I extended my Uganda trip to include 5 days in Dubai, and as soon as I arrived it felt like I was on another planet. Needing a Covid test on arrival due to United Arab Emirates requirements I was concerned that I may be stuck in the airport for a while. But clearly Dubai International Airport knows what it is doing: the Covid test, immigration, luggage collection and meeting my driver was all completed in a remarkable 25 minutes.
Originally this visit was to coincide with Dubai hosting the World Expo 2020, but that has been postponed a year. Dubai had invested multiple billions into the project to create an Epcot-style facility but on a scale that's beyond belief. I may return next year as it really does intrigue me.
Meanwhile, Dubai is open for tourism. Many Europeans head here for 1 or 2 week beach/city vacations, while the next most popular style of travel is the simple one or two night layover on the way to the Far East. Like everywhere, 2020 has hit Dubai hard even with what seems like infinite government support. With around 120 x 5-star hotels the choice is bewildering, and the value being offered right now is pretty crazy. We're talking high end luxury for the price of a Holiday Inn Express just off the Interstate. Just one of the many contrasts of Dubai.
Read on for some more examples, and I don't even mention the waterparks, aquarium, skiing...
Top 5 - Dubai Contrasts
1. Burj Khalifa (above)
Just 3 days after the most amazing experience of nature in my life, gorilla tracking, I found myself heading up the tallest building in the world. Both entailed climbing a bit, but luckily I had an elevator in Dubai.
At over 2,716.5 feet and more than 160 stories, Burj Khalifa holds the following records:
Tallest building in the world✅
Tallest free-standing structure in the world✅
Highest number of stories in the world✅
Highest occupied floor in the world✅
Highest outdoor observation deck in the world✅
Elevator with the longest travel distance in the world✅
Tallest service elevator in the world✅
It's quite an experience and as someone who is actually a little afraid of heights, the photos I took looking down took quite an effort. Well worth the entrance fee and the Covid protocols of limiting capacity and only allowing 4 in an elevator are working well.
2. Andaz Dubai The Palm (above and below)
For my first 3 nights I plumped for Andaz Dubai The Palm and I wasn't disappointed in one of my favorite understated luxury brands.
Hyatt rarely let me down with an upgrade and they went the full hog this time as I ended up in a prime view suite. The hotel has a beach multiple pools, including one 15 floors up and oozes sophistication.
As an advisor whose host agency Gifted Travel Network is a member of the exclusive Hyatt Prive, any clients booking with us at most Andaz properties globally will receive the same treatment, including a resort credit, complimentary breakfast. room upgrade etc.
3. Old Dubai (above)
Dubai stands in contrast to so many cities and countries, with incredible skyscrapers, its wealth prominently displayed, perfect beaches and a range of activities that in theory don't seem possible in such a location.
But there is also a stark internal contrast between Dubai old and new.My excellent local tour with Fayeed focused on Bur (Old) Dubai. There are some remaining buildings from the early 19th century still standing in a small area around Dubai Creek, and it was fascinating visiting a coffee museum. From there we headed to the original souks (markets), that both locals and now tourists flock to. The Gold souk is particularly crazy, with clearly a major competition between stores to display the most extravagant pieces possible.
The winner? Well, the world's largest ring is here. Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. The 21-carat behemoth (below) weighs 140 pounds, and is studded with an extra 11 pounds of diamonds and other precious stones, as well as 615 Swarovski crystals. It’s valued at about $3 million.
4. Al Maha Desert Resort (above and below)
Yet another crazy contrast I think, is that you can enjoy a desert safari just 45 minutes outside of the city. Part of Marriott's Luxury Collection, Al Maha is an extraordinary resort set in a huge conservation area in the desert. I made the most of the included activities and enjoyed archery, a desert nature drive, camel trek and even falconry, an age old tradition here.
The entry level Bedouin tent comes with it's own private pool, room service at no extra charge for any meal, a whole lot of charm, and an immense amount of privacy and calm. I highly recommend combining this place with a city stay to really get the full idea of the ancient Bedouin culture to oppose the modern amazement of Dubai.
5. Emirates First Class
If any airline points nerds are still reading, this is for you...
Many airlines globally have cut back on their service offering during longhaul flights, but Emirates stands in contrast. Apart from mask wearing, the service and amenities I enjoyed on my Dubai to Boston flight are pretty much unparalleled. Regular readers know I am a committed points nerd and this flight represented probably the second best award redemption out there...true First Class with Emirates. With a little over 100K points transferred from a Citi credit card to an Emirates loyalty account, I only booked this 3 weeks before departure as other flight bookings I'd made had slowly bitten the dust.
A fully enclosed suite, it was a hedonistic escape from almost everything for 14 hours. I'll let the surrounding photos do the talking.
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