Entertaining has its price

Your guests in Dubai don't have to create an endless spending spiral.

An abra ferries passengers back and forth across Dubai Creek. The ride costs just 50 fils per person.
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Visitors can be expensive. In fact, sometimes it's cheaper for you to fly home than it is to entertain guests for a week. And let's face it - living in Dubai will almost guarantee that you have guests, be it family or friends, at some point in the year. Frustrated with having to fork out more than you had budgeted for the week, many look for ways to treat visitors to a great holiday while sticking to those wallet-friendly activities that help keep within budget.

Sarah Donavan, 32, a project manager from the UK, has her parents over to visit once a year. "My parents love playing the part of the inquisitive tourist, yet they are very cost-conscious by nature," she says. "As regular visitors to Dubai they see it as a home away from home rather than a typical holiday destination, but would still like to make the most of what Dubai has to offer as a tourist destination."

While Dubai's transport arteries are notoriously clogged at any time of the day, a slow-paced bus ride might be just what your guests are looking for. The Wonder Bus, an amphibious 44-seater vehicle, is one of Dubai's newest tourist experiences. For Dh115 per adult, setting off from the Bur Juman shopping centre in Bur Dubai, your two-hour excursion will take you around town before splashing into the Dubai Creek for a ride along its waterways.

For a more traditional city tour, why not try the Big Bus Tour, which costs Dh200 per adult and Dh100 per child. Enjoy the sights from the sunny top deck of the double-decker bus with the added bonus of being able to use this hop-on, hop-off feature for a period of 24 hours. There are a number of additional perks, such as a free dhow cruise and entrance to the Dubai Museum. Book online at www.bigbustours.com, and qualify for a Dh10 discount.

A cable car ride along the shoreline at the Creekside Park is a fantastic way to take in Dubai's expanding circumference. A private booking of the entire car for up to eight people will set you back Dh140, whereas a single adult ticket will cost Dh25 and a child ticket is Dh15. Shopping in Dubai is often seen as a pastime rather than a necessity. Despite the multitude of shopping malls available, for the more budget-conscious visitor, it may be worth taking a look at the alternative shopping destinations.

Dubai Outlet Mall, located in Dubailand on Route 66, is the first of its kind in the Middle East. With discounts of up to 90 per cent, it's a challenge to leave the venue empty-handed. Catering to bargain-hungry shoppers seven days a week from 10am and midnight, you will find it a surprisingly enjoyable and wallet-friendly experience. Similarly, you should not miss the opportunity to visit Dragon Mart - Dubai's largest offering of Chinese-based products ranging from colourful textiles to the latest electronic gadgets. Located in the Al Warsan area, Dragon Mart's distinctive dragon-shaped architecture is a tourist attraction in itself.

For a more regional shopping experience, take a trip down to the souq located along the creek in Deira. Its markets offer a variety of goods from gold jewellery to spices. A seasoned haggler can expect discounts of up to 20 per cent. While there, enjoy a trip on an abra, a small wooden boat used to ferry passengers back and forth across the creek. A regular one-way trip costs 50 fils, so be aware of the abra operators charging up to Dh100 for a private ride along the creek.

"Exploring the culture and heritage of Dubai is a top priority for my parents," shares Lauren Cobham, 29, a teacher from South Africa living in Dubai with her husband, Mark. "The best way to explore the 'old' Dubai is by foot." Bastikiya district in the Bur Dubai area, with its narrow lanes and tall wind towers, provides an authentic taste of Dubai as it was in the 19th century. Every Sunday at 10am you can join the staff from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for a tour of this cluster of traditional courtyard houses that have been restored to house market stalls, art galleries and cafes.

Make sure you visit the neighbouring Al Fahidi Fort, built in 1787, which now houses the Dubai Museum. The small fee of Dh3 for an adult ticket gives you daily access to this informative museum, which is open from 8:30am to 8:30pm. The Dubai Zoo, located in Jumeirah, is a popular attraction with residents and tourists alike, and it is open for visitors between 10am and 6pm daily. Dh2 will give you access to many indigenous Arabian species, including the Arabian Wolf, which is no longer found in the wild.

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo at Dubai Mall is one of the city's newest animal attractions. Take a breather from your shopping to enjoy the view of world's largest aquarium window displaying more than 30,000 aquatic creatures. For Dh50 you can enjoy both the 48-metre-long Aquarium tunnel, which takes you 11m under the surface, as well as the Underwater Zoo which gives you insight into the marine life inhabiting our waters.

So as you can see, there is no reason to dread the annual visit from your parents or to decline a friend's request to stay. Despite its reputation as the stamping ground for the rich and famous, there are plenty of fun, affordable ways for you and your guests to explore Dubai without sending your bank balance spiralling in to the red.