Dubai: Where Dramatic Desert Meets Sensational Skylines

Dubai: Where Dramatic Desert Meets Sensational Skylines

Jill McBurney from Oasis Travel in Bangor gets a taste of Dubai as a guest of MSC Cruises and Emirates.

When it comes to escapist breaks, Dubai is very much front of mind.  Its great weather guarantee, fantastic hotels, stunning setting and general good value make this exotic destination a firm favourite with all sorts of people.

Of course it wasn’t always that way, for Dubai is a relative newcomer to the international tourism scene, with much of its development taking place in less than twenty-five years.  Perhaps because of that sensational desert-to-destination growth spurt, Dubai has a truly dynamic personality and there is a fabulous energy about the place.

I flew into the city with Emirates from Newcastle – a quick and efficient gateway for travellers from Belfast and the flag-carrier airline certainly gave its passengers an advance taste of the contemporary luxury which we tend to associate with Dubai.

Luxury lifestyle became a bit of a theme during my short stay, as I checked into and checked out some fantastic accommodation in the city.

My first night was spent at Address Dubai Marina which overlooks the world’s largest man-made marina and waterfront development … to say the views are stunning falls far short of the spectacle which awaits you here; fascinating by day and truly glorious by night! The hotel is beautifully appointed with absolutely everything you could want in terms of creature comforts, and its location makes it a perfect choice for exploration and also as a first stop for those, like me, planning to board one of the gorgeous liners moored close by.

I boarded the MSC Fantasia in Dubai Port and, although, I wasn’t lucky enough to be sailing (not this time anyway!) I did have an opportunity to see around the ship and get a sense of what is on offer.  MSC has a fantastic programme of cruises in the Middle East and beyond and the passengers I spoke to were all thrilled with their experiences both on board and at the fascinating ports of call in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. Shore excursions on offer are varied and take in not only the major tourism highlights of each destination, but also give an introduction to local culture and colour.  If you prefer to stay on board …. well, there’s still plenty to do.  I chatted with some guests who were enjoying the view of the Dubai skyline while revelling in the on-deck hot tub and imbibing a few cocktails.  What’s not to love, eh?

Understated elegance is the order of the day on board the Fantasia, with rich contemporary décor and the excellent guest facilities and amenities (including a brilliant live entertainment programme) we have all come to expect from MSC Cruises, including some wonderful fine as well as casual dining.

On, then to the world’s tallest hotel, the JW Marriott Marquis, located in the prestigious Business Bay, with absolutely breath-taking views across the city and a truly 5 star sophistication which harnesses the latest technology to ensure perfect comfort for its guests.

Bedrooms and suites are spectacularly well fitted with décor that could grace the cover of any style magazine and marble bathrooms which feature lighted makeup mirrors, rain showers and luxury toiletries.  The hotel has superb business facilities, making it hugely popular with the jet setting corporate market, but it’s equally suitable for affluent leisure travellers who appreciate the finer things of life.

If your taste for the good life includes dining, you will be spoilt for choice here, with a range of restaurants which include everything from Japanese, Thai and a Steakhouse to a Peruvian restaurant and – of course – one which majors on Middle Eastern cuisine.

Around 90 per cent of Dubai’s population actually come from outside the United Arab Emirates so this is an overwhelmingly cosmopolitan capital and that diversity is joyously reflected in the vast range of international eateries in the city. It’s also reflected in the shopping. Historically traders from all around the Middle East came to sell their wares in the souks around Dubai Creek (try traveling here by abra, the traditional local boat). Today you can still buy turquoise from Iran, silver treasures Oman, dates from Saudi Arabia, pearls from Bahrain …. And, when you move into the city’s marvellous air conditioned malls you’ll find the world’s biggest brands jostling for position and tempting you with great offers!  Retail here is fantastic; Dubai even has a spectacular souk, totally dedicated to gold.

Wonderful though the shopping is, there is much to see and do in Dubai.  Even on a short trip you’ll want to take in some of the highlights.  The major must-do experiences are, of course, a trip to the Observation Deck of the world’s tallest building, The Burj Khalifa; a stroll around the cultural riches on display at the Dubai Museum, an admiring visit to the city’s amazing Aquarium, and, perhaps a fantasy afternoon at IMG Worlds of Adventure, Dubai’s largest indoor theme park.

There are countless unusual experiences awaiting you in Dubai, from flying kites on Kite Beach to snowboarding at Ski Dubai (honestly!), but I would heartily recommend a desert safari.  For me this was a real highlight of the trip, a chance to become a true Lara Croft, racing over the sands in search of adventure and excitement!

I would also encourage a visit to the Dubai Fountain Show, a dazzling display of dancing water fountains and the most magical son et lumiere show I have witnessed anywhere in the world.

Submerged within the 30-acre Burj Lake, at the foot of The Dubai Mall, over an area the size of two football pitches are hidden fountains which spring into life nightly sending  jets of up to 22,000 gallons of water as high as 140m in the air at any one time. Each colourful, illuminated jet sways and dances in time to music, in the carefully choreographed production which has become the most popular show in Dubai.

This being Dubai, the show includes the tallest performing fountain in the world and the five circles of jets which shoot water high into the skies can be seen from over 30km away.  Best seats from which to enjoy the spectacle? That will be on board the new Dubai Fountain Lake Ride which sails during the show, but the Dubai Fountain Boardwalk also offers an amazing up close and personal experience as visitors stroll on the 272m floating platform which is just nine metres away from the fountains.

While the United Arab Emirates is of course a Muslim country, it’s not as conservative as some might expect and dress codes tend to be relaxed – reasonably modest holiday-wear being the norm, with a requirement to be particularly respectful when visiting holy sites and locations … your guide will advise.

There are plenty of organised tours and excursions on offer, but it is also easy to go it alone here, using the excellent metro system or simply hopping into a cab. Throughout the region the sale of alcohol is limited to within hotel restaurants, bars and clubs and excessive drinking is very much frowned upon.

Above all, Dubai is a tourist-friendly destination which extends a warm welcome to its many visitors, casting a magical spell which I certainly found impossible to resist.  I’m already planning my next trip!