As Spartan gears up for the 2021 World Championship in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 3 and 4, we want racers to feel prepared — and get excited — for what promises to be the weekend of a lifetime. In the first part of our Q&A series, we looked at what you need to know about the event itself. Below, we focus on what makes Abu Dhabi such a magnificent, exotic place to visit and experience.
Spartan VP of Production Mike Morris, Spartan VP of Product David Watson, and Spartan Director of Business Development, Destinations Cherie Bortnick provided their insight and expertise. For more on the event, and to sign up, click here.
SPARTAN.COM: What will racers and fans see in Abu Dhabi that they've never seen before?
Mike Morris, Spartan VP of Production: Expansive views that words don’t do justice; the feeling of being alone in the desert with nothing but your fellow racers and the next obstacle, while the crisp air cools you down as the amazing sun warms your soul; a cultural experience that is unique and only available at this event; a challenging course with relentless climbs, fun descents, and fast flats.
David Watson, Spartan VP of Product: Living life is about facing new challenges, finding new experiences, chasing incredible feelings, and gathering amazing stories to look back on and tell your family and friends about. Abu Dhabi has already given me all of these, and it’s only March!
SPARTAN.COM: What are some incredible things to do in Abu Dhabi to make the trip well-rounded and unforgettable?
MM: My ideal trip, if I was racing and wanted to go big: Before the race, stay in a four- or five-star resort and relish in the luxury and amazing food while you rest your legs. Tour the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, tour the F1 track, take a hot lap in a GT car, and rent a fancy car for cheap. If you have time, try out the largest indoor skydiving and climbing wall in the world!
Cherie Bortnick, Spartan Director of Business Development, Destinations: The time of year of our event [December] is perfect weather for almost everything. It’s a perfect escape to enjoy water sports and soak up the sun. The weekend before, week of, and weekend after our event are filled with some pretty spectacular events. The Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will take place Dec. 10-12. Dec. 2 is Abu Dhabi National Day, and celebrations, festivities, and fireworks will take place across the city. You could spend an entire month in Abu Dhabi and experience something new every day. On my next visit, I plan to take a trip to the Al Ain Souk market to experience traditional shopping and practice my haggling skills.
SPARTAN.COM: Where would you advise racers and fans to stay during the event? Are there safe, convenient, affordable options for lodging?
CB: Ninety-five percent of the lodging will be two to two and a half hours from the venue, unless you choose to camp onsite. If camping is what interests the traveler, wonderful! You will experience bedouin hospitality and various activities like camel and buggy rides. For those staying in Abu Dhabi proper, the list of activities and adventures is endless. Abu Dhabi is known for its five-star resorts, however there are more affordable lodging options. The average price per night for three-star hotels ranges from $77-$110, and $120-$400 for four stars and above. Regardless of the area of Abu Dhabi that resonates with you, there is a lodging option for every budget.
Plan to be at the race venue all day Friday and/or Saturday. If laying around and enjoying the beach or water sports is your style, Corniche, Saadiyat, Yas, or Al Bateen beaches all have remarkable resorts. Yas Island is home to theme parks, motorsports, indoor skydiving, and a climbing wall. Saadiyat Island not only offers exquisite beaches, but is also the cultural hub of the Middle East with the Zayed National Museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
SPARTAN.COM: What kind of cuisine is Abu Dhabi famous for? What should racers expect to eat and look forward to?
DW: I travel a lot around the world, and after a while you think you “know” certain cuisines. Boy, was I wrong about Emirati food. I’ve never experienced such incredible new flavors before. (And yes, I eat a lot of Middle Eastern food.) Seemingly simple dishes like hummus become so complex that you could have them for dinner by themselves, especially with the beautiful fresh bread that the Emiratis make. (Some are loaded up with za'atar, a mix of thyme, oregano, and other things.) One baba ganoush dip I tried even came out under a glass lid with wood smoke swirling around!
There’s plenty of influences from the ancient silk road in the food: spicy biryani rice, fresh fish caught off the coast, beans with exotic spices, lentil soups, fresh salads with great additions like mint and lemon, slow-cooked lamb, goat, and chicken. Drinks are great, too. Tea is sweet and spiced, and the coffee is so smooth it’s unlike any I’ve tried.
SPARTAN.COM: What should racers know about the culture and way of life? What is fact and what is fiction?
MM: My experiences in the UAE have been nothing but perfect. The people are friendly and hospitable, and my co-workers and I felt safer than we do in many places in America. I was pleased to learn that 2019 was The Year of Tolerance. With the country's heavy focus on tourism and so many expats from the U.S. and UK living in the UAE, it is a safe and amazing place to visit and live.
DW: Much like the common misconception that Africa is all one country, many people lump the entire “Middle East” into one and tend to really over-index on certain things. I live in Asia and travel all over the world, and even I was really surprised by how relaxed and friendly the UAE is. It’s an incredibly modern, wealthy country, and Abu Dhabi is no exception. The capital is full of examples of refinement. (I liken it to the Singapore of the Middle East.) There’s glitzy skyscrapers, fancy restaurants, classy hotels, pools (where you wear whatever you want), fashionable malls with men and women happily shopping together, and perfectly clean streets. There’s also a strong feeling of Arabian history and a proud desert culture, which is really exciting to me. It makes me feel like an explorer!
I feel so safe there, and many women have told me the same. In fact, on my trips I’ve met so many innovative and strong women in high-level positions of power and have learned that Emirati culture is highly evolved and tolerant. Foreigners are treated with incredible hospitality — so many people invite us in for tea on our trips that we get no work done — and Emirati people appear to genuinely understand some of our foreign differences and are very respectful of that. In a nutshell, it’s my view that the media has irresponsibly caused a strong misunderstanding of this amazing place. I want to help change that.