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The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is the largest and wealthiest of the nation's seven emirates. Covering 80 percent of the land mass of the U.A.E., the emirate of Abu Dhabi is divided into three parts: the city of Abu Dhabi, the historic Al Ain region centered on a large oasis on an old camel caravan route, and Al Gharbia, part of the world's largest uninterrupted sand desert with towering dunes spreading across the Arabian peninsula.

The cruise port lies in the central city of Abu Dhabi, a rapidly growing cosmopolitan metropolis where glittering skyscrapers pierce the sky and five-star resorts spread across natural islands where you'll find golf courses, beaches, marinas, upscale malls, a Formula 1 race car track, amusement areas and cultural institutions.

Compared with Dubai, the nation's playground and largest city 90 minutes to the north, Abu Dhabi is more family oriented and, with a population consisting of a higher number of native Emiratis, more traditional in its values. The head of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi is also president of the U.A.E., and the city is the seat of the national government and a financial center.

Abu Dhabi's extreme wealth stems from oil, discovered in 1958. The U.A.E. was formed in 1971 when the head of Abu Dhabi's ruling family, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, persuaded his fellow emirs to form the union and became its first president. Transformation has been swift. Abu Dhabi put its oil money into the development of a modern infrastructure, health care, education, arts and culture. Abu Dhabi grew into a modern, Westernized civilization in a little more than a generation, evolving from a society of fishing villages along the coast and Bedouins living a nomadic life in the desert. Still, you'll find it preserves its Arabian traditions and Bedouin hospitality. It is diversifying its stake in oil by developing other industries, including tourism, and is warm and welcoming to visitors.

Abu Dhabi's culture is rooted in Islam, but all faiths are respected and protected by the constitution. The dress code is liberal, and Western wear is common, though native Emiratis often choose to wear their national dress.

Where You're Cruise Ship Docked
Cruises passengers arrive at a tented cruise terminal erected in 2011 at Mina Zayed, the major cargo port in Abu Dhabi city. From the port entrance gate, it's about a 15-minute walk to the Corniche, the waterfront promenade and beach along the city center, but the route is not walker-friendly; a five-minute taxi ride is a better bet.

Though the port's tented cruise terminal is a temporary facility until long-range plans for a permanent cruise terminal are realized, it features a visitor information desk, ATM and currency exchange, minimart, souvenir shops and free Wi-Fi.

The carpet souk is about a 5- to 10-minute walk from the port entrance. Unlike most of modern Abu Dhabi, this souk has old-fashioned, white, low-rise buildings where salesmen in Arab dress stand outside beckoning shoppers. Wares are mainly machine-made carpets and majlis, Arabian cushions.

Also in the port area, the Fish Souk is a sight to behold in the early morning when fishermen unload their catch and haggle with buyers. Later in the day, the Emirati restaurant Al Arish, in the Al Meena district on the banks of the port, serves some of the fresh catch. Al Dhafra, a floating restaurant by the port, serves an Emirati buffet.

Getting Around
Abu Dhabi is not a walkable city; streets are designed for vehicles, not for casual strolling. The city also is spread out with the city center connected by long bridges and causeways between islands and the mainland.

Public buses are inexpensive but uncomfortable in hot weather, which is often the case in Abu Dhabi, and the network of bus lines is confusing. There are no public buses at the port.

Taxis, on the other hand, are cheap, plentiful, clean and often use late-model cars. Hail one on the street, go to a cab stand or order one by phone. All are metered, and tipping is not expected. Taxis are identified by a yellow light on the roof, though you might see a few pink taxis designated for women only. Many drivers speak English.

Abu Dhabi does not use conventional street addresses, so directions are given by district and landmarks, such as hotels, malls or attractions. Carry the phone number of your destination if it is not well known.

Several major rental-car companies operate in Abu Dhabi, though none are located in the cruise terminal. Most -- among them Avis, Hertz and Budget -- have offices close by in the central city and may be willing to arrange pickup and drop-off points in the parking area just outside the terminal. With a rental car, you can drive around the central city and adjacent Yas and Saadiyat Islands and make a day trip to Al Ain. Driving in Abu Dhabi is easy with good signage, but watch out for parking restrictions. Parking is allowed on white and black pavement, restricted on yellow and black as well as red pavement, and must be paid on blue and black pavement. Find the nearest meter to see charges. The paid parking system is monitored around the clock except on Fridays and public holidays.

While Abu Dhabi has a liberal dress code, leave your tank tops and short shorts on the ship. Women should not wear short skirts, strapless or spaghetti-strap tops, or shorts in public places. Men may not wear shorts in mosques. Aside from cultural considerations, a wrap or light jacket might be more comfortable in air-conditioned spaces and outdoors on winter evenings. Public displays of affection are frowned upon; homosexuality is illegal.

Abu Dhabi has strict laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol, which is prohibited outside licensed clubs and restaurants, most of which are found in hotels. There are harsh penalties for illegal drug use and even some over-the-counter medicines, such as codeine, are prohibited. If you must carry a prescription drug with you, it's best to keep it in its original container with your doctor's prescription.

It's considered impolite to photograph people without permission, especially Muslim women. Avoid photographing military and government installations.The weekend is Friday and Saturday; most offices are closed.

Things To See and Do
Capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is a well-ordered, industrious city with a pretty waterside location. First inhabited by the nomadic Bani Yas tribe in 1760, the settlement remained a small fishing village until oil was discovered. The revenues transformed Abu Dhabi into the modern city of today - a bustling centre of government and business.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the major sightseeing attraction and wows all who visit. But the city also makes a good base for excursions to the desert landscapes of Liwa Oasis and the oasis city of Al Ain.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Clad in Macedonian marble, the beautiful and absolutely mammoth Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi's landmark building. The mosque fuses Mameluke, Ottoman and Fatamid design elements to create a harmonious and thoroughly modern mosque that celebrates Islamic architecture. Artisans utilised glass-work, mosaic tiling and intricate carvings to spectacular effect on both the interior and exterior. It was opened in 2007 after nearly 20 years of construction.

Able to hold 40,000 worshippers, it is the biggest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and, like the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Fujairah, is dedicated to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. Non-Muslims are allowed into all areas of the mosque (including the vast library), and there are also guided tours available.
Hours: Open Sat-Thu 9am-10pm; Fri 4.30pm-10pm, Admission: Entry Free

Heritage Village
Abu Dhabi's Heritage Village is an authentic replica of a typical Bedouin encampment that gives an idea of typical Emirati life before the oil boom. It's located in a pretty beach area of the city, which is a pleasant place to wander after a visit. There are exhibits featuring traditional day-to-day objects, as well as introducing local agriculture and the pearl diving trade - the main economies here. Unfortunately though, information throughout the museum is rather sparse.

Al-Hosn Palace, also known as the Old Fort or the White Fort, is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi. The palace was built in 1793 as the residence of the ruling family and the seat of government. The interior of the Al Hosn Palace has been renovated and modernized, and is now used by the Cultural Foundation to house the Centre for Documentation and Research, which holds a collection of documents on the heritage and history of the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf region. The courtyard and the magnificent tile work over the main northern gate are notable features. Within the palace is a museum of traditional artifacts and historical photographs. Displays include a natural history section featuring animal life from the desert, and a historical section with displays of the history of Abu Dhabi.

Traditional Arabic shoes
The Women's Craft Centre is a good place for visitors to see local women demonstrating traditional skills such as weaving, embroidery and basketry. It's an excellent place to pick up unusual and authentic souvenirs that support the work of the centre. Shawls, slippers, bags, carpets and textiles, trays and baskets are all on display.

Observation Deck
Abu Dhabi's answer to Dubai's Burj Khalifa is this observation deck, offering skyline views from the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel, the highest point in the city. There is an entry fee for non-guests of the hotel, but the ticket price can be redeemed for food and drink from the observation deck's restaurant. Having high-tea up here, with the city spread below you, is definitely an experience for your Abu Dhabi itinerary.
Hours: Open daily 10am-6pm, Admission: 75AED

Emirates Park Zoo
This excellent zoo makes for a fun day out, only a short drive from Abu Dhabi. There is a host of animals at the wildlife park, including rare white tigers, giraffes, and elephants. There is also a primate section with many different types of monkeys, and a flamingo park with a sea lion enclosure. At the petting zoo, children can touch and feed domestic breeds of animals. Hours: Sun-Wed 9:30am-8pm; Thu-Sat 9:30am-9pm, Admission: Adults 25AED; children 6 years and older 25AED; children 3-5 years 10AED; children under 3 years free Location: 30 minutes from Abu Dhabi, Official site: http://www.emiratesparkzoo.com

Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital
The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is a working veterinary hospital for ill and injured falcons, but it also provides guided tours for interested visitors. The tours allow you to get up close and personal with these birds of prey and if you're up for the challenge, you may also have the chance to hold one of the birds.
Official site: http://www.falconhospital.com/

Yas Island
Yas Island is one of Abu Dhabi's top luxury hotel destinations, with stretches of sandy beach that are perfect for spending the day sunbathing on. This area is also home to the Yas Marina Circuit, which is where Abu Dhabi's Formula One racing takes place every year.

Boat Tours
For the best views of Abu Dhabi you need to head out onto the water. The views of the high rises are quite spectacular as you drift out from the marina. Quite a few different operators run tours for all types of budgets, but one of the more popular trips with tourists are the sunset cruises that let you see dusk set over the city.

Liwa Oasis
In the south of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, beautiful Liwa Oasis is a great escape from the city. The oasis settlement is noted for its date farming and one of the largest sand dunes in the world is just on the outskirts. This makes it a must-visit attraction for anyone wanting to ride dune buggies, try sand surfing or go camel trekking. The other top city escape is the oasis city of Al Ain, which has the mighty peak of Jebel Hafeet as its backdrop.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Grand Mosque
The largest mosque in the U.A.E., accommodating 40,000 people, opened in 2007 and is named for the late president and founder of the U.A.E. Sheikh Zayed incorporated his vision of global unity into its design. Only the doors were made in the U.A.E.; all other materials are from locations around the world, including the world's largest hand-woven carpet made in Iran of wool from New Zealand. Weighing 47 tons, it was divided into nine pieces and flown here in two separate planes. Chandeliers are made of Swarovski crystal and Murano glass, marble columns are inlaid with semiprecious stones and mother of pearl with gold tips. The mosque's four, 328-foot minarets look down on 57 white marble domes and a courtyard inlaid with a floral mosaic design. The mosque is located between the three bridges connecting Abu Dhabi city to the mainland and is open to non-Muslims for free guided tours from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday through Thursday. You also can visit on your own without a tour at other times depending on the call to prayer schedule. Men may not enter in shorts. Women are given a robe (abaya) and a scarf (sheyla) to put on over their clothing. Shoes are removed prior to entering the prayer hall.

Emirates Palace
Often mistaken for a royal palace, this grand structure is a five-story hotel owned by the government and managed by Kempinski. When it opened in 2005 at a cost of $3 billion, it was the most expensive hotel ever built. Cruise passengers often come here for lunch or tea or just to walk around to gawk at marble from 13 countries, Persian carpets, 114 domes (including a central dome soaring more than 238 feet), 1,002 chandeliers and a private beach. Off the lobby, the Gold to Go ATM vends gold jewelry priced at the international daily rate for gold. Emirates Palace sprawls at the end of West Corniche Road in the central city.

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
This theme park is like no other, and it's not just for kids. Everyone can enjoy the Italian restaurants, the interactive display of cars from 1947 to the present, the Ferrari store, and 20 rides and attractions. Formula Rossa, the world's fastest roller coaster, accelerates faster than a Formula One car to reach 150 mph. The G-Force ride blasts you through the roof in a clear capsule for a brief view before dropping you 200 feet. Ferrari World is located on Yas Island, 30 minutes from the city center. Standard operating hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Al Ain
Leave modern Abu Dhabi city behind and travel about 90 minutes to Al Ain, a city built around an oasis on an old caravan route between Abu Dhabi and Oman. One of the oldest permanently inhabited settlements on the Arabian peninsula, it is the historic home of Abu Dhabi's ruling family. Among the sights is Al Jahili Fort, erected in 1891 and birthplace of U.A.E. founding father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was both a fort and summer residence of the royal family. It houses a permanent exhibit of the impressive black-and-white photographs taken by British adventurer Wilfred Thesiger on his crossings of the Empty Quarter desert in the 1940s. You'll find it in the southeastern section of the city near the Public Garden and center of town. (Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday and 3 to 5 p.m. Friday.)

You'll find another UNESCO World Heritage Site nearby. The Al Ain Palace Museum was built in 1937 and was once the home of Sheikh Zayed. It has a large collection of objects related to the ruling family. It's on (Al Ain Street; open 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday through Thursday and 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Fridays.) The nearby Al Ain National Museum keeps the same hours. Divided into two sections, ethnography and archaeology, it has artifacts of people living in the region going back 7,500 years, including household items, costumes and jewelry, agricultural tools, funerary artifacts, weaponry, musical instruments and traditional wedding boxes containing jewelry called mandoos.

Several courses are located within a half hour of the central city. Among them are the nine-hole Abu Dhabi City Golf Club on 19th Street in the Al Mushrif district; Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, home to a 27-hole championship course on Umm Al Nar Street in the Umm Al Nar district; Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, an 18-hole ocean course designed by Gary Player with several beachfront holes, on Saadiyat Island; and Yas Links Abu Dhabi, an 18-hole links course and nine-hole academy course on the western shore of Yas Island.

Best to mingle with residents: The Corniche, the city's manicured front yard, stretches for five miles along the coast with the skyscrapers rising behind it. Corniche Beach Park features lifeguards, an ATM, cafes and children's play areas. The main entrance, Gate 3 at Al Khaleej Al Arabi Street, is about five minutes by taxi from the port entrance.

Most luxurious: The Monte Carlo Beach Club on Saadiyat Island, about a half hour from the port, is a private club but offers day passes. In addition to the white-sand beach, it offers a spa, restaurant, lounges, fitness facility and pool.

Best for a view: The Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, offers day passes for access to its pool, spa and small beach with a view of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Grand Mosque across the water. It is located in Bain Al Jessrain between the three bridges connecting Abu Dhabi city to the mainland, about 20 minutes from the port.

Shore Excursions
Best for First-Timers: An Abu Dhabi City Tour with Grand Mosque gives you a good overview of Abu Dhabi city plus a visit to its two top attractions, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Grand Mosque and Emirates Palace. Half- and full-day tours are available; the longer tours include lunch or tea at Emirates Palace.

Best for Bird Lovers: Find out how falcons are cared for at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. A half-day tour introduces you to the sport of falconry, a favorite of the royal family, with a visit to the hospital's falcon museum. See falcons undergoing treatment in examination rooms. Outside, have your photo taken with one of these birds of prey on your arm and watch birds in flight during a falcon show. A break for refreshments is included.

Best for Speed Demons: What's it like to go 150 mph in a roller coaster? Find out at Ferrari World, an all-things-Ferrari theme park and home of the world's fastest roller coaster. The theme park is included on full- and half-day excursions to Yas Island, which also has the Yas Marine Circuit Formula One race track winding around a luxury marina and five-star hotel.

Best for History Buffs: Full-day tours of Al Ain in the eastern region of the emirate of Abu Dhabi visit UNESCO World Heritage sites. Built around an oasis on an old caravan route, the city is the historic home of Abu Dhabi's ruling family. The day includes a visit to Hili Archaeological Park with its 3,000-year-old tombs, the Al Ain Museum and the Camel Market, where these ships of the desert are traded. Lunch is included.

Best for Desert Rats: Leave the city behind and head into the desert for a full-day safari of sun and sand. Take the opportunity to ride a camel or go dune-bashing: bumpy off-road driving across sand dunes in a 4X4. Participants must be in good physical health. The tour is good for families but not for pregnant women or people with back or mobility problems. A picnic lunch is included.

Eating Out
Emirati cuisine reflects Abu Dhabi's trading heritage with ingredients and spices from around the Middle East: cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, nuts and dried fruit. Fish is a staple. Al Madrooba, for example, is a mix of salted fish, spices and a thick sauce served with white rice. For a snack, look for falafel or shawarma, pita bread filled with lamb or chicken carved from a spit. Fruit juices come in many varieties, including a popular lemon-mint drink sweetened with cane syrup. Serving Arabian coffee is a social ritual. It's made blended with cardamom and saffron and served in small cups, often accompanied by dates.

With more than 130 nationalities residing in the U.A.E., you'll find a wide variety of ethnic restaurants: Asian, Indian, Italian, French, Mexican, Middle Eastern -- you name it.

Because liquor licenses are expensive and difficult to obtain, most restaurants that serve alcohol are found in hotels. Some of the largest hotels contain more than a dozen restaurants and function as social centers for residents.

During the holy month of Ramadan, however, observant Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours, and non-Muslims are asked to refrain from eating and drinking in public. Most restaurants close during the day. The time of Ramadan varies according to the Islamic calendar.

Local eats: Lebanese Flower is popular with locals and often crowded but worth the wait. Try the mezze, the Middle Eastern curries or the grilled meats or fish served with freshly baked Arabian bread. (Al Khalidiyah district, behind Electra and 26th Street, +971 2 665 8700, and in the Tourist Club district, +971 2 645 6338; 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.)

Marroush is a homey and inexpensive Lebanese and Arabian spot known for its kebabs and shawarmas. (Open 8 a.m. to midnight in the Tourist Club district, +971 2 621 4434.) Al Arish is popular with visitors for its buffet of Emirati dishes. (Meena Street in the Al Meena district, +971 2 690 7999; noon to 4 p.m. and 7 to 11:30 p.m.)

Gourmet options: Mezlai is the only five-star Emirati restaurant in the U.A.E., located in the Emirates Palace. You might order hammour mafrook (fish mashed with cream) as a starter and the Bedouin dish, lamb shoulder Medfoun, as a main. (+971 2 690 7999; 1 to 10:30 p.m.)

Quest overlooks the city center from its perch on the 63rd floor of the Jumeirah Hotel at Etihad Towers off Corniche Road. The pan-Asian cuisine turned out by chef Benjamin Whatt earned him a best chef designation from What's On magazine. (+971 2 811 5555; noon to 3:30 p.m. and 7 to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 to 11:30 p.m. Friday.)

Li Beirut, also in the Jumeirah Hotel, is an upscale take on Lebanese cuisine. Time Out Abu Dhabi magazine gave it an award for best menu. Start with one of the mezzes or foie gras and progress to a fish, seafood or lamb main dish. For dessert, consider the Umm Ali, a clever take on traditional bread pudding. If the weather is pleasant, choose a table on the balcony. (+971 2 811 5555; noon to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to midnight.)

Restaurants close to main attractions: Emirates Palace, a hotel and an attraction in its own right, features several restaurants inside its expansive walls. The busy Le Vendome Brasserie is especially good for lunch, particularly if you can snag a table on the terrace. Choose from a variety of dishes on the international buffet, but save room for Palace Cake, a rich, double chocolate cake with flecks of gold in the icing. (+971 2 690 7999; 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 to11:30 p.m.)

Pearls and Caviar occupies a separate structure next to the main building of the Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri near Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Grand Mosque. The menu marries Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines and is especially known for its seafood and its Friday brunch. It is located in Bain Al Jessrain between the three bridges connecting Abu Dhabi city to the mainland. (+971 2 509 8777; 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, 7 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday through Thursday.)

This national pastime for Emiratis and ex-pats also draws plenty of visitors. Choose from a traditional souk selling Arabian items or an ultramodern mall with restaurants and entertainment venues as well as upscale shops selling the latest brands. Stores may be closed or have limited hours on Fridays. Good buys include local art, wood carvings, gold jewelry, specialty foods, perfumes and carpets mostly made in the Middle East, Turkey, China and Central Asia. Among the modern malls is Abu Dhabi Mall with more than 200 shops in the Tourist Club district in the city center. At the popular Marina Mall, shops sell medium-priced goods and designer fashions and are complemented by an indoor ice rink, bowling alley and musical fountains. It's on the Breakwater in the city center. Among the souks is the modern Souk at Central Market with shops selling traditional items and regional products, such as spices, dates, carpets, scarves, sweets, perfumes, jewelry and handicrafts. You'll find it off Hamdan Street in the Al Markaziyah Sharq district.

While it may be overshadowed by its glitzy neighbor of Dubai, Abu Dhabi offers its own impressive shopping scene. From traditional products sold at local markets around the dhow area and in the Iranian and carpet souks, to modern fashions displayed in the capital's sophisticated malls, this wealthy emirate offers a compelling mix of goods from the East and West. You can find antiques, gold, carpets, and an array of Arabian souvenirs alongside mainstream items and top international brands. Bargaining is the expected way of doing business in the souks and traditional stores. For gold and jewelry, head to the Madinat Zayed Gold Centre (tel. 02-631-8555), located near the main post office on East Road. It houses some of the largest jewelry shops in the Gulf, featuring all colors of gold, diamonds, pearls, and other treasures. On Hamdan Street, the closest Abu Dhabi comes to having a "main street," you will find the Liwa Centre (tel. 02-632-0344), which sells, among other things, discount jewelry and perfumes. Nearby, the Hamdan Centre (tel. 02-632-8555) is a practical stop for discount clothing, shoes, handbags, and Arabian souvenirs. Bargaining is possible here, too. You will find beautiful carpets from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and China at the Carpet Souk (also known as the Afghan Souk) located off Al Meena Road near the Dhow Harbor. The traditional fish, vegetable, and fruit souks are also in the Al Meena area. The souks are typically open Saturday to Thursday from 8am to 1pm and 4 to 9pm, and Friday from 4 to 9pm. The top malls in the city are the Marina Mall (tel. 02-681-8300; www.marinamall.ae) in the Breakwater Area, and the larger Abu Dhabi Mall (tel. 02-645-4858; www.abudhabimall.com) in the so-called Tourist Club Area. Both offer high-tech amusement centers for kids. The malls are generally open Saturday to Thursday from 10am to 10pm, and Friday from 3:30 to 11pm.

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