Dubai holidays – there’s nothing quite like them. This tiny emirate that not so long ago was a quiet trading port on the Gulf is now one of the world’s most exhilarating cities. It’s a futuristic urban space where ancient traditions, limitless ambition and oodles of petrodollars have combined to create a city that is one of the great leisure destinations of the globe.
And sure, Dubai grabs headlines for its tales of excess and the megaprojects that have turned it into a city of superlatives – the world’s tallest building, largest man-made island, biggest fountain, the only seven-star hotel on earth – but this isn’t just a billionaire’s playground. A huge part of Dubai’s success is its broader appeal to those of us who will never own a Ferrari or have a wardrobe full of luxury labels.
Dubai’s near-perfect weather (this is a place where ‘cold’ means it’s in the mid-20s and sunshine is almost guaranteed for 300 days a year), massive choice of hotels in all price categories and world-class entertainments and distractions – from water parks to golf courses, desert safaris to shopping malls – means that this is a favourite destination for anyone looking to relax in a bit of sun-drenched luxury – whether as a Dubai holiday in its own right or as a stopover between Europe and the Far East and Australia.
However long you fancy staying, you won’t run out of things to do. Lounging by the pool or on the beach is an obvious favourite, but even the most dedicated sun worshipper might tire of turning over on the lounger and applying sun cream in between ordering rounds of drinks…
You can visit most of the city’s iconic buildings including the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al-Arab (you’ll need to book afternoon tea for the latter, though), go skiing in the world’s largest indoor ski slope, or splash about in one of Dubai’s half dozen waterparks: Aquaventure at the Atlantis Palm Hotel; Legoland Water Park with its 15 separate attractions; Splash ‘n’ Party, which is popular for themed birthday celebrations; the classic Wild Wadi with 30-odd rides; and the new Laguna Waterpark, which also has a wave pool to practice your surf skills. If you’re travelling with tots, you should check out Splash Pad, a mini-waterpark on the beach.
Dubai holidays have clearly struck gold with theme parks. Dubai Parks & Resorts manages four separate parks, including Legoland Water Park: the others are Legoland proper (targeted at under-12s); Motiongate, a Hollywood-inspired park with 27 rides and attractions, including a Hunger Games-inspired roller coaster; and Bollywood Parks, which draws its inspiration from Mumbai’s film industry and even features a replica of the city’s incredible Victoria Station.
The Dubai Mall is home to two amusement parks, Kidzania and Virtual Reality Park – let your kids go wild while you let your credit card do the same. Serious gamers will relish the chance to try their skills and test their nerve at the 3D dark rides, race simulators and laser tag battles at Hub Zero, an indoor park with 18 different attractions. But if we had to pick one park, it would be IMG Worlds of Adventure, the world’s largest indoor theme park – this is the kind of place we’d happily spend days in.
That is, if we weren’t excited about the ultimate Dubai experience – a desert safari. Sunset trips into the vast Arabian desert are a big deal here, but you should know that not all safaris are equal and, generally, you get what you pay for. The typical trip includes a lot of dune-bashing (sit in the front seat if you’ve a tendency toward motion sickness) and a range of other activities, from henna painting and camel riding to falconry and belly dancing. Most safaris also include dinner under the stars.
Eating well is pretty easy on Dubai Holidays, with almost every cuisine on earth well represented here. From succulent kebabs at a downtown takeaway to a sultan’s feast at a top-end hotel, the range of choice is massive. Friday brunch is huge in Dubai, with virtually every restaurant and hotel turning out an all-you-can-eat buffet and, in some cases, unlimited booze to boot. In a country where going for food replaces after-work drinks as a major social activity, the top brunch spots in town get pretty busy, so be sure to book well in advance if you want to bag that Friday brunch seat.
With over 100,000 hotel beds – and plenty more on the way ahead of World Expo 2020 – Dubai has no shortage of options when it comes to finding a comfortable pillow to lay your head on. Whatever you’re looking for you can find here – champagne baths, 24-hour butler service, a Bugatti service to and from wherever you need to go – but there’s plentiful choice in every category and budget, from boutique hotels and traditional B&Bs to virtually every brand of midrange hotel chain. Whatever the category, though, standards are generally high: expect decent wi-fi, cable TV and a touch of style whatever the kind of place you opt for, while almost every midrange hotel will come with a gym, multiple restaurants and – crucially – a pool (or two).
Religious observances mean that alcohol is restricted in Dubai, but all international hotels in the four- and five-star categories will have bars that serve booze. Which generally isn’t cheap, but you can mitigate the expense by booking a club or executive room. These are available to loyalty club members or as an upgrade option to non-members and not only give you a better room with better views and improved amenities, but the best perk of all is access to the club lounge.
Free food services and happy hours that often extend way beyond an hour and where drinks are free are the obvious advantage, but the club lounge is also a great option if you’re travelling with kids, as many will have children’s play areas.