Vicky Bell works as a retail consultant in our Norwich travel store inside Jarrold’s. She took a four night trip to Dubai and here are some of her highlights from what was a memorable break…
Operator/Host: If Only…
(Hotel names/Ship name): Emirate’s Towers, Jumeirah Beach, Madinat Mina A’Salam, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray.
Duration: 4 nights
The early start wasn’t too bad; I had to leave Norwich at 7 am to be at Birmingham airport by 12 noon. I travelled by train and for some reason felt so nervous! Crazy, because I knew the trip was going to be amazing. I think I just needed to get to the airport and meet everyone else, and then I knew I’d be fine.
We had arranged to meet Dominic Carrick from If Only… at the Emirates check-in desk at noon. To my surprise, there are only 5 of us in the group, although there were 4 more groups of 5 travelling from different airports and we would be meeting up with them during the trip. The other girls were just as nervous as I was, but we relaxed together in the departure lounge and got to know one another; calming us all down and finally getting us relaxed!
Our Emirates flight departed at 14:15. Unfortunately, there was no upgrade, but we did get a bit of first class treatment by having champagne brought to us along with some delicious truffles. Emirates were excellent and the cabin crew could not do enough for all the passengers. There was lots of leg room and endless films and music to watch and listen to.
We landed in Dubai at around midnight and made our transfer to Jumeirah Emirates Towers for our first night. The heat between the airport and taxi was intense; we were told it was 35 degrees, and this was at 1 o’clock in the morning. I remember wondering what on earth it was going to feel like in the morning.
First impression of Emirates Towers – Wow! A cool, glossy reception and lobby area, centrally positioned for a city stay to explore the malls, souks and to do city tours and maybe a desert safari. This hotel was an ideal stopover for 2 – 3 nights. It had the glam factor, which meant it was perfect for the business person as well as the leisure-seeking holiday maker.
Our rooms were very contemporary; mine happened to be on the 38th floor! For such an immensely huge hotel, the room was very easy to find as they were all positioned in a semi-circle around the lifts – the perfect design. The beds were huge, as were the bathrooms which all had baths, walk in shower cubicles and Molton Brown toiletries, of course.
Despite the late hour, we all decided to gather together in the bar on the 51st floor which, for some reason that I don’t know the answer to, is quite a famous bar in Dubai. We were not allowed to take photos; maybe there was a famous Arabian in the bar, who knows! But it was very nice with fabulous night-time views over the city. Bedtime finally came at about 2:30 am; can’t quite remember after it being such a long day.
Our first full day in Dubai started with me enjoying the view from my wall to wall, floor to ceiling windows which meant I woke up to the most incredible scenes of Dubai. Even more exciting was that this also included the ‘Burj Khalifa’, the tallest building in the world! It was well worth being on the 38th floor, but it’s just a bit scary when you look down.
The morning was at our leisure and so we all met up for a late breakfast. It was an amazing spread with areas that made your omelettes/eggs to order, lots of different fresh fruit, many different cereals, all the components needed for a full English, bread, pastries, anything you could ask for – even including curry and steak! Although why anyone would want a curry or a steak for breakfast is beyond me. But hey, we were in Dubai, and everyone was well catered for and well looked after.
We spent the rest of our time that morning by the pool which, like the inside of the hotel, was very contemporary in design. Although the outdoor area was quite compact, it did have an upper area with additional seating and umbrellas. As we sat there, we could feel the temperature and humidity rising, phew!
We checked out of Emirates towers and headed to hotel number two on our whistle stop tour of Dubai’s best accommodation, The Jumeirah Beach. I had always wanted to stay there and so felt very excited at the thought of experiencing one of the most famous hotels in the world. It is here, however, that the realisation of just how busy the trip was going to be hit me.
Another impressive lobby and reception led us to Mohammed who was our hotelier from the Jumeirah Hotels and our guide for the duration of our trip. Our rooms were all deluxe double, with sea-views and what a view it was. The Burj Al’Arab dominated the view of the lush hotel grounds and beaches. Again, the bedrooms were very large with bathrooms a similar style to Emirates Towers.
The afternoon was spent sunbathing on the Jumeirah Beach, just relaxing and chilling out – generally soaking up the atmosphere of the hotel and pool. Staff here cannot do enough for you; towels were brought round and placed on all sun loungers and, even on the beach, cold towels were distributed to everyone (they are so needed it reached 40 degrees that day). Ice-lollies were available whenever you needed them and there was even someone to call a lift for you – I could get used to being waited on.
That evening we were given a hosted dinner at the Westin Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Spa and a short tour of this splendid hotel along with the other groups from If Only… The Westin is a huge building, joined with Le Meridien, but with only 260 rooms it is still very spacious. For the hotel guests, there are different theme evenings and what are known as ‘ladies afternoons’, where everyone has to dress in their finest and ladies are given champagne. An ‘outsider’ can attend, but I believe they charge a fee for this.
Drinks were flowing all evening as the attentive staff never allowed our glasses to be empty, and we tucked into a huge buffet dinner which again accounted for every taste imaginable. Although the dining room was very smart, it had a very relaxed feel about it and there were no restrictions about covering up your shoulders. The grounds were beautiful at this hotel, even though we only got a glimpse of them in the dark. There were tree-lined walkways down to the beach with a few bar areas along the way.
One of the bars was showing the football but, fortunately, we didn’t stop there. Instead, we continued on to the Barasti Beach Club which was very stylish and unfortunately, due to the immense heat and humidity, an outdoor bar! The views across the water were breathtaking though and we enjoyed a very relaxing evening whilst music played and yet more drinks flowed.
We had an early start the next day as we had a site inspection of the Jumeriah Beach and then an early check-out. Breakfast was in the same style as Emirates Towers and again had everything you could ever want, regardless of which meal it was you were eating. I saw one guest with his plate piled high with rice, different meats and sauces, a strange breakfast, but as I say, everyone is catered for.
Personally, I stuck with an omelette and some toast. The staff, as usual, were very attentive; fetching and carrying for you. It’s rather embarrassing really as I am quite capable of getting my own orange juice, but it is nice having someone look after you so well! I could get used to living like this.
On our site inspection of the hotel, we were shown a new style of deluxe room. As the hotel was built in 1997 the rooms had not been upgraded since, and so to keep within the Jumeirah hotel standards, all of them were being re-designed to include new, contemporary décor. In addition to this, the beds were all going to be situated right next to the window, as these rooms are all about the views. It is well worth requesting to stay in the new style of room if possible, although it’s not guaranteed that this will be available, of course!
My impression of the hotel is that of a top class family resort. As with all Jumeirah hotels, families are very welcome and very well catered for with their own beach area and kids club. I would find it more comfortable staying here with my family than at the other resorts we visited, as it had a fun, vibrant feel with music, which can be heard on the beach, playing around the pool areas and the hustle and bustle of Wild Wadi Waterpark which is on the grounds.
One added bonus for families is that if you upgrade to half board, you can dine in 34 different restaurants within the Jumeirah chain; including the luxurious and very grand Zabeel Saray. Just leave the kids behind in the kids club and have a nice relaxing meal out; knowing that it’s all included in your cost!
After checking out of hotel number two, we checked straight in at the neighbouring Madinat Mina A’Salam, which is just a short walk away from the Jumeirah beach hotel. There was an option to travel by buggy but our host warned against this due to the unrelenting heat and so we took the car instead.
The reception and lobby area of the Madinat is incredible, the smell of flowers hits you as soon as you walk in, which is because of the rose petal water feature that takes up half of the reception area. It is very sumptuous here; I felt like I wanted to be dressed slightly better than I was, but the staff were very relaxed and gracious and made it very easy for us to feel at home.
We had a lovely buffet style lunch, followed by a look around this incredible hotel. The building is separated into 3 hotels and a souk, all of which are accessible by boat. The hotels are surrounded by their own lake and it was such fun to take the boat out from one part of the hotel to the next.
We visited the Dar Al Masyaf villas within the Madinat Jumeirah resort, which are premium summer houses that offer access to plunge pools, the beach, are accessible by waterway and are in their own richly landscaped gardens. The accommodation is very sumptuous and caters to your every need. Some villas even had their own private courtyards.
After a leisurely afternoon enjoying one of the Madinat’s swimming pools, our evening was spent in the Madinat Souk enjoying an Italian meal. There are many different styles of restaurants and bars within the souk, all offering meals and drink deals, so you can have an evening out without breaking the bank. Although, I thought the best part was taking the water taxi back to our part of the hotel.
I really didn’t want to get out of my gorgeous bed the following morning, but I didn’t want to miss our visit to the Mall of the Emirates, which holds the Dubai Ski Club, either. The ski resort is incredible as you watch through floor to ceiling windows around the mall. I would have loved to have had a go, but you really need a day there to enjoy it all. The little kiddies, all dressed up in their ski wear, were having fun on the toboggans which was really sweet and I found it weird to think that the temperature in there was -4 degrees and we were all watching whilst in our summer clothes.
The mall itself was pretty impressive too; lots of English high street shops and other European chains. This is definitely the mall where the ‘average person’ can go shopping and it included lots of different places to eat as well.
We had a midday check out from the Madinat and were transferred to the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, the newest of the Jumeirah hotels, which only opened in January 2011. The hotel was lavishly decorated with spectacular hand-painted ceilings and murals that were crafted from marble and crystal. The bedrooms were fit for a king and this was definitely the most extravagant of hotels we stayed in during the trip.
If the bedrooms were made for kings, the lobby area was definitely a palace fit for a queen. Exquisitely decorated with a beautiful water fountain, high ceilings and brightly coloured crystal chandeliers, it left a lasting impression on all of us. The spa was the most beautiful and comprehensive spa I have ever seen, with 40 individual treatment rooms and a thalassotherapy pool.
After our check in, we had a hosted a la carte lunch here, which was amazing. However, due to the heavy schedule we had and the quick turnaround at each hotel, we hadn’t had time to get changed or get spruced up a bit. This was definitely not the kind of restaurant to wear the kind of clothes we were wearing! We were all very casual in summer dresses and a couple in shorts and flip-flops; we felt so out of place!
The staff did not make us feel this way at all, though. In the same manner as all the staff we came across on this trip, they were all so friendly and accommodating that we began to think “if they aren’t worried why should we be?” It would have been nice to blend in a bit rather than look like British tourists, though!
After the late lunch and inspection of the hotel, we spent the evening at the Dubai Fountain, which is where the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai shopping mall are. Watching the fountain display was spectacular and one of our group even said that it definitely rivalled the famous fountain display of the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
We had a bit of time for window shopping in the Dubai Mall as this is the mall where you don’t spend any money unless you have a limitless credit card! Almost all of the shops are designer, the window displays are amazing, and it’s so easy to get seriously lost if you’re not careful.
We also had a look around The Address Downtown hotel, situated at the Dubai fountain, which offers fabulous views of the area and is a very stylish and chic city based hotel. This area is a great place to come out in the evening for a meal and to soak up the atmosphere of night time in Dubai. As we had a very early start in the morning, we enjoyed an early (ish) evening back at the hotel ready for our 5 am start!
The 5 am departure from our hotel, ready for the 8am flight back to Birmingham, came all too soon. The entire return flight home was spent asleep, so I’m afraid I’ve nothing to report!
Although I had done a brief city tour of Dubai previously, before joining a cruise, I didn’t really know what to expect from a hotel based holiday in this part of the world. I knew there would be beautiful beaches and very luxurious hotels, but what I didn’t expect was the warmth you get from the people who actually work and live there.
All the staff at the hotels we stayed in were very highly trained; you really did not have to lift a finger to do anything for yourself, and everything is done with a smile. Everything in Dubai is lavish, over the top, and completely unreal. From the indoor ski slope to the tallest tower in the world, and the top class luxurious resorts, everything here is to made to appear bigger and better than anywhere else in the world. With year-round sunshine and a flavour of the Arabian chic and sophisticated lifestyle, this really is the ultimate destination.
In addition to sunbathing on the un-crowded beaches, Dubai has something to offer everyone; including water sports, desert safaris, camel rides, dune driving, fabulous duty-free shopping, exotic souks, mosques, and a fabulous city to explore. After expecting to cover up quite a bit, I was very surprised to find that, within the resorts, it really isn’t necessary to do so. I packed shawls, cardigans etc; expecting to need them everywhere I went, but soon found I didn’t.
There are, however, some places in Dubai where you are required to cover knees/shoulders, like in the malls, but as the air conditioning is so cold this is something you will be happy to do! I did feel a little underdressed in certain hotels due to the opulence of some of them but we were not made to feel inadequate in any way.
Although you cannot drink alcohol outside, bars are plentiful within the souks, all offering ‘two for one’ or other drink ‘offers’, so if you do drink outside of the hotels, you will find it relatively inexpensive and relaxed. The hotels we stayed in were really fabulous; you could come to Dubai and never leave your resort if you don’t want to. Although by doing that, you will miss out on all that this fabulous city has to offer. I will definitely be returning. I just need to save up….
Must see? The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa
Must do? Explore the grounds of the entire Jumeirah hotel chain
Must try? Everything that’s available for breakfast