At the end of last year, the world markets feared for Dubai’s financial health when Dubai World – the centrepiece of the gulf state’s economy – asked for more time to repay its debt. However, following financial aid from neighbouring Abu Dhabi and reassurances of transparency from the Dubai Supreme Fiscal Committee, there are certainly few outward signs of a city that is slowing down its expansion plans. Every other tower under construction or beach resort under new ownership is teeming with construction workers who will have their projects completed in record time – as everything is in Dubai.
Dubai is the land of superlatives, claiming many of the ‘world’s tallest’ or ‘world’s biggest’ in its accomplishments. This adds to the intensity and awe of a city that would never consider simply erecting a ten-story building with no particular stand-out features. The construction remit seems to be skyscrapers of limitless luxury and efficiency, not just to compete with each other, but their stature essential in the search of a view or sunshine.
With this pursuit of excellence and extremes come a service industry and administration that demonstrates the kind of efficiency that most countries could only hope for. Residents speak of almost never taking the same route to work each day because road building is so fast and efficient. One resident tells me that one day he did take the same route home and noticed a completely new roundabout (with shrubs and flowers planted) that had sprung up in a day – it hadn’t existed that morning!
The greatest achievement of all is the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, that was unveiled in early January this year to an audience of 400,000 and a world record of fireworks, lasers and water fountain displays. This building stands 828 metres (2,716.5 ft) high, breaking all existing world records for tall buildings: 320 metres taller than Taipei 101, which, at 508 metres was the world’s tallest building since 2004 and the equivalent of the Empire State Building standing on top of itself.
Being the world’s tallest tower, every record was broken in its construction. An eye-watering 22 million man hours were needed to complete the world’s highest occupied floor, the world’s highest outdoor observation deck, the world’s highest swimming pool and the world’s tallest service elevator, which travels to a height of 504 metres (1,654 ft). And just to demonstrate that this is truly a city of superlatives, the Burj Khalifa is adjoined by the world’s largest shopping mall, which houses the world’s largest man-made suspended aquarium and the world’s largest candy store. You could say Dubai does not do anything by halves.
As a city that is popular with the corporate traveller as well as tourists, it unsurprisingly has one of the most competitive hotel markets in the world. Offerings reach seven stars and some are so luxurious that they are unrateable. Standing tall in the heart of Dubai Marina is one of the Address Hotel group’s outstanding hotels, The Address Dubai Marina. Adjoining another of the city’s extravagant shopping malls, this feels like a city hotel from the impressive entrance to the vast marbled and polished interior.
With 200 sumptuous rooms, five superb restaurants, a spa and spectacular infinity pool, The Address Dubai Marina is indulgence personified. The fourth floor swimming pool allows you unusual but spectacular views of the surrounding buildings and the marina beneath. When darkness falls, this becomes a popular spot for visitors to enjoy a few cocktails under the twinkling lights of surrounding skyscrapers. Urban luxury is tempered with the white sand beaches of the Arabian Gulf just a stroll away – a wonderful contrast to the metropolitan sprawl around the Marina.
The restaurants in all Address hotels are exceptional with each having a restaurant that offers the ‘global buffet’, ensuring guests from all over the world have their tastes well catered for. Meals have been known to consist of exotic mixtures of sushi and Lebanese pastries, followed by Cantonese wok fried lobster or risotto and then miniature puddings that ranged from Lilliputian ice cream cones, multi-coloured macaroons, tiny chocolate fondants and tarte tartin all so decorative and tempting that it would be insulting to not try everything at least once.
Under the stately shadow of the Burj Khalifa lies a totally different experience in the shape of The Palace – The Old Town. Also part of The Address group, this traditional Arabian Palace sitting on the edge of a lagoon is encamped in palm trees to complete the feeling of an oasis of escape. Located on the Old Town Island, The Palace is at the heart of a traditional Arabian village, next to the Souk Al Bahar, facing The Dubai Fountain. The Fountain is put to work at dusk every day performing a spectacular show continuing Dubai’s pledge to impress and entertain. Although many come to the lagoon solely to watch the fountains, at The Palace you can lie back in one of the Arabian tents by the pool, drinking mint tea accompanied by heaps of baklava and fresh dates or an apple tobacco shisha pipe.
The Palace is also home to three international restaurants: Asado is an Argentinean grill offering the finest South American steaks, veal and kid goat from the Parrilla grill. Ewaan offers flamboyant and traditional Arabian dining and placed on a peninsula under the towering fountains sits Thiptara, a temple to great Thai cuisine that completes the hotel’s global offering.
Aside from the wonderful hotels, restaurants and the extraordinary shopping available in Dubai, travellers can indulge in experiences that are not quite so damaging to the wallet. The city’s hotels will prepare picnics to take on trips into the desert to watch the sunrise or sunset, while Arabian Explorers can take you on a city tour, a desert safari, sand dune driving or to the Hatta Village (a restored heritage site about 120km from Dubai).
If, like many, you have so far resisted the lure of the hype and fascination of Dubai – the shiniest of jewels in global travel – then you have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with many who consider themselves a more sophisticated or cultured traveller. If the archaeology of ancient Greece or the Coliseum of Rome is your favourite stomping ground, surely a new metropolis such as Dubai couldn’t possibly tick all your travel boxes? However, perhaps Dubai is man’s modern day Rome or Athens. Like the architecture of fourth century BC Athens or first century Rome, it is an extraordinary testament to man’s greatest creative achievements: a super-sized city that rose from the desert.
In short, Dubai is the ultimate escape with fantastical facilities and little sign of slowing its pursuit of excellence and luxury. Once finished, it will be a metropolis that will attract many for more reasons than the tax-free work. You will be spoilt and you will shop and perhaps you will see the birth of a new civilisation.