Two months ago, we booked a half-day city tour of Abu Dhabi, using Emirates Tours & Safari. Emirates Tours is a tour operator based in Abu Dhabi, organizing different tours. The reviews on TripAdvisor were those of desert safari tours (which we did for the next day). There was no way I could see others’ reviews for the none-desert tours, but we went ahead in faith, thinking that if they could do desert tours so well, the city tour should be good too.
Our group of five were picked up by the coach at 8.35am downstairs of our apartment. We only managed to reach Sheikh Zayed Mosque’s carpark at 10.05am. That’s 1.5 hours of sitting in the coach, going around to pick up other passengers at their hotels. At first, I had boarded the coach all excited. By the time we reached the mosque, the majority of my excitement had died down, along with the passing time.
As we go around picking up passengers, inside the coach, the tour guide will use his monotonous voice to briefly introduced facts about Abu Dhabi to us. We got to learn that ~Abu Dhabi is a really rich city; ~Abu Dhabi welcomes foreigners to work and stay here; ~there are many planted trees and natural mangroves, etc. He kept repeating the same information. Either he’d forgotten what he had mentioned, or he’s repeating to share with new people that boarded the coach. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but I have to admit I was really bored by this guide.
Outside of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, we went through the dress-code and security checks. Finally, we were inside the mosque at 10.15am #LongAwaited! We had been instructed to return to our coach at the carpark at 11.15am. That leaves us with less than an hour to see the mosque, argh. Our Tour Guide did lead the way inside the mosque, but he was fast whereas I was busy trying to snap as many photos as I could and marvel at this wonderful creation of a mosque. Therefore, I didn’t have much chance to listen to what he shared.
The Grand Mosque was a sight to behold though!
Miraj shop & gold carpets
After leaving the Grand Mosque at 11.15am, we were brought to Miraj — a shop/museum. This program wasn’t inside the itinerary, and was a complete waste of time. We had to sit and listen to a salesman introduce very intricately-made, expensive carpets made using gold thread and precious stones. The carpets were very pretty, but no one in the tour group was interested to buy, likely due to their prices (USD$800? USD$1300?). There were other exhibits for sale at Miraj. I personally felt quite cheated to be even there. It’s like we’d been robbed of extra time at the Grand Mosque to visit a shop whose wares I have absolutely no interest in. We left Miraj as soon as we could.
The next ‘program’ was to the “Gold Souks and Dates Market”. Well, we were brought to no gold souk though, instead, taken to one dates shop at a wholesale market, which you can buy as local foodstuff and bring back to your country. The market was indeed very authentic-looking, I did not take any photos.
Lastly, at 1pm, we arrived at a Heritage Village. Again, the Heritage Village venue fell short of expectations. It was supposed to be: “Step back in time at the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village, with its replica old desert settlement. Stroll around the Bedouin tents, shop at the souk, see craft demonstrations and more.”
I didn’t see any ’Bedouin tents’ though (did I miss them?!?). There were stalls selling stuff, while the ‘craft demonstrations’ were tiny workshop units built around a structure. Through these units, you might be able to have a preview of crafts the people of Abu Dhabi used to do. Most of the units were closed or barred people from entry, so you can only glance from the doorway. There was barely anything going on.
At this Heritage Village, there’s a little museum that shows more of the history of Abu Dhabi. The museum is the most interesting thing available here, in my opinion. At the back of the Heritage Village, it’s a seaside which you can stand around for some waterfront views.
I had been looking forward to a wider variety of interactive activities at this heritage village, and was disappointed when I didn’t see anything close. The Tour Guide was not with us during the whole time at the Heritage Village.
It was 1.30pm by the time we left the Heritage Village. By then, the coach was beginning to send people back to their hotels. Since we were first to be picked up, naturally we’ll be last to be dropped off, though I understand that this all boils down to the locations of our accommodation. By then, all of us were lethargic, hungry and silent, as we had started the day at 8+am and had not stopped for any snacks (unless you count sampling 1-3 tiny dates at the market as snacks).
My expat friend requested to have us alight at a mall so we can finally have lunch. It was already past 2pm. Emirates Tours could have been more thoughtful in making arrangements, especially when there are kids around for the tour.
Conclusion: A Disappointment
Because there were no entrance fees for any of the places above, the half-day city tour by Emirates Tours & Safaris provided little value to customers other than the convenience of transport. As we have an expat friend with us, we could have done the activities on our own had we known the city tour was of subpar standard. This half-day tour could have been way better organized by the company.
Emirates Tours & Safari was the company that provided our Desert Safari tour the next day. The experience turned out the opposite – it was a really great tour! I’ll feature the desert safari tour on my blog here a next time, watch out for it!
Visited: Nov 2016
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