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The “Tomorrowland” of Dubai and Abu DhabiFebruary 26, 2016 By: Angela Burns
Taking advantage of tickets received from Emirates at a Strong Travel function (I guess I was born under a lucky star) my husband and I spent the recent Valentine's weekend in the UAE. After checking in at DFW airport (a quick and painless process) and enjoying a comfortable breakfast in the lounge, we boarded our 777 and took our business class seats.
Excellent service is the hallmark of Emirates business class. We were greeted by name upon boarding, handed an immediate (and magically never empty) glass of Veuve Clicquot, and given the low-down on the workings of our seats and the I.C.E. in-cabin entertainment system. Sadly, no Wi-Fi was available on our flight to the UAE… but I don’t really feel like we suffered from the absence. Seat comforts included a thin mattress that was added when in the fully-reclined sleeping position, multiple pillows, and a blanket. Personal comforts included noise-cancelling headphones, a sleep mask, cozy socks, and his and hers Bulgari toiletries bags. The food was wonderful… three courses with wine for lunch and dinner… and a choice of full or continental breakfast.
Upon landing in Dubai, we were amazed by the scale of the terminal and the complete lack of people in it. Not a soul to be seen from our arrival gate to the immigration and baggage claim area (in another terminal, so a bit of a hike).
Emirates provides a complimentary shuttle (different from their Business Class limousine service) from DXB to Abu Dhabi. Initially we thought we’d take advantage of this; however, we would have waited nearly three hours at the airport before the shuttle departed… so we decided on the spur of the moment to rent a car. Driving in the UAE is very easy for those comfortable with LOTS of traffic. My husband took to it like a duck to water. I do recommend using your smart phone map or getting GPS though. The drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi takes approximately one hour and 45 minutes.
On arrival in Abu Dhabi, we found our way to the hotel… the Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal… immediately across from the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. My reservation there was coordinated through the Ritz’s STARS program and we were THRILLED with our room. We received an upgrade to a suite with the MOST spectacular view of the mosque…
HONESTLY… I swear this is the view from our room! Amazing!!!
The hotel is lovely and VERY lavish (one would expect no less). The architectural style is a re-imagined Venetian palazzo and the lobby is very luxe… tons of marble, glass, crystal, and reflective surfaces.
And my husband met a new friend hawking dates and Arabic coffee on arrival.
The hotel has eight in-house F&B options… among them a steakhouse, a great Asian place, and a lovely tea salon… great for desert or after dinner coffee. In addition to these eight options, the hotel’s owner recently opened a dining annex with four additional options. Friday brunch is the place to see and be seen in the UAE and it can take ALL DAY. If your clients visit, be sure to recommend it!
It’s an extremely family-friendly place, and the pool was very popular with the kids. Note that there is only one pool, so if kids aren’t your thing you may have an issue. There were LOTS of children during our visit. There is a great Kids Club on site, open until 10 p.m. nightly with activities, snacks, movies, etc. for those who want to off-load their little darlings in favor of more grownup activities.
The spa is beautiful too… and while it is detached from the main building and a bit of a walk, there are frequent golf carts to shuttle guests around the resort property… so no need to worry about walking back to the hotel when you’re blissed out from your massage.
In Abu Dhabi it was all about the mosque. Completed in 2007 it’s the largest mosque in the UAE. It gleams in white marble quarried in Macedonia, has more than 80 domes, seven astounding chandeliers, and the world’s largest hand-knotted Persian carpet.
Public tours are readily available and our guide, Abdallah, was charming. There are specific requirements regarding attire… men must wear long trousers (if not they are provided a robe) and women must be covered from head to toe, though I saw many women wearing long pants, long sleeved shirts, and head scarves, so don’t think an abaya or the full-blown burka are required.
Additional sites worth visiting in Abu Dhabi include Ferrari World (we didn’t) and the Formula 1 Race Track next door (we did). Visiting the falcon hospital was also recommended but alas we didn’t have enough time. This year the city hopes to see the opening of Saadiyat Island, which will include Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Zayed National Museum, the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a Performing Arts Centre and the Maritime Museum.
It’s Tomorrowland I Tell You!
From Abu Dhabi we made our way back to Dubai for the latter half of our long weekend. We returned our rental car at the airport and took the Metro to Jumeirah Beach where the Four Seasons hotel is located. I would never recommend the Metro for clients, but my husband has a thing for public transportation… he loves to see how people who really live in a city get around. It was fascinating insofar as there are “women’s only” cars delineated by pink signage. We didn’t notice at first and Jeff was (kindly) kicked to the back of the train.
In Dubai we stayed at the Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach. What a hotel! What incredible service! I want to live there! We were upgraded to a Premiere Seaview room with a very large balcony overlooking the gorgeous pools (one for kids and one for adults) and private beach. I felt the architecture and aesthetic of the resort was perfectly suited to the area. The Four Seasons embraces the Arabic aesthetic in the most luxurious way and the result is very special.
As with the Ritz, the Four Seasons is very family friendly… but unlike the Ritz there didn’t seem to be children everywhere… or if there were I couldn’t see them. Dining options are fewer at the Four Seasons… two restaurants with additional non-hotel restaurants on-site as well.
The Four Seasons’s spa is gorgeous and their workout facility is terrific…
In Dubai it’s all about the shopping (and I have the blisters to prove it), the amazing architecture, and the fountains located at the base of the Burj Kalifa (currently the world’s tallest building).
We took a desert safari through an outfitter called Platinum Heritage. Our safari began with pickup at our hotel (with a very punctual, 3:20 p.m. pickup time) in a very comfortable, large SUV. After a 45 minute drive we entered a royal reserve adjacent to the Al Maha Resort. There we transferred to vintage, open topped Land Rovers and enjoyed a rousing trip through the desert where we saw a large herd of Oryx and the native gazelle.
After the driving tour, we enjoyed the sunset sitting on carpets strewn over the dunes. Our safari included a full Bedouin-style dinner with starters, a soup course, delicious lamb cooked in the ground, and fruit, dates and Arabic coffee for desert. I also tried my first (and likely last) Shisha… the traditional Arabic water pipe with fruit flavored tobacco. No henna tattoos for me, though there was an artist available. Entertainment was provided… first, two young men in national dress did a rousing number with wooden guns; and second, a beautiful young women (fully clothed… not a belly dancer) who did a folkloric Khaleeji dance (which involves flipping one’s hair around very fast and gyrating one’s neck and shoulders quite seductively). It was wild but really very sensual and beautiful.
A Valentine's dinner at the hotel’s beach-side restaurant, Sea Fu, capped our stay.
After, we killed a couple of hours at Mercury, the hotel’s roof top lounge… GREAT views of the city and even GREATER people watching. There’s even a private tower for the truly “behind the velvet rope” experience. We snuck up for a few minutes.
The Dubai airport is a different scene at night… filled to bursting with people from all walks of life. I would love to have seen the Emirates lounge there, but alas, “no go” on a staff ticket. I’m sure it’s great and an absolute must to get any peace from all your fellow weary travelers.
All in all a wonderful trip and one we’d do again, though next time we’ll devote more time to Dubai.