buy your ticket online as far in advance as you can (up to one month ahead)
(rehash of a previous post) last-minute in-person tickets are MUCH more expensive. i checked yesterday to see what reservation slots were available today (thinking maybe i’d pop in for sunrise) and only the wee hours of the morning (before sunrise) were open; the rest of the day was sold out through closing late tonight. even a couple weeks ago (see link above) sunset hours were already gone for prebooking. in my cheapskate opinion, it’s not worth a trip up anyways if you pay full price (which gets you in without a reservation). 400 dirham (~$109) is way too much seeing as how you’re only able to go outside on a balcony that spans only 1/3 of the circumference of the building (the rest is enclosed). 125 dirham (~$34), the prepaid price, is much more reasonable.
give yourself time, especially if you’re not at Dubai Mall already and taking the metro
the entrance is buried deep in the lowest floor in the middle of a small food court, so not only will you need time to navigate from where the metro link bridge connects to the mall, but it’s one heckuva walk from the metro to the mall itself.
here’s a picture i took from the Burj Khalifa observation deck (124 stories up). the metro station is the gold-roofed thing on the upper left, and you can see the long walkway that snakes down to the mall on the lower right. and once you get to the mall, it’s not even the mall mall, but you have to walk through a narrow gauntlet of stores before you emerge into the actual shopping center.
there are moving walkways, but plan on at least 10 minutes from stepping off the train to emerging from the metro link into the mall proper, especially if you are not a moving walkway walker.
sidebar: riding the Dubai metro
it’s a little tricky to determine what’s the best value for a short stay; you’ll need to refer to a zone map because prices vary depending on distance. there are two main types of reusable tickets that visitors will be interested in, the silver nol card and the red nol ticket. the silver nol card is what holds monetary value. it costs 20 dirham ($5.45) and comes with 14 dirham of credit, and rides are about 10% cheaper compared to the per-ride basis of the red nol ticket. the red nol doesn’t store money, it stores prepaid rides or all-day passes (14 dirham). however, the red nol costs only 4 dirham and comes with 2 dirham credit. if you’re going to be in Dubai only for one day (not 24 hours, but one day day), it makes more sense to get the one-day red nol ticket. if you’re here for more than one day (and definitely if you’re here for three or more), you should consider the silver nol card and load it up with money because there is a 14 dirham daily cap on charges.
i’m here for two days and got an unlimited day pass yesterday (16 dirham, remember the red ticket itself costs 14 dirham but comes with 2 dirham credit) and another day pass today loaded onto the same card (14 dirham), total of 30 dirham. if i had gotten a silver card for 20 dirham, another full day of travel (since i need to cross a zone to get from downtown Dubai to my hotel, each ride is slightly over 4 dirham) would have put me at 20 + 14 (daily cap), or 34, so in this case, i came out ahead. but really, day passes at 14 dirham are less than $4 each, so either way you go, the difference isn’t going to break the bank.