36-ish Hours in Dubai

When I was selecting flights to the Maldives, the best itinerary for our schedule included a 12-hour layover in Dubai. I pitched the idea to Chris that we could use that half-day to do a quick desert tour outside of Dubai, but once we started looking into it, we realized we’d also like to see more of the city so we decided to stay overnight. With a visit to the Burj Khalifa, the Gold Souk, and a desert tour, we were able to fit a sampler of city life, culture, and nature into our 36-ish hours in Dubai.

Desert Tour

If you only have time for one activity on a layover in Dubai, I can easily recommend doing a desert safari. We booked the Platinum Conservation Drive with Platinum Heritage and had a fantastic time despite the overcast skies and occasional (super rare!) rain. Our guide, Tiago, picked us up at our hotel and drove us (along with two other people) to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve for an informative overview of the reserve’s history, culture, and ecology.

On the way to the desert, we stopped by the Dubai Camel Racing Club along the way for the chance to see these athletes up close.

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Once inside the reserve, we first stopped by a recreation of a traditional Bedouin campsite, which was sort of like an outdoor museum. It’s very nicely done. The site is also used for belly dance demonstrations and meals included in other tours. Tiago helped us to don a Bedouin headscarf to protect our faces from the elements. And to look cool, obviously.

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Just outside of the campsite we met these camels who were prepared to give us a ride around the desert even though it wasn’t part of our package, but we passed on it – they looked so happy and relaxed, we didn’t want to disturb them. (Well, besides taking photos.)

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While driving around the dunes we were able to spot tons of wildlife, including a heard of oryx. We didn’t do any dune-bashing though, and that’s one of the reasons I selected this tour specifically since dune-bashing is harmful to the ecosystem.

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After exploring the desert, we stopped by the Al Maha Resort for a gorgeous breakfast spread that regretfully I didn’t photograph. We also had the opportunity to try freshly brewed Qahwa (or gahwah), traditional Arabic coffee served with sweet dates.

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Old Dubai

I can’t pass up an opportunity to visit the old town part of any city for a glance back in time. Chris and I stayed in Old Dubai for the proximity to the old souks and a view of the water. We wandered up and down the Dubai Creek, and eventually made our way to the gold souk.

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Walking through the souk is one of the most overwhelming shopping experiences I’ve ever had – we were practically pulled in twelve different directions by various vendors as soon as we entered, and I’ve never felt more popular. I ended up buying a pashmina (which I had planned on buying) and some cumin (which I had not planned on buying). Their sweet and persuasive tactics are hard to resist.

We originally thought we’d hit the gold souk, then the spice souk, followed by the old souk, but the gold souk wore us out! Thankfully we saw a bit of everything at the one souk.

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Dubai Mall & Burj Khalifa

Ordinarily I would rather avoid a shopping mall at all costs especially while traveling, but I admit to being curious about the famous Dubai Mall and we needed to go there anyway to enter the Burj Khalifa. And I found out they had a Magnolia Bakery. And we couldn’t imagine the sheer size of a place that housed so many stores, restaurants, an aquarium and an ice skating rink, so we had to see for ourselves. Verdict: it’s impressive. And our cupcakes were delicious.

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Also impressive: the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. But ugh, the crowd was unbearable. We purchased tickets in advance for nighttime to try to avoid the biggest surge of people (typically before and during sunset), but the amount of people on the observation deck still made this sort of an unpleasant experience. I’m glad we went up and saw the view, but we didn’t stay more than ten minutes which made this just sort of a check-the-box kind of experience. The performing fountain outside was pretty cool though.

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And that was Dubai for us! I’m not going to do a snapshot post for Dubai since we didn’t even stay for two full days, but I’m so happy we were able to get a taste of this fascinating city.

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Maldives Snapshot

I’m posting this wrap-up a little later than I intended, but it has been fun to relive a few Maldives memories while writing this snapshot entry. It is also making me want to go back to the atolls sooner rather than later. Chris and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary this year and we have talked about going back for another big milestone anniversary like our 20th, but I don’t know if I can wait that long!

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Best Moment

I’m hard-pressed to think of a best moment when every single day it felt like we were living inside of a postcard.

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Worst Moment

It rained one afternoon? And we didn’t get to do a few of the things we originally planned because it was oddly windy (which made the water too choppy for going out on a boat to look for manta rays), but I actually don’t think we encountered any drama or major bummers on this stretch of the trip.

Funniest Moment

We had some really great moments interacting with the amazing staff at Komandoo, and our new friend, Ali, in particular had us in stitches! He was an absolute delight to talk to, and we all had a good laugh together when he told us that President Barack Obama worked at the resort…and a few moments later he fetched a co-worker/friend who did look amazingly like our 44th president! I wish I had a photo to show you.

Best Meal

Chris and I don’t tend to gravitate towards fine dining too often while traveling since we’re usually more than happy to eat at hole-in-the-wall gems, in-demand food stands, and local casual favorites. And we truly enjoyed all of the food at the Komandoo restaurants, Falhu and Kandu. But our lunch at 5.8 Undersea Restaurant knocked our socks off because it was such an experience. I mean, just look at my sea bass! It’s a work of art.

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Something We Learned

I re-learned how to play chess, but this time in giant form.

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We’re Thankful We Packed

I was happy to have a wide-brimmed sun hat to protect my face. Chris was less happy about that hat every time it flew off my head into the water and he had to retrieve it. (He is my hero!)

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We Didn’t Need To Bring

Shoes (we only packed flip-flops). What I do wish I packed is some kind of floatie. I had visions of getting onto a float and drifting down the island toward the bar. Not sure it this would have worked in execution, but it seemed like a good idea. Might try it next time.

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Trip Regrets

We arrived to Komandoo on a Saturday and left on Friday, but because of the amount of travel on both ends, we only ended up having five full days on the island. I think at least two more days at the resort would have been a better plan.

Reasons To Go Back

The weather seemed so perfect to us, but the high winds made it impossible to do a few of the off-island excursions we wanted to do. I’d go back in a heartbeat, even if we still didn’t get to do any excursions!

Favorite Photos

I love this fun photo that Chris took of Eagle Ray 9 from the water. We used a dome housing for our GoPro to get these kind of half-over-half-under shots.

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And I couldn’t get enough of photographing the gorgeous sunsets on the island.
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  • AdrienneJune 22, 2017 - 1:03 pm

    Your photos are all so dreamy! And congrats on 10 years! 🙂 We celebrate five this year and I’ve already told my husband we’re going to the Maldives for 10. It’s going to be a loooong wait though!

  • SusanJune 23, 2017 - 12:00 pm

    Thank you, Adrienne! I can’t wait to hear how you like the Maldives! I’m sure you’ll find a few fun places to go in the meantime. 😉

Packing for Paradise: What I Packed for the Maldives

I find that packing for an island or beach trip is always so much easier than other trips, don’t you think? The weather is likely to be similar most days, swimsuits and flip flops don’t take up that much space in my luggage, and I love the ease of just throwing on a sun dress for the day or evening.

When I started to think about what I would pack for our trip to the Maldives this past February, I only had one minor concern – the dress code at our resort, Komandoo. I searched a few travel forums for ideas about how to dress in the restaurants, and what would be appropriate around the island. The general consensus was that as long as we didn’t show up for a meal in our swimwear and Chris didn’t wear a tank top, we’d be fine. The official dress code mentioned on Komandoo’s website is “smart casual” in the restaurants and bars.

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The weather for our mid-February trip promised to be in the high 80s and fairly dry. Six out of seven days were lovely – lots of sunshine, a puffy cloud here and there, but with lots of wind. One day we had overcast skies and some rain. With the weather and dress code in mind, here’s what I packed for our week in paradise:

  • 3 short-sleeve shirts (one I wore on the plane)
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 3 long sleeveless dresses
  • 3 cover-ups
  • 3 swimsuits
  • rash guard
  • bras & undies
  • 1 tank top (for sleeping)
  • yoga pants and hoodie (worn on the plane – 15 hour flights require maximum comfort)
  • 2 hats – one wide, floppy hat and one bucket hat
  • flip-flops
  • sunglasses

I spent most of the day around the island in a swimsuit with a fairly conservative cover-up (length nearly to my knees, and not sheer). I felt comfortable wearing that ensemble to the bars during the day, but we wore nice shorts and short-sleeve shirts to breakfast and lunch in the main restaurant. For evening cocktails and dinner I wore an easy breezy maxi dress with fun accessories, and Chris wore khaki shorts with short-sleeve button-up shirts.

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The official footwear dress code on the island is made clear on this signage, and we only needed a pair of flip flops to wear on the wooden jetty when it got too hot for bare feet. I actually didn’t see anyone wearing anything other than flip flops if they were wearing shoes at all, even in the restaurants and bars. You don’t even have to pack shoes if you don’t want to – Komandoo provides flip flops to wear as needed (see blue sandals pictured below).

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Perhaps the most important part of my Maldives wardrobe was a big, floppy straw hat to protect my face from the strong sun. I credit this hat to my lack of sunburn on my face at the end of the week! It was so important, in fact, that when the wind whipped it off of my head while walking along the jetty, Chris deftly dove into the water to retrieve it. Isn’t he the sweetest?

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Additional packing tips:

  • There’s no need to pack a ton of makeup, ladies. The heat, humidity, and water will take it right off! I wore a tinted moisturizer with SPF 30 daily, and added some mascara and lip gloss for dinner.
  • Komandoo has dive/snorkel gear available to rent, but we brought our own gear since we planned to be in the water as much as possible.
  • I wore the same three dresses on rotation in the restaurant every evening and once for lunch at Hurawalhi’s 5.8 Underwater Restaurant. They were even the exact same style just in different colors and patterns. I was initially a little worried about repeating outfits since we all ate at the same restaurant together each night. But the dining room was pretty dimly lit and no one seemed to mind (what did I even think someone would say to me?), so this is just reassurance that there’s really no need to pack a different outfit for every day if you want to keep your luggage light.
  • I’m the Sunscreen Queen so I have to mention again that the sun is strong in the Maldives. I highly recommend a rash guard for snorkeling if you’re on the fair side. The reef is gorgeous, and you won’t realize how fast time passes while you’re blissfully floating along gazing at the fish and coral. Your back will thank you for covering up!
  • Speaking of covering up, the Republic of the Maldives is a conservative Muslim country. To be respectful, you’ll want to have something to cover your shoulders and knees when visiting the main island and going through the airport. The dress code is more relaxed at the resorts and bikinis are totally fine on the beach, but I would still recommend leaving your thongs at home. Besides, remember my point about the strong sun? Your buns will want to be covered!
  • Lastly, nudity is illegal in the Maldives, even while sunbathing. So while you can keep your luggage light, you don’t want to go too light. 😉 I kid. (But seriously, no nudity.)

I think that’s everything. I hope it helps. Feel free to let me know if you have any specific questions about packing for the Maldives!

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Photo Friday – Hibiscus

Ack! I am wildly behind on my blogging to-do list, including a couple of additional Maldives posts, but I’m otherwise wrapped up in another project at the moment – me! I’ve been spending my free time at the gym, trying to get into better shape for an upcoming trip that will involve a bit of high-altitude hiking (more on that soon!), and by the time I get done I’m usually too exhausted to think, type, or even sit upright, all of which are required to blog. So I hope you’ll forgive me for the lack of updates here! I promise to have a what-I-packed-for-the-Maldives post up soon, as well as a recap of our quick visit to Dubai!

In the meantime, here is a hibiscus, as spotted on the island in the Maldives.

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Dining with the Fishes at 5.8 Undersea Restaurant

Shortly after Chris and I booked our week at Komandoo we caught word of a new resort that would be opening up nearby, and I have to admit I felt a tiny pang of regret and I briefly considered switching our reservations. Who doesn’t want to stay at brand-new accommodations where everything is shiny and fresh? But the more I continued to read glowing reviews pouring in daily for Komandoo, I couldn’t help but be curious about the slice of paradise with repeat guests returning multiple times despite all of the other choices out there.

We decided to keep our original plans (and we were beyond thrilled with that decision), but we found out that the new resort would be home to an extraordinary restaurant called 5.8 Undersea Restaurant and that we would be welcome to dine there. In my over-excitement, I immediately contacted them to make a reservation months before they even opened!

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On the last day of our stay at Komandoo, a boat picked us up promptly from the main dock and zipped us away for lunch at the neighboring sister resort, Hurawalhi. The 90-villa, adults-only luxury resort opened in December of 2016 in the Lhaviyani Atoll a few minutes’ boat ride from our island. Hurawalhi seemed at least double in size compared to Komandoo, so we were thankful to be escorted to the restaurant by golf cart, a much-appreciated mode of transportation in the mid-day sun.

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We headed along this walkway, and then we dove straight into the water to swim to our table. (Just kidding. The entrance to 5.8 Undersea Restaurant is within that building in the background.)

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At the entrance to the restaurant, we saw a sample section of the glass used to construct the tunnel-shaped walls and ceiling. The entire structure was built in New Zealand, shipped to the Maldives via cargo ship, and then lowered into the water in one piece. It’s currently the largest underwater restaurant in the world!

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There’s no need to hold your breath or wear scuba equipment to enter the restaurant, and you won’t even get your hair wet. A long spiral staircase descends down into the ocean where that thick glass encases the dining room at 5.8 meters beneath the surface of the sea. At lunchtime the room was lit with bright rays of sunlight, and we had the perfect viewing conditions for observing the surrounding reef. Schools of colorful fish circled and gazed in at the guests, and at one point a pair of sting rays glided straight overhead, but I was too busy savoring my lunch to capture it on camera.

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With five courses including snacks, appetizers, mains, and dessert, the menu provided a culinary adventure unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. The service was attentive yet also unobtrusive. We started by ordering a couple of tasty tropical drinks to enjoy while we identified the fish near our table.

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Our first course included a selection of snacks that weren’t specifically identified on the menu, so it was an exciting activity to try to guess what we were tasting. Actually, I’m not usually good at that. I tend to want to know all or at least most of the ingredients in my food, but I was feeling especially adventurous that day. And every bite was incredibly delicious. Not to mention the beautiful presentation!

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In the next two courses we were treated to shrimp ceviche with cucumber wasabi sorbet and then a gorgeous scallop with butternut squash, pinenuts, and raisins. Both wonderful.

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For my main I selected the sea bass and Chris opted for the Angus beef. I’ve never tasted such a perfectly prepared piece of fish in my life. I would eat it every day if I could. Chris thoroughly enjoyed the steak as well.

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Here is where the menu lost me a juuust little bit. I’m not a huge cheesecake fan, but I do like it every now and then. I was happy to try their blueberry cheesecake with blueberry ice cream for dessert, only this wasn’t a cheesecake anyone would recognize! I didn’t expect it to be sort of deconstructed (the swirl in the photo below is similar to a typical cheesecake filling), and I’m not quite sure the little puffs of pistachio sponge actually qualifies this as a cake. 😉 But it was so pretty, like a piece of art, and it was fun to try. The Baileys coconut praline, however, was amazing. I could have eaten a few more of those.

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After lunch we headed upstairs to the Aquarium Restaurant & Bar, another dining option at the Hurawalhi resort. (We didn’t eat or drink here, but this is where we paid our bill as guests from Komandoo.)

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We lounged outside for a few minutes while awaiting our golf cart escort back to the boat, and observed our surroundings at the resort. Hurawalhi is a beautiful, brand-new option in nearly the same stunning location as Komandoo. We were thrilled with our decision to stay where we did, but I don’t think you can go wrong with either option!

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If you do stay at Komandoo, I highly recommend a trip over to 5.8 Undersea Restaurant for this one-of-a-kind dining experience. At $150 per person for lunch and $280 per person for dinner (plus $25 per person for the boat transfer), it’s definitely a big splurge item. We originally made reservations for breakfast which was a little easier on the wallet and the menu looked amazing, but shortly after opening they decided not to offer breakfast so they graciously reserved lunch for us at the breakfast pricing instead. I’m happily checking this one off the bucket list!

“Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor. Such wonderful things surround you. What more is you lookin’ for? Under the sea…under the sea…”

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