Are you an “average” tourist? Is your idea of the perfect souvenirs t-shirts, magnets, mugs, and canvas bags that name the places you visited?
Or worse yet a t-shirt that says ” …went to (place) and all I got was this t-shirts”!
There’s nothing wrong with bringing home all those touristy things, my husband does it all the time. But I often find that amusing t-shirt or whatever looked funny when you’re buying it, unfortunately it’s not too cute when you get it home or present it to your friends or family.
Many times what you thought was super cool ends up forgotten and unused in the back of the closet. I know my grandsons’ have outgrown many unworn souvenir t-shirts we’ve gotten for them on our trips. And I’ve got 2 kitchen cabinets bursting with mugs from everywhere.
On our last visit to Dubai I vowed to curtail my shopping (and my husband’s) to something that we could really use. It didn’t exactly workout as planned, but we did end up with some really unique or even serviceable souvenirs that we all love and know will use for a long time.
Gold prices have somewhat dropped making buying a trinket or two a bit more affordable. So if you want to treat yourself to something sparkly head on over to the Gold Souk in Diera.
In my opinion this is one of the best Gold Souks in the world, rivaled only by the one in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. At the souk you’ll find over 400 shops each with a staggering assortment of gold jewelry from baby earrings to wedding jewelry complete with diadem and tunic.
They sell gold in 18K to 24K, in a variety of colors including white, yellow, rose, and even green. Jewelry is available with our without precious or semi-precious stones.
You’ll find the prices at the souk among the cheapest anywhere in the world as there is no VAT or other taxes added to the cost. Additionally gold jewelry in Dubai is sold on gold price plus labor or “making charges”. Unlike any place else in the world “making charges” aren’t calculated as a percentage of gold prices but usually as a flat rate depending on how intricate the design.
You can be confident in the purity of the gold sold in Dubai as this is strictly regulated by the Dubai Central Laboratories Department. They have implemented a voluntary quality control and certification program called ‘Bareeq’ that recognizes shops that meet their good practice criteria for selling jewelry.
Here are a few tips for shopping at the Gold Souk:
1. Know your gold. If you are planning on making a significant jewelry purchase in Dubai (or anywhere else for that matter) do your research before you go shopping. Know the differences in Karat (purity of gold) and colors.
Different colors are achieved by mixing amounts of alloys such as copper, silver, or zinc to the pure gold. Thus tinted gold will always be less than 24K which is the purest and yellowest form of gold.
2. Check the price boards that are located around the souk. Know how much gold is selling for that day. Prices are per gram and will depend on the karat (purity). To convert to your home currency be sure you install a currency converter on our smartphone like XE Currency App.
3. Visit several stores to compare items, quality, designs, and prices, most stores carry similar designs. The prevalent designs sold at this souk will be Arab and Indian styles as well as some European styles. Some shops sell only 18K, while others only the heavier (thus pricier) 22K and 24K. Still others only sell diamond jewelry. If you’re not interested in one or the other it’s best to move on to a shop that carries what you’re looking for.
4. Snap a quick picture of something that catches your eye, ask permission first, they usually will allow it. In most cases jewelers will have multiple locations in and around the Gold Souk so if you saw something in one shop but can’t recall which shop it was chances are if you show the picture to a salesman in any shop and they can go get it for you or tell you where to find it.
5. Don’t let the price they tell you discourage you, that’s just the starting point! When you find the item you want to buy haggle for the best price. All the pieces are tagged with its weight and the salesperson will calculate the price in front of you as gold prices change almost daily, if you ask them to weigh the piece they will happily bring out the scale to weigh it for you. (Remember the price is calculated by the daily gold price plus the making charge.)
Generally the heavier the item and the more intricate the design the more room there is to haggle. They will tell you that the price on lighter items such as tiny baby studs or simple rings are fixed, but you can still talk your way into a discount even if it’s only $5. So don’t think you can’t haggle about the price of baby earrings, you can! We got a small pair of 22K earrings for my baby granddaughter for less than $50, the original price was about $70.
6. Try to buy multiple items (if you’re interested in more than one piece that is) from the same shop. Shopkeepers give deeper discounts on a set of earrings, bracelet, and necklace or multiple items like 2 or more pairs of earrings, etc.
7. Most shops will offer you refreshments; coffee, tea, soda, water, and biscuits. Feel free to accept or decline, but don’t feel obligated to buy. And don’t think that just because you accepted a bottled water or a cup of tea you must pay the asking price, you can still haggle!
8. As you wander the Gold Souk and the streets around it you will be approached by vendors selling bottles and cans of cold water, juice, and soda for 1-2 dirham; if you’re thirsty grab one they’re a bargain at less than $1.
You will also be accosted, very annoying, by touts trying to get you to follow them to their shops in the alleys behind the souk to buy fake designer bags and watches. Unless you are dying to waste your money on poorly made and terrible looking “Gucci” bags and “Rolex” watches say “no thank you”. I have to admit after being swamped by several touts in a matter of minutes they got very annoying and I ended up just ignoring them and walking away.
In case, for whatever reason, you are tempted to look at their wares remember this:
1. Unlike following the touts in Bangkok, you don’t have to be afraid you will get mugged or robbed in the back alleys. Dubai is very safe, the penalty for crimes, no matter how petty, is very severe (incarceration in a desert prison then deportation, I’ve been told). So you don’t have to worry for your safety, but you will more than likely be wasting your time and/or end up buying poor quality products.
2. Buying and bringing home fake designer products is a crime. If caught at the airport you can be fined $10,000+. Is that fake Rolex you got for $40 really worth the risk?
If you want to bring home something unique but don’t want to break the bank by buying that one pound gold and diamond tiara you can have a nameplate made for you. They whip these out in a matter of hours or at the latest overnight. They will even deliver it to your hotel.
You can have your name written in either English or Arabic. Each name plate is attached to an 18″ gold chain.
We purchased a nameplate in 22K for each of our grandchildren, and my grandsons Dion and Devon purchased one for their mom. We shopped around for them, the prices ranged from $200 to $300+ at different shops. We then sent in our super haggler aka my husband and walked out paying $150 for each necklace.
If you want something with bling that isn’t jewelry you can buy one of these bags or a pair of sandals from the shops outside the Gold Souk.
They are hand beaded in India and Pakistan. Very unique and absolutely gorgeous. You’ll find them in many shops along the road that leads to the Souk.
The sandals start at around $30. You must try them, the sizes are funky and each style fits differently. They are super cute and pretty comfy. However they are not the same quality as the blingy handmade sandals you can buy in Capri or Positano, but they are at least 75% cheaper and will last at thru the summer.
The bags are a bargain starting at about $30 for the evening clutch and $80 for the satchels. They are bulky and heavy so make sure you can fit one in your luggage if you decide to buy one.
We loved the bags and sandals, actually we just love bling! We ended up with 3 pairs of sandals (surprisingly we refrained from buying more) and a total of 12 bags. Again here you must bargain, specially if you are buying multiple items from the same shop. We ended up paying $25 per pair of sandals, $25 for each clutch, and $68 for each satchel.
If you’re shopping in and around the Gold Souk in Diera you might find yourself in need of sustenance and rest. Shopping can be exhausting! There aren’t many great restaurants near by but there are many snack bars.
There are burger, pizza, and other local fast food joints (you will not find a McDonald’s or such in this area). The best one I’ve found is this outdoor “cafeteria” that serves shawarma and falafel sandwiches and fresh fruit juices. It’s pretty good and a bargain at 5 dirham ($1.35) a sandwich.
While in the Diera shopping area around the Gold Souk you will find vendors along the streets selling souvenir t-shirts, mugs, magnets, caps, etc. If you must have some of those this is a great place to buy them. Again remember to haggle. We got adult t-shirts for 10-15 dirham, that’s less than $5 a shirt! You can also find great buys on suitcases (you will need one after a day in this area!), toys, household goods, hookahs, shoes, and more here.
If you can’t carry all your purchases, don’t worry! You can hire a porter. He’ll follow you around town with all your purchases until you’re ready to load it all up in your car or a taxi. He’ll even give the kids a ride!
This guy we hired doubled as a nanny to our grandson Devon. He took very good care of him! He patiently lifted him on and off the pile of suitcases whenever Devon decided he needed to check out a shop.
There’s no set price for porters, he told my husband to just pay him what my husband felt was fair. In this case since the poor guy hauled around all our suitcases, bags, souvenirs, and grandson all day in 116 degree heat my husband paid him 100 dirham, that’s about $27.
Another popular item in Dubai is Oud. It’s perfumes, colognes, wood, and incense made from Agarwood essential oil. It is distilled from the dark resin heartwood that forms in Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees, evergreens native to southeast Asia. It is reputed to be the rarest and most expensive wood in the world. In the Middle East it is known as “black gold”.
Prices vary depending on purity, quality, brand, size, and bottles. You can find small bottles of not very pure oud for as little as $5 in shops around the Gold Souk. If you’re wanting designer brands such as Tom Ford, Gucci, Versace, and others expect to pay from $100 to more than $500 a bottle.
The oud scent is intense and pungent, I’m not a big fan, but I do love the bottles they come in. You will find many perfume shops in the malls and will notice the scent as you tour around town. The locals love the scent and seem to liberally douse themselves in it. Needless to say I admired the bottles but did not feel compelled to purchase any; however my husband’s friend always comes home with a bottle or two whenever he visits Dubai.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a bar of camel milk chocolate from Al Nassma. You will find them sold in most candy shops around town or at their kiosk on the lower ground level of Dubai Mall.
They sell a variety of chocolate products from bars, to boxes of pralines, to hollow chocolate camels.
My husband picked up a couple of bars to try and grandson Dion got a box of pralines for his mom.
My husband and Dion think they taste just like regular chocolate. The rest of us weren’t so sure. I think it left a strange after taste, but they tell me it’s just in my mind.
The kiosk in Dubai Mall is cool. The boys enjoyed riding the camel in front of the kiosk while Dion and my husband shopped for their chocolates.
Since camel’s milk is not that easy to come by this chocolate doesn’t come cheaply. The bars cost about $12 and a pound of their pralines is just over $100.
Camel milk chocolate a bit too exotic for you?
Then head over to Patchi down the mall (towards the Dubai Fountain) from Al Nassma’s kiosk.
This Lebanese based chocolate company sells totally yummy chocolates in their boutiques located in most of Dubai’s major malls.
They have your standard milk, dark, and white chocolates as well as chocolate covered nuts and cream filled chocolates. My favorites are sesame honey and strawberry cheesecake! You can buy bags of chocolate covered nuts, boxed assortments, or create your own assortment. They also sell chocolates decorated with flowers and other trinkets packaged on pretty silver trays, in silver boxes, and other containers; great for gift giving or as party favors.
The nicely decorated shops are huge and the staff friendly. They have over 50 types of chocolates. The sales associates let us sample all the chocolates we wanted before we made up our minds on what to put in our boxes. The boys loved it!
We ended up with 3 kilos of chocolates. The cost to box your own assortment is $90 a kilo; you can buy as little or as much as you want. An 8 ounce bag of chocolate covered nuts cost $24.
If chocolates aren’t your thing then dates might hit the spot. The best place to get dates is Bateel. They have locations in most of the major malls in town as well as at the airport.
They sell dates in every shape and form. They have fresh and filled dates, date drink, vinegar, cookies, and biscuits.
I never leave Dubai without a box or two of their fresh and filled dates and a box of cookies. Prices start at about $18 a pound for fresh grapes in a simple box. Prices vary depending on packaging and filling.
How about some Turkish Delight, Baklava, or other Middle Eastern sweets? You’ll find many sweets shops in the malls and around town. One of my favorites is Arabesq Sweets on the lower ground level of the Dubai Mall.
They offer a large variety of sweets from around the Middle East.
If you’re craving something salty or savory check out the nuts, dried fruit, and mixes at a kiosk in one of the malls or in the souk.
They are sold pre-packaged or by the kilo. I’m not sure how much it cost, we usually grab a bag and munch on it at we shop.
The most brilliant souvenir I purchased this trip is this waterproof smartphone pouch. I got it at the gift shop in Atlantis the Palm just before we entered the water park. I paid 120 dirham, $32, and used it the whole trip.
This handy dandy pouch fits my iphone 6plus comfortably along with money, credit card, and key card. You can make and receive calls, take pictures, play games, go online, or whatever else you want to do with your phone while it’s safely in the pouch. Yes, the touch screen works great!
More than likely when visiting Dubai, specially with kids, you will end up at the beach, at one or more waterpark, at Ski Dubai, and other amusement park. This pouch keeps all your essentials literally around your neck and ready to use. No need to worry about damaging your phone with salt water or snow, or loosing it on a roller coaster. Best of all you can use it even at home.
I’m sure you can buy something similar at other shops around town, I just didn’t bother to look once I got mine. But I did need a souvenir from Atlantis and this was much more practical and just a bit more costly than a t-shirt.
As you’d expect at most amusement parks souvenirs aren’t cheap. We went to Atlantis, Ski Dubai, Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, and the Dubai Aquarium. I found their souvenirs very over-priced. Kid’s t-shirts started at 95 dirham, $5 for the toddler sizes. Mugs started out at about $10 – 12 and magnets around $3. Of course we ended up with various shirts, mugs, magnets, stuffed animals and toys, my husband insisted.
Hookahs make nice decor, my kids have them in their homes even though they never use them. You’ll find them in many shapes and colors in shops around town and in the malls.
Carrefour in the Mall of the Emirates has a few pieces for reasonable prices. The smoke shop across the hall from Carrefour is pricier but has a better assortment.
If you must buy “normal” souvenirs the best place to get them is in Diera by the Gold Souk.
But if you don’t have time to get there then hit up one of the Carrefours in town. I like the one in the Mall of the Emirates, it’s huge.
They have a decent selection of t-shirts, mugs, magnets, statues of the Burj Khalifa and Burj al Arab, ashtrays, and other knick-knacks at very reasonable prices.
Look out for the kids’ Dubai t-shirts, you’ll usually find a rack or two for 5 dirham a piece. That’s less than $1.50!
Carrefour is one of my favorite shops in Dubai. It’s like a Super Walmart on steroids! They sell just about everything you can think of.
They have a huge grocery department including fresh fruits and veggies, baked goods, meat, seafood, and more. Check out their row of Pringles! (I know stupid things amaze me.) We ran to Carrefour almost everyday of our 2 week vacation in Dubai. We got diapers, juices, baby food, beach toys, and more. Yes my grandsons went home with some statues of the Burj as well as a few plush dancing camels from there.
A visit to Dubai isn’t complete without shopping. Everywhere you go you’ll find something you just have to buy. It’s hard to resist!
Amman, Jordan’s capital, is a bustling city with a mixture of ancient sites and modern buildings. Here you can wander thru the Neolithic and Bronze Age ruins of Jabal al’Qal’a (the Citadel), see some of the oldest statues in the world and gaze at the Dead Sea Scrolls in the newly opened and very modern Jordan Museum, and relax at a hookah lounge in the popular Shmeisani district all in one day.
Where ever you wander in the city good food is never far away. Whether you’re hungry for burgers, pasta, or traditional Arabic food you’ll find it all in Amman. The city and its environs are crowded with familiar fast food joints from the ever present McDonald’s and Burger Kings to Applebee’s and Chili’s, you’ll find it all there.
But when we’re in Amman familiar franchise restaurants is never at the top of our dining choices, we take advantage of the wonderful Arabic specialties that abound through out the city. From street food to fine Lebanese restaurants you’ll find great food to satisfy your palate and fit your budget. Here are some of my favorite Amman restaurants, I’m sure you’ll find something to suit your appetite and your wallet.
Long time favorite Hashem’s Restaurant counts the Jordanian Royal Family among its patrons. It’s located in an alley off Al-Amir Mohammed Street in Amman’s busy downtown.
You can’t miss it, the restaurant literally takes up the entire alley, just look for white plastic chairs and tables usually filled with locals and tourists lining both sides of the alley.
Hashem’s in known for their freshly made falafels. You can see the the guy frying the spicy balls in front of the shop window, it’s actually quite amazing how fast he makes them.
I remember my first visit, I was a bit put off when our waiter was doling out fresh falafel from a tin bucket with his bare hands. I’d briefly wondered and hoped that his hands were clean. One bite was all it took for me to forget about his hands, perhaps serving them with bare hands added to the taste, maybe. At any rate along with falafels you can get plates of hummus, foul, pickles, and of course pita.
Hashem’s is still one of my favorite lunch spots when I find myself in downtown Amman. It gets no points for ambiance that’s for sure, specially when you have to sit on plastic chairs in the alley on a very hot summer day, but the food makes this place worth a visit. They’re open quite late if you get a late night hankering for some falafel and hummus. A meal here will set you back about 3 dinar per person, that’s just a bit over $4.
Abu Jbara is my newest favorite. Like Hashem’s they specialize in falafel and hummus but in a more upscale setting. They have several locations in Amman, I go to the one on Al-Madineh Al-Munawrah St.
Unlike Hashem’s in downtown Amman Abu Jbara is an indoor air conditioned restaurant in a newer section of the city. The place is open 24 hours and seems to do a bustling trade all the time. You’ll probably have to wait for a table, but they turn them over pretty fast so you won’t be waiting long.
I love the falafels and foul at Abu Jbara, not to mention the never ending bread service. A waiter will bring fresh hot pita bread to your table until you say stop. The bread is made on site and served directly from the oven, delicious! It’s a prices are about double what Hashem’s charges, about 6 dinar a person, $8.50, but the air conditioning is worth the extra cost on a hot summer day.
Another favorite is Habibah Sweets. Among their specialties is my husband’s favorite, Kunafa, a cheese filled pastry drenched in sweet syrup.
The original kiosk located in a side alley by the Arab Bank in downtown Amman is always busy in spite of the fact that they have no seating.
You grab your plate of fresh hot kunafa and eat it on the go.
They’ve come a long way since their humble beginning in 1951. They have several branches around the city. The newest one is on Al-Madineh Al-Munawrah St., a block away from Abu Jbara. Very convenient for us, we grab lunch at Abu Jbara then walk on over to Habibah for dessert.
The new 2 story Habibah is a dessert lover’s dream. The first floor houses the bakery where you will find just about every type of pastries and candy you can imagine. From a wide variety of Arabic sweets. cookies, chocolates, ice cream, and beautifully decorated cakes and molded marzipan, you’ll find it in this bake shop.
If you prefer to sit down and enjoy your dessert with tea or coffee you can take the elevator up to the second floor tea room. Here you can order just about everything they have in the bakery downstairs.
The menu has so many sweet offerings it’s hard to choose just one, so we ordered a large variety,
all of it delectable. It is rather pricey, expect to pay more for Habibah’s desserts than lunch at Abu Jbara. Whichever location you choose to visit, don’t leave Jordan without having a plate of Kunafa from Habibah!
Reem Al Bawadi Restaurant in the Khalda district of Amman is our favorite sit down restaurant. The place is huge with indoor and outdoor seating. The food and service are excellent. From the moment you’re seated you’ll be treated like royalty. Last time we were there I counted at least 3 waiters serving our table.
They offer a large selection of mezzes and great grilled meats. My favorite is their Shish Tauok, marinated chicken kebobs. They also serve good Mensaf, meat cooked in a yogurt type sauce and served over rice and thin bread. After dinner you can enjoy a hookah with tea or coffee.
This is a definite must whenever we’re in town. It’s pricey, expect to pay about 30 dinar per person, $42+, but it’s so worth the price.
This photo of Reem albawadi is courtesy of TripAdvisor
When I find myself at Mecca Mall during lunch time I head over to Lebnani Snack. This local franchise is Jordan’s version of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Jamba Juice combined in one colorful restaurant.
Lebnani Snack serves burgers, sandwiches, pizza, juices, and pastries made from fresh Halal ingredients. They have many locations in the city. It’s a great place to grab a quick lunch or snack, and definitely indulge in one of their fresh fruit cocktails. I love their Mango, Strawberry, Banana with milk cocktail, it goes great with a chicken shawarma sandwich!
Prices are reasonable, but expect to pay more for one of their pretty juice concoctions than you would for a sandwich.
I love to hang out at one of the outdoor bars in the Shmeisani area, they are great places to people watch. There are many places to sit down and have a cup of coffee or a tall glass of freshly squeezed juices.
We usually pick one of the busier places and hang out for a couple of hours.
If you’re not a smoker you can ask for a table away from the crowds. Smoking seems to be allowed at any table, but the waiters are very good and will be happy to set up a table for you where you want. The last time we were there they were ready to set up a table on the sidewalk so that we didn’t have to navigate the crowded restaurant!
When in Amman don’t be afraid to try the little hole in the wall snack shops you’ll find on the streets. They’re clean and serve tasty food at very reasonable prices.
This little snack bar in the Shmeisani area serves everything from burgers and fries to mixed grill platters. We had a feast of mixed kebobs (lamb, ground beef, and chicken) with salads, hummus, bread, pickles, fries, and drinks for less than 25 dinar, $35. But don’t let the small price tag fool you, the food was delicious! The meats were tender and tasty, the bread fresh, and the fries hot!
I can’t end this post without mentioning shawarma sandwiches. I don’t exactly go to a restaurant to eat this although I have to admit the chicken shawarma from the Kempinski Hotel’s room service is outstanding. Most of the time I grab a bag of sandwiches from the street vendors. When we stay at the Meridien Hotel there’s a man who sets up shop on the corner across from the hotel for about 1 dinar, that’s like $1.50. I usually send our driver to pick up several sandwiches, they are to die for!
So if you see a street vendor selling shawarma sandwiches grab one or two you won’t be disappointed!
This summer we took my daughter and grandchildren to visit the ancient Nabataean city of Petra in Jordan. It has changed quite a bit since my visit back in the spring of 2007.
I guess being named 2nd. in the New 7 Wonders list in July 2007 brought about the changes, most of them good, some I’m not sure are great.
The Bedouins are still there hawking carriage, camel, horse, and donkey rides as are the snack bars and gifts shops around the entrance to the park, they’re just more organized and now have free wi-fi for guests.
Gone are the enormous portraits of Jordan’s beloved kings, King Hussein and his son the current King Abdullah, that covered the wall of the small visitor center.
The visitor center is there, now located behind a gate and clustered with shops and new restroom facilities around a rotunda. The ticket windows are right outside. You can still hire guides inside the visitor center.
The biggest changes that I noticed are the new snack bar and souvenir shop inside the park itself located just across from the famous “Treasury”, the abundance of tables through out the park displaying handicrafts for sale, and the Bedouin kids hawking postcards everywhere. They seem to have gotten much more aggressive in their sales pitch!
Regardless of the changes Petra is still a wonderful place to visit and should be on everyone’s bucket list. History buffs will love wondering thru the ancient building built into the cliff walls, hikers will enjoy walking thru the Siq (canyon leading to the site) and hiking up to the Monastery and other sites located higher up, and children will love exploring the caves and scrambling up stairs that have been carved on the cliff walls. I’m astounded that visitors are allowed so much freedom at the site.
My daughter and grandchildren enjoyed our day in Petra in spite of the heat and the long walk. Here are some of the things we saw.
My husband and grandson’s Dion and Devon at the Siq entrance.
Devon checking out the ancient water channels along the Siq walls.
In ancient times this channel brought water from the spring in nearby Wadi Musa to the city center of Petra.
My daughter and her son Jett walking down the sandy path in the Siq. Jett loved running around the Siq!
The boys scrambled up the stairs carved on the cliff walls of the Siq.
Dion and Devon getting that first glimpse of what lays at the end of the Siq.
Petra’s most famous structure, the “Treasury”. The kids loved walking around the camels. Jett spent most of the time running around the camels, he thought he was at a playground!
Tombs and other structures we saw as we walked thru the site.
The boys exploring the cave like structures in the site.
Here’s a video of our day in Petra from the park entrance and beyond.
We were exhausted after exploring the site on such a hot summer day, we ended up riding donkeys back to the Treasury area.
After a long hot day trekking thru the Siq and wandering the site we decided to hire carriages from the Treasury area to take us back to the entrance. It was a crazy ride thru the Siq, the kids loved it!
Back at the entrance we grabbed a couple of tables at one of the restaurants and sat down for some lunch and much needed rest.
The restaurants serve drinks, snacks, and Arabic food including falafels, shawarma, and kebobs. The food was ok, but very over priced. They do however have free wi-fi, just ask the waiter for the password.
Employees in guard costumes were very friendly. Many of them stopped by for a chat and to play with Jett.
During lunch we took turns exploring the souvenir shops around the restaurant. We ended up with a couple of plush camels and Khol pencils. We found the prices a bit higher than other shops in Jordan, but if you want something that says Petra the shops in this area have the best selections.
Our day it Petra was a lot of fun, it will definitely be remembered for years to come. The boys, Dion and Devon, had a great time and learned a few things about the ancient city as well. Petra is definitely a must do!
This summer my family and I had the pleasure of flying on Emirates Airlines. Before I begin to extol this airline’s virtues let me state that I am not affiliated with Emirates Airlines in any way nor are they paying me to write reviews; I am just a very happy passenger.
This was not the first time my husband and I have flown Emirates, but it was a first for my daughter, her year old son, and my 2 other grandsons ages 7 and 13. All of us including the baby have flown internationally before, in fact my 7 year old grandson has been giving reviews on all the many flights he’s taken to Europe, none of them good.
I have flown Business and First Class on Emirates before, but this was my first time flying economy. With so many of us traveling coach was really the only way to go, costs being what they are. I was a bit reluctant flying coach, (Business and First Class passengers are treated like royalty, service is amazing!), but my husband assured me the service even in coach is exceptional.
Long haul international flights have always been trying, specially when you’re traveling with kids. They get hungry, board, restless, and cranky. My daughter, traveling internationally with her son without her husband for the first time, was not looking forward to the 15+ hour flight from Houston to Dubai, but I kept telling her this time it would be better, we were flying with Emirates! After the first flight she was more than convinced and had no problem going on the other 3 Emirate flights we flew this summer.
How is Emirate Airlines different? It’s so much better than other US based airlines that fly overseas for so many reasons, it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’ll start with the booking process, it was painless! For more about my customer service experience when I booked these flights read my post The Best Phone Customer Service Ever.
Our Emirates experience began at the gate where families with children were allowed to board the aircraft first. Other international airlines offer passengers this courtesy and when you’re traveling with 3 children it is a Godsend. Boarding was easy, we found our seats and the flight attendants actually HELPED us place our carry on bags in the overhead bins, unheard of on US carriers!
The kids were happy to find not only blankets and pillows on their seats, they also found a small travel pouch equipped with a folding toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, and sleeping mask. They also got a sealed set of headphones to use on their personal seat back entertainment system.
(Everyone got the little travel pouches. Business and First Class travelers get a more upscale kit with designer toiletries – Bulgari for men and Clarins for women – just a few of the extra perks considering the price you pay to travel in those cabins)
Before take-off the flight attendants came around with hot towels (they pass out cold towels on flights from Dubai, a refreshing treat when the outside temperature is 116 degrees!)
They also hand out toys to the children. On the 15+ hour flights each child received a blanket with a monster buddy along with coloring books and colored pencils. On shorter flights the kids got stuffed monster buddies and coloring books. By the time we got home the boys had many toys, somehow Devon, the 7 year old, charmed the flight attendants into multiple toys and even a Fly Emirates backpack. My daughter traveling with the baby also received a baby kit filled with a changing table cover, wipes, and other baby necessities. Sometime before the end of the flight the boys also got some wings. To be fair other International Airlines have given the boys toys as well, Lufthansa gave them stuffed planes and coloring books one year, and Air France gave them activity books and wings.
The toys and books thrilled the boys and kept them busy the whole flight. That along with the kid friendly movies and games on the entertainment system made their trip fun.
When meal time came around my daughter got an infant meal for the baby, pouches and bottles of baby food, milk, juice, and fruit. Devon got his kid’s meal which had a box full of snacks, chicken nuggets, colorful plastic cutlery, and dessert. For breakfast the kid’s meal had scrambled eggs and chicken sausages as the main course. Infant and kid meals have to be ordered in advance, you can do this online or by phone.
Between meals the crew sets up snack bars at the galleys in the middle and back of the plane. They set out fruit, candy and granola bars, as well as beverages. Passengers can help themselves.
On one flight Devon got hungry and ventured out to the galley. He couldn’t find anything he wanted, the flight attendant asked him what he felt like eating to which he replied “lamb”. The entree for the adult lunches earlier was a lamb dish. The flight attendant checked a bin and pulled out a lamb entree which he placed on a tray with silverware and other goodies and walked Devon back to his seat to enjoy his impromptu meal! Needless to say Devon was more than pleased.
One of his many complaints about United, which we flew one year to Italy, was that they starved him. On that flight he had been asleep when the meals were passed out, when he awoke hungry we requested his meal from the flight attendant who told us the meals had been put away. I remember literally begging him for anything to feed the crying child who was 4 years old at the time. There was nothing to eat, no peanuts or pretzels, and nothing even for purchase! We were told that meals would be served in an hour and we’d have to wait until then. Luckily we still had some of the snacks I’d packed before we left, Devon had to snack on them until the flight attendant came around with the meals.
I have noticed that for what ever reason United does not set up a snack station on International flights, Delta and Hawaiian do. Internationally based airlines, at least the ones I’ve flown, all set up snack bars between meals (Air France, Lufthansa, KLM, Philippine Airlines, Japan Airlines to name a few I’ve flown). But I guess we’re lucky that the US based airlines supply free meals at all! Actually all non-US based airlines supply free meals or snacks even on their short domestic flights; as far as I know the only US based airlines to supply a free meal on their domestic flights is Hawaiian Airlines.
Another important difference between Emirates and all other airlines I’ve been on are clean and well stocked bathrooms throughout the entire flight.
There’s nothing more disgusting that walking into a filthy bathroom in the middle of a trans Pacific or Atlantic flight. Many times towards the end of a 10 hour flight the bathrooms are not only gross, they have no toilet paper, hand towels or even soap.
During our Emirates flights I saw the flight attendants taking turns to make sure the bathrooms are clean and well stocked. Throughout the flights they took turns donning gloves and aprons and policed the bathrooms. I know this for sure because we always had bulk head seats that were directly in front of the bathrooms, I saw them cleaning.
The wood grain decor and the wall mirrors on the Emirate A380 planes we flew were a nice touch.
They made the usually tiny airplane bathrooms look and feel roomier. The clean changing tables in all the bathrooms made changing the baby so much easier, we didn’t have to wait in line for the one bathroom equipped with the changing table.
The flight experience was wonderful. The flight attendants were all very pleasant and helpful. They answered the call light promptly and with a smile. They had no problem bringing juice for the baby or heating up bottles for the passengers who had infants. They also tried their best to accommodate families not seated together although that involved persuading other passengers to change seats, not always an easy task.
At the end of the flights the boys were reluctant to leave the plane when we arrived at our destination. Never before has this happened, they are usually rushing to get off the plane!
Emirates service does not stop when you step off the plane. For those of us who gate checked a stroller we were told to pick up the stroller at luggage claim. There were courtesy strollers set up on the jet way for our use. If you didn’t get one from the jet way there are stroller bins all along the walk to luggage claim. They are free to use until you get yours. You just leave it at luggage claim before you exit thru customs. Very convenient! (If you’re a departing passenger there are strollers around the check-in counters to use until you get to the gate).
For those of us who had a long layover Emirates provided us with hotel rooms to await our connecting flight. They provided transportation to and from the hotel and also a meal. This service is called Dubai Connect and is offered to all passengers regardless of ticket class. There are however conditions, such as your layover must be 8 hours or more, your connection must be the first available flight from Dubai, and it must be added to your booking after you have purchased your ticket and before your flight departs. For more information on Dubai Connect click here.
The hotel they provide depends on the class of service you are in, since we flew coach this time we stayed at the Copthorne Airport Hotel. It was not a 5 star luxury hotel, but really all we did there was eat their buffet dinner, which was ok, sleep for a few hours, and take quick showers. It would not have been my first choice in Dubai hotels, but free is free, so I can’t complain. It was very basic but it was clean, close by, provided decent towels, and was stocked with decent toiletries, that’s all that mattered after a 15 hour flight.
Over all flying with Emirates makes air travel more pleasant, even in coach. Emirates Airlines is VERY family friendly!
My grandson Devon has declared that from now on he only wants to fly Emirates. He made this perfectly clear to the United gate agent when he had to check-in to his United flight from Houston to Georgia when our vacation was over.
We are so happy with Emirates that I just booked tickets on their New York – Milan flight this October. My husband told us all that we will all be returning to Dubai in 2020 for the World Expo, and of course we will be flying on Emirates. My daughter and the boys are all looking forward to it.
I’m almost certain on that trip the rest of the family will be going too!
This year we decided that we’d combine our family summer vacation with just a bit of business, so we’re heading to Amman, Jordan and Dubai, UAE. We’ll be traveling with my youngest daughter, her 22 month old son, and two grandsons ages 7 and 13. The kids are all seasoned travelers so the long plane rides from Honolulu have never been an issue.
When we travel to Dubai we always take Emirate Airlines, they have some of the newest planes in the industry, direct flights from many major US cities, and excellent in flight service. This year would be no different, we knew we’d be traveling with Emirate Airlines out of Houston, it was finding the time to book tickets that was the issue.
The other day I finally got around to looking online for airline tickets, with a lot of kibbitzing from my husband. He had plenty of second hand advice regarding flight schedules, lay overs, and so on, advice he heard from his buddy who left last week on a similar itinerary. Needless to say everything he’d heard was wrong and only served to complicate the booking process.
Frustrated I gave up booking online at Emirates.com, none of the itineraries that popped up matched the schedule my husband had been told about. Every itinerary had long lay overs and I couldn’t figure out how to supposedly get a free hotel room due to the long lay over. It was time to call the airlines.
I was a bit worried when I decided to call their 800 number, calls to other airlines have often ended in even more frustration with endless hold times, language barriers (I fail to understand why I must converse with heavily accented people in some far off call center when I’m calling a US based airline), rude agents, and generally poor customer service.
I dialed the 800 hundred number and of course got the recorded message, “Thank you for calling Emirates Airlines….press 1 for the rewards desk…2 for new bookings…” I pressed 2 and was pleasantly surprised that it was answered immediately by a live person! No holds, no canned music, no waiting! I was talking to a live agent! I knew there was a reason they’re always rated one of the top airlines in the world.
He introduced himself and asked how he could help me. I told him my online issues. He said he’d be happy to either walk me thru the online process or he’d make the booking for me. He did inform me that internet fares were the lowest, phone booking would cost slightly more, however, he would match the internet fare for me.
We proceeded with the booking, we choose flights, he was concerned about the long layover because we had children, but promptly informed me that once the tickets were issued he’d see if we were eligible for the free hotel room. Apparently Emirates offers courtesy hotel rooms for travelers with long layovers but the itinerary must meet certain criteria. I’m not sure what all the rules are, but booking a flight when the long layover is the only itinerary available is one of them.
As I was giving him our information our call got cut off. I went into a panic because I didn’t want to start the process again, but the agent immediately called me back and we were able to continue with the booking. Once he got all the information he told me he would request bulkhead seats and a bassinet for the baby and kid meals for the all the children. He informed me that it would take 24-48 hours to request the seats and that I needed to call them back to check on it.
He took my credit card information and informed me the booking was complete but the tickets would not be issued until their security department verified my payment, that could take up to 6 hours. He was quite concerned about our time difference and knew it was quite late where I was calling from, he was in Dubai where it was noontime. I told him I’d be up for another couple of hours at which point he told me that if he got verification within that time he would call me back and he would also know if we were going to get a hotel room. If not then he would send everything via email.
He called me back an hour later, the etickets had been issued and we were eligible for the hotel room. Unfortunately we couldn’t confirm the room at that time because he needed every traveler’s passport number, I didn’t have that on hand. I was told to call back when I had them and they’d get the room, by then perhaps we’d have word on the seat assignments as well.
I called the same 800 number the next morning and got a different agent, again no waiting, no hold time, just a live agent right away. This guy was just as helpful. He booked 3 rooms for me and told me transfers to and from the airport to hotel were included. However there was still not word on the seat assignments.
I called 2 days later and got the agent who made the booking for me, surprisingly he remembered my name. He was able to confirm bulkhead seats for us and added the birthday treat form my grandson.
Children traveling on their birthday get a surprise that includes a birthday cake and a picture with the flight crew.
We’ve flown with Emirates several times and have always had amazing in flight service; but we’ve usually flown business or first class where good service is expected. This is the first time we will be flying coach, there’s just too many of us flying, any other class of service is cost prohibitive, at least for us. I was a bit weary about flying coach, but after my phone experience I’m sure we will have an excellent trip.
My daughter and grandsons are already excited about the flight in spite of the long hours we will be enroute. Emirates promises to take great care of the kids, they will be giving each child a furry “monster” and other travel packs to keep them busy, they have free entertainment for them as well.
They advertise great services and amenities for their young fliers, they even provide baby strollers to use at their airport! They seem to be truly family friendly!
To be fair I had to opportunity to book flights with Delta’s phone agent a couple of months ago. I had to book my 2 grandsons unaccompanied minor tickets from Atlanta to Honolulu. The number to call is specific for unaccompanied minors so there really wasn’t a wait time, the agent answered right away. He was very helpful and caring. We got those tickets booked without fuss or bother; but Delta is one of the few US companies that make the world’s top airlines list. We try to fly Delta within the US and sometime to Europe, I have to admit in my opinion they are better than most US airlines.
I’m looking forward to our flights to Dubai and Amman on Emirates. I’m sure it will meet my expectations. I’ll tell you all about it this summer!
Voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in a competition held by the New 7 Wonders Foundation there’s no doubt that Petra is the Crown Jewel of Jordan’s many ancient historic sites.
Ancient Petra, also know as the Rose-Red City ( It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in a prize winning poem by John William Burgon) due to the color of the sandstone from which its was carved, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
Petra, or Al-Batra as it’s called in Arabic, is famed for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system which turned the city into an artificial oasis in ancient times.
The city is believed to have possibly been established as the Nabatean Capital city as early as 312 BCE. The surrounding areas have been inhabited since pre-historic times. The city and environs are mentioned in Egyptian and Biblical accounts.
The Golden Age of Petra during Nabatean rule began in the 2nd. Century BCE when Petra thrived as the center of their caravan trade; controlling the major routes to Gaza in the west, Borsa and Damascus in the north, Aqaba on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf.
In 106 CE the native dynasty came to an end and Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire. It became the capital of the Roman Arabia Petraea region. The city flourished and reached its height of splendor during early Roman rule but declined rapidly in the Byzantine era. The city’s decline was aided by a couple of major earthquakes; the quake in 363 CE damaged buildings and crippled the vital water system; another major quake in 551 CE further damaged the already weakened structures and the city was abandoned in 663 CE when the Arabs invaded.
The ancient ruins were an object of curiosity during the Middle Ages visited only by the local Bedouins and Egyptian Sultans. The city remained unknown to the Western world until it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.
The city played a role during the 1917 revolt against the Ottoman rule of Arabia. Led by British Army officer T. E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, the Arabs and Syrians of Petra successfully rebelled against the Ottoman Turks.
Today, made popular in movies, books, and other media Petra is Jordan’s most visited tourist site. Located within the boundaries of the Petra National Park in Jordan’s southern Ma’an Governate Petra should be on everyone’s Travel Bucket List.
The Park encompasses and protects some 800+ structures and monuments on the UNESCO World Heritage List as well as the surrounding canyon and mountains. Many folks think that on a visit to Petra one will see just its iconic Al Khazneh or The Treasury, the monument that introduced Petra to modern masses when it was used as the setting in the blockbuster movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Surely just a glimpse of The Treasury is breathtaking, but there is so much more to Petra. Here are some must see highlights and tips for your visit to this beautiful site. Much of the ancient city is easily accessible by walking along wide level walkways, by hiring horse pulled buggies, and in some areas by riding a camel or donkey which local Bedouins hire out.
The first order of business is getting to the site. We usually spend a few days in the resort city of Aqaba and drive to Petra from there, it’s about an hour or so north of Aqaba. If you’re coming from Amman you can drive, take a taxi or bus, or take one of the tours which the tour desk at your hotel can arrange.
Whichever form of transport you take from Amman you will head south on the Desert Highway to Wadi Musa, the town that has sprung up around the site. If you’re planning on staying in the area overnight or longer you will find many types of accommodations in Wadi Musa ranging from hostels for backpackers to luxury hotels. The town also has a wide assortment of restaurants and shops catering to tourists.
Plan on arriving a the park early 8:30 – 9:00 a.m. to get the best views of The Siq and Treasury, they are deeply shadowed in the afternoon. Buy your entrance tickets, get maps and information, hire a guide if you wish, and GO TO THE BATHROOM at the visitor center as soon as you arrive at the center. There are clean bathrooms at the visitor center, make use of them, the next ones are deep inside the site and are a long walk away.
Buy tickets at the ticket window outside the Visitor Center. Admission tickets start at about 50JOD for foreign adults for 1 day. Prices for children, residents, students, and for multi-day admission will be posted at the ticket window.
You can get maps or hire a guide at the desk inside the Visitor Center.
You can stock up on water, sunblock, hats, etc. at the shops before the park entrance; just remember you will have to carry everything in the park and you will be doing plenty of walking. You may want to hold off on purchasing souvenirs until after you exit the park.
Once you pass the park entrance you will be bombarded with transportation offers; horses and donkeys will take you to the Bab al- Siq, entrance of the Siq, the beautiful gorge leading to the city; horse drawn buggies will take you thru the Siq to the entrance of the city itself. If you have a physical condition that makes walking difficult, or you just don’t feel like making the trek you can avail yourself of these services without feeling guilty, the animals are very well treated and cared for. If you choose to take the buggy you will zip thru the Siq and not be able to enjoy the scenic wonders that await you in the gorge. The cost to ride is very inexpensive and helps the local Bedouins make their living. If you opt to walk the vendors will politely let you do so.
As you walk to the Siq entrance look at the silica quarry on your left. The ancient Nabateans may have quarried the silica to make the water proof cement for their water system. Just past the quarry as the Bab al-Siq narrows you will see three huge cut rock square blocks. These are called Djinn Blocks and stand like sentinels guarding the entrance to the gorge. They are actually tower tombs and are believed to be some of the earliest tombs of Petra although their date remains unknown. 26 such blocks have been found in and around Petra.
Further along you may notice some steps leading up to a narrow unadorned entrance cut into the stone. This rarely visited attraction is the Snake Tomb, inside are 12 graves cut into the floor. On one wall is a rough carving of 2 snakes attacking a four legged animal, above it on a smaller scale is a horse with a block shaped rider. The significance of the carvings are unknown.
Dominating the left side of the wall as you walk towards the Siq are the 2 first major monuments of Petra; the Obelisk Tomb on top and the Bab al-Siq Triclinium directly below it.
The top decorated with 4 obelisks in the Egyptian tradition is the tomb itself. The bottom Triclinium is decorated in classical Nabatean style and is one of many such rooms in Petra that was used for memorial feasts in honor of the dead.
Some distance from the Obelisk Tomb the ground will rise and it will seem that you’ve come to the end of the road. You’ve reached the Dam. At the top left is the entrance to the Siq, ahead is a tunnel cut thru the mountain which the Nabateans created to divert flood waters from rushing into the city. After the city was abandoned the Dam crumbled allowing flash floods to destroy much of the city center. The Jordanian government has rebuilt the Dam keeping the city safe again from floods. Before you proceed to the Siq you may want to take a quick look around and take a peek into the tunnel, but DO NOT enter the tunnel if it’s raining, the area is known for flash floods in the rainy season. You will see inscriptions on the mountain walls, inside the tunnel there’s a statue of an eagle, and on the other side of the tunnel is another Djinn block.
If you are on horse or donkey back this is the point where you must dismount and walk into the Siq.
If you’re riding a buggy you will zip on pass and into the Siq.
As you walk thru the Siq notice the ancient water channels along the left wall, it was used to bring water from springs several miles away into the heart of the city.
You’ll also see carving and niches along the way. Enjoy the natural colors and rock formations that surround you. The Siq snakes its way to the city for about a kilometer, around every bend be prepared to be awed by yet another wonderful sight, building anticipation for what lies still ahead. I always find myself holding my breathe as I peek around each bend never quite sure if I’ve finally reached the point where I can catch that first glimpse of the city “half as old as time”.
Finally after an awesome trek thru the canyon you’ll see that crack in the mountain as you round the last curve. The first glimpse of the Al Khazneh or The Treasury thru that crack is breathtaking! Take a moment to gaze at the awe inspiring sight before you. Take plenty of photos to capture the moment before you step back in time into the great ancient Nabatean city that is Petra.
Stepping out of the Siq into the sunlight you come face to face with Al Khazneh, or the Treasury.
Arguably the most famous and most photographed monument in Petra, and justly so, it is magnificent. It’s still uncertain exactly what purpose it served although it is certain that it did not house any treasure. Some scholars believe it was a royal tomb, others believe it was a temple, and others still believe it was a memorial mausoleum. The funerary symbolism of the facade’s carvings certainly suggests at least some association with the dead.
In front of The Treasury you’ll find local Bedouins offering camels to ride thru the city. You can enter The Treasury for a glimpse of what’s inside, not much is there but the walls are multicolored layers of rock.
As you make your way to the heart of the city you will pass the Street of Facades. It’s lined with tombs and caves. Some of the facades are gone leaving only the carved entrances. The tall impressive tombs are clearly for the rich important folks of the time. The dozens of smaller ones on the canyon walls are for those not so rich.
Further along the canyon towards the heart of the city proper you will pass the Roman Theater which is in a sad state of deterioration.
Close by you’ll find the 700+ steps that will take you up to the High Place of Sacrifice.
There are several large tombs carved high on the canyon walls, they are called the Royal Tombs.
The first is The Urn Tomb with a large front courtyard, the some of the others are the Silk Tomb, Corinthian Tomb, Palace Tomb, and Sextius Florentinus Tomb.
The Corinthian Tomb
Eventually you will enter the Colonnade Street that has been badly damaged by ancient floods, the road passes thru the city center and is lined with many un-excavated sites waiting to someday be revealed. You’ll also pass some Roman Temples in various stages of deterioration or restoration.
At the far end of the road you’ll find Petra’s only restaurant on site and the museum.
The museum houses many interesting items found in Petra. The restaurant is very busy in spite of its high prices. Bathrooms are available within the restaurant. You’ll also find locals around this area offering donkey rides up to Ad Deir, also called the Monastery, located up on the mountainside.
You can climb up the 800+ steps to The Dier or opt to pay a few dinar and ride a donkey.
After you scramble down from The Monastery you’ll more than likely be ready for a cold drink. The restaurant on site is the only place in the park where you can chug down a cold beer! Have a drink or two as you ponder your options for the long trek back to the main gate, at this point it’s about 4 kilometers away. You may consider hiring a donkey, camel, horse, or buggy. I know I did!
I rode a donkey back to The Treasury….
….and a buggy back to the main gate
If you do decide to take one or more types of transport, bargain with the vendor, it’s expected.
But before you head back you might consider a handmade souvenir or two from the Bedouin vendors inside the park.
I couldn’t resist buying a couple of beaded necklaces from this charming child Rania
I have been to Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Turkey and have seen their ancient sites, of course they are awesome; but nothing captures my imagination more than the Rose-Red City of Petra. It truly must be on eveyone’s bucketlist!
For highlights on our most recent trip to Petra with the family click here!