No matter how much your clients have read about Dubai, they are in for a lot of surprises.
Yes, Dubai, which seems to have benefited little from city planning, is smoggy and noisy as it strives to create a jaw-dropping skyline and achieve status as a world-class city, but it is also home to one of the most diverse and international communities I have ever experienced.
And that’s pretty cool.
People from Germany, Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco and Italy mix with Brits, Americans, Japanese, Koreans and Russians, anywhere and everyday. It’s a present day French Foreign Legion of people who have come to Dubai to recreate themselves in an Arabian city on the Persian Gulf that, ironically, exudes almost no exclusively Arabian vibe.
In fact, I was there for three days before I even tasted Middle Eastern food. Instead, I was treated to a Chinese feast at the sleek and contemporary Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai, complete with peking duck that was better than any I’ve eaten in New York, Los Angeles or Hong Kong; gorgeous sushi at the iconic Burj Al Arab and penne al’ arrabiata in a bistro overlooking the Persian Gulf at the Madinat Jumeirah. The best restaurants are in the hotels, since hotels are usually the only places that are allowed to serve alcohol. And there, the alcohol flows; the finest wines and spirits are widely available.
Be sure to tell your clients to venture off the beaten path to the older part of the city, though nothing remains of its pearl diving past, the time before oil was discovered in 1966. Tell them to wander around the gold and spice souks to discover the old Al Bastakiya district, located along a river (referred to as The Creek) that is crossed in old wooden boats called abras. This is the only area in Dubai that is, as the French say, folklorique.
And the Mall of the Emirates is a must, if only to give them a feel for how liberal Dubai really is for an Arab country. Arab women in their abayas, some with their faces entirely covered by a scarf, eat in cafes next to leggy Russian twenty-somethings in mini-skirts. Handsome and exotic men in their starched white dishdashas, their heads covered by a tailasan held in place by a circular rope of twisted black wool, cross paths with would-be rock stars in the latest denim jeans.
And at the Mall’s indoor ski slope, complete with a chair lift, snowboarders style down the slope next to abaya-clad grannies tobogganing along in inner tubes.
If your clients can afford the $1,000-plus room rate, the place to recommend — at least for a couple of nights — is the Burj Al Arab, the sail-shaped architectural wonder on its own island in the turquoise Gulf. Its two-story suites redefine opulence. In-room amenities include a complete line of full-size Hermes products for men and women and a personal business center. Butler service and a private, full-service beach club are only a couple of the services this palace provides as well.
If your clients prefer to be closer to the financial district, there are many luxury tower hotels to choose from. My favorites are the pyramid-shaped Raffles, Dubai, with its stylish, Western decor and an exclusive champagne bar at the very top, and the Shangri-La, Dubai, where a palate of understated earth tones provides a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of this often chaotic city.
Only if your clients are traveling with kids would I recommend the gigantic, 1,373-room Atlantis The Palm Dubai, located at the top of Palm Island. The property, which has 166 suites, features an underwater maze of giant aquariums containing more than 65,000 different marine mammals, plus an awesome water park.
And, if your clients are venturing into the desert (and you should definitely recommend they do so), Emirates’ Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, a five-star property with a gorgeous spa is the place to stay. The resort’s faux-tented villas feature private plunge pools overlooking a watering hole where oryx (large antelope) come to feed.
Yes, Dubai is a hard-to-define place, similar to Las Vegas on steroids, perhaps, without the gambling. But, and most importantly, it’s definitely loads of fun.