Sande from our Business Travel Division recently had the opportunity to travel to Abu Dhabi with Fox World Travel where she had some adventures that she will never forget!
Day 1 – Our trip started from Chicago O’Hare where we boarded the nonstop Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi. Aboard our inbound flight to AD the flight was not very full and there were many open seats. The flight over was 13 ½ hours and like many international flights, dinner was served soon after take-off and then dimmed lights so you could try to sleep for the remainder of the flight. Each seat is equipped with its own entertainment system so you could watch never ending movies, TV shows or play games during the flight.
Landing in Abu Dhabi we cleared customs/immigration in no time. What a beautiful airport! While at the airport I changed some money to the Emirati Dirham. $100USD = 349AED We did not have a transfer to the airport pre-arranged and just took a taxi. They are plentiful and not at all overwhelming like in some cities. In each taxi they have a small screen that lists the price, mileage, and drivers name among other things which we found very convenient.
We stayed at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr. Upon check in we upgraded to the Gold Level which was on the 7th floor, and offered breakfast daily, lunch snacks, evening canapés and happy hour. So it did turn out to be well worth the money. Our room faced the Sheik Zayed Mosque with floor to ceiling windows. What an incredible view.
Day 2 – Our first full day we had a scheduled city tour booked with Transpire Holidays. First stop on the tour was the Sheik Zayed Mosque. What a breathtaking structure! It was a sunny day, 99% of the days are sunny and the whiteness of it nearly blinds you when you are walking around the outdoor parts of the building. Visitors to the building are required to wear proper attire for entrance. Women must have their heads covered along with long sleeves and long skirts or pants. If you are not dressed correctly they do have garments that you can wear. Men are requested to wear long pants and long sleeve shirts but they do allow them to wear short sleeved shirts into the building. Before entering you also must take off your shoes.
Located in the mosque is the world’s largest rug/carpet made by an Iranian carpet company it weighs between 35-48 tons. The chandeliers look like small space ships made up of beautiful colors which are actually Swarovski crystals. Brilliant white marble floors and walls with brightly colored inlaid tiles creating flowering vines climb upward. The mosque can hold up to 40,000 people for worship.
Next on our stop was the Emirates Palace, a 7 star resort that looks more like a palace than a hotel. Walking into the hotel the fragrance of incense fills the air. Stores boast labels such as Rolex and Louis Vuitton and they even have an ATM that dispenses gold ingots if you feel the need to buy something.
Continuing on, we stopped at Heritage Village located at the end of the Abu Dhabi Corniche. This is an open museum showing the past way of life before big oil changed the countries landscape. They have many exhibits and handcraft presentations that you can look and get up close to. Some of their exhibits include their Bedouin tents in the desert and old fire arms that were used.
After the village we followed the Corniche down along the water. The Corniche is a big walkway along the water with parks, beaches, water fountains, restaurants and cafes, a nice place to spend a few hours or all day. Our last few stops of the day were at the markets. We went thru the fish, fruits and vegetables markets. Afterwards our guide took us back to our hotel where we went and relaxed a bit by the pool before dinner.
Day 3 – After our breakfast we relaxed by the pool for a short time. We then went exploring a nearby indoor Souk (shopping area) that was just a short walk from our hotel. The Souk had several shops and small cafés nothing much for souvenirs though. In the afternoon we were picked up at our hotel in a 4×4 Land Rover for our Desert Safari. We were joined by a family of 4 from Dublin that were also staying at the Fairmont. The drive out to the starting area took about 30 minutes or so and we stopped at a gas station where we met up with some other 4×4’s. When stopped it is interesting as they all pop their hoods in order for the engine’s to cool off. Not really sure how they can cool off when it is 105 degrees out. It is a beautiful feeling with the breeze blowing and the dry, warm air surrounding you. So totally different than what we are used to back home.
Driving off road the drivers all stop to let air out of their tires before driving out in the dunes. There are dunes for as far as you can see with some car tracks going up the sides of them. I must say I was not at all ready for what followed the extreme driving up and down the dunes was amazing and incredibly scary. Sand flew over the Land Rover while sliding sideways down the dune. We stopped to watch other Land Rovers doing the same path that we just traveled which was really amazing to see. After about the second time of stopping to watch I realized that I should have taken a Dramamine before starting this adventure. After racing thru the dunes we stopped at a camel farm before stopping for dinner at a campsite in the desert. The campsite was a big area surrounded by small tents. In the middle area there were short tables with cushions spread out for seating. During dinner they had a belly dancer for entertainment. Dinner was a barbeque buffet with salads, grilled meats, hummus and flat bread. We returned back to the hotel at about 10pm.
Day 4 – The following day we had a lounging day. After breakfast we went to the pool to swim and hang out for a while and later went exploring. We walked down to the Shangri La Hotel that was next door and also the Traders which is part of the Shangri La. This afternoon we were picked up at the hotel for our transfer to the marina area where we boarded a dinner Dhow cruise that sailed along the coast. Since this was there slow season there wasn’t very many onboard the cruise. The boat was two floors so the main floor is where you had your dinner and the upper floor is where you sat out to enjoy the view. The city lights were spectacular. After the cruise our driver was waiting for us to take us back to the hotel.
Day 5 – This morning we enjoyed an early breakfast and took a taxi to the airport. Taxi costs are quite reasonable; our trip to the airport was about $15USD. We had checked in for our return flight at the hotel and printed our boarding pass to speed up the process so that there would be shopping time at the airport. No such luck. Check in for our return took longer than anticipated because you clear US customs and Immigration at the Abu Dhabi airport. It was very nice to arrive back into Chicago and not have to go thru any formalities and just collect your bag and be on your way. The return flight was uneventful and we were both able to get some sleep.
Always glad to be home safe and sound after another adventure.