Dubai Travel TipsDubai – Arabian Nights
Dubai is the Sin City of the Middle East. Perched at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, flanked by the Indian subcontinent to the East and the Persian Gulf to the North, Dubai is the playground of the beyond-wealthy. The Dubai circuit is all about lavish dinners, lavish nightlife, and lavish people.
The Lap of Luxury
Dubai is filled with so many upscale abodes that you’d actually need to make an effort to have a mediocre hotel experience. The choicest addresses are the brand new Armani Hotel and The Address Downtown Dubai, both situated at the base of the Burj Khalifa and next to the Dubai Mall, the world’s tallest building and largest mall, respectively. Be sure to request a room overlooking the Dubai Fountain. At The Address, head up to the third floor for a dip in the multi-level pool that overlooks the Burj Khalifa Lake and the Dubai Mall – surreal urban views. At the Armani, wander through the luxurious common areas (the entire hotel is wallpapered in grey silk fabric) and grab a cocktail as you gaze at the sparkling Dubai Fountain Show.
The Middle Eastern Weekend
In Dubai, the weekend kicks off Thursday night. Once you’ve checked in and cleaned up, take a taxi to Zuma in the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC)for a late bite and cocktails. Reserve a table upstairs in the lounge and then indulge in the best Japanese fusion in Dubai. After dinner, follow the crowd through the DIFC to Caramel for a drink on their spacious outdoor terrace. Caramel serves surprisingly well-executed food and drinks, which keeps the Thursday night crowd of bankers and socialites wandering between Zuma and Caramel until midnight when bar service ends. If you want to keep going, head to Okku at The Monarch Dubai, a Japanese fusion restaurant that turns into a dance club after 10pm on Thursdays. Before it gets ridiculously late, walk down the street to The Fairmont to have a cocktail at the much-hyped Cavalli Club. It’s full of rich Arabs and their Russian friends so it doesn’t disappoint when it comes to people – or car – watching. Don’t linger too long, as you’ll want to rejoin the Okku set who by now have migrated to People by Crystal, at the top of the pyramid-shaped Raffles Dubai in Wafi for some clubbing. If you’re nice, they’ll let you park your Ferrari right in front.
It’s Not Just the People who are Rich
While shiny brand new on the outside, Dubai is rich in history. Wake up early, if you can, to explore Dubai’s museum and art scene before returning to its more devious excesses. Hire an abra, a traditional wooden boat, to take you across the creek to the Dubai Museum andAl Bastakiya. The museum provides a good overview of the city’s history and nearby is Al Bastakiya, a pedestrian-only neighborhood that houses many of the city’s art galleries, including Majlis and XVA.
The Boozy Brunch
The Friday brunch in Dubai is an institution. Hotels across the city offer brunch coupled with unlimited alcohol to expats who, as a result, sometimes end up on the wrong side of the law. Traiteur at the Park Hyatt serves the best all-you-can-eat champagne brunch. Afterwards, check into the Amara Spa for soothing treatments in your own private suite and garden. Alternatively, stick to the pool at The Address for one of the hottest Friday night scenes.
Shop like a Sheikh
While the party crowd takes a siesta, join in another Friday ritual: shopping. The Dubai Mall is open until midnight, and as its marketing tagline boasts, “it has everything.” With 1,200 stores, the world’s largest aquarium, a gold souk, over 150 restaurants, and an indoor SEGA theme park, Dubai Mall may take awhile to explore. Because of Dubai’s unique mix of inhabitants and visitors, the Dubai Mall brings together an amazing collection of boutiques and brands from around the world, many of which are unavailable in the United States. Begin with Fashion Avenue section and then take an espresso break at Armani Caffé,Fouquet’s, or Joe’s Café, a local favorite. For great views, don’t miss At The Top, the observation deck at Burj Khalifa. Tickets are sold across from Magnolia Bakery – yes, that Magnolia Bakery – or you can book in advance and pay extra to jump the queue.
Play in the Sand
Wake up early on Saturday to explore the desert with Desert Rangers (www.desertrangers.com), a reliable tour operator that offers a morning of dune buggy driving. Be prepared to dig sand out of various body crevasses and skip any add-ons that they’ll try to offer (meals, belly dancers, etc.)
After your morning adventure, walk back to the Dubai Mall to enjoy lunch at Wafi Gourmet on the ground level. Wafi serves some of the best Lebanese food in the city, where you can gorge on juicy kebabs, fresh mezzes, and wonderful mint lemonades.
If you’re longing for sun and sand, you’re in luck: Most beach hotels offer day passes for purchase. Head to the Mina A’Salam Hotel at the Madinat Jumeirah, get your beach pass at the hotel’s health club, and spend the afternoon on a gorgeous stretch of sand with unobstructed views of the famous Burj Al Arab hotel, the self-anointed 7-star hotel and Dubai’s most famous landmark until the opening of the Burj Khalifa.
If you’re in Dubai with a group of friends, charter a yacht and spend the afternoon really rolling like a local. Xclusive Yachts (www.xclusiveyachts.com) offers a range of boat sizes, and allows you to bring your own food and drinks. Meet your skipper at the Dubai Marina and have him take you past the impressive Palm Jumeirah, Burj Al Arab, and islands of The World. Then, drop anchor along the shoreline for a dip in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf.
Hey Mr. DJAfter the beach or boat, head over to Nasimi Beach at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeirah. Every Saturday (and sometimes on Friday), Nasimi hosts an all day/all night party with DJs spinning on the beach. It’s a full-on Ibiza vibe – sans the illegal substances. Squeeze in a late dinner nearby at Indigo in the Grosvenor House Hotel, which serves some of the best high-end Indian in Dubai. Alternatively, enjoy the deliciously inventive tasting menu at STAY by Yannick Alléno (the three-star Michelin chef of Le Meurice in Paris)at the gorgeous One and Only The Palm.
Following a pre-dinner drink at Calabar, dinner options include Bice Mare for meticulous seafood-focused Italian cuisine. Try the local grouper (called hamour) or the lobster pasta if your date is paying. Afterwards, stop by the Palace Hotel to smoke shisha by the pool or return to The Address for late-night drinks at Neos on the 63rd floor.
Ski in the Desert
Save Sunday morning for a couple hours on the slopes at Ski Dubai inMall of the Emirates, or “MoE” as it’s called. A two-hour pass comes with everything you’ll need – skis, boots, poles, helmet, ski jacket, pants, and socks. There are black and blue runs, a bunny hill, moguls, and a mid-piste lodge called Avalanche Café where you can warm up over hot chocolate. The Mall of the Emirates is also home to a wide array of sumptuous shops, including Boutique 1,a homegrown multi-brand concept store, similar to Barneys or Fred Segal.
From MoE, stroll along the beachfront pedestrian shopping street Marina Walkandenjoy some yummy Turkish food on the terrace of Köşebaşıas you watch the mix of bikini- and Abaya-clad ladies pass by.
A Send-off in Style
Treat yourself to a proper send-off at Le Méridian Garhoud for a late, pre-flight dinner of excellent French cuisine at Café Chic. From here, it’s just a two-minute taxi ride to Terminal 3. If you’re flying Business or First, Emirates offers a separate entrance and amazing lounge. Take the return flight EK 203 that leaves at 2am and arrives at JFK at 7:45am, in time to start the work week.
To get started, book your flight on Emirates Airlines, which runs an excellent non-stop service on the new A380 from JFK to Dubai (DXB) twice daily. For your weekend getaway, take the flight that leaves New York on Wednesday around 11pm and arrives into Dubai Terminal 3 on Thursday evening at 8pm. Book the Marhaba Diamond Service in advance to have an airport official meet you at your arrival gate and escort you quickly through passport control and customs (www.marhabaservices.com). U.S. and E.U. citizens are granted a 30-day stay upon arrival. If you hold another passport, then Emirates can organize your visa in advance when you fly with them. If you’re flying on Emirates in Business or First Class, then a car service will be waiting after customs to take you anywhere in Dubai. Otherwise, your hotel can arrange a pick-up but then again, taxis are inexpensive and plentiful. The local currency is the dirham (AED), and ATMs are everywhere.
When to go: November through April. Avoid the hot summer months (June-September) when temperatures are consistently above 100°F, unless you are content to spend your time indoors shopping, skiing, or spa-ing or in outdoor chilled pools. Also, some choose to avoid Ramadan –the Muslim holy month during which observers fast from dawn until dusk – when many stores and restaurants are closed during the day. However, after sunset Ramadan can be one of the most festive times to be in the Muslim world. (In Dubai, friends and families gather every night at sundown to break their fast (Iftar), feast, and relax.) Ewaan at the Palace Hotel has one of the best Iftars in Dubai. The malls have extended hours (often well past midnight), and many residents stay up late into the night eating and smoking shisha. The end of Ramadan is marked by a multi-day holiday called Eid ul-Fitr, which is filled with eating and gift-giving.
What to pack: Sunglasses, sun hat, sun block (very high SPF), swimsuit, winter hat, gloves (for Ski Dubai – they provide the rest), more conservative maxi dresses or long pants for public day venues (malls, museums, public spaces), on-trend, over-the-top outfits for night (the more sparkling and sexier the better at the party venues and restaurants with liquor licenses), and bling handbags, shoes (heels and sandals), and jewelry to keep up with the Gulf Arab women in Abayas (black over-garments that cover hair and clothing, and sometimes the entire face).