GET LOST IN THE FUTURISTIC WONDER AND BOUNTIFUL TRADITION OF THE ENTRANCING EMIRATE OF DUBAI
BY AMANDA McCOY
Dubai is a city of superlatives, from its logic defying architecture to over the top service. Heralded as the “City of Gold” (a reference to the dizzying number of gold shops peppered throughout the streets), it’s home to the world’s tallest skyscraper, an electric, round the clock nightlife scene, and truly decadent dining experiences. Where else can you casually order gold infused cappuccino with your pancakes? But beyond the $1,000 cocktails and Lamborghini Aventador cop cars lies a rich cultural identity unlike any other metropolis in the world.
The Emirate of Dubai is one of seven in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which became a sovereign nation in 1971 after gaining independence from Great Britain. With a population of 3.3 million, the once humble fishing and trading hamlet is now the most populous of all the emirates and one of the fastest growing cities on the planet. Unlike many of its neighbors, Dubai’s economy is not fastened to oil (petroleum, in fact, only accounts for 1% of the city’s total GDP). Instead, finance, IT, trade, and tourism are the driving forces of the roaring economy, the latter drawing in nearly $31 billion in revenue in 2018, making it the world’s top city for visitor spending.
Stretched along the Persian Gulf on the East Arabian Peninsula, the region enjoys a tropical desert climate, with highs ranging from 75 in January to a sweltering 106 degrees in July and August. End of year is typically a stellar time to visit as the weather remains warm and sunny but substantially more pleasant than the hot, arid summers. Arabic is the official language, but because of the city’s large expatriate population, most people communicate in English.
Many airlines run nonstop routes from JFK to Dubai (DXB), but few make the journey as luxurious as the Emirates first class cabin on its flagship A380. Touted as the closest a traveler can get to a private jet experience on a commercial airline, the ticket includes a fully enclosed private suite, a spacious shower spa with Bvlgari amenity kits, moisturizing sleepwear designed to prevent skin dehydration, an onboard lounge for cocktails and canapés, and more. Thoughtful touches abound, from the Dom Pérignon and caviar appetizer to the recessed vanity lights and personal mini bar that retracts with the touch of a button. Emirates runs a daily flight from JFK to DXB, departing at 11:00 p.m. and arriving at 7:45 p.m. the following day.
On your journey home, be sure to carve out extra time to relax in the massive Emirates First Class Lounge at DXB, which houses a spa facility with complimentary treatments, a dedicated cigar room, wine cellar, and sleeping lounge.
Rising 163 floors and 2,722 feet into the air (for perspective, the tip of Manhattan’s One World Trade peaks at 1,792 feet), the Burj Khalifa has maintained its title as the world’s tallest skyscraper since it opened in 2010. It houses three observation decks on levels 124, 125, and 148, plus a 122nd floor fine dining restaurant with panoramic vistas of the sprawling cityscape, surrounding desert, and Persian Gulf. From any of the decks, spectators can also glimpse the world’s tallest fountain, a 30 acre choreographed display on Burj Khalifa’s man-made lake.
With its 72 nautical miles of coastline often described as the eighth wonder of the world – Dubai is celebrated for its thriving yacht culture, and there are a host of luxury yacht charters for hire plus dinner and sunset cruises. Climb aboard and be treated to a delicious front row tour of the towering architecture, man-made islands, leviathan waterparks, and other fascinating structures, and on calm days, you might just spot a green sea turtle or bottlenose dolphin gliding through the balmy waters.
Hawking everything from gold and textiles to perfume and herbs, the vibrant open air souks (markets) are a fascinating relic of the city’s 200 year history as a trading port and crossroads between Asia, Africa, and Europe. One of the jewels of the city is the ambrosial Spice Souk in the locality of Al Ras. This buzzing, colorful emporium is brimming with aromatic spices, fresh herbs, holistic supplements, oils, and more, offering an authentic taste of traditional Arabian culture.
WHERE TO STAY
BURJ AL ARAB
The Burj Al Arab by luxury hospitality brand Jumeirah is a gold and diamond encrusted masterpiece. Rising from an artificial island on a private curving bridge, the oft touted seven star resort (though no such rating officially exists) is a glittering lantern of the city’s grandeur. Its iconic silhouette was inspired by the sail of a dhow (Arab sailing vessel) and the PTFE coated glass facade brilliantly reflects the sun’s rays by day then transforms into a massive projection screen by night. Once the sun sets, the 56 story structure illuminates with flashy, color changing hues and pounding strobe effects.
Guests arrive via a complimentary chauffeured Rolls Royce pickup, or they can opt for a private helicopter (the helipad is suspended nearly 700 feet into the air and doubles as an aerial tennis court), and then are treated to a glorious “Marhaba Welcome,” including rose water, cold towel, Arabic coffee, and dates (a Middle Eastern delicacy). Every detail in this all-suite hotel radiates opulence; the interior is coated in over 20,000 square feet of 24K gold leaf and boasts 30 different types of marble; the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, Junsui, is home to the planet’s largest Swarovski crystal ceiling; and the SKYVIEW Bar takes the gold medal for the city’s most expensive cocktail. “Diamonds are Forever” is an unapologetic blend of Lheraud Vintage Grande Champagne Cognac, the Bitter Truth bitters by Jerry Thomas, and Luxor 24K Gold Flake Champagne served in a bedazzled Swarovski crystal flute. To soften the sting of the nearly $1,400 price tag, patrons get to keep the glass.
At bedtime, choose your perfect pillow from the menu (boasting 17 different options) and bask in the cloud like duvets, each filled with rare eiderdown harvested from abandoned eider duck nests in Iceland. Prices start at $1,875 per night. jumeirah.com
Dubai provides a practically endless supply of modern architectural splendor, but as soon as you exit the city limits, a spellbinding Arabian adventure awaits. Magic Camps Dubai offers an otherworldly overnight experience deep in the rolling dunes of the Sharjah desert. Guests are escorted to the private camp via a desert Jeep safari through the saffron tinted dunes. Once guests settle into their en suite Berber style tent each luxuriously outfitted in authentic Arabian décor, bedding, and art the surrounding wilderness becomes a mystical playground. Ride a camel, sand board the rolling slopes, and go quad biking by day, then return to your villa to enjoy a private feast prepared by your personal chef. At night, swim in the ocean of stars overhead. Prices start at $2,100 per night. magiccamps.com
WHERE TO DINE
This white tablecloth restaurant in the Atlantis Resort offers a fantasy dining adventure that tantalizes more than taste buds alone. Enveloped by a floor to ceiling aquarium, the dining room appears fully underwater. Feast on a sophisticated menu of Royal Beluga caviar, deep sea prawns, and barbecued légine as schools of exotic fish, stingrays, sharks, and other aquatic wildlife pass by. atlantis.com/dubai/restaurants/ossiano
A traditional Emirati restaurant and café with museum quality garb and artifacts, Al Fanar might not offer the Swarovski crystal draped glamour of other establishments, but its tantalizing spread of authentic Arabian delicacies make this city staple a must. Indulge in sizzling platters of jesheed (baby shark cooked with onions and spices), robyan mashwi (grilled jumbo prawns), and fresh kebabs, and wash it down with saffron or cardamom tea. alfanarrestaurant.com