Well – what a ‘ride’ that was. Four nights (well three really), of a whistle-stop visit to Dubai, having earned my place on said trip by being the top revenue generator for our team of Personal Travel Agents (for the time being at least). This ‘title’ is of course in no small part, due to the wonderful loyalty and support provided by my regulars, many of whom have been booking with me for more years than I now care to calculate and/or remember 🙂
I don’t quite know where to start really, so the beginning I guess, is as good a place as any. This trip was going to tick a number of boxes for me – flying with Emirates for the first time, on an A380 (in both directions), Business Class service, along with this being my first ever visit to Dubai itself.
From the moment I was picked up from home late morning on the 15th May right up to the point where I was delivered back here on the evening of Tuesday 19th May, the trip exceeded my expectations. It really is quite something when you enter a loo on an aircraft to see an orchid and Bvlgari his and hers scents beside it. When I first arrived in Dubai in the early hours of the 16th, the Fast Track Emirates Business system worked like a dream. I was the only member of our company’s contingent that had upgraded and the rest of my colleagues (who were arriving in on various flights from a selection of UK departure airports), had a lot of hanging around and waiting for each other before they could be transferred to our first hotel. I, on the other hand, was whisked off into the night by my driver, who safely drove me to the JA Palm Tree Court hotel which, it turned out, was about an hours drive from Dubai International Airport. The check-in service once at the hotel, was seamless and straightforward and I was taken by one of the 24-hour-available buggies, to my room.
The JA Palm Tree Court offers up 208 suites from Garden View ones (as most of us had), right up to The Residence which comprises 1 and 2 bedroom suites/villas with private butler service and additional premium benefits. The hotel overall provides a great selection of wonderful and different dining experiences, along with swim up pool bar. It’s located on an 800 metre piece of private coastline in the Persian Gulf with three temperature controlled pools. One of these is a dedicated private one only accessible for certain suite and Residence guests. There is also a 9 hole, par 36 golf course, horse-riding stables on site, 4 floodlit tennis courts, badminton and squash courts along with a gym and conference centre. Out in the tepid bath temperature ocean there’s also an amazing Wibit Water Park – which is a floating aqua park. On the subject of water orientated sports, the property also has a Watersports Centre offering up diving, water ski-ing, windsurfing, catamarans and laser-sailboats along with much much more.
It is planned for this property, that by the end of next year there will be three theme parks to enhance the experience of those for whom this type of holiday appeals. The JA Palm Tree Court is, we were advised, THE only year round all inclusive resort. You don’t have to be all inclusive though, but it is an option, It’s discretely done, so you wouldn’t know from guest to guest, what board arrangement they had opted for. It has the ultimate of flexibility available to you. You can dine in any of the restaurants and even, if the fancy takes you, have different courses in different restaurants.
There is also provision for different ages of children from 4 months up to 16 years with babysitting services upon request.
I digressed (sorry). So, I’ll get back to the arrival process. My intention in truth, had been to try and stay awake in order to greet the rest of our contingent. However, such was their hanging around time at Dubai airport (waiting for the different flights coming in), that I ended up falling asleep at silly o’clock, in preparation for what had been scheduled for our Day Two – that being our Business Sessions/Conference. Whilst we all did get up and get ready in suitable smart casual attire, to present for this, it transpired that due to news of a possible imminent sandstorm the schedule plans were changed. Saturday 16th was now to be a day of leisure to make the most of the glorious (if roasting), temperatures with the conference re-scheduled for Sunday 17th (my birthday). So, after getting changed for some time on the beach, we all enjoyed a relaxing day, some taking advantage of Spa treatments, lunch at the hotel in the beachfront restaurant (which was delicious), followed by doing our own thing in the afternoon. I opted for some time back in my air conditioned room, doing a little catching up of emails and having a brief siesta before our Gala evening that night.
We were provided with a fabulous night and I was humbled (never one who likes being in the spotlight), with a couple of company awards based upon the business I produce, thanks as ever, to my clients. The menu was superb, food delicious and service excellent. Many were partying into the small hours. I retired to my room so as not to risk the same peril as Cinderella. I did however, manage to make it back with both my shoes so there was (unfortunately), no need for Prince Charming to come looking for me. Perhaps I didn’t think that whole plan through well enough !
Up bright and breezy on my birthday morning, feeling suitably refreshed and ready for our conference. Another wonderful breakfast spread at JA Palm Tree Court Hotel – plenty of options for all palettes, and another glorious day. The threatened sandstorm it transpired, didn’t reach out as far as the coast and as such we remained unaffected. Plan B however, didn’t really change our experience, just turned it on its head for these first couple of days. Interesting and informative few hours spent in our business sessions, with lunch at La Traviata followed by a quick hotel tour prior to transferring to our next home at the JA Ocean View (Dubai Marina area).
The distance between one property and the other was only about half an hour and this was bringing us back into a more central area of Dubai in the part known as The Walk, which is a bustling promenade area right on the Marina/beach. JA Ocean View is 25 floors high and as such offered incredible views from which one could see right across to Atlantis the Palm. Once again, we were treated to lovely rooms. Also – who know, JA (Jebel Ali) hotels have a hashtag for their ducks (to be found in your en-suite) – #JAtravelducks ? If you use Twitter, give it a whirl and see what crops up. This property offers a selection of 342 rooms and suites.
By the time we arrived at the JA Ocean View there really wasn’t time for much else aside from freshening up and getting ready for our much anticipated white and gold Arabian Theme night which was to be held in their outdoor dining/bar venue called The Deck (VIDEO OF THE DECK AREA), which was beautifully lit up and laid out for us and we spent a wonderful few hours there (in the evening its identity actually changes and is called Sehr Al Bahar). We then moved onto a different socialising area in the hotel called Girders – 1st floor – (a ‘colourful’, make of that what you will, and Sports orientated bar) and Girders Gardens (up some stairs out of Girders). Once again – I wasn’t in the early hours gang (getting too old for that now)! it was another wonderful evening with great food and an amazing Belly Dancer who kept us all entertained while we ate our meal. We also had a few shisha pipes doing the rounds for those who fancied it. Preferred the smell to the experience on that count personally, but that could be as much to do with being a reformed smoker as anything else to be honest. I know it’s not addictive, but just felt wrong for me.
At this point we have made it to Day 4 – there have been a few heavy heads and ‘casualties’ along the way – but everyone is managing to hang in there. Today is pretty much at leisure with a number of us having pre-booked activities such as Helicopter tours over Dubai, Sand-boarding, snow-ski-ing, Arabian horse riding, Hop on Hop Off bus tours (24 hour adult approx price AED 240 / £40 and for 48 hours AED 295 / £50 – they go every 20 minutes, have 47 stops and 7 routes between 0900 and 2000 hours), shopping both in the main Dubai Mall and the more authentic (or not), depending on your perspective, style of retail therapy. Personally I had pre-booked the Helicopter tour option (along with 11 others), which we did in the morning. It was totally phenomenal and our lovely lady pilot made our trip truly memorable. It was only about 15 minutes duration wise but we flew over and around all the main features and attractions of the area. The location of this was within the grounds of Atlantis and we were incredibly lucky to get an opportunity to then visit this mind-blowing resort for a tour (also getting to see a couple of the largest style of suites). This whiled away a further couple of hours after which most of us went for a bit of off-the-beaten-track non-real designer shopping. This was an experience and a half to put it mildly and a great/entertaining way to finish off our day of leisure out and about in Dubai.
Some interesting facts about Atlantis:-
- all rooms have sea views
- 35 kms from Dubai International Airport
- over 20 restaurants, bars and lounges
- 1.4 km of incredible beach
- a massive 27 treatment rooms in the ShuiQi Spa
- as a guest you have unlimited access to Aquaventure – No 1 waterpark in the Middle East and Europe. Has a mind-blowing 2.3 km of rapids, slides and rides
- complimentary access to The Lost Chambers Aquarium with around 65,000 marine animals
- over 25 retail outlets including high end jewellers and boutiques
- accommodation ranges from deluxe rooms with partial views of the Arabian Sea or Palm Island @ 45/47 square metres right up to a mahoosive Royal Bridge Suite at 924 square metres. You can even opt for an Underwater Suite at 165 square metres. The choices are endless really dependant upon your needs and the depth of your pockets 😉
On returning to the hotel feeling a bit peckish as through our day’s worth of activities lunch just never quite happened, I popped into the hotel’s Caffe Via in the Reception area for a wonderful Latte and highly recommended little ‘sweet’ Tiramisu which was just the ‘pick me up’ that I needed. After that it was time to go and prepare for the wonderful evening ahead that was a dinner cruise out of the nearby Marina. Another excellent evening – plenty more pictures taken and a fabulous end to our CHILL VIP 2015. Though in truth it wasn’t quite the end – the majority of us allowed ourselves to be transported to SOUK MADINAT JUMEIRAH. Myself and a few others, only stayed for one/two drinks before popping ourselves in a taxi (which were very cheap over there), back to the hotel.
This hotel is also family friendly and has plenty of interconnecting rooms to accommodate that. Both of the JA properties that we stayed in had the benefit of complimentary WIFI which seemingly most of us (myself definitely included), can’t bear the thought of managing without ! All of the rooms at the JA Oceanview have balconies and far reaching ocean views. The pool faces the Gulf and has a lift from there down to the promenade/beach. In the unlikely event that you get bored and/or restless, they offer a complimentary shuttle bus that will take you to one of their sister hotels, the JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort. This Resort was the immediate neighbour of the first hotel we stayed in, the JA Palm Tree Court and in fact, was the location for our conference and also of our lunch venue, La Traviata. It will be a drive of approximately 15/30 minutes in each direction, dependant upon the traffic/time of day.
If you ever go and stay here, don’t forget to pop up to Floor 25 – something unexpected is hiding up there Penthouse 25 – a panoramic view bar that our early departees located (quite by chance on their return from Souk Madinat), early hours of Tuesday morning and were killing time (as not worth going to bed), before their various crack of sparrows flights back to the UK. Fortunately my return flight was a very civilised 1500 departure from Dubai International so I had no such issues and had long since gone to bed !
Whilst exhausting as so much is crammed in for us in what is relatively speaking, a short period of time, I would not have missed this trip for the world. It’s been a real eye-opener and wonderful to personally experience a destination that I have sent so many people to at different times and for different reasons, but had yet to visit myself.
So – how has my visit to Dubai left me feeling about this rather futuristic, slightly surreal, architecturally stunning city? There’s actually no simple response to that. Overall, it blew me away, there appeared to be a WOW Factor around pretty much every corner and we really only skimmed the surface in the short time we were there. It appears to be a city of extremes & massive contrasts, and one that gives the impression of being a work-in-progress destination. There are definitely aspects that are still very much unfinished and a lot of planning/building/improvements/new resorts are currently being prepared for the EXPO that’s to be held there in 2020. Everywhere you look work appears to be going on in one way, shape or form. Almost like an unfinished symphony – will Dubai ever be happy with itself or will it be an eternally ever changing/evolving place on earth. My gut feeling is leaning towards the latter.
The World of Islands (which comprises 300 private islands of varying sizes from 250,000 to 900,000 square feet), is incredible and we saw via the Helicopter tour. This is another contentious project. These man made islands are allegedly sinking if you have a look at different articles available on the web and the uptake hasn’t been as speedy as would have been hoped for I imagine. Richard Branson does own an island here that is Great Britain. Apparently Michael Schumacher, the famous Formula 1 driver, was ‘gifted’ an island. It is part of Antarctica and by all accounts he wasn’t that impressed (again, allegedly).
There is categorically no shortage of activities in this vibrant and colourful city. I have already named a few that we had opportunities to take part in. Add to this the MASSIVE retail opportunities – whatever your preference is – real or fake. Ocean or desert. High rise or low rise when it comes to hotels – though the former in this area, appears to be more the norm. The dizzying heights of the majority of buildings drew my eyes up into them almost against my will. Bit like a moth to a flame. I desperately wanted to look even though it quite literally did make me feel dizzy sometimes!
Architecturally fascinating with some buildings defying how it was possible for them to be built in the first place. The Cayan Tower which I took photos of but they just didn’t do the building justice, is a feat of engineering. I had been looking out for it as my son’s girlfriend who is a multiple occasion visitor to Dubai, suggested I keep an eye out.
As you will have noticed, a few of this trip’s photographs have been uploaded into my Blog here. However, some of them are too large for the required format and as such, if you would like to view the full coverage, please feel free to click on the link below for the full album of pics.
Should you ever be transiting through Dubai and in need of an overnight hotel without going into the city itself, I spotted Le Meridien which would be a handy place for a sleepover if necessary.
JA Jebel Ali provided us with genuine and heartfelt hospitality at both the properties we stayed in and couldn’t fault a thing in that regard.
As a group, JA also have a number of other properties, over and above the two we stayed in, which for interest sake I am going to list below:-
- JA Oasis Beach Tower – Luxury hotel apartments. Two towers – one residential and the other operates as a hotel. 180 apartments comprising 2/3/4 bedrooms. Alcohol can’t be sold in apartments in Dubai so they have got round this by having certain food and beverage outlets on location where alcohol can be served. It’s located at one end of The Walk and about 10 minutes from where we stayed at the JA Ocean View. It also offers shuttles to the JA Palm Tree Court. Great location for groups and families.
- JA Enchanted Island Resort – Seychelles, Indian Ocean – located just 30 minutes from Mahe. Comprises just 10 villas made up of 1 or 2 bedrooms with outside en-suites. All about the personal service here right down to the fact that the Chef meets guests at breakfast to discuss what they’d like to eat for dinner later.
- JA Manafaru – Maldives – previously Waldorf Astoria, JA have tried to learn from their mistakes as to why this stunning location wasn’t a roaring success. They have spent US$10 million on it and it opened last November. Quite challenging to get to – 199 miles north of Male and sitting on 35 acres. There are now 2 seaplane flights a day. Dependant upon air schedules overnight in Male sometimes necessary.
- JA Al Sahra Desert Resort Equestrian Centre – is what it says on the tin and is 37 million square feet of Arabian sands used for a variety of events and memorable experiences including camel and horse riding across the undulating dunes of the desert.
- JA Hatta Mountain Fort – just 50 rooms and about an hour’s drive from Dubai. This mountain resort appeals to locals predominantly, but if you fancied something completely different ?
- Last but not least, for the ultimate dinner cruise experience while you are staying in Dubai, then it should be JA Bateaux for you. Perfect whatever the time of year.
Some interesting Dubai facts picked up during our conference.
- Current quantity of visitors approximately 10 million. They are hoping to double that by the 2020 EXPO !
- There are approximately 634 hotels with 88,000 rooms
- Last year 28 new hotels sprung up
- There is a Four Seasons Resort planned to be opening in 2016
- The Royal Atlantis which will be located at the top of the Palm should be opening in 2017 and should be on sale from next year
- Dubai is a massive sporting destination – I have already named a few but also to be considered are motor racing, football, golf, horse racing, cricket, the list goes on and on really
- Dubai Airport is THE largest airport in the world and has the ability to process 200 million passengers at any one time if working at ‘full capacity’
- The main road through Dubai called Sheikh Zayed Road. It’s the longest road in the UAE and the name changes dependant upon which part of it you are on. Nearer to Abu Dhabi it’s known as the Sheikh Maktoum Road for example. This section of road in Dubai from end to end, stretches to 34 miles (55 km). We spent a fair amount of time on it over our few days and it is multiple lane and not entirely sure I’d fancy being a driver on it !
Films I watched while on my two x EK flights = Paddington, Black & White, Cake and Still Alice – all excellent and would highly recommend any of them. I don’t however, have any intention of diversifying into becoming a film critic.
Coincidentally I have literally, just this morning, received some great offers with premium line Oceania Cruises with Dubai as either a starting or finishing point on a couple of voyages on Nautica.
Istanbul to Dubai – 04OCT2015 – 21 nights – included airfare and gratuities. Savings of up to £1500 pp. Prices from £2839 pp
Dubai to Capetown – 25OCT2015 – 30 nights – include airfare, gratuities and internet. Savings of up to £2050 pp. Prices from £4129 pp. Business Supplements from £2198 pp. NEW – 3 night post-cruise safari for only £499 pp.
It goes without saying really that should you wish to discuss any of these properties, a trip and/or cruise to Dubai, or be considering any other travel arrangements that all you need to do is get in touch with me.
Where prices are quoted above these are strictly subject to change/availability.