How to have an unforgettable Dubai experience
Dubai has redefined the experience of luxury and consistently expands the definition of ‘Grand Opulence’. It is a haven of magical hotels, superlative restaurants and extravagantly themed shopping malls. More than a city of sun, sand and shopping, I was especially blown away with the gamut of once-in-a-lifetime experiences the City of Gold has to offer.
Where to Stay
One&Only Royal Mirage
This hotel surpassed even our highest expectations of an uber luxurious and exclusive experience. Aromatic vistas of scented gardens invited us in as we arrived at the Residence & Spa beside the warm waters of the private beach. Straight out of the charm and indulgence of ‘Sex & the City 2’, this intimate sanctuary is perfect to languish in the comfort of pampering service. The bars and restaurants here feature gourmet dishes of the creme de la creme of Dubai’s finest masters. After a fabulous time spent luxuriating in their relaxing pools and 5-star spa, we were loath to leave.
The sheer size of our suite at Raffles Dubai with stunning views of the city skyline took our breath away. Surrounded by lush private gardens, the pyramid-shaped edifice is a sumptuous treat to the senses. Of the hotel’s half-dozen restaurants and pubs, two require special mention: head to the basement to enjoy superb steak and seafood at Fire & Ice along with a selection from their award-winning wine list. Marvel at the iconic Dubai skyline at the pyramid’s pinnacle at TOMO, a Japanese Izakaya-inspired restaurant. A shopping adventure lies around the corner as the hotel adjoins Wafi, one of Dubai’s most exclusive shopping malls.
Jumeirah Dar Al Masyaf
We topped off our exotic vacation with our very own Arabian palace. Gently winding our way on a spectacular waterway, we were led to an enchanting private two-storey summerhouse cottage. You truly feel like royalty with access to your own butler service, a dizzying range of delectable dishes from over 40 restaurants, bars and lounges, a souk with over 75 boutiques, a theatre, and spa. We enjoyed a splashing day with complementary access to the Wild Wadi Waterpark, and then entered a world of imagination and entertainment at the Sinbad’s Kids Club.
Intercontinental Dubai Festival City
InterContinental Dubai-Festival City is right where all the action is and is the perfect starting point for your urban adventure. Wake to a beautiful view of the Dubai Creek, dine at their Micheline-starred restaurant and then set out to explore the dozens of internally connected shopping malls and leisure facilities. Relax at the end of the day at their rooftop temperature-controlled infinity swimming pool or destress at their impressive spa with saunas and steam baths.
Where to Enjoy Nightlife
This lavish restaurant & lounge bar is situated right at the Dubai Marina, boasting a fusion of flavours and cultures from across the spice route. We booked one of their exclusive lounges, each of which has individual decor inspired by destinations such as Thailand, Persia, Bali etc. Their mixologists enthralled our taste buds with fantastic drinks, further augmented with original specialties including Sriracha butter lobster, Sambai chicken tajine, Persian style black cod, and Lamb kofta siew mai.
Oscar’s Vine Society
No reservations or suit jackets here, this cosy space welcomed us to sink in and unwind. We sampled several delicate bouquets of more than 100 types of grape as the staff shared the ins and outs of the various regions. The menu focuses on stews, soups and game dishes, while the cheese platters are ideal for sharing. Its French provincial theme with a cave-like setting and painted floral motifs afforded the ideal intimate setting.
Get the party started at White Dubai, a top-class club consistently ranked at the #1 spot. Chart-topping pop stars, superstar rappers and acclaimed DJs present fresh and elaborate entertainment. As they perform in the middle of the round bar, get up close and personal with some of your favourite international celebrities.
Where to Shop
Store trawling is the major attraction in Dubai, and Dubai’s shopping experience is unrivalled in the world, as the malls offer surreal attractions and experiences of unrestrained fantasy.
As the world’s largest retail, leisure and entertainment destination, The Dubai Mall was the first stop on our shopaholic’s list. With more than 1,200 stores, the mall is home to all of the world’s biggest brands, from clothing and accessories to house ware and electronics.
The gargantuan Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski slope with real snow. Between shopping and hitting the beach, we could not resist a quick slalom. There’s even a resident troupe of penguins who live in their own icy enclosure, emerging for special Penguin Encounters with the public. This is surpassed by the Mall of Arabia at 10 million sq. ft. of a shopper’s paradise, complete with a real-life Jurassic Park–like dinopark called Restless Planet.
Nestled along the banks of Dubai Creek, the traditional souk markets still retain much of their original charm. The exotic gold and spice souks lie together on the Deira side of the creek. Upon arrival, we were hit by a fragrant cloud of scent, as cinnamon, ginger, cloves and other spices jostle with clouds of frankincense. The Textiles Souk is on the other side of the creek — a 2-minute journey on an abra, water taxi. As we were staying long enough, we sought out tailors to run up some local outfits for us. Our suitcases fairly bulged with reams of colourful fabric and stacks of exquisite scarves and pashminas.
Where to Eat
Cuisine: European, especially seafood
Ambience: A romantic outpost far from the noise, set on a bedecked pier outing out into the Arabian Gulf.
Delicious Entrees to Dessert: The menu sports classics including oysters, scallops, sashimi and lobster, as well as an array of fresh fish. Of the mains, the lobster thermidor is a sheer crustacean delight, beautifully presented with roasted cauliflower and a mustard sauce. Also sample their scrumptious apple tart and chocolate mille-feuille.
Majlis Al Bahar
Ambience: Located on the magnificent Burj Al Arab’s private island, it features a simple yet divine decor of tables on the sand.
Delicious Entrees to Dessert: Feast on barbecued shrimp, lobster, kebabs and seasoned chicken, all cooked with a grin on a live flame.
Cuisine: Traditional Arabian
Ambience: An isolated oasis resort hidden amongst and surrounded by sand dunes. We were entertained by actors riding horses and acting out swordplay, with belly dancers and henna artists.
Delicious Entrees to Dessert: It is a haven of Arabic cuisine, with dishes lovingly prepared in front of your eyes at live cooking stations, wood-fired ovens and spit roasts. Whole lamb, skewered chicken and grilled-to-order fish are all on the menu, not to mention the huge array of desserts to choose from — so make sure you leave some room.
Must Experience at least Once-in-a-Lifetime
Enjoy a thrilling zipline ride over downtown Dubai. From 90 metres above Emaar Boulevard, I could not suppress a gasp at the breathtaking city skyline. A gentle push had me gliding through the air, the wind in my hair and freedom soaring in my heart. Winding over the Dubai fountains to the rooftop of Dubai Mall, it is one of the longest ziplines, and offers a new vantage point as you float over familiar landmarks such as the Burj Khalifa from up above.
Ride across the desert of Dubai on an exciting dune drive. Try your skill at sand boarding or quad biking. After an adventurous drive dune bashing, we stopped at a camel farm and enjoyed camel rides for that perfect Arabian fantasy. Dressed in the traditional garb of an Arabian prince/princess, we sat down to a delicious barbeque along with shisha and Arabic coffee. At the end of the most exotic day, we watched the sun set over the desert as it bathed the landscape in brilliant yellows and oranges.
For the most daring and heart-palpitating experience, leap and feel the thrill of a free fall with a tandem jump with an expert skydiver. The whole experience is a full-scale immersion of the senses. As you swoop over the manmade island of Palm Jumeirah and the Dubai Marina, the incredible views and heavenly feeling of flight is bound to leave you speechless. Most certainly an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience!
End note: Dubai is a constantly changing hub of exceptional experiences, a byword for luxury and extravagance galore. From sampling some of the best drinks to dining at restaurants featuring Michelin-star chefs, it was like going to the best party ever. I felt like royalty and a VIP all combined into a glittering experience. With its glamorous architecture, exotic adventures, thrilling activities round every corner and the brilliant sandy beaches, Dubai is my top favourite luxury vacation. Whatever I have ever imagined, and some of it truly out of this world, Dubai made it happen!