The Middle East

Dubai Dreams in the Sand

written by | Posted on August 1st, 2009

Looking more, at times, like a film set dreamed up by Stephen Spielberg or George Lucas than a modern city on the sands of the Persian Gulf, Dubai begs to be noticed. And succeeds. Where Egypt built its monuments to the dead, Dubai raises its towers—each bigger, broader and more brazen than the last—to the living, as an iconic city eternally in search of itself.

“When Burj Dubai was first planned, it was to be a 90-story structure, but Sheikh Mohammed asked us, ‘Why stop there?’” Mohamed Ali Alabbar, director-general of Dubai’s Department of Economic Development said in a recent interview with an Emirate reporter. “As Dubai and its economy expand, as our achievements grow, we must constantly ask ourselves: ‘Why stop there?’ Sheikh Mohammed has inspired us to dare, to dream and to achieve what would once have been considered impossible.”

The once backwater pearl-diving port found diamonds in oil development and turned those diamonds into golden sands that shape this desert in cemented steel and glass as one industry after the other makes its Euro-Asian hub on this Persian Gulf peninsula. Within the metropolis of nearly 1.5 million souls, are such places as Media City, where the world’s media giants cluster, and Internet City where top names in IT collide. And soon there will be Studio City—the largest film backlot in the world—as well as NASCAR City, the Dubailand theme park city to add to Dubai Sports City, Industrial City and other superpods of commerce and entertainment. But tourism is Dubai’s true oil and it is manifesting its might in an unending line of five- to seven-star city and beach resorts, nearly five dozen luxury malls, some of the tallest buildings in the world and massive construction projects.

The effect is dizzying. The iconic Burj al Arab, once the tallest building in the land, is giving way to the Burj Dubai, soon to be the tallest building in the world once it officially opens. At the base of the tower is Dubai Mall. Opened in May, it is the largest mall in the world with 1,200 stores. In true Dubai style, it is buttressed by a bar-none water attraction: a glorious fountain on a 30-acre lake, which shoots water 500 ft. into the air and choreographs it to familiar tunes of Middle East and African heritage. Behind it all is WET Design, the company responsible for transforming Las Vegas, one thrilling attraction at a time.

But why stop there?

As the city claims the sea as its next frontier with a series of man-made island developments in the shapes of palm trees, a globe and the planets, new hotels are opening just about every week and all with a unique story to tell.

the wow! factor Last fall, with such notables as Lindsay Lohan, Robert DeNiro and Sir Richard Branson checked in, Atlantis, The Palm opened atop the crescent of The Palm Jumeirah, marking the first of many luxury properties in that area to come, all connected to the Jumeirah Beach mainland by causeway and, eventually, monorail. The Sun International property brings its legendary awe in the form of 1,539 ocean-themed rooms, a mesmerizing aquarium with guestrooms, corridors and attractions looking onto the mysteries of the deep. Its backyard is a complete, 40-acre water-themed adventure park with extraordinary rides fashioned around the motif of ancient Mesopotamia. Abutting the beach and sea is Dolphin Bay, a 10-acre dolphin park with programs for guests to interact with the intelligent sea creatures. For dining, there is a Nobu as well as signature restaurants by Michelin-starred chefs Giorgio Locatelli, Michel Rostang and Santi Santamaria. The Spa & Fitness Centre at Atlantis features Middle Eastern massages and therapies inside a labyrinth of tranquility. As most of Dubai is very much on sale these days, rates for even the newest or most popular properties are deeply discounted—as much as 50 percent from their standard ADRs. Advertised room rates at Altlantis now run from $217 per night for a deluxe room to $1,620 for a Terrace Club Suite to $25,000 for an indulgent themed suite. Clients should expect an additional 20 percent in taxes and fees.

Also opened in 2008 is Raffles Dubai, a superluxe sibling of Raffles Hotels & Resorts connected to the uberscale Wafi Center mall and souk. This 19-story, pyramid-shaped (in keeping consistent with the triangle-shaped shopping mall) hotel is a city property with golden panoramas of the Emirate from guestroom terraces and penthouse restaurants and clubs. All 248 rooms are palace-sized suites starting at 754 sq. ft. (to 7,029 sq. ft.), and all feature a private balcony with comfortable furnishings, espresso machine, free WiFi, a 40-inch LCD TV, iPod dock, a cushiony lounge spread with soft throws and pillows, an expansive marble bathroom with a deep-soaking tub and a bed fitted with soft high threadcount linens. A spa, a library, even a botanical garden to wander through add to the stay, as does the property’s corridor connections to one of the city’s top shopping venues, which recently put the finishing gloss on an amazing medina where fine Middle Eastern artifacts, clothing, jewelry, foods, perfumes and artworks can be found. Published rates start at $484 per night for signature room accommodations.