I recently flew to Dubai as a guest of Emirates Airlines and the Dubai Tourism Board and true to form there have been plenty of developments in this Emirate (state) belonging to the United Arab Emirates since I was last there in 2008. The following is a recap of the trip.
Emirates flies non-stop from Los Angeles to Dubai which is pretty handy for those of us on the West Coast. Be advised, though, that it’s about 16 hours in the air. The service from Los Angeles is on a 777ER as opposed to their A380 which flies from other U.S. gateways. The 380 obviously has much more room and has that slick on-board lounge where passengers can hang out to have drink and chat.
Emirates on-board service is excellent regardless of the equipment. The in-flight personnel are really well-trained and perfectly consistent in their top notch treatment of both Business Class and Economy fliers. The food was as good as any I’ve had internationally. Seating was somewhat narrow in both classes and the economy legroom was not bad and I’m 6’1”.
When you’re not sleeping, Emirates has 1,400 channels of entertainment (movies, TV shows, podcasts, and music) to pass the time. The airport in Dubai is new, modern, and beautiful—just watch the signs closely as you walk to immigration. I missed one and went way out of my way before having to double back.
Dubai is situated on the Southeastern coast of the Persian Gulf quite close to the Eastern side of Saudi Arabia. It could arguably be said that Dubai is the most progressive and open of the UAE states as well as of the entire region. There are less restrictions in Dubai regarding alcohol, women’s rights, politics, social development, and finance than any other political entity in the entire region. The continued growth of tourism as well as continuously strong foreign investments are a testament to Dubai’s open attitudes. Most people believe that the wealth and development in Dubai is related to oil but that is not correct. Dubai is a financial center somewhat like Singapore and its commercial activity is what drives its economy. Oil only represents 2% of Dubai’s gross national product.
On my previous trip to Dubai, I stayed at the Hyatt Regency which is an excellent hotel and close to the Gold Sook marketplace and fairly close to downtown. This time I was about 10 minutes away from town and on the beach at the Madinat Jumeirah (Al Qsar). This put me right next to the famous Burj Al Arab hotel which is roughly in the shape of a sail in the wind.
The Madinat Jumeirah is a sprawling property with three distinct hotels connected together by man-made waterways and walking paths. The grounds are spectacular with beautiful vegetation, traditional architecture, and the canals. Inside, the hotel was equally impressive. As you can see by the pictures, the common areas and rooms are both top quality as they should be for a 5 star resort such as this.
The obvious question for prospective visitors to Dubai is, “What is there to do there?” The Tourism Board put together a beautiful promotional video of all the sights, sounds, and activities in and around Dubai and it did a great job of making the desert city look diverse and interesting. All of the usual beach and ocean sports are available here with wide stretches of fine sand. Snorkeling, sailing, boating, scuba diving, jet skiing, etc. are all part of the local land and seascape. Desert safaris are a standard activity that takes visitors out to sand dunes in SUV’s to run roughshod over the terrain. Dinner tours under the stars can also be part of the safari program in specially developed areas in the dunes. I had a blast driving through the dunes and I even “snowboarded” down the dunes before taking a camel ride through the area.
Back in town, the Dubai Museum is a small but interesting look back at the history of the area going back over a thousand years.
The most iconic of sites in Dubai, however, has to be the Burj Khalifa which is the tallest building (by far) in the world. Burj means tower, by the way and this one towers 2,700 feet high and has 163 stories. The ground level footprint of the building is immense. There is a line of tourists all day each day to pay $27 USD go up to the 124th floor observation deck. Our group went up and got to experience the “fastest elevator in the world”. It covered the 124 floors in about 40 seconds. The view from above was basically like looking down from an airplane. The rest of the city’s skyscrapers were dwarfed by the Khalifa. You also look down on a water feature about 5 times the size of the Bellagio’s in Las Vegas. The fountain show that occurs every day is, again, the “biggest in the world”.
The other attraction that many people have heard of in relation to Dubai is the indoor ski resort- believe it or not. So, I had to check that out for myself and once inside the Mall of the Emirates, I headed for “Ski Dubai”. The first thing you see is what looks like any good ski lodge. In this case, it’s the St. Moritz, complete with a fireplace and wood and rock motif. Then, through the 16 foot high glass walls, you see the ski lift and other kids snow activities with everyone dressed in the same rental ski clothes. Dubai is one hot place outside, easily reaching over 120 degrees in the summer. But, inside the ski area it’s about 25 degrees year-round. The ski run length is a total of about 1,200 ft with several turns along the way. The elevation drop from top to bottom is roughly 200 feet. So, for $50 USD you can really cool off in Dubai and come away with the ability to tell everyone that you skied indoors in the middle of the desert.
For those into shopping, Dubai provides the entire gamut from old school to new. The Sooks (marketplaces) are the image of the old world with narrow streets and alleys with shops crammed in everywhere. Jewelry, linens, rugs, clothes, knockoffs, and much more are all available.
At the other end of the spectrum, Dubai has several huge malls like those you’d find in any big city. In fact, and as usual, the biggest mall in the world with 1,400 stores is there. Every brand imaginable is available in these malls and the selection is almost overwhelming.
Some people liken Dubai to Las Vegas (without the gambling) because everything seems to be big and bold. The fact is that there is much to do there and it is statistically one of the safest cities in the world. One of our guides joked that Dubai has two seasons, “hot” and “very hot” so if you’re thinking of visiting, the climate should dictate when you go. The first time I went was in May and it was 115 degrees and climbing through the summer. This last trip was early February and the temperature varied from 70-84 degrees which was very comfortable. All in all, if you’re globetrotting, Dubai is one of those places that you want to see up close.
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