Travel, Travel Stories

How 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi Became The Best Layover of All Time

June 12, 2015

At around 7 AM on Christmas morning, my phone blew up with text messages about a fare glitch on Etihad Airways. When I saw a flight to India my friend Melody and I needed at half price, I didn’t sweat the details and immediately clicked purchase. Somewhere between opening gifts and eating my fourth plate of food, I actually read my itinerary and noticed we had a massive layover in Abu Dhabi.

“What!? 12 hours?” I texted Mel, “There ain’t that many camel riding selfies in the world! What are we supposed to do with all that time?”

“At least it’s during the day. Maybe we can do a tour of the city or something!” she replied.

With such a great deal, I wrote off our layover as a minor inconvenience we could deal with for the price, and went back to opening gifts with my nephew. Little did I know, our layover in Abu Dhabi would be one of the most awesome days of my entire life! From tears of gratitude at the mosque to tears of sheer joy on safari, the day was a roller coaster of emotion filled with surprises that reminded me of how much life can be lived in a single day.

Here’s the play by play on how it all went down:


We made it! This is so cool! It looks so different from any airport I’ve been to! But these signs are so confusing. And what terminal are we in? Wait, where’s Mel….oh no….she’s lost! No, I’M lost! People are everywhere speaking all kinds of non-English and this place is chaos and HELP I’M LOST IN ABU DHABI, JESUS WHYYYYYY????

“Hey, I lost you for a second. You ready? ” she said, unaware of my meltdown.

I played it off like nothing happened, and we set out together find the airport showers where we could freshen up for the day. The only problem was, understanding the airport signs requires a compass, an Arabic translator, and a mind reader, none of which we had in our carry-ons.

confusing_signHmmm….red moon…..paper towel machine….none of these say shower. Let’s keep looking.


Let’s see here…Divorce counseling. No, prayer! Yes! Maybe we should pray that one of these fine caramel fantasies I see walking around invites us to his mansion at the top of a sand dune where 2 servants can bathe us in water from the river Jordan and then….

“Tracey! Wake up! Look it’s the shower sign! We found them! Finally!”

And just like that our Pac Man adventure through the airport was over, and we were off for the first leg of our destination.



Upon our arrival at the Grand Mosque we noticed a sign that outlined the attire appropriate for entry, but didn’t sweat it since we had planned our outfits carefully. Or so we thought.

“You. No. You cannot go,” said the security guard.

“Whatchu mean I can’t go? Bruh. Do you know how many hours I flew to get up in this joint? You can’t be serious. My knees and elbows are covered, is it the bare wrist action I’ve got going on? You can’t handle these sexy fingernails?” I said in my head. In real life I looked down at my skirt and politely replied, “I don’t understand? What’s wrong?”

“I can see through your skirt”

Oh. All that semi-sheer summer breeze flow wasn’t going down on his watch, so we were instructed to go downstairs to change into long black robes. We looked like we had joined the choir in some Tyler Perry movie wearing all that heavy fabric, but luckily, once we got inside, our attire was the last thing on our minds.


The Grand Mosque is indescribably beautiful. It looks like God himself constructed it by hand and retouches it daily in Photoshop. It is impeccable, regal, and somehow remains serene despite the hundreds of tourists walking through its corridors. Mel was capturing video and it wasn’t until she watched it later that we realized the melodic chanting of prayer sessions were captured in the background.

It was the most impeccable architecture I’ve ever seen, and the 2 hours we spent there was just enough time to foster a deeper appreciation for a culture I had previously known nothing about.



Photo: Arabian Business website

A short cab ride from the Mosque led us to Emirates Palace, a 5 star hotel that makes the Bellagio look like a motel. The place was virtually covered in gold, adorned with crystal and probably wiped down daily with money, making their residences extremely attractive for wealthy travelers.

After sneaking into a fancy restaurant we couldn’t afford just to take photos by the water, and getting kicked off the waterfront patio where a private reception was being held, we realized we were slightly out of our league. Around the same time we realized that neither of us had slept the night before. So we decided to just sit down on some chairs in a hallway and rest.

“They probably think we’re homeless. We’re the only Black people in here. I should put out a collection plate.”

“What exactly is a night safari? How are we supposed to see the animals? I didn’t even read the website.”

Our random musings confirmed the fact that jet lag was getting the best of us, so we stopped talking and just rested until it was time for our safari driver to arrive.


A tall glass of caramel heaven walked over to me and politely asked “Are you Tracey?”

“Yes honey, and I make good wife for you,” I replied in my head. Unable to stop staring and form intelligent sentences I just nodded, and followed him over to our jeep for the journey into the desert. We were joined by an older couple and their daughter, who we chatted with as we rode into the countryside.


I had never seen a sand dune before and was blown away at how big they are. About 20 minutes and 800 photos later, we gathered back at our jeep to head to our next stop. Suddenly our driver got serious.

“Everybody must fasten their seatbelts, okay?” he said sternly. Unsure why it was so urgent, we complied and then headed to the top of a really large sand dune.

“Are you ready?”

Yes! I think? Wait, what’s happening…..


We were so not ready!! My God this jeep is going to roll over and we’re all gonne be on the local news. This can’t be legal! Does this fool really have a driver’s license?

So many thoughts rushed through our heads as the jeep maneuvered up and down the sand dunes at roller coaster speeds. The older woman in the back was a deer in headlights the whole ride, while her daughter hung onto the overhead handles for dear life. Mel was silently reciting 72 prayers per minute while I screamed with every adrenaline-inducing turn. It took a while to get used to the wonderfully terrifying rush of dune bashing, but by then end I didn’t want the experience to end!



A little quality time with the camels was just what we needed to bring down our heart rates as the sun began to set in the afternoon sky. We snapped a few photos, then made our way over to the campground where we could actually ride the camels. I had seen plenty Instagram photos of people smiling at the camera atop some camel in a desert. But what they don’t post is that photo of when the camel gets up off the ground.

To find out what happened next (Hint: the camel scared the Black out of me), click here to read the rest of the story on

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  • Reply Andrew June 15, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    You really made the most out of your time. Such an amazing place 🙂

  • Reply Taz August 6, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    I’m late finding you guys but you just got a new follower. I love love love travel but I’m broke broke broke so here’s to living through you guys!

  • Reply brian September 22, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Great article!

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