Dubai Bucket List: Go Off-Roading In The Desert

Our Dubai departure lingers somewhere in the horizon, so close yet so far away.

In anticipation of leaving Dubai in ‘X number’ of months, we have started the task of checking items off of our “Dubai Bucket List” – things that we MUST experience before leaving Dubai!img_9968

My personal list includes off-roading in the desert, holding a falcon, and riding a camel. I also have to ride the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. We have yet to take a frame-worthy family photo in front of the Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab, so we have to do that too. And I really want to take Micah to Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi and the Mattel Play Town, so he can fulfill my childhood dream of meeting Barney. 🙂

It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that we must visit all of the Dubai Parks. They’re the whole reason why we’re out here! We already had a sneak peek of Lego Land and Bollywood Parks, but they weren’t fully finished yet. Now that both parks are open to the public, we need to go back to experience it all. I need to properly cry over everything that Anthony has designed. 🙂 Experiencing the Dubai Parks is by far the most important thing to me, and if that’s all I do the rest of my time here, I’ll be happy.

However, that’s not the case for us!img_9995 Over the weekend, we checked our first item off my list —  we went off-roading in the desert!

Anthony’s gone several times, but Micah and I have always stayed home. So when Off-Road Zone, an auto body shop that specializes in Jeeps, announced their first off-road event of the season, we decided that NOW was the time to ‘check’ our desert adventure off our list.

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Part of the 97 car convoy through the desert

This was an ideal time to go because Off-Road Zone hired several Jeeps to lead and trail our group. These professional off-roaders provided assistance and guidance, so I felt safe bringing Micah along knowing that we had 100+ cars around us to help – just in case. After our off-road excursion, we were treated to a BBQ dinner under the stars! It sounded like the perfect adventurous day out.

Our trip took a while to get started because there were sooooo many cars (mostly Jeeps, of course 😉 ). I had never experienced it before, but the camaraderie among Jeep drivers is something pretty special. Everyone was very cordial and patient with one another, and they kept giving high-fives to Micah, the “Little Jeeper” as they called him. Micah had many conversations with people that went something like this:

img_0074Person  -“Do you love Jeeps?”

Micah – “Yes! I love Jeeps!”

Person – “Are you going to get a Jeep when you grow up so you can get all the girls?”

Micah – “….. Yes?!”

Um, EXCUSE me? 😯 In that case, Micah’s only allowed to drive scooters for the rest of his life.  But our little guy had a blast, whooping and cheering with happiness whenever we went up and over dunes. I admit that I was a little nervous, because I got REALLY seasick when we went on a yacht a few months ago, so I dreaded this mysterious motion sickness kicking in again. Thankfully, I was fine. Whew!

The most stressful part of the trip occurred when we accidentally mixed in with the intermediate off-road group. We got stuck several times, but then we were rescued and taken back to the beginner’s group and it was all smooth sailing after that. It was way easier to relax, enjoy the bumpy sand dunes, and appreciate the special kind of beauty surrounding us.

Just LOOK how close we got to these camels! One sassy camel even crossed in the middle of our convoy, taking his time cause he knew that accidentally hitting him would cost the driver a hefty fine (thousands of dollars!). Camels own the road / desert / sand / everything.

 

(Random aside: camel milk chocolate has a weird tang to it).

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I thought about jumping on one of these camels to knock out 2 bucket list items in one trip, but then realized that I would probably get arrested or something, so decided not to. ;D

I think that many people come to Dubai with the intention of visiting the desert. If not for the off-roading experience, then for simply taking in the view of the seemingly endless sandy terrain. It was a different kind of beauty, for sure.

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Overall, our off-roading trip was an unforgettable experience. Anthony took fantastic care of us, and I would definitely do it again. You can’t visit Dubai and not visit the desert. It’s like going to California and not going to the beach! 😛

Before leaving Dubai, I knew that I just had to visit the desert and appreciate its sandy splendor.

So we did it.

Check!

 

 

(P.S. If you’d like to follow my blog and have any new posts delivered straight to your email inbox, please click the “Follow” button at the top/right of this post. Thank you!)

 

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A Sneak Peek at Legoland Dubai

Not only is today Halloween, but Legoland Dubai has finally risen brick-by-brick from its desert landscape to open to the public! A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to Legoland’s soft opening just for employees and their families. I’ve never been to any other Legoland, so I can’t compare it to anything, but I can say with confidence that Legoland Dubai is amazing!

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Legoland Dubai is part of the groundbreaking project Dubai Parks & Resorts, which includes a cluster of 3 theme parks (Motion Gate, Bollywood Parks, and Legoland) and 1 water park (Legoland Waterpark), a waterfront shopping area called Riverland, and a Polynesian-style resort called Lapita. Whew! My husband is part of the creative team, designing everything from trash cans to light posts to his new expertise – food and vendor carts! 🙂 We’ve been here over 2 years, and it’s amazing to see how everything is coming together after all this time. img_9727

I loved all of the random Lego sculptures throughout the park, whether they were huge ones like these sports-playing giraffes, or smaller Lego people on the sidewalks.

When we got there, I was so excited to see a costumed Lego guy standing there greeting people. I always wanted to take a photo with one, but Micah was terrified. -_- Guess I’ll have to get my photo with Lego Man next time. The sacrifices that we make for our children. Doesn’t he know that Mama desperately NEEDS a photo with the big, walking Lego person?

Anyway, the crowning jewel of Legoland is definitely the indoor (and beautifully air-conditioned, might I add) domed building called MINILAND. It has Lego sculptures of dozens of buildings in Dubai and other Middle Eastern landmarks. The sculptures were so immaculate and intricately detailed that it was hard to remember that they’re actually Legos! The website points out that it’s the FIRST indoor and air-conditioned MINILAND out of all of their parks, which makes sense since it’s built in the middle of the desert. 😀

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Sheikh Zayed Mosque made entirely out of Legos!

Legoland Dubai targets kids from ages 2 – 12, so you know that you’re not spending an exorbitant amount of money just for your kid to go on a couple of lame rides. Not at THIS Legoland! When we went, there were only a handful of rides open, but they were the ideal thrill level for my 4-year-old. img_9718We went on this gear-themed ride that was basically like the teacups at Disneyland, and a plane ride that was basically Disneyland’s Dumbo ride.  Not complaining! Micah had a blast and that’s all that matters.

Besides these two rides, there were a couple of 4D immersive experiences and several Lego building stations that were open, but we didn’t try them out. We walked around the entire park, checking out everything that was in progress and wishing that it was October 31st already so we could experience it all!
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As for Legoland’s food, we ate at the park’s Fried Chicken Co., and honestly I wouldn’t bother with it again. Maybe they’re still working out the kinks, but they continuously told my husband that his food was coming, only to make him wait 20 minutes before they said they were out of the chicken that he ordered. -_- The food was pretty terrible, typical overpriced amusement park fare. When we go back, I would bring my own snacks or find a place to eat outside the park in Riverland (also open now!) or the Outlet Village down the road.

Even though we were able to only get a taste of Legoland Dubai, we are definitely going to go back to try out everything. You know it’s a good sign when you’re impressed with a park that has only a fraction of the entertainment open at the time. 😉

If you live in Dubai or are visiting with your kids, Legoland Dubai at Dubai Parks & Resorts is a definite MUST DO.

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The biggest Lego store in the Middle East (Don’t know how many there are to compare lol)

 

Meeting The Master Chef *Gordon Ramsay* at Bread Street Kitchen

Friday brunch in Dubai is the social event of the week, so of course it took us 2 years before we finally got down to attending one. And our first may very well be our last, because it was the best experience ever.

The best news first – we met Gordon Ramsay!

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I was a little bummed out that Micah wanted nothing to do with Gordon, but, as you can see, Anthony & I are thrilled! 🙂 Micah was tired and anxious to go to the Atlantis Aquarium (you get in free if you attend Friday brunch at Bread Street). Just another day for Micah Aguilar… meeting one of the most famous chefs in the world. No big deal, right? 🙂 But Gordon was really nice, asking Micah’s name and age and encouraging Micah to smile at the camera. As you can see, Micah won’t even listen to the Master Chef. *sigh*

When we first heard that Gordon Ramsay was returning to Dubai to celebrate his restaurant Bread Street Kitchen’s one year anniversary at the Atlantis resort, Anthony & I decided that now was the time to try Friday brunch and try to meet Gordon! img_9606Anthony used his fantastic artistic skills to create some art for Gordon (see the featured image above), and we crossed our fingers that we would get lucky enough to meet him.

While we waited anxiously to see if we could meet Gordon, we indulged in a fantastic meal. Brunch was really delicious!

We were brought an array of hot appetizers, like tamarind chicken drumsticks (yummy), fish balls (didn’t try), and sliders (our favorite!). Besides the hot appetizers,  there were also buffet tables with various cheeses, crackers, cured meats, and breads, along with fancier bites like spicy tuna deviled eggs, DIY Caesar salad, mini lobster rolls, shrimp salad (tasted like ceviche), and caprese salad (delicious!). img_9656We tried duck liver pâté for the first time too, and it tasted creamy and really heavy… what I imagine bacon fat would taste like if I spread it on toast? lol  I think the pâté is definitely an acquired taste though. I took a small bite and that was enough for me.

A guitarist playing modern hits provided live entertainment, and there was tons of fun stuff for kids too. There was a bounce house, a couple of carnival games, and an arts and crafts area where kids could decorate their own coffee mugs. I also got an air-brushed tattoo, which you can see in our photo with Gordon. 😛

After taking Micah outside to play, an employee came to stand by our table, and we showed him the gift that we brought for Gordon. Just so happens, that man was Bread Street Kitchen’s maître d’ Chris – one of the head honchos of the place! He was so impressed with Anthony’s work and immediately offered to bring Gordon over to meet us. Mission accomplished!

img_9650We ended up being brought into the back of the kitchen to meet Gordon. He was a class act! He immediately asked Anthony his name, shook his hand, and said, “Thank you for my present. It’s amazing!” We chatted a few minutes more and took photos, then left the kitchen as quickly as we came in.

When Anthony & I went back to our table, still in disbelief over what just happened, Chris came back with a present for us. Gordon’s brand new Bread Street Kitchen cookbook – complete with another autograph from the chef! This is the perfect souvenir for an unforgettable afternoon with Gordon Ramsay.

If only all Friday brunches could be so fantastic. 🙂img_9651

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International Kite Festival {Part 2}

I’ve completely slacked on my blog. This I know. It was a mixture of planning for our London trip, going to London, and then coming back to Dubai and having lots of visitors with short times in between. However, I’m going to try to get back in the groove of this whole writing thing… starting…. now!

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The International Kite Festival took place this weekend, and we were able to share the experience with my cousin Audrina and her daughter Remy, who are currently visiting us from California. It was a delightful coincidence that they were here the same weekend as the Festival, because it was unexpectedly rescheduled from January to March.

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Audrina & Remy and Anthony & Micah playing in the ocean

After waiting more than a year for the 2016 festival, we really couldn’t wait to see all of the amazing kites and play on the beach all day. Our hopes were high, because Anthony & I agree that last year’s event was the best thing that we’ve done here in Dubai. Thankfully, everything was just as fantastic as we remembered it!

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Way more people attended the festival this year, but we were able to score a great spot by the ocean – right next to huge dolphin, teddy bear, and whale kites! There were lots of different food stalls selling various cuisines and extra places for kids to play (if the ocean isn’t enough, I guess). IMG_6367 Those who didn’t want to play on the beach were able to enjoy bounce houses and slides and areas with arts & crafts and face painting. As we left, Chuck E. Cheese himself was walking onto the sand, ready to party!

We also really enjoyed watching the massive amount of kite surfers that took over one side of the beach. It was amazing to see the winds lift them off the ocean and into the air for a few seconds. What a rush that must be… not sure if I’ll ever try that out to feel it for myself though. 😉

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This event of course made us want to splurge and purchase a huge kite, but with many of the prices STARTING at $2000, it will probably never happen. Since we can’t take one home with us, we are determined to look for kite festivals in California and hope that they live up to the spectacle of Dubai’s International Kite Festival! 🙂

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Our family photo, taken at the end of the day. 🙂 Micah started feeling sick and sleepy, so we headed home after over 5 hours of beach time.

 

Journey to The Lost Chambers in Atlantis

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Anthony had the day off for the Islamic New Year, so we decided to do something fun and check out The Lost Chambers Aquarium at the Atlantis resort. I admit that I was a little nervous, since our last trip to an aquarium  was pretty stressful. However, I had nothing to fear because we had a great time together discovering The Lost Chambers!
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We arrived at the aquarium about an hour after it opened on Thursday, and it wasn’t crowded at all. With our UAE Resident discount, we only paid about $20 for adult admission. Right away, I appreciated The Lost Chambers’ roomy design as opposed to the cramped Dubai Mall aquarium. Here, there was so much more room to walk around and not bump into people. They even had little pillows on the floor, inviting guests to actually relax and enjoy the views.

20151015_110617IMG_7381Micah’s favorite fish were probably these humongous groupers —> Micah shouted, “Those are the biggest fish I’ve ever seen!” He was so excited that they were bigger than him AND his mama!

And I think that I came to the conclusion that my favorite underwater creature is a sting ray. I mean, look at them! IMG_7344I love how it looks like their little faces are underneath their body. 🙂 We saw a HUGE sting ray here that covered practically half the aquarium glass. We’d never seen anything like it!

One really cool area was a creepy small hallway where you’re surrounded by huge live lobsters! They’re even in tanks above your head! Eeek! There were also tanks filled with dazzling fluorescent jellyfish, illuminated in different colors. 20151015_105817This area was dark in order to give the full effect of the colorful jellyfish, so Micah didn’t want to stay in this part for long. He kept telling me, “Mama, let’s get out of here. Let’s leave this aquarium…” I had to rush him out before he completely lost his cool, but he immediately piped up when we entered a brighter room.

We took our time and spent about 2 hours exploring The Lost Chambers, including about 20 minutes where we just sat and watched the sharks, sting rays, and tons of fish swim around. It was really cool to see people snorkeling and even scuba-diving in the aquarium too! We really wanted to stay as long as Micah was happy, but we could have probably left after about an hour or so. We weren’t in a rush and it wasn’t crowded, so we relaxed and really enjoyed ourselves.
Overall, we had a fantastic time at The Lost Chambers, and I can’t wait to go back! 20151015_114042We’ll definitely return when Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant opens at the Atlantis sometime soon. Although this aquarium didn’t have as many exhibits where you could touch animals (and there wasn’t as great a variety), I still enjoyed the Lost Chambers more than the Dubai Mall aquarium. I think I’ll need to go back to the Dubai Mall when it’s not so crowded, just so I can make a more informed decision… oh, the things I must do in the name of research! 😉

Friday Flashback – The Middle East Film and Comic Con

We missed the outrageously huge Comic Con in San Diego this year, but we still attended the Middle East Film & Comic Con (MEFCC) in April at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Since Anthony is all about superheroes (especially Batman) and Star Wars, and I love me some video games, Lord of the Rings, and cute things for Micah’s future room, there was no question that we would check out this event.

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It was absolute madness! We went the first day of the 3-day event and it was packed, of course. Thank goodness Micah napped throughout most of our time there because Anthony & I were able to browse through a lot of areas and take our time without worrying about keeping Micah entertained.

There were a few random celebrity guests, but there were huge lines to meet them, so I guess they’re big[ger] in the Middle East? More power to them!

The hot ticket guests were Gillian Anderson (Scully from X-Files), Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter from the ABC show & Captain America movie), and… wait for it… William freaking Shatner.

There weren’t as many people dressed up in cos-play as I’ve seen at the Anime Expo or Wonder Con (in LA and Anaheim, respectively), but there was still a lot of interesting costumes to see. Can you spot the Riddler walking out of the Star Wars game area?

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It surprised me to see that certain superheroes, films, and characters transcend language, place, and cultures and have such a passionate following in the Middle East. We spotted the U.A.E. division of the Star Wars’ Storm Troopers! 😀 IMG_5884I encouraged Anthony to join, but he thinks the uniforms are too expensive. lol

Anime characters and art were EVERYWHERE too. The amount of anime that I saw in the Artist Alley was comparable to that of the Anime Expo. I’m not familiar with any Anime beyond Sailor Moon, so my efforts to find my sister things from “Attack On Titan” did not work out very well. :/ I didn’t know the characters, so I couldn’t find anything from the show. Good thing we have the biggest comic book store in the UAE a short drive away from us. 😉 More on that another time.

It also didn’t help that my uber-talented artist husband kept giving all of the art the side eye and muttering to me, “I could make something like that. I’ve MADE something like that!” In the end, we only bought a piece for Micah’s room (remember I said I was looking for cute things? 🙂  il_570xN.531278453_55fg

We bought a print that was like the comic strip characters Calvin & Hobbes designed as Hans Solo and Chewbacca from Star Wars. It was like this style, but they’re doing different stuff. 🙂 I absolutely love it! It’s hung up in our apartment in Dubai right now. Can’t wait to bring it back with us to California and put it in Micah’s room in our future home.

There were a few restaurants serving food as well, and we bought some delicious eats from a Canadian restaurant called Maple Leaf. Since then, we’ve had them deliver to us and it’s still just as amazing!

A replica of the Batmobile from “Batman Begins” was also on display:

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How about this? A real life Pac Man game going on. Haha!

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IMG_5945The MECC was quite the crazy experience. We’re glad that we went even though, at the end of it all, we were exhausted from the crowds, sights, and wait times.

To Anthony’s immense happiness, we also ended up taking home this crazy looking porcelain Wolverine… the bowl that he’s holding is supposed to be for candy, but Anthony decided that Wolverine must guard his keys and wallet. (︶︹︺)

We’ll definitely be at the next Middle East Comic Con in April 2016, and hopefully we’ll get even better guests… I’m crossing my fingers for somebody from my favorite show – Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

 

 

Friday Flashback: The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi

There are less than 2 months to go before Micah and I return to Dubai, and until then I wanted to reflect on some past experiences that we’ve had in the UAE. First, the incredible Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, about an hour away from Dubai.

I gasped when I saw it from a distance. “THAT’S IT?!” I exclaimed, although obviously it had to be. I had never seen anything like it before. It was humongous – a palatial white structure jutting out of the Abu Dhabi skyline. The sight instantly reminded me of, please forgive this comparison, the Sultan’s palace from Aladdin. But a million times more extravagant. I’m just a Disney girl at heart and everything reminds me of Disney. 🙂

Princess Jasmine’s palace from Aladdin
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Sheikh Zayed Mosque from a distance

From a distance, the mosque is a wonder to behold. It’s overwhelming & breathtaking. Walking through the grounds and being able to enter the mosque was amazing too!

Some quick facts about the Sheikh Zayed Mosque:

  • It’s the largest mosque in the UAE.
  • It’s one of the only mosques that non-Muslims can enter.
  • Construction costs totaled over half a billion US dollars [2 billion dirhams]!
  • The prayer rooms can hold over 40,000 worshippers.

So, I had done my research, and I considered myself very well-prepared for this visit – especially fashionably prepared! I had a dress, leggings, and a jacket all picked out, along with a cute scarf that I planned to use to cover my hair.

Arms covered? Check! Ankles covered? Check! No cleavage? Check! Hair covered? CHECK CHECK! … Of course, as we pulled into the parking lot I realized that I forgot my scarf at home!( ̄へ ̄)Thankfully, the mosque has your back! They offer their female visitors free hooded robes to wear over their clothes. I honestly didn’t mind borrowing one. It’s all part of the experience. 🙂 IMG_4618

There are friendly security guards throughout the grounds, and they pointed us in the right direction of the robe rentals. They also politely informed women if their hair started peeking out of their scarves. It’s easy to forget that not even a strand of hair can show while you’re inside a mosque. It’s all part of being respectful, so I didn’t mind wearing the robe or covering my hair, even though it did get a little hot.

Admission into the mosque is free and there are tours throughout the day, but we just explored by ourselves. We took our time appreciating all of the beautiful architecture and stunning decorations.

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even the carpet was beautiful!
even the carpet was beautiful!

Our family photo from our trip:

IMG_4744 Micah’s covering his face and my eyes are all squinty because the sun’s reflection was SUPER BRIGHT off of the white floors. It was almost blinding, so make sure you remember your sunglasses. ʘ‿ʘ

Although I’m not a religious person, visiting the mosque left me with a settling sense of calmness and peace. I enjoyed being around lots of other tourists who were also curious about this amazing place, and it was great to see everyone just be respectful of Islam and its teachings (like how women had to cover themselves and we had to walk barefoot inside the prayer rooms).

For anyone visiting Dubai, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a definite must see! The 1-hour drive to Abu Dhabi is totally worth it, and, while you’re there, you can also see some other spectacular sights, like the Emirates Palace (which I will post about in the future). I’m looking forward to taking all of our visitors down to Abu Dhabi to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and I can’t wait to go back! … this time, I will remember my headscarf. (✿◠‿◠)