Melanie Tomlinson from Oasis Travel in Holywood explores the exotic sights of Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah courtesy of travel specialists, If Only.
Think of Dubai and the chances are that you will conjure up images of spectacular skylines and awesome architecture; stylish shopping malls and enough luxury to satisfy even the most demanding soccer superstar and his WAG.
That’s all true but, as I was to discover when I spent a packed weekend in Dubai recently, it’s only part of the picture.
Contemporary style abounds in a city which is, famously, a shopaholic’s delight and the architecture is bigger and more exciting that anything I could ever have imagined, but this is a destination which also boasts a rich cultural heritage. The past, inspired by Bedouin traditions, may be less immediately apparent, but it is certainly worth exploring and adds depth to any Dubai experience.
As to costs – well, even if, like me, you have champagne tastes but a beer budget, you can ‘do’ Dubai.
Dubai is steamy hot most of the year and, if that’s an issue with you, you may find the best time to visit is November-March when temperatures are inclined to be more moderate. If you’re hoping to top up the tan and enjoy the destination’s sun, sand and sea offer then spring and autumn are ideal, when you can soak up the sun by day and cool down after dark in fully air-conditioned restaurants, bars and shopping malls.
I travelled via Newcastle to Dubai, flying onward with Emirates. Although I was in economy, the service was fabulously attentive for the flight which lasted just over seven hours. Be aware that clearing immigration can be a slow (although entirely courteous) process: it took our party an hour. There is an opportunity to make purchases at Duty Free on arrival and many travellers chose to buy alcohol there, as it can be expensive in resorts.
A further hour transfer took us to The Sofitel The Palm for a 2 night stay. It may sound like a lot of travel time from leaving Belfast, but I found the journey easy going and, on arrival, the luxury of the hotel had me relaxed in moments!
The 360-bedroom Sofitel The Palm is a beautiful low rise hotel with Polynesian–inspired architecture and Arabian hospitality, neatly nestled in the breath-taking location of Palm Jumeirah. This stunning resort overlooking the Arabian Gulf and the Dubai skyline boasts a wonderful stretch of private beach and more than fourteen dining options.
Attractions abound and my first day included a visit to the Disney-esque Atlantis The Palm Hotel whose stunning lobby features a towering murano glass sculpture. The hotel has over 1500 rooms and 23 restaurants, bars and lounges and all are designed to impress.
I spent the day at the amazing Aquaventure Water Park which has thrill rides for adrenalin-junkies plus gorgeous opportunities to kick back in its own ‘lazy river’ or enjoy the pristine private beach. I would also recommend a visit to the atmospheric Lost Chambers Aquarium where the bold and the brave can undertake a predator dive experience or even night-time shark night. I feel I’m more of a lazy river girl myself!
My next day was a glittering exotica of Gold and Spice Souks, followed by a visit to the saltwater Dubai Creek and a whistle-stop tour of the dramatic Burj al Arab and Burj Khalifa … rushed, but great fun and so impressive that I will certainly return for more.
I had a great taste of the luxury shopping on offer, admiring the fabulous designer stores and hearing from those in the know that Karama is the spot to head for if you feel you can be satisfied by copies at a fraction of the price.
I then left the city behind and travelled to one of the lesser knows of the seven Emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates. Bordering Oman and just 45 minutes’ (interesting!) drive from Oman, Ras al Khaimah offers a quieter-paced celebration of nature, tranquillity and Arabian culture.
My incredible ‘home’ for the night was The Waldorf Astoria … and whatever I say sells it short. The hotel is like an Arabian Palace surrounded by desert, mountains and sea, with the legendary Waldorf service, ten dining options and a tea lounge which offers guests more than 150 blends of tea. Leading on from the hotel reception area with its $1.5 million clock and a $3 million black diamond encrusted Peacock, is Peacock Alley where you can order the world-famous Waldorf Salad or Walforf Mocktail before sauntering out to admire the marvellous private beach set on the clear blue waters of the Arabian sea.
Next day it was off, by boat, to the Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach Resort, where guests each have rustic Bedouin style villa accommodation with tented ceilings and a private plunge pool. A short drive takes you into the desert to The Banyan Tree Al Wadi Resort where accommodation is again in villa style with each villa having its own private small pool. This is a nature reserve whose laid-back visitor attractions include Sunset Desert horse riding, Falconry and Sunrise or Sunset Yoga. I can vouch for the relaxing benefits of its wonderful hydrotherapy Spa.
My first visit to this region was twenty-two years ago and, to say that much has changed in that time is a massive under-statement. The dramatic cityscapes have transformed the area and I understand that there are even plans to build a new tower 100m higher than the Burj Khalifa. What hasn’t changed is the warmth of the welcome and the tradition of hospitality which underpins the charm of an exotic Arabian break.
If you’d like to find out more about the UAE, please feel at ease to call me on 028 9042 6969 or drop into the branch.