Dubai!, by Ted Cookson

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REDISCOVERING DUBAI (PLUS SHARJAH AND ABU DHABI)
by Ted Cookson
Published in December 2010
Burj Al Arab atrium, 61-second video clip
Water show in Burj Al Arab atrium, 135-second video clip
Canals at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, 121-second video clip
View of Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club from the Park Hyatt Dubai, 30-second video clip
Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, 24-second video clip

Harpist in lobby of Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, 34-second video clip
Mall of the Emirates, 30-second video clip
Ski Dubai, 27-second video clip
Dubai desert safari #1, 51-second video clip
Dubai desert safari #2, 16-second video clip

Dubai desert safari #3, 12-second video clip
Dubai desert safari #4, 41-second video clip
Belly dancer in Dubai desert, 36-second video clip
 

In the spring of 2009 I visited Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi after an absence of seven years. After what I had read about the many changes in the skylines of the various Arabian Gulf emirates, I was not surprised to find that development had been taking place so rapidly that, when I returned after being away for so long, it almost seemed as if I were arriving in a new country!

As a travel agent, the purpose of my trip was not only to ogle the latest generation of luxury hotels but also to experience Dubai as a tourist, checking out such things as the Mall of the Emirates with its fantastic Ski Dubai indoor ski slope, window shopping in the Deira gold souk, taking an afternoon dune safari, and going to some of the terrific museums in the nearby emirate of Sharjah and in Dubai itself. Although from afar I gazed at the world's tallest building in its final stages of construction, this Dubai showpiece would not open until early 2010.

In Dubai I inspected several luxury hotel properties: Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the adjacent Madinat Jumeirah complex with its three hotel properties, Jumeirah Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa, and the Park Hyatt Dubai. I noticed the striking Raffles Dubai from the expressway in passing, and I also made a special trip to Abu Dhabi in order to tour the fabulously-luxurious Emirates Palace.

The iconic Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah, which opened in 1999 and is situated on an artificial island 280 meters (918 feet) off Jumeirah Beach in Dubai, claims to be the world's most luxurious hotel. Built in the form of a 321-meter (1,053-foot)-high dhow sail, this fabulous hotel contains 202 duplex suites, with the largest being 780 square meters (8,400 square feet) and the smallest being 169 meters (1,820 square feet). Managed by the Dubai-based hotelier Jumeirah, the property, which includes the world's highest atrium at 180 meters (590 feet), is the fourth-tallest hotel in the world. Al Mahara (The Oyster) Restaurant, one of the hotel's six outlets, features an 18 cm (7 inch)-thick acrylic glass seawater aquarium with a 990,000-liter (35,000-cubic foot) tank. A reception desk is located on each of Burj Al Arab's 28 double-storied floors, and hotel check-in is handled in the suite. Helicopter transfers, a fleet of Rolls Royces, and round-the-clock butler service are all available. It has been written that the hotel's suites combine elements of both Eastern and Western design. While white columns are meant to evoke grandeur, bright and beautiful mosaic tiles accent the bathroom decor.

Immediately opposite Burj Al Arab is the spectacular 598-room wave-shaped Jumeirah Beach Hotel. With more than 20 restaurants, bars and cafes, this beachfront family resort offers activities galore, from diving with the dolphins near coral reefs to Segway tours within the property. Hotel guests have access to 33,800 square meters (364,000 feet) of white sandy beach. In addition, both guests of Burj Al Arab and this hotel have unlimited access to the nearby Wild Wadi water park. Interestingly, at the time of its opening in 1997, Jumeirah Beach Hotel was the ninth-tallest structure in Dubai. Today, on the other hand, there are more than 100 buildings taller than this one in Dubai!

Madinat Jumeirah consists of two grand boutique hotels and dozens of summer houses clustered around courtyards which have been built, along with a souk, to resemble a traditional Arabian city. The largest resort in Dubai, this property, set behind a kilometer of private beach front, sprawls across 40 hectares (99 acres) of landscaped gardens adjacent to Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Mina A'Salam (Harbor of Peace), a boutique hotel with many wind towers, was the first element of the complex to open in 2003. Al Qasr (The Palace), which followed, was conceived as a sheikh's residence. Each of these properties contains 292 rooms while Dar Al Masyaf consists of 29 two-story residences, each of which has from eight to eleven rooms. What makes Madinat Jumeirah especially fun are the canals which link the various properties. Basic transportation within the resort is on motorized versions of the traditional abras, or wooden water taxis, which are still used today on The Creek in Dubai.

The comfortable Jumeirah Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa with its 110 rooms and suites is perfect for those desiring a desert experience while staying in Dubai. The activities on offer at this property include horse and camel riding and desert exploration. Five restaurants and bars will satisfy clients' every need. Open since 2004 and only a 45-minute drive from Dubai International Airport, the hotel is situated in the desert behind the city of Dubai, seemingly (but not actually) far from civilization.

The 225-room Park Hyatt Dubai is a luxury waterfront hotel situated adjacent to the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. Set in beautifully-landscaped gardens, the hotel features stunning views of The Creek and the yacht club from its lovely suites. The stunning 19-story pyramid-shaped Raffles Dubai Hotel was built next to the Wafi Mall, opening in 2007. Perhaps the most striking internal feature of the hotel is the one-hectare (2.5 acre) botanical garden located on the third floor! Some 129,000 plants are in the garden, which includes 650 palms.

Managed by Kempinski, the very impressive beachfront Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi is the second most expensive hotel ever constructed at about USD 3 billion (approx. EGP 17.25 billion). In addition to its 302 rooms and 92 suites, the Emirates Palace contains 16 fabulous palace suites reserved for visiting heads of state. However, even some of the regular suites are furnished with real gold fittings and marble floors. Opened in 2005 and now an icon of Abu Dhabi, the hotel's design employs over 1,000 chandeliers, the largest of which weighs 2.5 metric tons (5.5 short tons). Occupying an area of 100 hectares (247 acres), Emirates Palace is a full kilometer (0.62 mile) long from wing to wing; and inside are 102 elevators and eight escalators. With its 14 restaurants and 128 kitchens and pantries, the Emirates Palace boasts that nearly five kilograms of pure edible gold are used annually just for decoration on its desserts! This property is situated 30 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport and 90 minutes from Dubai International Airport.

Dubai's Mall of the Emirates, the third-largest mall in the Middle East featuring 476 brands, opened in the Al Barsha District of New Dubai in 2005. The most unique mall occupant is certainly Ski Dubai, the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East. Ski Dubai's mountain-themed attraction makes snow available in Dubai throughout the year. The facility maintains a daytime temperature of -1 C. (30 F.) and a nighttime temperature of -6 C. (21 F.). Featuring an 85-meter (279-foot)-high indoor mountain with five slopes and a 400-meter (1,312-foot)-long ski run, there are also sled and toboggan runs and a myriad of other snow-related activities. Conveniently, warm clothes plus skis and snowboards are provided for ticket purchasers.

Dubai, well-known for its gold souk and for inexpensive electronics, has practically become synonymous with shopping. The Dubai Shopping Festival, inaugurated in 1996, has been held ever since then during the first quarter of the year. In 2009, for example, 3.35 million visitors to Dubai during the shopping festival spent over USD 2.6 billion (approx. EGP 15 billion). The Al Fahidi Fort, built in 1787 near The Creek in Bur Dubai, contains the Dubai Museum. Since renovations in 1971 and 1995, dioramas portray various aspects of traditional life in Dubai. Tourists often cross between the Dubai Museum and the Deira gold souk using the inexpensive traditional wooden water taxis which continuously ply the Creek.

For those who have never driven through sand, a late afternoon dune safari by four-wheel drive vehicle, followed by a barbecue dinner and an evening belly dancing performance on carpets in the desert, is another Dubai must-do experience.

Dubai's neighboring emirate of Sharjah now boasts a magnificent collection of 14 emirate-run museums, all of which have inexpensive admission and many of which are within walking distance of one another. The world-class Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, located near the Majarrah Waterfront, was built in what was formerly a traditional souk. Sharjah offers other museums relating to archeology, natural history, maritime history, art, calligraphy and science. The emirate boasts an aquarium and has renovated a number of important heritage monuments, including Al Hisn Fort.

It's not often one has the chance to ride to the world's highest viewing platform. Built at a cost of USD 1.5 billion (approx. EGP 8.6 billion) between 2004 and its opening in January 2010, Dubai's 828-meter (2,717-foot)-high Burj Khalifa (Khalifa Tower) with its 160 habitable floors is the tallest free-standing structure in the world. Tickets for At the Top, the viewing platform, are dated and timed. AED100 (approx. EGP 156) general admission tickets are available either online -- where a service fee of AED 5 (approx. EGP 8) applies -- or on arrival in Dubai, while AED 400 (approx. EGP 624) immediate entry tickets are only available on arrival.

The best time to visit the United Arab Emirates is from November to February. Although during this period there is often some wind and occasionally there are light rains, the daily highs are pleasant then, ranging from 25 C. to 30 C. (77 F. to 87 F.). Between March and October the weather is dry, humid and hot, with daily highs in the range of 35 C. to 40 C. (95 F. to 104 F.). The exception is during the uncomfortable, extremely hot summer months of July and August when the typical daily high is 42 F. (107 F.)

The least expensive round trip airfare from Cairo to Dubai is EGP 2,030 on Gulf Air via Bahrain while the least expensive nonstop round trip airfare is EGP 2,350 on Egypt Air. On the other hand, the cheapest round trip airfare from Cairo to Abu Dhabi is EGP 1,970 on Oman Air via Muscat while the cheapest nonstop round trip airfare is EGP 2,300. Abu Dhabi is some 108 km (67 miles) from Dubai by road. For those so inclined, it is easy enough to pick up a self-drive rental car from either airport and get around on one's own during a stay in the United Arab Emirates.
 


ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 314 of the 320 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com
 

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