The United Arab Emirates is a modern and dynamic country. To some, it is an advanced and clean country, to others a touristy "Disneyland".
For most Western tourists, the UAE offers an environment that is extremely familiar. The malls are extraordinarily modern, filled with virtually any product available in the West (save sexually explicit material; movies are censored, as are, to some extent, magazines). The less well known side of the UAE includes remote, magnificent desert dunes on the edge of the Empty Quarter and craggy, awe-inspiring wadis in the north-east bordering Oman.
Alcohol is widely available at many restaurants and bars in Dubai and in the tourist hotels of every other emirate save Sharjah. There is a legal but roundly overlooked requirement to have a licence to buy alcohol. The alcohol license is proof that the bearer is a non-Muslim. A passport will not suffice. However, you can purchase alcohol duty-free at the airport to bring into the UAE. Sharjah emirate is completely dry. A alcohol licence is required in all other emirates and is available to residents at different rates, depending on their income, and for a flat fee in Dubai. The requirement is sometimes overlooked at certain stores.
The roads and other public facilities are modern if, at times, extremely crowded. Supermarkets offer a vast assortment of products from Europe and the U.S., depending on the shop, along with local and regional items. Major international chains such as Ikea and Carrefour have a presence and fast-food chains (nearly all from the U.S.) such as McDonald's and KFC operate widely. On the other hand, there are still a few crowded traditional souks filled with products from around the world, rug stores. These can be hard to find for the average traveler, as the malls tend to gain an overwhelming amount of attention. (Please note that contrary to what is printed in guidebooks, the souks in Abu Dhabi were torn down in 2006 and no longer exist. The souks in Dubai are still wonderful to explore, though).
The Emirates is a federation of seven emirates, and as a result the rulers--or Sheikhs--of each emirate can radically affect the way of life in his respective Emirate. For example, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum of Dubai is very modern, so Dubai is forward-thinking and cosmopolitan. The ruling sheikhs of Ajman and Sharjah are more conservative, thus the rules there are more strict concerning religion, alcohol, drugs and general living conditions.
The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven different emirates, each with its own king (or Sheikh). Each emirate retains considerable autonomy, most notably over oil revenues. In theory, the President and Prime Minister are elected by the Supreme Council, which is composed of the kings of each of the seven emirates. However, in practice, the king of Abu Dhabi is always elected President while the king of Dubai is always elected Prime Minister, making the posts de facto hereditary.
The country is extraordinarily dry, getting only a few days of rain a year. Despite that, Emiratis use water at an alarming rate: there are broad swaths of grass in the major public parks, for example, and landscaping can be extensive in the resorts or other public places. The majority of this water comes from desalinisation. Visitors do not pay for their water use. The weather from late October through mid-March is quite pleasant, with high temperatures ranging from around 27°C ( 85°F) to lows around 15°C ( 63°F). It is almost always sunny. Rain can happen between November and February, and can cause road hazards when it does. In the summer, the temperatures soar and humidity is close to unbearable — it is widely suspected that the officially reported temperatures are "tweaked" to cut off the true summer highs, which can reach 50°C, or around 120°F, or even higher!