I recently found myself in Dubai – a place that hadn’t previously been high on my travel list, but its over-the-top reputation intrigued me, so I decided to check it out. It’s true, the city has more flash than substance. It reminded me of a more luxurious Las Vegas. In my husband’s words: the Donald Trump of Middle Eastern cities. But it’s hard not to marvel at how this former bedouin outpost and pearl diving center has transformed over the past two decades. Here are my take-aways from a three day visit to the “City of Gold”…
1. You get what you pay for…
We stayed at the magnificent The Address Dubai Marina, located in the heart of this quickly-expanding part of the city. We were greeted at the airport with fresh dates and hot coffee and the hotel did not fail to impress from that point forward. The staff was friendly and helpful, and the infinity pool (and attached pool-side restaurant Shades) was a great way to spend the day or evening.
But we quickly found that the five-star treatment of Dubai’s hotels is strictly reserved for their guests… so choose your accommodation wisely. We learned this the hard way after taking the monorail out to the heavily-advertised Atlantis at The Palm to see how the development of this experimental chain of islands was coming along. After some lunch and a walk around the hotel’s pricey, kitschy aquarium, we decided it would be nice to spend a bit of time at the beach.
We weren’t surprised that the main beach for the hotel was private, but after a lengthy walk along a busy road to the nearest so-called public beach, Nasimi Beach, we discovered that it, too, was owned and operated by the hotel. Though there were plenty of beach chairs available, we were told we would need to wait 20 minutes before we could be seated at a cost of AED250 ($70) per person. We got a drink at the bar and decided instead to get a water taxi back to our hotel. It took my husband nearly an hour (and several conversations with hotel staff who said they could not help him because he was “not a guest”) to learn that we were too late to book a water taxi.
2. …This includes at the city’s top attraction, the Burj Khalifa.
For many of Dubai’s visitors, it is a thrill to visit the world’s tallest building, but especially for my engineer husband. There is no shortage of tourist agencies willing to sell trips to the building’s highest floors, but they all offer roughly the same: AED125 ($35) gets you a timed ticket for later in the day (or the next day) to visit the observation decks of the 124th and 125th floors, AED400 ($110) gets you in at a time of your choosing, and AED500 ($140) gets you access to the “highest observation deck in the world” on the 148th floor. We opted for the top package, which allowed us to choose an entry time to watch the sunset, and we were very glad we did. After dates, tea, and a bit of history, we were whisked in front of the rest of the long line and straight up to the beautiful observation deck with its stunning views. We were served more refreshments as we sat in cozy chairs watching the sun set from an improbably high vantage point. Yeah, it was expensive, but its definitely an experience we won’t soon forget.
3. The view of the fountain from the top of the Burj is also breath-taking…
… but not nearly as good as seeing it from the ground:
4. Dubai’s malls are as incredible as advertised.
Dubai, also known as “The City of Superlatives,” is home to 72 malls – including the world’s largest – and they are difficult to avoid. I visited three of them in my short stay in the city, and I’m not typically much of a shopper. Given the staggering summer temperatures the city can experience, the air conditioned havens make a lot of sense. But the Dubai and Emirates Malls in particular go far beyond any “necessary” shopping experience I’ve ever had. I think it’s possible that every chain in the developed world is represented in this city’s malls… at least once. A few of my favorite sights:
5. Dubai is a foodie heaven.
The possibilities are endless in Dubai. I had the best shawarma of my life in the Dubai Mall waiting to take the elevator up to the top of the Burj for about $5. But continuing in the vein of Dubai’s opulence, here is the ranking of my best meals on the trip:
- Zengo: Hands down the best food we had all weekend, but the view (over a nearby pool bar) wasn’t quite as impressive.
- Atelier M: The three-storey crown jewel of the tony Pier 7 development did not disappoint – the food, view, and service were excellent.
- Asia Asia: Also in Pier 7 and offered the same view and exceptional service. The sushi was delicious (especially for someone who can’t have it often), but pretty standard for your average city sushi joint.
- Bread Street Kitchen: The decor was well-designed, but the spare rib burger was pretty soggy. The view of the back of the golf course left a bit to be desired as well. Sorry Gordon.