Discovering Dubai: Burj Khalifa

Hello Dear Readers!

Ok, I promise this is the last post about Dubai. I just really enjoyed it, ok? PJ and I had a really awesome time there, and I would absolutely go back.

I think probably the most touristy thing we did (ok, everything we did was touristy) was visit the Burj Khalifa. We lucked out, since the time it takes to get to the top usually takes around two hours. I picked a time in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, during Ramadan, which meant that it was empty and we walked on.

The Burj Khalifa is really cool, and the views from the top are spectacular:

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It’s obviously a necessary stop if you’re in Dubai.

After this are posts from my new favorite place…Tahiti! Catch you guys on the flip side!

-Carissa

Discovering Dubai: Iftar Japanese Style

Hello Dear Readers!

I am slightly ashamed of this. Like, very very slightly. But my favorite iftar meal wasn’t Arab at all. It was Japanese.

Listen, we all know that Japanese food is not cheap. Sushi rolls cost, as does sashimi, teppanyaki, and the many other accoutrements that come with a Japanese style meal.

But what…what if it was all unlimited, for one price?

What if a Japanese restaurant was celebrating Ramadan with their own version of an iftar buffet?

Enter PJ and Carissa.

Looking fly AF, we rolled up into the Kanpai Japanese Restaurant with a BOGO coupon and appetites whetted by a nearly full day without eating.

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So fly

And oh, did we eat.

We. Ate.

Did I mention that this particular iftar also included unlimited alcoholic drinks?

Let’s just say that our buffet lasted a full two hours, and spanned from an entire range of appetizers (edamame, tempura, prawns, egg rolls, pot stickers- two platters of these)

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To 5 different sushi rolls as well as sashimi (I ate it!)

And finally our entrees, which consisted of both steak and chicken teppanyaki, as well as bowls of fried rice.

This was all followed up with both desserts available on the menu- fried bananas with vanilla ice cream and also a scoop of gelato.

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Liberally mixed in with all of this were four large glasses of red wine.

And you have our Japanese iftar.

It. Was. Glorious.

Afterwards, we shambled through the Dubai Mall, trying desperately to look sober.

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Act. Sober.

I’m like 99% certain it didn’t work.

-Carissa “Why Don’t My Pants Fit?” Rawson

Discovering Dubai: The Dubai Mall

Hello Dear Readers!

For obvious reasons, we spent most of our time in Dubai indoors. This meant we were constantly looking for cool new things to do. (Thanks Entertainer app!) It also meant we spent a lot of time in the malls, where all the awesome activities are.

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Like ice skating

In fact, after our day trip to Oman, we re-showered, got re-ready, and went back out to the Dubai Mall. Since PJ didn’t really care for our Arab iftar the night before, we decided to go full American and hit up the Rainforest Cafe. Yes, it was delicious. But someone really needs to train the Emiratis on how to make chicken fried chicken. I mean, they gave us brown gravy instead of country gravy? It was a travesty, really.

Then we watched the Dubai Fountains, which were really really cool:

We also went to the ‘Aquarium and Underwater Zoo,’ which sounds really cool, right?

Yeah..so…the ‘aquarium’ part was just a single underwater tunnel that you walk through. I mean they literally have one aquarium tank. The rest of it was way cooler, but when PJ and I walked out the other side, we looked at each other confused, like “is this it?” It truly was.

To make up for it they have a gigantic crocodile, but still. Don’t sell me a ticket for your aquarium of one tank, all right?

To head off the night, we got some freshly made nitrogen ice cream, which pushed our waistbands to an uncomfortable point. Ramadan!

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Waiting for the fountains

-Carissa “Is this Authentic?” Rawson

 

 

Discovering Dubai: Daytripping to Oman

Hello Dear Readers!

After my inglorious defeat by the bunny slope at Ski Dubai, I really needed a pick-me-up. So I was looking forward to our day trip up the coast of Oman, which promised “snorkeling, banana boat rides, fishing, an international buffet, and unlimited drinks,” all in a dhow boat that sailed up the coast.

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I’m on a boat!

Well…there was a boat…and I suppose it was a dhow boat? But it was a motorboat, not a sailboat, and the temperature was roughly 100 degrees. This meant it was too hot for fishing, and since it was Ramadan all the drinks were non-alcoholic.

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And…I guess the water in Oman is not to be outdone by the temperature outside, since the water was roughly 98 degrees. Maybe hotter, even. Like getting into a really hot shower after a hard workout and you’re already overheated.

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At least it’s pretty?

Despite these things, the day was pretty fun. We spent most of it chilling on the deck, and when we finally stopped for the snorkeling/swimming/beach time, PJ and I decided to ignore the speedboat to the shore in favor of swimming there.

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Our original beach destination

……

No, we didn’t make it. If you need a speedboat to get there, you’re probably not going to have a fun time attempting to swim there.

However! We did make it to the closer beach, which was totally abandoned. We hung out there and recovered before heading back to the boat, covered in some kind of weird mud/slime that wouldn’t come off no matter how hard we tried.

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The much more attainable beach

This, we found out from the guide, was actually crude oil.

I guess that’s how you know the Middle East is literally swimming in oil.

Get it? Get it?

I felt like one of those baby birds in an oil spill except way less tragic since I washed it off later that night.

We also sailed by a limestone cave, and PJ took a thousand photos of it as quickly as possible because we weren’t able to stop. (Due to the waves).

And there’s one more thing. By the time we returned from the boat ride, all of us in our tour group were thoroughly overheated. Like, heat exhaustion overheated.

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We’re meeeeelting

So we climbed gratefully into our air conditioned mini van and cranked up the A/C. PJ and I were in first, so it was our honor to do so.

There are two levers in the van, you see. There’s one up top, with a hi-lo setting, and one, on the left, with the same setting. So I- yes it was me- flipped them both to max and settled in to cool down.

There were ten of us in the van, you see. So we just thought that perhaps our combined body heat defeated the A/C. After an hour of sweltering doom, finally, the guy in the back pipes up, “hey, the A/C isn’t working.” The driver, hearing this, immediately turns around, flips the lever on the left, and glares at me. I guess…I guess that was the heat. And I had accidentally set it to max. This was while the A/C was simultaneously blasting on max, which meant that the A/C, which came from the vents above, was trying desperately to cool the floor, which was lava, because that’s where the heat was pumping out.

It was so bad I had already taken my feet and legs off the floor and laid them on the transmission, which was only scalding instead of lava.

I tried my best to look innocent. I really did. PJ and I looked at each other and stifled maniacal laughter as everyone tried to figure out what the driver had done to save us all.

No, I didn’t claim responsibility. I wouldn’t have made it back to Dubai alive.

-Carissa “It Was Me!” Rawson

Discovering Dubai: Skiing in the Summer

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m just going to go ahead and admit now that I booked these tickets to Dubai solely on the fact that I knew Dubai was this insane city of gleaming metal and novelties, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

Now, Dubai may be short on the whole Arab culture thing (almost no one is actually Emirati), but what it does have is style. Lots and lots of style. Think of Dubai like a gleaming, un-trashy version of Las Vegas. Everything is huge, glittering, and gaudy, and almost everything there is built for your amusement.

Which is how we came to Ski Dubai. Surely everyone by now has heard of the mall with a ski slope built inside? I certainly had, and I made sure that I had skiing at the mall on my to-do list of UAE activities.

Shout out here to Hairless Hannah, whose advice about Dubai I stumbled across in January, and whose recommendation to use the Entertainer app saved me almost $400 between food and activities. This is her post here, if you’d like to check it out. Essentially, you buy the Entertainer app and it gives you massive quantities of buy one get one free specials, which is basically how PJ and I dictated where we ate and a lot of the things we did.

We used one such coupon for our first day at Ski Dubai, which includes a snow park as well as the ski slopes.

That’s right. We, PJ and I, bobsledded down a hill, threw snowballs at each other, rode inner tubes down a half pipe, and climbed inside an enormous rubber ball before we decided to pick up our skis and try out the slopes. I promise we are adults.

If you all recall, I’ve really only skiied once before, during a Valentine’s Day trip earlier this year. I took lessons for a day in an effort to avoid re-breaking my tailbone and ankle like I had the first time I attempted skiing. I did great! However, it had been months since that lesson, and I was feeling decidedly nervous hopping back onto skis. I think it has something to do with my tragic first time.

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Anyway, I forced PJ to go down the bunny’s bunny slope with me a few times before I finally mastered the courage to head up to the regular bunny slope.

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Also, side note here, I would just like to say that Ski Dubai is really cool. It’s got 5 different slopes, from beginner to expert, and they’ll sell you a full day lift ticket (like 9am-11pm) for 80 bucks. There’s no wind or sun, and though it’s cold, they also give you snow clothes to wear while you’re inside. The snow gets a little packed by the end of the day, but overall it’s not super busy and it’s probably one of the best/cheapest places to learn to ski.

I got my ski legs back pretty quickly, and finally felt confident enough to try out the bigger slope. There’s only one problem. The only way to get up there is via the drag lift, which is a little pole that slides between your legs and literally drags you on your skis up the mountain.

To date, I have never successfully ridden a ski lift. This now also includes the drag lift. I ate it on a corner where the lift changes pulleys (people fall so often they have someone stationed there) and was so embarrassed that I ended up trudging back down the slope. No, I couldn’t ski it. It was the black diamond slope, and I wasn’t about to attempt that immediately after beefing it on the stupid drag lift.

I returned shamefully to the smaller hill, where I immediately fell down for the first and only time of the day.

Confidence is key folks, and I know when I’m beaten. I took my skis off and went home for the day.

However! The Entertainer app had one coupon left for a BOGO full day ski slope ticket, so PJ and I decided to return for our final day in Dubai.

First, we spent the greater part of the day tanning at the pool in 110 degree weather. Then, when we were nice and overheated, we returned to the hotel room, cleaned up, checked out, and dragged our luggage back to the Mall of the Emirates (for free luggage storage) before hitting the slopes from about 5pm-8:30pm. No, it wasn’t a full day, but we had planes to catch.

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This time went much better! It took me a lot longer to get my groove back, but once I got going I started nailing the carving.

No, I didn’t try the drag lift again. I think I may be cursed.

Anyway, we had a blast and spent our last few hours in Dubai carving up the slopes before heading home.

I’ve got more stories from our trip ahead!

-Carissa “Snow Bunny” Rawson

Discovering Dubai

Hello Dear Readers!

As you all know, I had just recently hopped a plane from Ethiopia back to Dubai, in order to meet my brother PJ for our six days in the UAE.

I wrote about coming here earlier this year, and explained how I used both the Citi Prestige 4th night free and a promotion from Starwood that gave me two more free nights in order to stay six nights for the price of three at the St. Regis Dubai. This is important, because the hotel is way too expensive for me to stay at otherwise. Our room was fantastic, and I took a couple surreptitious photos of the hotel as possible, so you guys could see the kind of ridiculous luxury of the hotel.

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Now, one of the best parts of the St. Regis brand is the inclusion of a 24 hour butler service, which brings your luggage up for you, unpacks it, provides tea and coffee service on request, and presses two items of clothing per day for free. As you guys can see from the photo below, the only thing I had with me was my backpack, which was full of dirty laundry to boot, so I declined the unpacking service offered. Something about a tuxedo clad butler pulling out a plastic bag full of dirty laundry felt a little less than…luxurious. Especially when that was all I had!

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Pictured: All my luggage

However, since the hotel had me feeling all kinds of fancy, I sprung for a real wash with their laundry service, and my clothes (and nearby strangers) thanked me for the cleaning in a washing machine rather than a sink. Don’t ask me how much it cost.

I had an entire day to myself before PJ showed up, and since my flight from Ethiopia didn’t land until 4am, I slept in pretty late. That is, until a butler showed up with a fruit platter and I answered the door in my underwear. I’ve had better days.

Did you guys know it’s Ramadan? When I bought the tickets to Dubai, I didn’t even think about it, but the city essentially shuts down during the day for the entire month. Eating and drinking in public is against the law, and if you’re a dirty heathen they have special segregated areas for you to satiate your hunger if you must eat.

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Shamelessly drinking coffee during daylight hours.

However, being Ramadan meant there were all kinds of awesome feasts going on every single night. Obviously PJ and I took full advantage of it, and devoured quantities of food that would otherwise be shameful. Don’t worry, full details are coming.

Like I said, I was there alone for the first day, so I ended up doing iftar (breaking of the fast) by myself. I asked the St. Regis concierge to arrange a reservation for me, and *deigned* to allow the chauffeur service to drive me to the restaurant.

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This will suffice.

If you guys aren’t familiar with Ramadan, and iftar, it’s a time that’s very family/ friend oriented, and everyone heads out in large parties to celebrate together. So when I showed up alone, in the middle of Dubai, I attracted many strange looks. Nevertheless, the food was amazing and threw me straight back to Jordan (which I only left a little over a month ago. Isn’t that weird?) I really miss that place! Anyway, PJ showed up around 11pm, and we stayed up late before heading to our supremely comfortable beds in preparation for the busy days ahead.

Looking forward to telling you about them!

-Carissa “I swear I’m super rich” Rawson

 

Dubai on a Dime (or Two)

Ok, so today I want to talk about a trip that hasn’t even happened yet, mostly because I’m just so stoked about the awesome deal that I got it with!

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Since I don’t have any related photos, enjoy this picture of us swilling beer at a Belgian beer fest in Japan.

Yesterday I gave a brief intro to credit card rewards, so today I’m going to focus on some of the credit card perks that are out there, and how using them properly can make travel WAY more affordable. (Also I want to brag because seriously guys this was so genius of me)

If you guys read my earlier blog outlining our itinerary for 2017, you saw that it was pretty busy, mostly because I have no self-restraint when it comes to trips I can both afford and have the time to go on. I mean, like, why not? To that end, early last week I was wasting my day online, when I saw that there were some fairly cheap fares to Dubai. As in, ~$400 round trip from LA. That got me thinking about a trip to Dubai, and whether or not it was possible to fit it into my schedule. Obviously, the answer was YES! So, after doing a bit of browsing, I wasn’t able to find that aforementioned four hundred dollar fare, but I did find that Delta had fares going for $680, which is still a pretty good deal.

Here is where my first trick comes in. American Express is one of my favorite credit card brands for a multitude of reasons. Their customer service is excellent, they offer very generous sign up bonuses and perks, and they waive all annual fees for active duty military. How cool is that?

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For Chrissy, who loves hot dogs

Anyway, after the Chase Sapphire Reserve card debuted last year, there was a mad rush for other credit card companies to catch up and offer a ‘premium’ travel reward card to match Chase’s. American Express’ answer to that was to begin offering a 50% discount on all reward point redemptions made for airfare on your designated airline if you have their Business Platinum card. That is, American Express lets you pick one airline per year for which you would like to have 50% off reward redemptions. Delta happens to be my preferred airline, which led to an awesome bit of luck. Let me break this down a little:

Generally speaking, you can redeem 1 reward point per cent on Amex’s travel website. So, if I had a $680 ticket, I could instead redeem 68,000 points and get my ticket for free. With Amex’s new offer, I could instead redeem 34,000 points for that same exact ticket. This works for any ticket you buy, not just for yourself. Thus, I was able to get two round trip tickets for David and I from Los Angeles to Dubai for a total of 68,000 points. Considering that the sign up bonus for American Express is currently 100,000 points, this is a pretty awesome deal.

Once our flights were paid for (free!) I started looking for hotels.

Ok brag time here. Are any of you familiar with the St. Regis brand of hotels? It’s a super high-end luxury hotel chain owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts (one of my favorite hotel chains). Here’s a photo of the lobby at the St. Regis Dubai:

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That’s pretty stinkin’ nice. Room rates start at $321/night after taxes. That’s actually fairly inexpensive for the St. Regis brand, since rooms in the one in New York start at around $800. It is the Middle East, after all.

Still, $321/night is too rich for my blood, especially since we’re looking to stay in Dubai for almost two weeks. However, Starwood currently has a promotion running where you can buy 4 nights (at tons of different hotels) and they’ll give you the next two free, for a total of 6 nights. Not bad, right?

You guys remember how I talked about the unconditional ‘buy 3 nights get 1 free’ deal that my Citi Prestige card offers? Well, you can stack those two offers together, to get a ‘buy 3 nights get 3 free deal.’ That’s half off! So I called up the Citi Prestige concierge, and after a lengthy (about 40min) conversation with a very skeptical concierge woman (she had never done this kind of transaction before, so she handed me off to another woman who had- and she very gladly helped me out), I had our room booked!

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I mean look at this bathroom!

It still wasn’t free, of course, but I thought if there was ever a time to splurge this would be it. All told, I got 6 nights at one of the best hotels in the world for $903, instead of $1930 were I just to buy it flat out.

Since that’s only six nights, I still had to buy five more, but where? Well, another nifty perk of the American Express Business Platinum is that it gives you elite status at several hotel chains simply for holding the card. One of those chains is Starwood, where I just booked the St. Regis (which means free room upgrades, 12pm check-in, and 4pm check out, as well as welcome amenities every time you stay), another that it provides is Hilton HHonors gold status.

Hilton’s reward program gives some pretty good perks, the best of which is free breakfast wherever you stay. You guys see where I’m going with this, right? Just wait, it gets better.

Well, I really wanted to stay on Jumeirah Beach, which is the best beach in Dubai, with perfect white sand beaches that overlook hotels like the Burj al-Arab (which I can’t *quite* afford yet). Hilton is having a winter sale right now, where rooms are 30% off, but, even better, you can stack this sale with something called a points + money redemption. Essentially, you pay partial points and partial cash in order to get a discount on the room rate.

Rooms at the Hilton’s DoubletreeĀ Jumeriah Beach start at $272/night, but you can also get them for $64 and 16,000 Hilton points per night. Well, I don’t have any Hilton credit cards, so I didn’t have enough points to qualify for that rate. But you know what I do have? That Citi Prestige card I keep talking about! Citi happens to be a transfer reward partner of Hilton and also just *happens* to be having a bonus for 2x the points right now when you transfer to Hilton.

So that’s what I did. I transferred 40,000 Citi points (the current sign-up bonus for this card is 50,000 points) over to my Hilton account, and booked it for five nights at a total cost of $410 and 40,000 Citi points instead of $1506 for a 1000sq ft king bedroom suite right on the beach. Even better? Free breakfast, 12pm check in, 4pm check out, and a possible room upgrade! That’s the high life.

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Our Hilton hotel

All told, our 12 night stay cost $1,313 for flights from Los Angeles and fantastic stays at some of the nicest properties in the world. If we were paying out of pocket, it would have cost us $4,796 for the same thing. That’s the power of points!

I know this has been a long post and tons of information, but I think it’s pretty worth it for you guys to hear. Granted, this isn’t the cheapest vacation in the world, since we decided to spring for the really nice hotels. We could’ve gone cheaper or even free, but then, isn’t Dubai all about excess?

Now that our flights and hotel are covered, I have to come up with some things to do! I’ve heard sand boarding in the desert is great, and we’ll definitely have to ride a camel, but other than that I’m an open book. Do you guys have any recommendations?

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-Carissa and George