It’s renowned for being one of the most ostentatious holiday destinations in the world.
And with its luxurious hotels, world-class restaurants and glitz and glamour, it’s no wonder so many families fly to Dubai for guaranteed winter or summer sun.
But with suites costing up to tens of thousands of pounds, a hotel with its own rainforest, and one of the largest shopping malls in the world, is it really possible to have an affordable holiday in the ‘Las Vegas of the East’?
Carol Driver flew to Dubai with her husband and toddler to see if they could enjoy a holiday there on a budget. One thing they enjoyed for free was the the spectacular fountain show at the Dubai Mall
My husband and I flew to Dubai with our toddler with a budget in mind – the main question being whether we’d be able to stick to it and still have a good time.
The first challenge was to look past all the incredibly extravagant hotels, where, if money was no object, you could spend a fortnight lazing around, blazing a trail of cash behind you.
Instead, we opted for Jumeirah Zabeel House Al Seef, a new addition to the Jumeirah portfolio. It’s not the tallest, and it didn’t cost the most in the world to build – and the price of about £74 a night reflects that.
It’s located in the heart of the most vibrant neighbourhoods of old Dubai, Al Seef, next to the creek, and at the start of a stretch of restaurants and bars offering something for every taste.
The view from the rooftop pool of the Jumeirah Zabeel House Al Seef, a new addition to the Jumeirah portfolio. Stays are around £74 a night
One of the rooms inside the Jumeirah Zabeel House Al Seef. Carol’s room had a hammock, a shiny black Smeg fridge, an old-fashioned black telephone and a metal, four-poster king-sized bed
Carol noted the statues of men with bowler hat lights hanging above their heads that greeted her and her family as they entered the hotel’s vast reception room
There’s something quite retro about the design of the hotel, with its brown, white and grey squareness, looking more like an office block than a typical hotel in Dubai.
Inside, it’s incredibly modern. Statues of men with bowler hat lights hanging above their heads greet us as we enter the vast reception room, which features a grey concrete floor, white walls and a central black square bar.
Dotted around the edges are bursts of colourful chairs and tables, comfy sofas, old-school style luggage and there are swirling lights on the ceiling.
We’re shown to our room. It’s of a standard size, which means we’ll need to be out and about more often than not as our toddler – like most children – does not like to feel contained.
The black, white-and-grey ‘concrete’ design continues into our room, which therefore does feel a little cold. But the quirks, such as a hammock, a shiny black Smeg fridge, an old-fashioned black telephone as well as a metal, four-poster king bed and a desk with a TV above it give it a homely feel.
The aquarium in the Dubai Mall, where tickets start from £25. There are ‘free’ parts of the aquarium that are accessible from the mall
The bathroom has a similar sleek style, with a nice tall, round basin and a large bath tub.
We unpack our luggage – there’s plenty of space with a wardrobe at the back of the room, and two more behind the bed – and check out the rest of the hotel.
And we make our way up to the top floor – and it’s here that it’s clear to see why Zabeel House Al Seef stands out.
Not only is there a rooftop pool that runs almost the entire length of the hotel, but the panoramic view across the city is stunning – making for perfect Instagrammable photos.
We spend hours here every day, lazing on the sunbeds, splashing around in the pool – which is perfect for a little one – as well as ordering cocktails from the bar.
Carol found that there are public beaches with plenty of things going on for little ones. Pictured is the public beach next to the luxury Burj Al Arab hotel
We head out to eat lunch and dinner in the host of nearby restaurants – there’s everything from fancy, three-course meals to cafes selling sandwiches; perfect for anyone on a limited budget.
Entertainment doesn’t have to cost a fortune either – there’s plenty to see and do at The Dubai Mall.
We spend a day there, wandering around all the high-end designer shops (in which, surprisingly, there wasn’t anything within our price range!), taking in the spectacular fountain show, and at our little girl’s favourite, the aquarium and underwater zoo.
The 10-million-litre tank is the largest suspended aquarium in the world, and features more than 33,000 aquatic animals and the largest collection of sand tiger sharks anywhere.
Prices for tickets start at £25, but if you wanted to, you could take a look at the ‘free’ parts of the aquarium that are accessible from the mall.
To discover more about Dubai, we decided to book a ‘cultural meal’ at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, located in the historic Al Fahidi District in Bur Dubai – just a 15-minute walk from our hotel.
For about 20p, you can take a ride in a small, wooden abra boat along Dubai Creek, taking in the old and the new
It’s the brainchild of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and has an ‘open doors, open minds’ motto to educate visitors about the traditions and customs of the UAE.
Our lunch is served inside a traditional house, while guests sit around a Persian rug on cushions on the floor.
We tuck into an Arab meal while our presenters – Ahmed Al Jafflah and Ruqaya Al Hamiri – talk about UAE culture, customs and religion.
It gave us a fascinating insight, with plenty of food for thought, and only cost about £28 per adult.
We also discover there are plenty of free things to do in Dubai.
Tourists can spend a day at the beach – there are public ones, with plenty of things going on for little ones.
At the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, pictured, visitors can book a meal and learn about the traditions and customs of the UAE
Along AlSerkal Avenue, the Al Quoz gallery district is free to enter, and features galleries and pop-up shops as well as plenty of coffee shops.
Or for about 20p, you can take a ride in a small, wooden abra boat along Dubai Creek, taking in the old and the new.
For families with older children, Legoland is a great way to spend a day. We took our little girl, but apart from giggling on a few rides, she was probably a bit too young to enjoy it (although under 2s go free, adults are about £50).
There’s a water park, Lego City, various kingdoms and minilands – plenty to keep tiny hands busy.
An affordable holiday to Dubai is possible – and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to miss out on doing fun things as a family while there.