Weekend in DubaiDubai - The Long Weekend
Perched at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, flanked by the Indian subcontinent to the East, and the Persian Gulf to the North, Dubai offers an exotic and exciting circuit of activities worthy of a long weekend. It is filled with luxury hotels and resorts, but for the Galavante reader we recommend the brand new Armani Hotel or The Address Hotel Downtown Dubai. The latter is unique to Dubai and 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 Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountain. Once settled, wander through the luxurious common areas then head up to the third floor for a dip in the multi-level pool that overlooks the Burj Khalifa Lake and the Dubai Mall in surreal urban resort style.
In Dubai, the weekend is Friday and Saturday but it kicks off on Thursday night. So 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 then indulge in the best Japanese fusion in all of Dubai. After dinner, follow the crowd through the DIFC to Caramel for a drink in their spacious outdoor terrace. Caramel serves surprisingly well-executed food and great drinks, which keeps the Thursday night crowd of bankers and socialites wandering between Zuma and Caramel until midnight when their bars stop serving. If you want to keep going, head to Okku at the Monarch Hotel. Okku is another Japanese fusion restaurant, but on Thursdays it turns into a dance club after 10p.m. 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 Club 400, also in the Fairmont.
Wake up early, if you can, to explore a bit of Dubai’s history and art scene before returning to its excesses. Hire an Abra, a traditional wooden boat, to take you across the creek to the Dubai Museum and Bastakiya. The Dubai Museum provides a good overview of the city’s history and just a few blocks is Bastakiya, a pedestrian-only neighborhood that now houses many of the city’s art galleries including Majlis and XVA. Hail a taxi, and cross the creek to the Park Hyatt for a Dubai institution—the Friday boozy brunch. Hotels across the city offer up 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, free-flowing champagne brunch. After brunch, check into the Amara Spa for soothing treatments in your own private suite and garden. Alternatively, stick to the pool at the Address Hotel for one of the hottest scenes on Fridays. The party has become so raucous that the hotel has stopped serving alcohol between 4 and 6pm to give its guests a break before dinner.
While the party crowd siestas, join 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 a while 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. For the Galavante reader, begin with the Fashion Avenue section then take an espresso break at Armani Caffé, Fouquet’s, or Joe’s Café, a local favorite. While there, if you like 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. Following a pre-dinner drink at Calabar, dinner options include Bice Mare for meticulous seafood-focused Italian cuisine. Try the local Grouper (called “Hammour”) or the lobster pasta if your date is paying. For a relaxed post-dinner experience, stop by the Palace Hotel to smoke Shisha by the hotel pool or return to the Address for late night drinks at Neos on the 63rd floor.
Wake up early on Saturday to explore the desert. Desert Rangers is a reliable local 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 such as mealsor belly dancers that they try to offer.
After your morning adventure, walk back to the Dubai Mall to enjoy lunch at Wafi Gourmet on the lower ground level. Wafi serves some of the best Lebanese food in the city and is a mandatory stop during your weekend. After gorging yourself on juicy kebabs, fresh mezzes, and wonderful mint lemonades, return to the Address to change for the beach or boat (your pick), and pack for an evening beach party.
If you’re longing for the beach, no worries. Most beach hotels offer day passes for purchase. Head to the Mina A’Salam Hotel at the Madinat Jumeirah, get your day 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 exploring Dubai from the sea to get really rolling like a local. Xclusive Yachts has a range of boat sizes and allows you to bring your own food and drinks or have the affair catered. 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.
After, head over to Nasimi Beach at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeirah. Every Saturday, Nasimi hosts an all day/all night party with DJ’s spinning on the beach giving the place an Ibiza vibe, sans the illegal substances. Squeeze in a late dinner nearby at Indego in the Grosvenor Hotel, serving some of the best high-end Indian.
Save Sunday morning for a couple hours on the slopes at Ski Dubai in Mall of the Emirates, or “MoE” as it is referred to here. Aside from a hat and pair of gloves, a two-hour pass comes with everything else you’ll need—skies, boots, poles, helmet, ski jacket, pants, and socks. There are black and blue runs, a bunny hill and moguls, as well as a mid-piste lodge called Avalanche Café that serves hot chocolate. The Mall of the Emirates is also home to a wide array of sumptuous shopping opportunities including Boutique 1, a home-grown, upscale, multi-brand concept store, similar to Barneys or Fred Segal.
From MoE, head over to the Marina Walk for a stroll down this outdoor pedestrian shopping street on the beach and enjoy some yummy Turkish food on the terrace of Köşe Başı as you watch the mix of bikini and Abaya-clad ladies pass by. As the reality of the end of your trip sinks in, treat yourself to a proper sendoff at Le Méridian Garhoud for a late, pre-flight dinner at Café Chic. The hotel is across from the airport, and Café Chic serves some of the best French in Dubai.
It’s now a 2-minute taxi ride to Terminal 3. If you are flying Business or First, Emirates has a separate entrance and amazing lounge. Take the return flight EK 203 that leaves at 2a.m. and arrives back to JFK at 7:45a.m.—in time to start the Monday 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 11p.m. and arrives into Dubai Terminal 3 on Thursday evening at 8p.m. Book the Marhaba Diamond Services in advance to have an airport official meet you at your arrival gate and escort you quickly through passport control and customs. 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 are 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. At the end of Ramadan is 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 space), 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).