Dubai is different. Built atop the desert, yet situated on the sea of the Arabian Gulf, it is at once extremely old and entirely new. Clean, safe, and ultra-affluent, this multicultural melting pot is still very much on the rise. Literally. As it prepares for the 2020 World Expo, Dubai’s thriving skyline continues to emerge, as evidenced by building construction so prevalent that it has been billed as the “crane capital of the world.”
The high-end adventure begins with a 12.5-hour flight from JFK. But if you’re flying Emirates Business Class, getting there is half the fun. They’ll send a car and driver to transfer you to and from the airports. Your roomy seat reclines to a full 180-degree flat bed. An excellent entertainment system is loaded with an assortment of options. Passengers are free to relax in the lounge with an open bar and tasty snacks served throughout the flight.
The Madinat Jumeirah is a spectacular resort set on a sandy, private beach. Comprised of multiple hotels, villas, and over 40 restaurants and bars, this stunning compound is so comprehensive that you really never have to leave its vast, lushly landscaped grounds. In fact, they’ll transport you anywhere over their own network of waterways by abra (boat). That includes every place on the premises, from their first-class fitness facility to an actual waterpark (Wild Wadi), and even a traditional souk (marketplace). The centerpiece hotel is the opulent Jumeirah Al Qasr, whose luxurious rooms come with scenic water views and exemplary service.
Do not miss their Grand Friday Brunch, a four-hour, all-you-can-eat-and-drink extravaganza that brings together cuisines from the world over (try seared foie gras, roasted duck rolled in a soft tortilla, and braised Korean short ribs, among over a hundred other choices), accompanied by free-flowing cocktails from handmade mojitos to Moscow mules. It felt like a party that got progressively more rockin’ as closing time approached.
If you’re in the mood for meat, check out The Hide restaurant, which highlights beef from Ireland, Spain. and the U.S., plus an impressive global wine list, as well as killer beer-battered fries, duck-fat-rubbed bread hot from the oven, and a s’mores sundae that won’t hurt you either.
Burj Al Arab
Only minutes from the Madinat Jumeirah, located on its own island, is the award-winning Burj Al Arab, an astonishing suite-only hotel of the highest caliber. One has to see the phenomenal accommodations to believe them, but this level of luxury requires big bucks. Yet even without splurging on accommodations, one can still partake of a luscious lunch at restaurant Scape, where Mediterranean-accented cuisine is served beside the infinity pool with breathtaking views of the sea. Try the ethereal raw scallop tiradito, barbecue grilled poussin, or a chili crab burger — and a dandy salted caramel sundae to finish off.
One & Only
Head to the Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest man-made island, to experience the truly exquisite One & Only The Palm. Having stayed at their extraordinary property in Los Cabos, Mexico, my high expectations were exceeded here. The One & Only is a sexy and dynamic hotel brand that lives up to its name, offering a level of intimacy, privacy, and serenity to go with unmatched personal service. Each guest is assigned their own “host”, who serves as guide, guru, concierge, and butler. The resplendent surroundings are flawlessly sculpted, from the Arabian architecture to the remarkable landscape design. Every detail has been thoughtfully considered, from your choice of nine different pillow types, to the Evian mist you’ll be sprayed with as you lounge under palm trees by a picture-perfect pool set to the ideal temperature.
The breakfast buffet is nothing short of sensational, with over 145 delicacies from which to choose. For sophisticated cuisine in high style, have dinner at Stay by Michelin superstar chef Yannick Alléno. Or dine alfresco over cocktails, tapas, and Mediterranean fare with a commanding view of Dubai’s impressive cityscape. All in all, a singular hotel experience.
Check out the Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark for all the splash-induced fun you can muster. They’ll provide towels and lockers, but be sure to bring something for your feet to walk the burning hot grounds.
Serious Shopping (and/or Skiing)
For an Arabian-style shopping spree, it’s just a 10-minute shuttle from the Madinat Jumeirah to the Mall of the Emirates. The 700 shops and services range from high-end luxury retailers to the French hypermarket Carrefour, itself worth a peek if only to marvel at their massive selection of groceries and goods.
Just because it’s over 100 degrees outside doesn’t mean you can’t go skiing inside. Yep, there’s a real ski slope in here. And if you’re feeling a tad peckish for a taste of America, drop into the Shake Shack for a Shackburger and ice cream “concrete.”
Another option is the “world's largest shopping mall,” located downtown. The Dubai Mall boasts an array of glamorous, global, luxury retailers, as well as an aquarium and underwater zoo where you can actually go diving with sharks — if you dare.
An alternative to the sleek modern malls is the markets of Old Dubai. As you peruse spices and gold, textiles and perfumes, expect to be approached by every shop owner you pass with their rote recitation of brand names for sale. Then catch an abra ride across the canal for about twenty-five cents and make your way to Al Ustad Special Kabab to savor juicy and flavor-filled grilled meats at communal tables for just a few bucks, presided over by a most gracious and garrulous host.
Ascend a super-speedy elevator to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. Scan the panoramic vista from way up top, or opt instead for the views over cocktails, dinner, or both, at the Armani hotel restaurant, At.mosphere, on the 122nd floor.
Visit a Mosque
About an hour or so via car from Dubai, the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is an awe-inspiring cultural destination. Admittance and tours are free. Try to be there during a call to prayer to witness up to 40,000 people worshipping at once.
My guests were none too pleased to learn that no menus are offered for the lavish lunch at Em Sherif. All they do is serve 28 delicious dishes. And what a worthwhile treat it was, starting with cold mezze like tabbouleh, hummus, and fattoush salad; continuing with the hot mezze, among them lentil salad, savory meat kibbe, and cheese-filled puff pastries; followed by main courses such as pillowy lamb with chickpeas, onions, bulgar, and pine nuts; and finally, five desserts that included rice pudding with pomegranate seeds, fried dough puffs topped with honey, and bread pudding with mixed nuts. Filling, fantastic, and fun.
For a truly unforgettable experience, ride a camel to dinner. Start with a drive in a classic 1950s Land Rover, then hop on your camel for a short trip to the Bedouin camp where you’ll enjoy authentic music and dance, get a henna tattoo, gaze at stars and planets from a high-powered telescope, hold a falcon, consume a traditional Emirati meal, and even smoke from a shisha (waterpipe). At that point, you might find yourself inadvertently singing “Midnight at the Oasis.”
I strongly recommend Platinum Heritage Tours. Highly knowledgeable guides, top notch equipment, smart demonstrations, and good food make it a first class operation. And a lifetime memory.