I'm one of those people who LIVES on message boards and reads everything I possibly can about places I am about to travel to before I get there. Preparedness, I find, keeps me out of unnecessary situations when traveling. For my recent trip to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the Maldives I read up on the rules, laws and other touristy stuff. I even made a whole blog post asking people to help me with their tips for traveling to the UAE along with a financial breakdown for those wondering how much all of this would cost.
Even after ALL of that? There was some things that caught me completely off guard once I landed that I don't think these message boards explained well or were just very vague about. I've fallen down the rabbit hole of Tripadvisor reviews and message boards but it can be pretty confusing and not definitive at times. I wanted to just tell everyone some of the things that I was either surprised by or not prepared for.
The first surprise we were in for was the taxes at the hotels on food. My goodness. I swear to you, EVERYTHING had like a 22% tax on it. I wish I had taken better notes of it but it was something along the lines of a 10% tourist tax, another 10% property tax and I can't really remember what the other 2% was. Now imagine? Our breakfast was already a walloping $35 per person or drinks were $10 per person, now add 22% tax to ALL of that. This is a necessary piece of information for all of you to know because adding almost 1/4th + tip to everything when you go eating and drinking can really add up.
On the topic of eating, the food prices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were really ridiculous. I'm sure that there are cheap eats somewhere in those cities, however, we would have needed to taxi or Uber to those locations which would defeat the whole purpose of trying to save money. There were moments we would go into restaurants and wonder how it was possible the appetizer and the main course were only a $3 difference? Makes no damn sense to me. Luckily, Maldives had very fresh food that was much much cheaper in comparison to our spots in the UAE.
Note that there is no Uber in Abu Dhabi but there is Uber in Dubai. I did read that somewhere in the message boards but I figured I would include that here because it may save you some time and headaches knowing beforehand. The nice thing about Abu Dhabi's taxi services is that they are heavily regulated and they all had Wi-Fi inside. And when I say regulated - the taxi drivers dashboard would begin making a noise if the he went above a certain speed limit 'YOU ARE GOING ABOVE THE SPEED LIMIT. YOU ARE GOING ABOVE THE SPEED LIMIT. PLEASE SLOW DOWN'! Imagine that being a thing in Toronto or NY the way our cabbies drive? No chance.
In Dubai, all the Ubers we got were either a BMW or Lexus (that's basic Uber, not even Uber Black) and yes, they do have UberCHOPPER there as well just in case you want to fly over the traffic. Wild. Do note that there are now designated Uber pickup locations in Dubai so you can't just be picked up everywhere and anywhere like we can here in Toronto. In places like Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall there are two or three areas where they are allowed to pick you up or otherwise face a fine.
On the topic of transportation, I would highly recommend using the bus between the two cities that only takes about 90 minutes and costs $9.00 (Canadian) one way. There is no need to pay all that money for a taxi to bring you from Abu Dhabi to Dubai or vice versa when these buses are safe, they have reclining seats and are well air conditioned. I was pleasantly surprised.
Dubai airport is the busiest place I have ever seen. When they tell you to be there two hours early, please do listen to them. I suppose because we flew from there on Christmas Eve maybe it was a little extra busy but I wouldn't risk it there. There are people yelling across the room everywhere and even some standing on the conveyor belts to push the massive cargo going through. Also, be prepared that in some parts of the airport there are still just squat toilets. Wish I had known that before wearing a romper.
On the other side of this spectrum was the main airport in the Maldives. We were told that during the holiday season the recommended time to arrive was three hours before departure. I am so happy we did NOT listen to that. This airport is very small and there is nothing to do there, so if we had sat there for three hours? Our journey home would have felt even longer than the 40hrs it already was going to take. We arrived at the airport about 45min before boarding and still had time to spare. Maybe everyone else listened to that three hours before nonsense and that is why there was no lineups, I'm not sure. I just know we arrived and were blessaz.
I was completely unaware of how dense the fog in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was. Wowzers. I just assumed these were hot places with nice weather all the time and the occasional sandstorm. There was some mornings in Dubai we couldn't see our own hotel if we looked up, that is how dense the fog is. When you book activities like going up to the Burj Khalifa or doing the Dining In The Sky, this fog situation is really important because it can make the experience not as awesome as it should be.
Probably the most VAGUE thing I read about was clothing in the UAE. Everyone is full of shit. I'm just going to tell you that from the jump. I'm not saying you should be out there in pum pum shorts and a crop top, but seriously, it is NOWHERE as strict as some people try to make you believe. When we got to Dubai I threw on a backless maxi dress and not a single soul screwed up their face at me at all. Everywhere had tourists walking around in shorts and tank tops just fine. I could have brought ALL my thottie dresses to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and gone to the club without any disturbance. So please, bring your thottie dresses to go out at night - no one cares.
My one final piece of information that kept coming up with others when talking about this trip was that many people are unaware about the liquor laws in UAE and in Maldives. In my experience there, drinking in Abu Dhabi and Dubai went great. We were inebriated in Abu Dhabi twice in one day and in Dubai we were able to drink by the pool as well. Not saying you should get publicly intoxicated or expect wine and beer to be served in restaurants - but it is definitely accessible. Now the Maldives? Ah. We stayed on a local island not a private one. Note that on these local islands there is NO LIQUOR. It is completely dry. No liquor at the restaurant and no liquor at your hotel. I believe it is even illegal to bring liquor in your checked-in luggage to the Maldives. (I'd do some research on that one) The private islands are the ones that have access to alcohol so if you are trying to go on your honeymoon and get wine lusty, local islands are NOT for you.
If you feel to add any other tidbits that you think people traveling to UAE and Maldives should know, just comment below this post. I'd love to read your tips as well!