Amid Dubai’s towering and impressive skyline, ambitious man-made island developments, as well as a number of luxurious world famous resorts, I entered a world which is emerging as an ethnically diverse metropolis where its leaders and property developers proudly trumpet.
I had visited Dubai a number of times while growing up given the fact that my father used to live there and I would frequently travel to visit him. I had slowly started to get used to the array of high-end malls and gradual introduction to landmarks, such as the Burj Al Arab which has been called “The world’s only 7-star Hotel” and is designed to mimic the sail of a ship; as well as numerous shopping malls each more grandiose than the next including one with a black-diamond ski slope.
On my latest trip to the busiest emirate of a total of seven along the Arabian Gulf I flew direct from Phuket aboard the luxurious and pleasant Emirates Airlines and was there in just six short hours. However, upon arrival, I was stunned by how much Dubai had developed. And only four years since my last visit in 2011.
It was like a new era; a sci-fi futuristic world if you will. On one side of Dubai there still remained all the old style malls and eateries, it felt familiar driving along these roads. But some 30 minutes south of the city lay a whole new world. A community filled with expats, even more trendy malls, ambitious fashion boutiques, a crop of cool organic cafés and a stunning marina surrounded by chic bars and humble restaurants. It’s a place where media bodies of the world have set up home. A world where investors and expats have turned this land, where once all that was witnessed were scenes of cranes and construction, into attractive and high-end landmarks where 9-5ers end their days with a sophisticated glass of wine or two.
As you enter this new world you will see a number of high rise buildings, and once you get past the obscene traffic you will be surrounded by a billionaire’s playground. A luxurious marina filled with superyachts just cruising the waters, a typical day for some, as well as a selection of restaurants where you will find your typically delicious Lebanese and Arab standards of cuisine, plus a few international restaurants, shisha joints and a plaza of bars. Enter the plaza if you dare and here you will be faced with a number of nationalities casually drinking the night away, a stark contrast to some areas in the city’s religious Muslim community.
What is so appealing is the endless choice of activities one may choose to partake in; afternoon tea at the Ritz Carlton; a boat trip around the marina; a skydive over the Palm; an afternoon at some of the glamorous beach clubs; or Lebanese food at 2am (yes I am guilty of this) – it seems one can do whatever they desire. You want a Mars bar at 3am? Well, you can have it delivered to your door.
My days were filled with a number of shopping trips, including one to the largest mall in the world, Dubai Mall. If you dare enter this mall, be prepared for a swarm of tourists, absolutely chaotic scenes where only the bravest will actually choose to do their shopping. You’ll find most labels here, from designer to street wear. But most choose to come to Dubai Mall because of its popular water fountain feature. Every hour the fantastic and breathtaking Dubai Fountain comes alive. Set on the 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake, the fountain shoots water jets as high as 150 metres, equivalent to that of a 50-storey building. The fountain is 275 metres long and has five circles of varying sizes and two central arcs. It has been designed by California-based WET, the creators of the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas.
The Dubai Fountain performs daily, with the performance repertoire in sync with classical, Arabic and world music, including a signature piece of world-renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Con te partiro (Time to Say Goodbye).
The beam of light shining upward from the fountain can be seen from over 20 miles away, and will be visible from space, making it the brightest spot in the Middle East, and quite possibly in the entire world. Here you can also set sail on the Lake Rides and enjoy front row seats to the world’s largest performing fountain.
Just behind is the iconic Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. At over 828 metres and more than 160 stories, it features the tallest service elevator in the world taking you to the top in less than 70 seconds. Though it is a tourist hub, reflected in even the elevator ride where a guide tells you all the facts and figures with slightly frightening music playing in the background (and who could forget the weird room they put you in while you wait: everyone sitting in an awkward silence drinking coffee and eating dates), there aren’t really any words to describe the feeling when you get to the top. There is a slight difference in cost at the observations decks: At the Top located on the 124th floor (where many end their journey) and At the Top Sky, an experience combining levels 148 and 125 of the world’s tallest tower. For those brave enough (I like to include myself), we ventured to the 148th floor where the view from above was nothing short of unbelievable. Somewhat similar to the view from an airplane, here you will see Dubai’s futuristic and stunning skyline.
The observation area provides 360-degree views of the city, with an exterior deck that is shielded from the elements by tall glass panels. On the deck the breeze flows over and through openings between the glass panels, here you can hold out your arms and feel the air outside. A very surreal feeling for anyone that experiences this. And being from both the UK and Canada, I had experienced some of the tallest buildings before (including Toronto’s CN Tower, previously the tallest free-standing structure) but nothing compares to the Burj Khalfia.
There are plenty of other tourist attractions in this rich filled city, but one which I particularly enjoyed was my visit to the Atlantis, The Palm, an idyllic and state-of-the-art resort located at the apex of the Palm Jumeirah. The resort is themed on the myth of Atlantis but includes distinct Arabian elements. Its most attractive features include Aquaventure, a water park with 12 watre slides including two Mesopotamian-styled ziggurat temples reaching over 30m into the sky and featuring water slides, two of which catapult riders in clear tubes through a shark-filled lagoon; as well as a dolphinarium; The Lost Chambers Aquarium, an aquarium exhibit with 65,000 fish and sea creatures; as well as the Ambassador Lagoon, which is an 11,500,000-litre marine habitat.
My family and I settled down in a laid back coffee shop located near the lagoon, which can be viewed at the base of the East Tower through a 10m long, 70cm thick viewing panel which looks into a representation of the ruins of Atlantis.
Overall my trip was a week filled with plenty of shopping trips, sunbathing in 45 degree Celsius heat, visits to a number of tourist sights, and endless delicious meals consisting of mezzes featuring tabbouleh, houmous, pita bread, falafel, biryani and chicken shish kebabs. Five pounds of weight later, and my suitcase around 5kg heavier, it was time to head to the airport and say goodbye to one of the world’s fastest growing cities.
It’s evident that Dubai won’t be for everyone. But it seems impossible to ignore since it boasts the world’s highest building, the world’s tallest hotel (JW Marriott Marquis Dubai), the world’s largest artificial island (the Palm Jumeirah) and the world’s biggest mall.
What is clear is that no matter what one chooses to do, whether that may be to take a submarine elevator down to a restaurant where sea life keeps a watchful eye on your steak, or a wild water ride experience, or evening cocktails at Mahiki nightclub, you won’t be bored with the glitz and glam of Dubai.