I recently had the pleasure of stopping over in Dubai, en route to South Africa.
Even though Dubai developed from humble beginnings as a village of fishermen and pearl hunters in the 1800’s, the oil discovered in 1959 catapulted it to a global city and more recently as a destination for short luxury vacations. Currently, Dubai is the 5th most visited city in the world and by 2020, travel experts predict that Dubai will have 20 million visitors!
Upon arriving in Dubai via Emirates Airlines’ non-stop from Washington Dulles, our group was met and transferred to the Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa, about 45 minutes from the world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic standards. I’d like to say that I was fortunate enough to fly in one of the infamous private First Class Suites on Emirates, but I was grateful just to be invited by our friends at South African Tourism to participate in a familiarization tour that included a three night stopover in Dubai.
Our hotel for the next three nights, The Anantara Dubai, The Palm Resort & Spa, located on the Palm Jumeirah, boasts a Thai theme and is one of the few low-rise properties in Dubai. Although I found the rooms to be rather dark with very limited lighting in the bathroom, the hotel is especially good for families with a nice, gradual beach and a great selection of restaurants and water sports.
I had read about Dubai for years and was intrigued by the uniqueness of this fascinating emirate. I must admit that I was still astonished by the overabundance of wealth in this city of superlatives. It has the fastest, biggest, tallest, largest, highest, etc.! The cityscape is dominated by shiny skyscrapers and stunning architecture, and in the center of it stands the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world at 2,722 feet. Our group received exclusive access to the At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY lounge, as we stepped off the elevator on the 148th floor. The redefined, highest outdoor observatory in the world provided us with dramatic 360˚ views of the city skyline and the Persian Gulf along with canapés and champagne.
Dubai is a shopper’s paradise with over 95 upscale malls and then of course, the souks, the markets where local goods are sold and bargaining is expected. The Dubai Mall is actually the largest mall on earth while the Mall of the Emirates is home to Dubai Ski with over 242,000 square feet of indoor ski area! Riding up the ski lift in the chilly temperatures certainly made it hard to imagine that you were categorically in the middle of the desert. Besides downhill skiing, guests can also enjoy Twin Track Bobsled runs, a Snow Cavern filled with interactive experiences, a ride in the Giant Ball or Tobogganing.
For a bird’s eye view of the city and the coastline, we boarded a 40 minute Seawings plane and flew over Dubai’s historic past, its present-day modern metropolis and the future developments that are yet to come. One of the most incredible was “The World” which Dubai is still creating. It’s an artificial archipelago of various small islands constructed in the rough shape of a world map, located 1 ½ miles off the coast of Dubai in the Persian Gulf. The World will be made up of 300 small private islands with several being owned by celebrities and notables such as Richard Branson who purchased the island of Great Britain.
Another awe-inspiring engineering feat are the man-made Palm Islands which consist of a tree trunk, a crown with 16 fronds, and a surrounding crescent island that forms a 4 ½ mile-long breakwater. The Palm Jumeirah is two miles by two miles and adds 30 miles to the coveted Dubai coastline. The Palm Jebel Ali will take a similar shape when it’s completed and both islands will play host to a large number of high-end residential, leisure and entertainment centers.
As you can imagine, Dubai architecture seems to be the creation of not only the utmost in luxury, but of the improbable and downright outrageous. While Dubai has gotten into the habit of building absurdly over-the-top structures, this latest might take the cake. Blue Crystal is designing a year-round floating Ice Lodge that claims to be ‘entirely sustainable,’ using enough energy to keep the hotel frigid in the middle of the desert.
We checked out a number of hotels and one of my favorites is the 5-star Jumeirah Beach Hotel with its striking wave-like design, 5 swimming pools and extraordinary views of the Dubai skyline as well as the distinctive sail-shaped silhouette of the famed ‘seven-star’ Burj Al Arab right next door (at about 1/4 of the cost).
Other noteworthy hotels are The Waldorf Astoria and The Fairmont, also located on the Palm Jumeirah. If you desire to be closer to many of Dubai’s tourist attractions and not as keen on a beach setting, Raffles Dubai is perfectly positioned only 15 minutes from the airport and 5 minutes to the business district. Each of the properties mentioned above carries out the sophisticated style and impeccable service traditional with their esteemed names.
Guests visiting Dubai can dine on top of the world (at the Burj Khalifa), underwater (at the Burj Al Arab) or in the desert under the stars (at the Platinum Heritage Dinner Safari complete with vintage Land Rovers driving over the rolling dunes, camel rides, henna, falconry, and local culture).
Other activities to enjoy include Breakfast in a Bedouin Camp; Shark diving in a Mall; Sky Diving in a Mall or outside; Aquaventure; Scuba diving; Fishing; Glamping in the Dessert; LEGOLAND; and a Huge Food Festival each February.
To learn more about this destination that is often described as Las Vegas or Shanghai on steroids, you can contact me via email or call 1-800-245-1950.
Africa Department Manager