take pictures of though including a display of live fish eggs, all lined up in order of age, the clever thing being that the type of eggs on display were transparent so you could see the embryo in each stage of its development, very fascinating indeed, although slightly worrying when you think they are on public display but Dubai Mall claims to follow International Standards of Ethics and Animal Welfare Policy so I do hope that these baby celebrity fish are well cared for.
Once out of the Aquarium there was chance to browse a few more shops, and then it was time to head outside to catch the live dancing fountain performance. This is outside on a manmade lake at the base of the Burj Khalifa. When you exit the mall out towards the fountain the view that greets is spectacular with the Burj Khalifa towering over the area and the massive manmade lake stretching out before you like an endless hotel swimming pool.
Across the lake over a nice little bridge is a small shopping area with some souq type markets, here we were able to get some souvenirs and a professional photograph of the both of us taken in front of the lake with the Burj Khalifa in the background, which was nice to have since my camera had struggled to get a quality night time picture of the scene. That was possibly due to the amount of water that may have gotten into the lens after taking a video of the dancing fountain, not sure my camera is water proof in anyway, but it did survive, although took a while to clear the lens of water droplets to be able to take some clear photos again. However the dancing fountain was delightful, designed by the same people who did the fountain outside the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas, every half an hour after dark you can see a 10 minute performance of the fountains dancing across the lake to a musical background.
By the time we had finished watching the fountain and looking around it was 10pm and the mall was closing so we found our way back to the shuttle bus stop and got the bus back to the metro stop. However this is when we discovered that the 2 min trip from the metro to the mall this morning was not the same route back, the bus goes on a loop around the down town Dubai area and another 20mins later we reached the metro stop. By this time however we had missed the last metro back to Diera as the last train each evening is about 11pm. So this meant our first chance to try out a local taxi
The officially licenced taxis are easy to spot, all cream with different coloured roofs denoting the different taxi company, although they are all identical and charge the same standard rate. 10 dirham (£1.60) is the starting rate and will get you a reasonable distance, I don’t remember paying more than 30 dirham for a taxi and we covered some long distances in our time there. So we got the taxi back to our hotel, the drivers pretty much all speak English, although when I asked to go to the Radission Blu there was some confusion over which one as there was apparently at least two but after some slightly misunderstood discussion we were reasonably confident the driver knew where we wanted to go.
It’s at this point that I really felt the loss of the use of my smartphone. I had removed the sim card on landing in Dubai to prevent any chance of any data use that could rack up a huge bill on my return. But it was right now that I wanted to whip out Google Maps and track our progress via GPS just to reassure myself we were at heading the right way. Dubai isn’t a complicated place though, you can basically go west to the financial districts and east toward the creek and Diera. It’s difficult to tell if you’re heading in the right direction based on the scenery as it is basically all identical skyscrapers, dessert and motorways wherever you look but I soon spotted a sign for Diera and the bridge over the creek and was more reassured we were heading in the right direction and it wasn’t long before we were back at our hotel. We left the driver a nice tip as a personal thank you for not taking us to the wrong hotel and that was then the end of our second day in Dubai.