Marhaba From Dubai with Emirates Holidays
I have always been sceptical about places that spring up from nowhere as to whether these would be a destination for me. So with an open mind and the opportunity from Emirates Holidays in the UK, we set off to explore Dubai. At Heathrow I met my fellow travellers Nina Liesma Hanscomb our group leader from Emirates Holidays, Andrew Sharp from Hank Sharpe Travel, Christine Clark from Engencia and Julie Ann Smith from Quo Vadis. We checked in for the flight and went to the Emirates Club lounge for some complimentary breakfast.
I knew I was in for something special when we flew out in Economy on the Emirates A380 airbus. This beast of a plane is amazing, it literally glides off the ground and sores into the sky like a magnificent eagle. Economy class seats were well spaced especially towards the rear of the plane. The food and drink on board was the best I have ever had on any airline. The 1400 different channels of entertainment have something for everyone. The seven hour flight went by very quickly then we touched down in hot steamy Dubai. The approximate night temperature was around 30C and about 42C during the day in a word, “BOILING!”
Before we even got to customs, we were met by the Arabian Adventures Rep (Emirates Holidays handling agents). We were fast tracked through the passport control, we collected our luggage and taken to our transfer bus. The journey was about 20 minutes and a first impression of the city was it was straight out of the film Blade Runner. Our hotel for the night was the newly renovated Le Meridien Mina Seyahi. There was a bit of confusion at reception as we were informed the hotel had upgraded our rooms to the fabulous Westin Hotel next door. The Westin is part of the same complex as the two hotels share their facilities. Then came the first disappointment – we only had three rooms so boys were in one room and girls in the other and lucky Nina by herself. To get over this disappointment we headed to the nearest watering hole. This just happened to be one of Dubai’s most famous outdoor bars called Barasti. Set on the grounds of the Mina the bar is very popular with expats from the UK, Ireland and Australia. Barasti was rocking with loud music and the drink was flowing to the early hours. Now I was really confused, I thought Dubai was meant to be a strict Muslim state, yet this bar could hold its own against any bar in Tenerife. It only became apparent that I was in Dubai when a young couple got a little too friendly with each other and the discreet security team moved in very quickly to separate them. Displays of affection or personal contact are not allowed though II think holding hands is acceptable.
Day Two we all awoke bleary eyed after a fun night to a hearty breakfast. We were introduced to Nicole (Arabian Adventures) our very own rep for the whole time we were in Dubai. Nicole is a fabulous lady from Saudi origin and a wealth of knowledge and great sense of humour. She hurried us on with a “Yala Yala” (hurry up in Arabic) We then had a sight inspection of both hotels followed by a short transfer to our next hotel The Hilton Dubai Jumeirah resort. Again another couple of disappointments, we had to share and the hotel was located right next to a massive building site. A new mall is being built on the adjacent plot to the Hilton. Remarkably, there is no noise in the rooms due to the excellent sound proofing, but if you are on the balcony that’s a different matter. The Hilton is located in the area known as JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence) this has a street known as The Walk. The Walk is a long stretch of road with many cafes, eateries and other hotels given the whole area the café culture feel. Our afternoon was spent by the beach and the pool of the Hilton. The sea was hotter than my bath. At 4:30 pm we were picked up by Arabian Adventures for our Dune Desert Safari. First stop to watch a display of Falconry. The Falcon is the hunting bird of the Sheikhs one of the fastest predators on our planet. We then proceed to ride the desert sand Dunes which was a real adrenaline rush, but not for anyone who suffers from motion sickness or has a weak stomach. We watched the sun set over the dunes and then proceeded to a camp where you could ride on camels, eat a variety of foods like in a Bedouin camp, watch the belly dancer shake her moves and gaze into the dark starry night. When we returned to the Hilton the night was still young so Nina and I went in search of another watering hole. We headed to the Hilton Jumeirah Residence part of our hotel on the 35th Floor was the amazing Skylounge. This outdoor bar had panoramic views over the JBR and the Palm. This venue was more of a chill out place than a hectic club, great for a drink or two and to watch the hustle and bustle of the city below.
Day Three started with site inspections of the Movenpick Hotel on JBR. A great property with a prime location. However it is currently undergoing renovation and again experiencing a lot of noise. The next property next door left me speechless as I did not even know hotel apartments existed in Dubai. Here we met a very nice young man from oxford called Adam El Masri the Sales Executive for JA Resorts which own this property. The Oasis Beach Towers is an aparthotel complex offering fully furnished 1, 2 & 3 Bedroom apartments with all mod cons and finished to very high standards. With a ” Yala Yala” from Nicole we headed to the iconic Jumeirah Beach Hotel. I have sent many clients to this property yet was left feeling dishearten as the hotel resembled an Airport Terminal and I wondered what my clients saw in this place. Is it the fact it is one of the first hotels in Dubai a mere 15 years old. Or is it the place to be seen or the allure of the Wild Wade Water Park that lies on its doorstep, I could see the appeal it would have as a family holiday, but I personally did not like it. Too much glass and steel and no Arabic flavour at all, however the lunch was fantastic. We moved on to the sister property the Madinat Jumeirah. This was more my cup of tea. Built in a true Arabic flavour with tasteful décor throughout I could easily bring my family here. The whole complex is surrounded by canals and linked by small boats ferrying customers to and from their rooms. The last property of the day was the fabulous Ritz Carlton back in the JBR area. Again another tastefully built property but more with a Mediterranean feel. The property was elegantly furnished with tasteful décor throughout. We returned back to our hotel for our evening meal courtesy of the Hilton hosted by Elina Wiegel the Sales Executive for the Hilton Group in Dubai. Elina is the spitting image of Kate Middleton. We were shown around the Hilton Residence a property joined to the Hilton by a bridge located at the back of our hotel. Like the Oasis Beach Towers this was an aparthotel complex again very tastefully decked out with a great appeal to families as the Apartments are sold on a room basis and not a per person rate. The accommodation ranges from Studios up to 4 bedroom apartments with all mod cons. It was here I found the best room in Dubai. The 4 Bedroom Suites at the top of the Residence had the biggest wow factor. They could easily accommodate a royal family or a superstar as they were lavishly furnished. Even though we were really tired from the long day of inspections the city was still calling us. By recommendation we headed to the Buddha Bar nestled below The Grosvenor House hotel. This place was packed with Dubai’s wealthy business types. The bar / restaurant was decked out in a Thai Oriental feel. This was definitely a more up market club with another fun filled night. It was an amazing walk back to the Hilton for an early start.
Day Four – The start of a very long day, we checked out of the Hilton and took our luggage to the Ocean View Hotel further along The Walk. Yet again another disappointment of having to share! We then head off to go to one of the highlights of the trip. The Burj Khalifa also known as the Tallest Building in the world. Nicole was in true form today her knowledge of all things Dubai cannot be surpass and as this day was packed with site inspections she was dishing the “yalas” thick and fast. On approach to the Khalifa the height of this structure needs to be seen to be believed. The elevator takes a mere 60 seconds to take you to the 124th floor where the viewing platforms are. Within the last 20 years the Sheikhs vision has transformed this place from an arid desert landscape to gleaming futuristic metropolis with this magnificent building overlooking everything. We descend the Khalifa to enter the Dubai Mall the largest mall in Dubai with its centre piece one of the largest fish tanks in the world housing 33,000 living animals including rays and sharks. The Mall has its own ice rink and the largest collection of fashion stores under one roof. I was excited but still not really feeling Dubai was for me, but our next stop changed my mind. Nicole took us to the museum of Dubai which showed the true history of the area. The Museum is in the creek area of the city and is housed in an old fort, probably the oldest structure in Dubai. The museum traces back to the time the area was mainly used for fishing and the harvesting of pearls from the sea floor with the Emiratis living in the Bedouin tents and herding their camels. The discovery of the natural resources such as gas and oil in the area allowed the sheikh to for fill his dream and give Dubai the boost it needed to become one of the best cities in the world. There is no poverty here, there is no unemployment and there is barely any crime. The Sheikh loves his people from all cultures and they love and respect him. This came across to me and I instantly started to feel what Dubai was really about. The Emirates are very proud of what they have achieved and happy to show it off to the rest of the world. We headed on to the souk markets. First stop was the spice market with aromatic smells and flavours which were intoxicating and then on to the gold market, again giving the feeling that Dubai was and still is one of the main stops of the trade routes of India and the Far East to Africa and the Middle East. After a hot and exhausting morning we headed for our first hotel visit of the day The Grand Hyatt. In true Hyatt style the property had everything one would expect however it is a city hotel so no beach to complete its true grandeur. After a spot of lunch we headed towards the Palm. Whilst on our way the phone call came from Adam which really made our day. Adam had switched our hotel to the Oasis Beach Towers and had wrangled us a 3 bedroom Apartment for the Ladies and a Two Bedroom apartment for the Boys. This meant we all got our own bedrooms with our own en suite bathrooms. I believe we were all delighted with this news. Back to the Palm, this is a man-made structure of reclaimed sand from the seabed. The sheer size of this project is overwhelming and leaves you with a feeling of what man can achieve to better his environment – a true master piece of engineering. First stop the Rixos Hotel a very new property that belongs to the Turkish own group. Rooms and areas were all bright and airy and, as it was on its own beach, it had that resort feeling of being in the Med. Next stop the Anantara a Thai themed hotel which had only just opened. The rooms of this property board a massive lagoon shaped pool which can be accessed directly from your own terrace. With another “Yala” from Nicole we were hurried on to the next property the Sofitel. This French branded property decided that Dubai need a French Polynesian style resort, even though the hotel was to the high spec that would be expected of it. I felt this style was completely inappropriate to the Arabic Culture and could not have been more distant to what one would expect from a holiday in Dubai. If you want French Polynesian then go there and find the real thing not a mock up in Dubai. The next hotel was one of my favourites The Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, part of the Jumeirah group. The opulent interiors reflect the Ottoman / Arabic style. There is more gold leaf in this property than any other. The lobby and restaurants were absolutely stunning and I knew why they would feature this hotel in programs such as the X Factor. The rooms were more toned down with more neutral colours. Our host Ross Park showed us around including the Spa area which boasts its own snow room. Then we had dinner in the amazing Lalezar restaurant which specializes in Turkish cuisine. After this long day no one had the energy to go out so we all headed back to our apartments and a good night’s rest.
Day Five Nicole was up and ready for us and we headed to the One & Only Royal Mirage – a complex of three properties The Palace, the Residence and the Arabian court, again another truly Arabic flavoured property set right on the Jumeirah beach. This was one of my favourite hotels in Dubai and a good place for a romantic getaway. Running slightly late we headed back on to the Palm to visit the sister property the One & Only the Palm. This hotel was even more luxurious with only 90 rooms giving the feeling of space and relaxation.
Back on track we headed to the magnificent Atlantis this hotel dominates the skyline of the palm and its distinctive size and shape can be recognized from miles away. The lobby was so busy it reminded me of a railway station with 100’s of people coming and going. We were met by Kyp Charalambous who took us around. The theme of this property is based on the mythical lost city of Atlantis, it is a very Vegas style hotel. The wow factor came when we descended to one of the suites. The bedroom was protected by a 7 inch glass wall which gazed onto one of the largest fish tanks with all kinds of species of fish including rays and sharks. After a spot of lunch Kyp took us to the Lost Chambers an Aquarium style attraction with interactive pools were you can touch creatures from the sea and all different species of jelly fish and a depiction of the Atlantens coming from another planet and being a highly evolved master race. We then were allowed to enter the Atlantis very own water park known as Aquadventure. We spent the afternoon on the water slides and the lazy river. There was also a swim with the Dolphins experience. Running late again and much to the annoyance of Nicole we headed back to the apartments for a quick change and then of to our last property of the day the Jebel Ali Hotel and Resort. This hotel is located about 40 minutes out of the city and truly has the feel of being a holiday resort. It also has its newer sister property with a higher spec the Palm Tree court. Both properties offer an all-inclusive program. We finished the evening here with a very tasty Chinese meal. On returning back to Dubai we headed out to the last watering hole of our stay -The Kasbah, located in the grounds of the One and Only the Royal Mirage. It was Arabic night and the club was not busy when we got there. Within no time the Kasbah was packed and the atmosphere was electric the sounds of the Arabic music were belting out and everybody was dancing singing and having a brilliant time. We left quite late and knowing that this was a great climax to the end of our trip.
Our last morning in Dubai involved us going for breakfast with Adam El Masri at the Ocean View Hotel this was the hotel which we were supposed to have stayed in so we had a quick site visit. This brand new smart 4 star property had everything to offer again it is on The Walk in the JBR area and there is a lot of construction on its doorstep, but within another couple of years this will be the best area of Dubai. Then we were off to see the Hilton Dubai Creek shown around by the very lovely Elina aka Kate Middleton. This hotel is a smart business style hotel offering a real personal touch. Site inspections all over, we headed off to the Airport for our flight home. We said our goodbyes to the wonderful Nicole, who I must say is a true asset to Arabian Adventure the wealth of her knowledge about the City, the culture and all things in the UAE and her enthusiasm cannot be matched. Upon check-in we were advised that we would be flying Economy. This was a real disappointment. I could see by the look on my colleagues’ faces that this wasn’t going down well as we all hoped we would experience the Business Class service. I spoke with the check in girl of Emirates and explained who we were and she said that she would place a note in the booking that we were all suitable to be upgraded, if the space was available. Dubai Airport is huge so after a spot of duty free shopping we proceeded to the departure gate. At the gate and to our delight, we got the upgrade that we desired. Needless to say business class on the Emirates A380 is out of this world. The whole of the upstairs of the aircraft is dedicated to First & Business class. The first thing I noticed was the seat, which fully reclines to a flatbed then the screen which is huge. The food is as good as any quality restaurant experience and the staff are the most friendly approachable and at tentative I’ve ever meet. There was an hour’s delay when we boarded but this was the first time I did not mind as I wanted to savour every moment. The seven hour flight was one of the best flights I have ever been on.
I would like to thank Emirates tours for this fantastic experience, I feel that my opinion of Dubai has changed completely and I look forward to the next time I will visit this Futuristic Metropolis.