Layover in Dubai: Golden Dunes & Golden Cars

A unique dose of sandboarding, dunebashing, and culture in the Middle East metropolis..

By Emily Janowsky

Why stop in London if you can stop in Dubai? When choosing a flight for our summer vacation in South Africa, we decided to fly Emirates and make the most of its hub, one of the United Arab Emirates perched on the Persian Gulf. In just 36 hours, our family was able to “dunebash,” “sandboard,” ascend the Burj Kalifa, and explore Jumeirah Beach – none of which you can do when you layover near Heathrow.


Dubai’s version of desert offroading – “dunebashing” – was not for the faint of heart. We’d paid extra for the “extreme” version and our boys were not disappointed: The 4Runner came eerily close to tipping as it climbed the dunes at top speed, flew over the top and zoomed down the other side – off-kilter and often sideways the entire way. Sand flew everywhere as we were jerked around inside the truck – comforted by sealed windows blasting aircon, of course.



Even though my boys’ favorite Dubai memory was probably seeing a gold Lamborghini, I think the best part of our layover was being immersed in the culture. Though most locals were dressed in traditional Muslim or Arab attire, we were all out enjoying an early summer evening – strolling, dining, and shopping – much like we do back home in California.

I don’t feel like I need to rush back to Dubai anytime soon – but two days in the Persian Gulf metropolis was a unique and interesting experience.


The ROAM Report – Layover in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Travelers: The Janowsky Family (parents plus two boys age 16 and 13)

Date: June 2018

Itinerary: Part of a 17-day trip to Dubai (2 nights),  Cape Town (4 nights), and two South Africa game parks – Sabi Sand (3 nights) and Mokulele (3 nights)

Budget: Lodging in Dubai is among the world’s most expensive; Hotels and activities during our two-night Dubai layover accounted for approximately $1,500 of the $30,000 vacation

The Good Stuff

Desert Safari – We booked the obligatory and touristy, Desert Safari through Get Your Guide. The friendly driver picked us up at the hotel and gave us a good overview of Dubai, the other United Arab Emirates, as well as the local challenges and changes that are shaping Dubai.  Upon arrival at the desert (about a 45-minute drive), the touristy fun began.  We first endured a barrage of up-selling attempts by the provider – Did we want to also ride quads? Wear historical garb while riding the camel? Buy local attire? We stuck to our guns and our original plan – a short camel ride, “dune bashing” in the 4Runner, and sandboarding – snowboarding down the dunes – and left happy.

World’s Tallest Building In the afternoon, we went to the top of the Burj Khalifa and saw Dubai through a heavy layer of smog. With the lousy visibility, big expense, and massive crowds, I’d have to say the experience was a bit anticlimactic. I don’t know if I would recommend it but it’s pretty cool to say you’ve been near the top of the world’s tallest building.  

Dubai Mall We spent our first night walking around the world’s second-largest shopping center. It was a perfect spot to dip a toe into the local scene given we were all jetlagged from the flight. Don’t miss the fountain show in the evening.

Jumeirah Beach Residence The JBR area seems to be the most walkable part of Dubai. There’s a beach strip, a marina, plus lots of apartment towers, shops, restaurants, and hotels. It’s a very lively and scenic spot and would make a great base for a layover stay.  

Shangri-la Hotel We had a huge two-bedroom, three-bathroom suite. It was nice and more than comfortable for us to try and cope with our jetlag. The hotel was centrally located in the business/downtown area but very quiet in terms of tourist attractions. It was only a short taxi ride to the Dubai Mall or Burj Khalifa, though.

Emirates Service  The Dubai-based carrier offers good fares and runs direct flights from many U.S. cities. We were very comfortable in their economy cabin, thought the service was excellent and our boys were thrilled with their in-flight entertainment system.

The Not so Good

The Weather! It was excessively hot and muggy. You basically need to be inside with air conditioning at all times.

Good to Know

Stay in JBR  In hindsight, I would have liked to stay closer to the walking and shops of the Jumeirah Beach area. I would recommend the Sofitel or something nearby. It seemed centrally located with lots of restaurants, shops and street life walkable from the front door.

Safe for Families Dubai was clean and we always felt safe. Everyone spoke English and was welcoming to tourists.


by Emily Janowsky, November 2018

ROAM Contributing Editor   


This San Francisco native is mom to two teenage boys and a dog that makes puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Favorite travel moments include summitting Kilimanjaro, hiking the Inca Trail, exploring Patagonia, safari-ing in Sabi Sand, backpacking through Indonesia and NorCal getaways with her hubby. Emily edits ROAM’s “parents-only” escapes and writes about family trips like South AfricaCape Town, and Dubai.


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