I had visualized going on a trip with our daughter way before we ever even got pregnant.
Now actually seeing her button nose and puffy cheeks in the sun, her little toes and chunky thighs in the water, and her signature curious eyebrow raise while interacting with the local people was honestly a dream come true.
My pregnancy and Camilla´s birth coincided with the Covid pandemic so in 2020 we didn´t really travel other than Nick´s snowboarding trip with his friends.
As 2021 came, we had somewhat got used to being parents and Estonia seemed to have a never-ending winter, so it was time to head somewhere warmer.
We hesitated traveling for a while and discussed if it´s really responsible and necessary considering the overall state of the world, but in the end, decided that it´ll be exactly what we decide it is. So we decided it´s going to be amazing!
We have never been too early planners when it comes to going somewhere. We bought the tickets around 3 weeks before and did it ourselves not through an agency. We haven´t used a “package tour” before and decided to organize it ourselves this time too.
Why did we choose Dubai:
- Restrictions. That was obviously the first criteria that already filtered out a lot of destinations. Didn´t seem to make a whole lot of sense to travel somewhere just to sit in quarantine. Countries had and have currently very different covid- related rules, so it just takes some researching and reading to figure out what those are.
- Weather. Since Estonia´s winter had this year extended extra long, we just really wanted to get some sun. Thus the colder Northern hemisphere and cooler countries were off from the list.
- Distance. Although I wasn´t necessarily scared to travel with the baby, shorter flights still seemed more appealing. Another thing to consider with the distance is the time zones. Camilla had formed a very specific routine with nap times and I felt that traveling somewhere with a very big time difference will mess it all up. It probably would not have been too bad in the end but again- it seemed that the less deviation, the better.
Considering the above-mentioned points the last strong candidates were Dubai, Canary Islands, and the Maldives. The Canary Islands didn´t have any restrictions and the flights were short, but the weather didn´t seem that warm yet and I had been there many times already. The Maldives would have been gorgeous and the weather was perfect, but the flight was long and most of the resorts pretty pricy. Dubai´s weather forecast looked perfect; the flight route fairly short and only two hours time difference (when the clock was turned then only one hour). We had also been to Dubai at the end of 2019 and it had blown our expectations. Since it was also more familiar it seemed less of a hassle with a baby.
We flew with Lufthansa from Tallinn-Frankfurt; Frankfurt-Dubai and back the same way. I tried not to have too many expectations around travelling with a baby, but truth be told flying with her was much easier than I thought it would ever be. I always emphasize that I truly share things transparently the way they are and not sugar-coat anything. Camilla overall has been a calm, easy child and because of her age when we travelled (6 months), she wasn´t mobile yet. That made our life much more simple.
The main requirement for entering Dubai were a negative PCR test certificate. We did it in Estonia in Synlab 72 h in advance. Travel insurance is overall always good to have, but in this day in age it is pretty much a must. Many countries require it while entering. Mask is necessary everywhere, only while eating it´s allowed to be taken off. I found it a bit odd, that all flights we were on, were totally full and people were sitting right next to each other. So no social distancing at least with the airline we flew with.
There were a few nice things that I hadn´t thought of and those were great surprises.
1. You get to skip the lines with a baby.
That was literally something I didn´t think of or remember at all. I guess thus far we didn´t belong to the “families with small babies” group, so apparently, it didn´t register in my mind previously. When they let us past a whole long line on the first plane we boarded we were like- “Wooow, that´s cool!”
Coming back thanks to Camilla we made it to the plane because we had so little time and if we had waited in the lines, we would have definitely missed our flight. More about that in the end.
2. There is an option to book a cot-seat in the plane.
If there is one suggestion I could give to a family traveling with a small child, this would be it. Get the cot seat! We had it on the flight from Frankfurt- Dubai and it was super convenient. There is so much more legroom, the baby doesn´t have to be in your arms all the time and he or she can sleep/lay/sit in the cot.
I didn´t know of this opportunity at the time of buying the tickets, so I called back the airline later and was able to add them. It was for extra cost ( 25 euros per seat meaning 50 one way and 50 the other), but I´d say it was worth it for sure. Airline prices are probably different too, so don´t take this price as a rule;)
We didn´t get it for the shorter flight ( Tallinn-Frankfurt and vice versa), because they didn´t have it and even if they would have, we probably would not have got it. That flight was short enough to have her in our arms.
Since we changed our flight back multiple times then something got mixed up and although we paid for the cot seat, we didn´t get it. At the beginning I was disappointed, but we made it work. So especially having the experience of both ways- the cot option would be my preference.
One alternative a few people shared with me, is to put the tray tables up, a blanket on it, and lay the baby there when they fall asleep. That will work too, just going to the bathroom then will be harder.
3. The changing room in the airplane and airports
I wasn´t even thinking that there is a changing option on the airplane and was expecting to change Camilla somehow in that tiny airplane- toilet:D What was I thinking!?:D So to my positive surprise there was at least one changing table in the longer flights. It was pleasantly big and really easy to navigate.
I only have good words about the changing stations in the different airports too. Some nicer, some not that nice, but they served their purpose, so all good.
I guess it really all comes down to our own attitude too. We were both pretty chill. Nick always says that whatever we want Camilla to be, we need to be ourselves. So if we don´t make a big deal of changes, she won´t too.
That was exactly the case.
She was a great little flying-pal. Didn´t cry once, didn´t have any issues with her ears while take-off and landing, or really any other complaints. She seemed to love the attention she got from people and was just curious to look around what was happening.
Obviously flying just by yourself versus with a baby, is very different in regards to your own activities on the plane. I didn´t watch movies or read like I used to before, but I wasn´t really even expecting to do that. Nick got some work done on this computer when Camilla was sleeping and I was just resting during that.
Seems that the second overall important take-away is to have realistic expectations when traveling with the baby and not to plan a big to-do list for the flights. Have no other to-do list items than being with your baby;)
Packing for the trip and baby-essentials
The main thing I hate about traveling is packing. It literally gives me anxiety, because as much as I like planning, thinking ahead about clothes and necessities that we might need two weeks from now, is not my cup of tea. I´ve always been the last-minute packer and this time was no different. Obviously, I had ordered things before but didn´t give much thought to how they will work together and finished up zipping the bag a few minutes before stepping outside to head to the airport.
During our trip I got quite a bit of question about different baby- products we used, so here are a few that very great helpers.
1. A lightweight stroller
We stroll quite a bit in Estonia too, but now the stroller was the main transportation. We used it every day and pretty much took it everywhere. We had got a lightweight stroller (Quinny Zapp Flex Plus) already before Camilla was born to use the wheels with the car seat. Now we just added the seat part to the base. I don´t have any other experience with different lightweight strollers, so I can´t do a whole lot of comparison. Ours was simple to use and we had no issues. The only disadvantage was that you need two hands to put it together whereas I´ve seen some that only need one. To use it wasn´t a big deal, but just a fact to consider. Instead of buying one, renting it is an option too. Some of my girlfriends who have travelled with their kids have rented and have had good experiences too.
Since the baby´s skin is extra sensitive, it really needs to be protected. A long UV set helps to cover more of the body and a hat is surely a must-have too.
I got one from HM, ordered one from Amazon (Bonverano), and had one sown. The longer sets definitely got more use because then I didn´t have to lotion her body as often.
We also tried not to keep Camilla in direct sunlight for long. Sunscreen should be 50+ SPF. Ours was from the brand Naif.
Most hotels have some sort of pool, so having something for the baby to swim with, comes helpful. I got one yellow Swim Safe floaty from Amazon, where she was able to sit in and one that went around her neck. She preferred the one where she sat because then she could look around. The one that was around the neck seemed a bit more uncomfortable and when she started bending her back I feared that maybe she´ll go over. I have also heard the other way around though- that the neck one worked better than the sitting one. So I guess it´s as with any other product- babies have different preferences:) Like I said- I ordered from Amazon, but for the Estonians- I later found reisipisik.ee which seems to have all the travel products.
Other noteworthy items:
- Short clothes. Sounds pretty basic, but since the first 6 months of Camilla’s life the weather was mostly cold, I didn´t have ANY shorts and dresses or not really even short sleeve bodies. It was so sweet seeing her little chunky thighs and wiggling toes because thus far they had been in the socks or pants. Most of the clothes I ordered from Next and bought a few sets there from HM and GAP.
- Sleep carrier. I mentioned the sleep options on the plane above, but another thing that helped was a transportable baby nest. That was something we used in the airports when she was sleeping. She also slept sometimes in it when we were by the pools. Ours was Najelle´s.
- Blanket(s). One lighter one would be good when nursing or to put on the child´s eyes when they sleep. We also had one thicker one for the plane and one for her to lay on.
- Swimming diapers. I got one pack with us, so I didn´t have to look for them right as we got there. We also took a package of ordinary diapers, but those could have been purchased on the spot too.
- Baby pharmacy. Although everything we would have needed, we would have got from the spot too, it just gave me peace in mind to have the essentials. Sudocrem, Rhinomer, painkillers, etc.
Essentials for the plane:
- For the baby– diapers; wet wipes; something to play with; extra set (or rather two) of clothes; if you are giving some extra food already then that; a blanket; burp / swiping cloth
- For the mom– extra shirt; snacks(!)
Usually when we have traveled with Nick just the two of us we (read: mostly me!) have always overpacked and already headed to the destination the checked bag has been often over the allowed weight. This was the first time we packed things for three people and the first time we were underweight. We just checked two bags and had two backpacks as carry-ons + Camilla´s stroller.
Something that we didn´t have, but would have been probably helpful are baby sunglasses. Camilla really liked being in the sun and water, but she hated when she faced the sun and it was in her eyes. Well…. who of us would really like that anyway?:D
Now, back in Estonia we learned from our mistake, got Kietla Diabola ones from Heveren and the few times she has worn then, she has really liked those.
Things to do / areas to visit in Dubai with a baby (or without)
I have written one blog post about things to do in Dubai, so I´ll summarize some highlights. Here´s a link to the previous post https://www.mrsconnor.com/family-christmas-trip-to-dubai/
1. Downtown Dubai
Downtown is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth visiting. Dubai Mall is huge and just walking around there, shopping, eating is a great past-time. In front of the Dubai Mall is the fountain where every day starting at 18.00 every 30 minutes is a Dubai Fountain show which is a gorgeous sight. Usually, there are a lot of people around the fountain and now with social distancing, it would have been a lot of waiting time as they direct you to your square. So we actually ate dinner in Dubai Mall, where some of the restaurants have outdoor terraces overlooking the whole area. It was much more comfortable sitting, eating and enjoying the show. Especially when you have a little one.
Near Dubai Mall stands also the tallest building in the world- Burj Khalifa. We didn´t go there this time since we had been there. It´s definitely worth the view, but didn´t make sense to do it twice.
We stayed for 4 nights in Downtown area, so it was just fun to walk around and explore.
2. La Mer
This is a beautiful beach-front area, where are multiple lounges, restaurants, and little stores. There is a nice walkway along with the beach and definitely a beautiful place to watch the sunset.
3. Dubai Miracle Gardens
The first time we went there was during our last trip to Dubai at the end of 2019. Then we visited it on a Sunday and it was absolutely packed with people. Now since the pandemic had clearly affected the number of tourists, the garden even on a Saturday was pretty empty. It has beautiful flower installations and figures.
4. Desert Safari
We were debating for a long time if we should do the safari or not. Since we had done it before we knew that it might expose some challenges. I was googling and reading reviews and seemed that going to the desert with a baby was not too common and suggested. During our last week, we still decided to go and it ended up being an amazing adventure.
The scariest part to me last time was the jeep safari drive in the desert, where the cars take pretty crazy turns and slides. Last time we shared a car with others, but this time decided to take a private car just for our own family. I covered upfront that we have a baby and requested a baby car seat and said we want a smoother drive. It was emotionally much easier knowing it will just be our family in the car and we can adjust our tempo as needed. Also when we had breaks it was easy to breastfeed Camilla there.
The safari starts with a long drive outside of Dubai City. There is a meeting place where you can drive ATV-s, camels, desert buggies. I am not a big adrenaline junkie anymore, so I gladly stayed in the camp with Camilla and Nick did a desert buggy ride, which he very much enjoyed. The last time we drove an ATV together and that was pretty fun.
After that started the dune bashing. I was scared of how Camilla will handle it, but right as we entered the desert she actually fell asleep:D So through the crazy drive she was just smoothly sleeping. She woke up right when we stopped. In the desert, it´s possible to try sand-boarding, do pictures and just enjoy the epic view.
From the desert the jeeps head to a camp-place where is dinner, drinks and shows.
All in all the journey wasn´t somehow harder or scarier because of having a baby at all. She seemed to love the day just as much as we did. Again, just like with traveling the focus should be to control our own state first and foremost and that will largely dictate the baby´s.
5. Dubai Marina and JBR Beach
These two were our favorite places already the last trip and this time we fell in love with them even more. Since we decided to extend our trip from two weeks to a month, then the last 15 days we had an Airbnb right on the Marina and spent a lot of time in this area. Dubai Marina stretches beautifully alongside the river. There are restaurants, shopping and just a good place to walk /run/stroll. JBR is also close by with a great beach, food places, stores, and overall a chill vibe.
Dubai has a lot of really good shopping. Above mentioned Dubai Mall has everything from the fanciest brands to ordinary stores like HM and Zara. The Mall of the Emirates is another great one. Dubai Marina Mall is a smaller one, but a little easier to navigate thanks to that. We also went to a couple of outlet malls- The Outlet Village and Dubai Outlet Mall. Souk Madinat is another cool area that is an Arabian mini-city with ornate souks, beachfront, stores, and view of the Burj as Arab.
Other noteworthy places/activities– Global Village; Palace Downtown; Bluewater Island; Atlantis.
So to sum it up, we explored around quite a bit but also had many “just chilling by the pool or at the beach”- days, so it was a good mix of moving and lounging. I was thinking that it will be harder to do all of that with a small child, but it wasn´t bad.
Getting around (with a baby)
Before the trip I was reading and asking my friends about how they had managed getting around on their trips. Some had taken the car seat with them, some had rented one with a rental car, some had used the metro and some the taxis. We decided not to take the car seat with us and used Uber the entire trip. The local car company is Careem and there is an option to choose a car with a baby seat. Most of them had Cybex ones and we didn´t have issues with any. It was very convenient and easy to get around. Another great option is the metro. There you can just enter with a stroller or a baby carrier and don´t have to worry about the car seat. Although we didn´t use it this time, I know that Dubai has great metro-system.
Where to stay:
Since at the beginning we were supposed to be for two weeks, then we booked Five Palm Jumeirah hotel for most of the trip and then Hilton Business Bay for 4 days in the downtown area. Five Palm is a big-time party hotel and we really didn´t have any idea about that:D We were one of the very few people there with a baby. Most of the women by the pool had fillers in their lips and guys the most flashy brand clothes on. So it was a bit of a show-off hotel for the singles. We didn´t quite fit in, but we had a blast nevertheless and most days had a good laugh as we were mumbling in baby voice in the pool while most of the guests were checking each other out:D
On the rooftop there is a great lounge / club called Penthouse, so in the evenings when we went out with the stroller and sneakers, cars with high-heeled, minimally dressed women rolled by:D
The hotel itself was beautiful though. The location is awesome, breakfast, pool, and beach-side great, but I don´t know that we´d necessarily go back there.
Last time we stayed in JBR Sonder Suites that shares premises with Rixos Hotel and that is still Nick´s favorite hotel. It is located by JBR Beach.
When we extended our trip we decided to get an Airbnb. I tried to find it but didn´t see it up right now. It had a great, big balcony, but the inside was nothing special. The location was the best though. Dubai Marina is my favorite part of Dubai and especially going there with a baby the best area to stay at in my opinion.
There are all kinds of hotels and Airbnb-s ranging from reasonable to very fancy, so it just takes some researching and seeing what works.
If there was anything that I was actually concerned about going on the trip, then it was messing up Camilla´s sleep cycle. Before the trip, she had a very punctual sleep schedule for months and I planned pretty much everything in our lives around that. I didn´t want that good routine to be affected, yet I didn´t want that to dictate every step of our trip.
To my surprise managing the sleep schedule was much doable than I thought. During the days we were mostly at the beach, by the pool, or exploring around, so the naps she took in the stroller. As I have shared before in the first months of Camilla’s life she took most of her naps in our arms, so it was actually so good to have her sleep in the stroller and we could have a moment to ourselves. Since the time difference was minimal, then that affected only the first few days, but nothing major. I let go of very intentionally helping her to fall asleep and surprise, surprise… when she actually was tired, she fell asleep.
The night sleep time didn´t really change too much for her as well. Most of the days we were still out and about or eating dinner outside, so again- she fell asleep in the stroller, and then we put her into the bed. Some days we were home by then and we did the usual shower/ bath- pajamas-sleep routine.
Looking back I was much more afraid of handling her sleep cycle than it was worth it. Last time the reminder- if you don´t make a big deal out of it yourself, it really won´t be a big deal. Lesson learned!
Challenges on the trip
As I say all the time- “hard” and “easy” are very relative notions. Everything can be seen as hard and yet all of it at the same time easy. So I wouldn´t say there was anything particulary hard travelling with a baby, but half-way through the trip there were two days where she was not a happy camper.
She was much whinier than usual, wanted 24/7 attention, and we just couldn´t figure out what had happened. After those two days, we noticed that in her bottom jaw two little white bumps were popping out. Teeth!:) Ooooh, now, I get why she was fussy:D
Also some days at the end of the trip I found myself being mentally super hard on myself. Since we were on the go most of the time, then Camilla wasn´t getting very much tummy time and I was blaming myself that because of it she can´t develop her crawling skills. I wasn´t also making homemade purees and hammered myself for it. The extended trip and fun explorations also dipped deep into our savings, which I hadn´t mentally prepared for. So in the middle of this amazing trip, I was just burdening my mind with worries. Fortunately, catching tendencies like this is something I´ve worked on and got out of that pattern, but still important to note that we all have our moments. Even when everything seems perfect! Decisions always come with consequences and it´s up to us to be aware of it.
We had some challenges at the beginning with figuring out our work routine since we were operating between Dubai, Estonia and US time. I hadn´t taken my computer with me since I had cleared my schedule for two weeks. After that time though I had coaching calls in the morning, Nick was with the baby and during his calls I hung out with her. So I wouldn´t actually even call it a challenge, it just needed some time, attention and focus to piece together a smooth schedule. We are very fortunate that we can both work remotely and that made the extended time we were able to spend together as a family extra valuable.
Another legit aspect that challenged us, was the changing rules around Covid. Our flight back initially was on the 14th of March, but we moved it a few times and ended up flying back on the night of the 2nd of April. Estonia didn´t require a negative test result when entering and until the 31st of March Germany (where we had a layover) didn´t as well. So we weren´t planning on doing the PCR test in Dubai.
Germany changed its rules though the last minute and we got notified that even having a transfer in Germany needs a negative test. It was the morning of the 1st of April, our flight was supposed to be at 1.50 am and the regular time to get the test results are 24-48 hours. We didn´t have even 12 hours at that point.
I called through probably 20 local hospitals and clinics to see if they can do the antibody test, which usually gives results in 3 hours. None of them did those. Then I called the airline a couple of times to see what our options were to change our flight. Changing even 1 day would have been over 600 euros. No way!
We were running out of options and it was 3 pm. The situation was getting overwhelming. At least for me. Nick is always cool as a cucumber.
Finally, we managed to find through a previous hotel we had stayed in, a private clinic that offered an expedited test result. It was of course four times the price of an ordinary one, but it was our last option. They said the fastest they can do it is 8 hours and by then we had 7. We just took our chances.
We went back to our Airbnb, packed all of our stuff, put Camilla to sleep, and just hoped that the results will come in time. Around 22.30 we took a cab, stuffed our things into it, and kept our fingers crossed that we´ll receive the certificate by the time we are at the airport.
Nick is always amazing at managing situations like this. He thrives under unknown circumstances. Yet, heading to the airport with the possibility that we´ll head back from there without a flight, new ticket and a place to stay, was pretty realistic.
We were literally two couples away in the flight check-in when my phone buzzed and the clinic sent the certificates with our negative results. I ran to a nearby counter, was able to print the papers and made it back pretty much the moment Nick was giving our passports to the check-in lady.
We had only a little time until our take-off, so we were running through the airport and made it thanks to Camilla. As I mentioned above they let you skip the lines with a baby, so if it hadn´t been for her, we would have been stuck waiting somewhere. We made it to the flight and couldn´t even believe it ourselves:D
An important reminder here is to check the information regarding flights and rules, because they are different and even changing, so better to double-check everything.
Our favourite and least favourite thing about Dubai
Dubai has really won our hearts with its weather, variety of activities, cleanliness, safety, kid-friendliness, cousine… but the main thing we appreciated were the people.
People are open, warm, and nice. One of the hardest things for Nick living in Estonia has been the extreme differences between Americans and Estonians when it comes to communication and warmth. Being in Dubai he was reminded of what he was used to and it was good seeing him that glowy and happy.
The biggest con is that Dubai is pretty pricy. It has a lot of amazing things to offer, but they come with a hefty price tag.
The best time to visit Dubai is probably from November to April. In the summer time it gets super, super hot there. Mid-April starts Ramadan for them, so that period might be different for tourists too.
You can also find more videos about both of our Dubai trips in my Instagram highlights under Dubai and Dubai2.
All in all, I can say that our month in Dubai was incredible. Sharing moments and creating memories with your own family is so precious and something to be very grateful for. The first trip as a trio in the books, let´s see what the future holds:)
Until the next time.