Now I am hardly a mall guy. (Okay, I used to be. But not anymore.) After all, I live only a few minutes from the 2nd biggest mall in America, and I rarely even go there. (Unless I have a craving for Chick-Fil-A.) But The Dubai Mall, right at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, is the biggest mall in the world with over 1200 stores. That’s four times the size of the King of Prussia Mall back home. It makes the Mall of America seem like “just” a lot of stores with an amusement park inside. We just had to check it out.
After hopping off the metro, we took the looong walkway to the mall. This indoor bridge over some major roads is at least half a mile long, and has seven moving sidewalks which we dubbed “walkalators.” Once in the mall proper, we stopped at a store called Plug-Ins which is the equivalent of a Best Buy. Our power converter broke in January, and we figured this store just might have a replacement. We found one right away for only $9US proving that you really can get anything you can think of in Dubai. (These power converters are incredibly difficult to find, even in airports and major cities; trust me, we’ve tried, over and over.)
Dubai may be an Arab country, but you almost wouldn’t know it from the inside of the Dubai Mall. Absolutely every store you can think of from the western world has a location in Dubai. I had great fun running around photographing familiar corporate logos that were written in Arabic. I was not surprised to see places like Bloomingdales or Sephora or DKNY. I *was* surprised to see Payless Shoes and TGI Fridays. Stephanie was floored by the presence of her beloved Cheesecake Factory, but at over $9US per slice, we opted to give it a miss. To make it up to her, I redubbed their Chocolate Tower Cake (one of Stephanie’s faves) the “Burj Khalifa cake,” and promised to get her some when we get home. Probably the most unexpected place for me was Coldstone Creamery.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the Dubai Mall has an aquarium, an ice skating rink, and an indoor theme park in addition to the standard food courts, fountains and movie theaters. Dubai is all about world records, so in addition to things like the largest shopping mall and the largest aquarium viewing panel, it also has the world’s largest candy store. Called Candylicious, I knew Stephanie would have to check it out. It’s like the mother ship calling her home.
All this Western-ness aside, there are also some aspects of the mall that do not let you forget you are in an Arab country. To begin with, there’s a mosque in the mall, and the five-times-a-day call to prayer is piped through the mall’s PA system. It is also very common to see plenty of people in Native Arab dress – usually men in floor length white robes with keffiyehs (Arab headdress) accompanied by women in black burkas with only their eyes showing.
A note on the burkas: personally, I have never really been in favor of a religious practice that dictates that only a woman’s eyes can be seen, but I did see some women who seemed to be making the most of their religious requirements. For instance, there were many a-burka with elegant rhinestone patterns up the sleeves. There was one woman whose eyes were exquisitely made up – right down to a rhinestone at each outer corner. For the first time it made me wonder if they were really as unhappy as I would be if I was forced to dress like that.
Another interesting thing about the mall was its dress code, which is posted at every entrance, and available as a brochure from every information desk. Aside from requesting that women keep their shoulders and knees covered, it also requests “no overt public displays of affection.” I had heard these things could be jailable offenses in some Arab countries including Dubai, and when we first arrived to the city, we made a point to check out our surroundings. Luckily for us, we saw many women walking around Dubai in shorts and short sleeves and skirt, as well as couples holding hands. Stephanie was especially relieved as it was very warm outside. We were actually caught off-guard by the dress code for the mall after seeing everyone outside in the city, and Stephanie was already in a skirt above her knees, but we weren’t about to test our luck with the holding hands thing (though it was tough, as we kept forgetting and then remembering!).
Outside, between the vast mall complex and the Burj Khalifa, is a large fountain which puts on a dancing waters show every 30 minutes in the evenings. We found an excellent spot to watch it all, but I was surprised that it lasted for all of one rockin’ Arabic song. No matter. The Burj all lit up at night makes a stunning backdrop and the place was packed.
After the show, I cracked and we shared some Oh-so American Coldstone Cremery ice-cream before heading home again. It was cookie-licious.