Dubai – City of Gold, from Rags to Riches

Dubai, city of gold

After 10 days at sea, on Saturday 4th June, we were thrilled to see tall fantastical buildings looming out of a sand mist in the port of Dubai. Eerie, other worldly, it was as if a desert mirage had appeared in a dream, and it wasn’t until we neared the port that we saw evidence of life.

Dubai, city of gold
Disembarking at 8.30am we had about a day and a half to explore the city, and although we have visited once before, we were really excited to see more.

Tip: On a cruise your stay at port is usually limited to a day but it’s surprising how much you can see in just a few hours is you have a plan – either to take a ship’s tour or to go exploring on your own. Do a little research and plan what you’d like to see.

Anyway, we were booked on a ship’s half day tour to see some of the most impressive sights of Dubai, which really is an architectural man-made wonderland.

Here’s a little video to begin …

Off we go!

After a quick and efficient disembarkation we boarded our coach and met our cheerful and amusing guide nicknamed Chubby, who hails originally from Sri Lanka.

Chubby introduced himself and said, “The Driver’s name is Khan, which is easy, but you won’t remember my name.” He kept a straight face while he gave us his long and unrepeatable name, then he said, “But my wife’s name has to be the longest name I’ve ever heard. It took me a week to memorise hers when we got married,” he joked, “Lucky I did, or I might have been married off to someone else. Anyway, you’d better all call me Chubby.”

Chubby was a wealth of information and kept us informed and amused during the duration of the tour.

The Best of Dubai

Our first stop on the ship’s shore itinerary was near the impressive Burj Al Arab Hotel on Jumeirah Beach. Wow, it’s breathtaking!

Dubai, city of gold

Before that, the drive to the Burj went through downtown Dubai through the architecturally inventive skyscrapers with great views of the Burj Khalifa along the way. This is the tallest building in the world and it’s an incredible sight, spearing up and dwarfing all other buildings in the surrounding city skyline.

We braved the heat at Jumeirah Beach and walked onto the sand, gazing out onto the turqoise colours of the Persian Gulf. Here the opulent, five-star, 321 meters high, Burj Al Arab is said to be the most expensive hotel in the world. It’s a stunning building designed in the shape of a sail soaring out of the turqoise sea into a pale blue sky. Perched on a man-made island it’s a must to see and photograph.

“You can buy the most expensive cocktail in the world in there at around $2000 a glass,” Chubby told us. “There’s a heli pad at the top of the hotel to which guests can transfer directly from Dubai airport for around $2000 a transfer, and the very smallest room (suite) is 140 sq metres, the size of a small house.”

Dubai, city of gold

Our next destination was the Jumeirah Mosque, built in 1979 it’s the second largest mosque in Dubai. This beautiful pieece of Islamic architecture, built with cream sandstone, featuring baroque towers, and minarets is a sight to behold.

Dubai, city of gold

Rags to Riches

The story of Dubai is one of from rags to riches and a really good place which provides a great insight into the history is Dubai museum, located in the historic Al Fahidi Fort (built in 1787).

Dubai, city of gold

Dubai developed from an impoverished fishing and pearl diving settlement, but archaelogical finds date back as far as 3000 B.C. After the discovery of oil Dubai rapidly transformed into the thriving business hub of the Middle East.

In the museum courtyard there are various fishing vessels (replicas) that might have transported people along the Dubai creek as well as out to sea, and also some interesting older style dwellings showing how people once lived.

Dubai, city of gold

Then the museum takes you underground, through the history of Dubai via interactive displays, in a basement beneath the fort. As you wind your way through the many rooms there are artefacts from Dubai’s pearl fishing days, displays of how shops might have looked and examples of how trade was once carried out plus all sorts of archaeological finds and historial relics.

Dubai, city of gold

Tip: When we were there it was packed and this took the edge of my enjoyment. It was a jostle to get close to the displays, and a womanly complaint here … there was a queue of 20 minutes for the ladies loo. So do try and find a quiet time to visit the museum if you go under your own steam.

Then it was back into the air conditioned respite of the bus and to Dubai Creek to catch an Al Abra (water taxi) to cross the creek to visit the souks. The creek is a saltwater inlet that cuts the city in two.

Dubai, city of gold

We really enjoyed being on the creek. The hustle and bustle of all the Abras coming and going as we put-putted down the creek lined with junks and other water taxis plying their trade. It was almost like the Eastern version of Venice.

Dubai, city of gold

Spice and gold souks.

Souks (markets) are of course the best place to find bargains and we were taken to two.

Before we had even arrived at the spice souk we could smell it. It was an extravaganza for the senses; dried lemons, rose hip, cardamon, huge sticks of cinnamon, chillies, vast sacks of spices, and the colours were kaleidescopic.

Dubai, city of gold

It was a busy and happening place, and absolutely authentic with Arabs in their white dishdash garments, and women in black burqas going about their daily shopping tasks.

Dubai, city of gold

Chubby then led us through the winding spice souk alleyways and into the gold souk where he left us for half an hour to explore to our hearts content.

Dubai, city of gold

There are 800 shops, it’s considered to be one of the world’s major gold markets, and you can buy every conceivable type of glittering artefact you can imagine to hang from your ears, neck, fingers or wrists. Gold bars, rings, necklaces – if you want gold, you’ve got it all here!
Dubai, city of gold

Chubby’s Fact File

Here are 9 interesting and sometimes quite random things that Chubby told us about Dubai.

  1. Dubai is the second largest of 7 Emirates, and it’s literally grown out of the desert in the last 50 years
  2. Best souvenir to take home? “Desert sand,” joked Chubby. “Or dates. Around 65% of the retail goods you’ll find in Dubai come from China bbut sand is our own. Did you know there are around 41 million date palms planted in the country?”
  3. Only around 20% of people in the United Arab Emirates are nationals, but they are all very rich. Not everyone has a back yard oil well but the Government looks after nationals very well, giving them houses,free medical, free schooling and a present of $75,000 Dirhams when they marry another national.
  4. There’s no income tax or VAT in Dubai and it’s considered the business hub of the Midle East.
  5. Dubai is perceived as one of the safest places in the world to live or to visit as a tourist and tourism is growing by 8 – 10% each year
  6. Everything in Dubai is the biggest, the best, the longest, highest or heaviest!
  7. There are around 10,000 taxis in Dubai, but they are now introducing driverless taxis. What will happen to all those taxi drivers.
  8. There are two seasons in Dubai. Hot and Hotter.
  9. Sheikh Maktoum Bin Buti Al Maktoum founded Dubai in 1833, but it wasn’t until oil was discovered that Dubai began to prosper. Dubai has been ruled by the Al Maktoum family ever since 1833

Cruise Summary to date from Captain Paolo Ravera

Sydney to Melbourne, 540 nautical miles at 15.8 knots.

Melbourne to Adelaide, 469 nautical miles at 13.9 knots

Adelaide to Esperance Bay, 884 nautical miles at 17.3 knots

Esperance Bay to Fremantle, 567 Nautical Miles at 16.7 knots

Frmantle to Dubai 5012 nautical miles at 19.5 knots

In total 13,840 kilometers.

(1 nautical mile = 1.15 Statute Miles. 1,852 kilometres)

Our next stop on the Princess Cruises world cruise will be Muscat in Oman – can’t wait!


  1. That sounds like a lot to cram into a visit Jo. Well done on the squeeze. Bet the air con on the ship is working overtime.

    • Hi Sue, yes the tours do cram a lot in, which is great as you’re only there for a short while. In Oman this morning 🙂 And again hot hot hot and sticky. Yes, the air con works very well on the ship, thank goodness.

  2. Quite the experience. You really did get a lot in. I do not think that I could ever convince Jo, my Jo, to venture to a place that is hotter than where we live. The several days have seen temps of about 105 F (40.5C), and hotter than that? Uh Uh no way José.

  3. It’s too bad the museum was so crowded, Jo as I would think seeing the exhibits and learning more about the history of Dubai would be fascinating. I would love to see the ultra modern and fantastical skyline of this city and your photo of the Burj Al Arab Hotel with the turquoise waters, the white sand (and you!) was great. So much wealth and abundance is truly mind-blowing!

  4. Dubai certainly is very popular these days for a stopover. I would love to visit those spice souks. I can just smell the aroma of those exotic spices. I can’t believe you had to wait 20 mins to pee! I don’t think I could hold on that long 🙂

    • Haha, Kathy – lucky I thought ahead! But Dubai is amazing, and there is a lot to discover which we didn’t have time for, plus it was super hot.

  5. Janet aka Middle Aged Mama says:

    Miss 19 loved Dubai – maybe because they stayed in a luxury resort 😉 . Her fave was visiting the Burj Khalifa (tallest building).

    • The Burj Khalifa must have been amazing for Miss 19 Janet! I believe the fountains are amazing too. So much to do, so little time – next time 🙂

  6. This was a very interesting glimpse into Dubai. I’d not heard the rags to riches story before and would enjoy the museum (but not the crowded part).

    • Dubai’s history is very interesting Donna. I hadn’t realised how quickly it had sprung from the desert and Bedouin tents into a man-made wonderland.

  7. A few queries have been raised about the darker side of the Dubai project – they may look after their own but rely on migrant workers to DO the actual work of building and maintaining the ‘wonderland’, and have a very poor record on how workers are treated.

    • Good point. I believe the migrant population is much larger than the national population Kim. And yes there is a darker side but I was told the way workers are treated is improving somewhat.

  8. Dubai is really unbelievable! You really do have to go there to understand that as Chubby says – everything truly is bigger, better and shinier! I found it to be like Vegas, a long weekend is just enough time there.

  9. Sounds like you had a great guide! Your post made me feel like I was tagging along with your tour group:-) Lots of interesting information~

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