Travelling to the Middle East with children is a joy. My husband and I were on our first trip with our eight-month-old son and were apprehensive to say the least. We just about managed on the UK end – people were relatively helpful. But on arrival at Dubai International Airport, we were treated like VIPs: plucked from a lengthy queue and ushered to a separate desk for passport control with efficient attendants in crisp white robes handling our paperwork. What a welcome to the United Arab Emirates – and how refreshing!
The good news didn’t stop there. The red carpet treatment continued at the Sofitel Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa. A welcome retreat from the hubbub of Dubai’s city centre, this brand-new resort, sprawled across a private beach on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah Island, is a breath of fresh air. Famous for its views from above, the island consists of a main trunk, a crown with 16 fronds and a surrounding crescent island that forms an 11 km-long breakwater. No mean feat of engineering, the whole thing is constructed from sand dredged from the bottom of the Persian Gulf, and residents started moving into properties on the Palm at the end of 2006, five years after land reclamation began.
Despite being located on artificial land, and being part of a large hotel conglomerate, Sofitel The Palm has a sunny French Polynesian disposition and plenty of charm. Its organic architecture, gently trickling water features and vertical gardens create a breezy tropical atmosphere that extends throughout the hotel.
We were allocated a bright and colourful ocean-facing junior suite with direct access to the beach. With an enormous sitting room, a second TV and guest bathroom, as well as access to a private terrace boasting a small garden and two seating areas, there was plenty of space for us to spread out. Staff had the foresight to set up a cot for our son, as well as a baby bath (along with organic baby bubble bath and shampoo), plus a changing mat, steriliser and bottle warmer. Travelling for the first time with a baby can be quite stressful, so it was reassuring to know that we were well-equipped, and in the evenings, the hotel can arrange babysitting.
I’m told all 361 deeply comfortable rooms come with balconies, while the suites boast 24-hour butlers and private lounges. For those requiring further privacy, there are beach villas with their own roof terraces and pools, or hotel apartments for longer stays.
With eight different restaurants to choose from, there’s no need to leave the resort at mealtimes, and for later on, there are seven bar/lounges and Dubai’s newest nightclub to enjoy. The seafood restaurant, Moana, is particularly good. Surrounded by water, this poolside dining spot has a ‘Raw Bar’ serving the finest sushi, sashimi and ceviche this side of Japan. We enjoyed some of the best seafood we’ve had in a long time (the salmon ceviche was so delicious, we had to go back for a second sitting).
Our days were spent relaxing in a thatched cabana equidistant from the palm-fringed swimming pool and the sea. Efficient staff delivered bottles of cold rosé and light lunches upon request. The usual activities are on offer of course: paddle boarding, golf, tennis etc, and there’s a great kids club should you be interested, but we chose to make the most of the So SPA, where a revitalising massage and facial brought me back into the land of the living. The standard was excellent.
More often than not, hotel staff in Dubai hail from the Philippines and India. In the UEA to earn money, and away from their families for long stretches, they are only too keen to play with guests’ children. I don’t think our son has ever had quite so much attention!
We were in Dubai for a sunshine break, and this hotel worked perfectly for us. But if you’re after more action, next door lies the legendary Atlantis, housing a giant waterpark and the extraordinary Lost Chambers Aquarium. Beyond that, it’s just a 15-minute taxi ride to most of Dubai’s hotspots. Those looking for an alcoholic drink will have to go to one of the city’s international hotels (of which there are many), but there are endless other attractions on offer including souks, the world’s most spectacular fountains, the Dubai Mall, the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, and Ski Dubai, with 22,500 square metres of indoor skiing – and a few penguins thrown in.
Had someone told me that our first holiday with our son would be a slice of Polynesian paradise on an artificial island built three miles out to sea, I would never have believed them. But as they say, nothing is impossible in Dubai…