By Jesse Michaels www.torontosun.com
When it comes to stylish luxury travel, Dubai’s high end hotels, theme parks and malls stand out as superlative choices for pampered tourists.
These attractions and more are expanding in one of the most dynamic — and fastest growing — destinations on the planet.
But first you have to get there.
Emirates Airlines has you covered in that respect. Aboard the massive A380 super jumbo jet from Toronto, opulence abounds. It’s so pleasant, you might almost forget you’re on an airplane.
Economy seats have more room to recline and adjustable headrests. Luxury is taken up about 10 notches in business and first class (with 76 and 14 seats respectively).
In business class, every seat has aisle access and folds into a flat bed. Throw in a mini bar, and a massage option on your seat and you’ve got the makings of very comfortable trip. With direct flights from Toronto to Dubai, the flight time clocks in at approximately 13 hours — plenty of time to eat, sleep and take full advantage of the built-in entertainment system in your business class seat. Once settled in, Emirates superb cabin crew come around with menus so you can start planning your meal(s) en route.
Inflight food and drink are part of the reason why Emirates’ service is so highly rated — everything is of the highest quality with much thought put into preparation and presentation. And you can also stroll to the bar at the back of business class for a before or after dinner drink at any time. There are canapes and other finger foods to munch on while taking in the view or chatting with someone at the bar.
If the A380 business class is not luxurious enough, Emirates has outdone itself in first class. Each seat — or suite — can be closed-off for complete privacy. First class flyers also have access to an exclusive lounge and two shower spas, where you can take a shower at 40,000 feet in a bathroom that’s probably bigger than your powder room back home.
Once in Dubai, you’ll find visiting the luxury hotels are half the fun. Choices include business/conference hotels, super luxurious brand hotels and resort hotels well off the beaten path.
Imagine staying in busy neighbourhood that didn’t exist five years ago and you’ve got Festival City. This brand new area contains hotels, malls, offices, schools and a lovely promenade. The Intercontinental Hotel in Festival City caters to business travellers but don’t let that fool you — the rooms are elegant but comfortable, and the breakfast buffet has something for everyone. It’s so huge you may need to work it off afterward in the well appointed gym.
If sky is the limit luxury is more your thing, the Armani Hotel Dubai should be where you rest your head. Housed in the Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest building — the Armani Hotel spares no expense to satisfy guests.
Upon check-in, guests are assigned a lifestyle manager who will guide you to your room, answer questions and help plan your stay in Dubai as needed. And yes, the minimalist Armani brand elegance extends to every part of the hotel. It takes a bit of getting used to at first but the sheer elegance of the rooms and the public spaces are actually quite inviting. The hotel has numerous restaurants for just about any taste and does an excellent breakfast buffet.
If you want to get away from the hustle-bustle but still pamper yourself, the Al Maha Desert Resort is an excellent choice. The 50-unit resort is inside the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, about 65 km from the city centre. The suites are all self-contained buildings styled like a tented Bedouin settlement. Each suite has a private pool and is incredibly secluded.
Activities include falconry, camel treks into the desert, horse rides and desert safaris. Since the resort is in a conservation area, there is wildlife all around, including the Arabian oryx, a mid-sized white antelope with straight horns.
Dining at Al Maha is in the main building, which also acts as a meeting point for the tours and treks that depart throughout the day. Dinner is best enjoyed al fresco on the patio and is quite enjoyable at night when temperatures are cooler in the desert.
Luxury for less
While Dubai is an expensive place to visit, there are many activities that won’t break the bank.
If shopping — or window shopping — is your thing, Dubai’s malls will keep you occupied for days. From Dubai Mall — the world’s largest, with an aquarium, skating rink and endless shops — to the Mall of the Emirates, you may never want to leave. Make sure to check out Ski Dubai in Mall of the Emirates — it even has a black (difficult) run if you are up for it!
Getting to and from the malls — and almost everywhere in between — is incredibly simple thanks to the city’s state-of-the-art transit system. The futuristic, gleaming metro stations are easy to access and, like everywhere else in Dubai, you’ll have no problem finding English-speaking employees. The driverless trains announce destinations in Arabic and English. For an extra kick, buy a day pass for the exclusive “gold class cabin” with its 18 leather seats. There’s one on each train.
You can also experience adventure at affordable prices in Dubai through adventure travel companies, including Arabian Adventures. Everything from walking tours to desert safaris, dune racing and treks into neighbouring Oman are offered at reasonable prices.
Of course, be sure to do some exploring on your own. The following can be done for minimal or no cost: Take in Dubai’s incredible skyscrapers, including the Burj Khalifa. Walk around old Dubai and explore the gold and spice souks. Take an abra (boat) ride across Dubai Creek.
IF YOU GO TO DUBAI
Contact the following for details: Emirates Airlines, see emirates.com. Intercontinental Hotel Festival City, ichotelsgroup.com. Armani Hotel Dubai, dubai.armanihotels.com. Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, al-maha.com. Dubai Mall, thedubaimall.com. Mall of the Emirates, malloftheemirates.com. Dubai Metro, dubaimetro.eu. Arabian Adventures, arabian-adventures.com. Burj Khalifa, burjkhalifa.ae.