I confess: it pleases me to see a look on the other person’s face that says, “Again? Wow!” That’s the reaction I always get after dropping it into a conversation that a Dubai trip is on the cards. It’s that kind of a place. Practically next door, but fascinatingly exotic, like a civilisation translocated from outer space, with a few familiar touches that say, “Hey, make yourself at home.”
It struck us this time that the city is all about staying ahead. Everything is the mostest in the world — only Dubai can out-Dubai itself. So your typical evening could be shopping at the largest mall in the world, then finding a shortcut to the tallest building in the world, then taking one of the fastest lifts in the world, up to the highest fine-dining restaurant in the world, and then looking out of the window at possibly the most ambitious city in the world.
After a day or so, you start taking all this as standard, as if the precisely one-minute lift ride up to Level 123 is, in fact, the Level 0 of how things should be. I confess again: we became spoilt. As guests of the Fairmont Gold floors, we didn’t even have to do the tedious job of giving our names at the reception desk. We did have to make the effort of extending a hand to take the room key. But other than that, it was all very leisurely and done over high tea at the Mashrabiya lounge of Fairmont the Palm. The Gold floor staff armed with tablets did all the e-paperwork, while we sighed over the extensive tea menu — decisions, decisions!
Perched on the ‘trunk’ of the tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah development, this hotel is a perfectly balanced architectural mix of modernity and Arab tradition. There is a sense of huge space right from the lobby, flooded with light coming in from a feature window at the far end of the hall. This is the perfect base for a sumptuous family vacation, close to the magnificent walkway of Dubai Marina and to Madinat Jumeirah, a recreated souk and beauteous neighbour to the city’s first calling card, the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel.
Even for a Dubai regular, it’s hard not to be thoroughly charmed by the soaring Shoreline Apartments along the Golden Mile, on the way to Fairmont the Palm after turning into Palm Jumeirah from Sheikh Zayed Road. The aura of wealth is all-pervasive and, thankfully, extremely tasteful.
“The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury.” Charlie Chaplin said that, apparently. Well, I don’t know, Charlie... Too bad Dubai — as we know it now — wasn’t around then. Like the one-minute lift ride, the city sets the bar so high that luxury appears to be something that simply is, not something that needs getting used to. Strolling into the nearest Dior or Burberry or Louis Vuitton to shop for the current collection is how one spends one’s coffee break in Dubai. To really get people’s attention, you’d have to drop a more interesting piece of news, such as: “I was at the helipad dinner yesterday.” This might elicit the question: “So, how’s the view from the top of Burj Al Arab?” The AED10,000 (Rs 1.63 lakh)-a-head charity dinner planned for mid-March, a fundraiser for the United Nations food aid programme, represents a classic Dubai event: spending money, feeling good, keeping the world going. A snappy comeback, Sir Charlie?
The Gold floors of the Fairmont chain comprise a hotel within a hotel, with their exclusive coffee shop, bar and lounge, and complimentary evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. At each property, the Gold floors are at the higher levels of the building, which means gorgeous views. At Fairmont the Palm, some of the private balconies overlook an expanse of the sea, others see the city, a few get the best of both worlds, looking back towards the Dubai Marina skyline. A sheesha session at Seagrill on 25° Restaurant & Lounge comes with a showreel of bathers playing football on the beach and, in the background, the city lights coming to life across the water.
Reluctantly dragged away, we move to the Fairmont Dubai, the property in the thick of all the razzmatazz the city promises and delivers. It is a buzzing business hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road — some rooms on the Gold floors have views of this highway and the Burj Khalifa looming in the distance, while some others let guests see as far as the World Islands. Above the busy traffic of Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Metro trains zip in and out of the oyster-shell stations, adding to the feel of speed and activity.
Hedonism matters here as much as the cut and thrust of business. After a Friday brunch at Spectrum on One, you should lose all regrets about not getting a front-row seat at a fashion show. There is an insane variety of edibles on offer — the brunch serves six or seven cuisines and the ‘cheese bar’ alone can transfix a passing gourmet — but what caught our eye was how seriously Dubai expats take Friday dressing, which is the Gulf equivalent of Sunday dressing, and it does not mean chinos and slippers in this setting. All sorts of semi-designer dresses marched past, wrapped around bodies that must have seen an eye-watering number of hours at the gym.
They would need the workout to expend their energy at Cavalli Club, designer Roberto Cavalli’s posh nightspot within air-kissing distance of the Fairmont Dubai. Absolutely everyone looks fabulous at Cavalli Club, no matter how challenged by the lack of a Cavalli wardrobe — though that can be easily remedied by a quick dash into the designer’s own boutique near the club lift. This ensures you become chicer by multiple degrees between the ground floor and the lounge floor.
Even without a spot of pre-cocktail shopping, glamour is guaranteed; you could hardly fail to look radiant when sitting under enough glittering crystals to sink a ship. The whole ceiling at the Cavalli Club appears to be a miniature universe made of crystals, the massive Swarovski chandeliers hovering like planets above the animal-print upholstered seating. I wouldn’t grudge them an entry fee just for spray-painting us with so much style.
On our night out, the guests were sedate, concentrating more on the scrumptious fusion food than on making the chandeliers shake. “So tell us about all the wild partying,” we demanded of the maître d’. “Oh, that would be when we have ‘Girls in the City’,” she said, referring to the Cavalli version of ladies’ night. “Do they dance on the tables?” “Well, they dance very close to the tables.” Hmm, that should do instead of dessert.
Dancing on the tables is definitely not recommended at At.mosphere, the restaurant on Level 122 of Burj Khalifa: unless the huge glass windows are crash-proof, an overenthusiastic reveller risks dropping down about 1,400 ft. Guests usually exit the lift at Level 123 and come down a short flight of stairs, cameras going clickety-click at the spectacle laid out below: dots of light strung like jewels on the lake adjoining the Dubai Mall, in which the fountains sway every evening to Western, Indian and Arabic music. This restaurant is for a different kind of crowd-watching — young moneymakers from the downtown district drop in for a bit of R&R after a day’s work; the waitresses resemble fashion glossy models about to run off to their next audition.
On the floors below are the Armani hotel — the first in the world; there you go again — and the regular Burj Khalifa apartments. Long-term occupants, recognisable by their jaded air of having seen it all, flash the annoyed look when too much lift space is taken up by visitors. Life must be so tough in the world’s most talked about building. “Cheer up,” I tell them silently.
It is evening and the dancing fountains have begun swaying to a beautiful Arabic tune, a sight as uplifting as anything of great beauty can be. If luxury can bring happiness, Dubai is the place to find it.
Flying Emirates (approx. Rs 19,000 from Mumbai, and Rs 22,600 from Delhi) is the best way to reach, especially as there is a dedicated terminal for Dubai’s state carrier. Slightly lower fares are available on SpiceJet and Indigo.
The visa takes about four working days through the Dubai Visa Processing Centre (dubaivisa.net), and Friday-Saturday is the weekend in Dubai. The fees are Rs 5,000 (30 days); Rs 6,800 (14 days); and Rs 4,150 (96 hours). An express visa is available for all durations at a higher cost. The 14-day visa is given to visitors with a confirmed Emirates return ticket.
1 Emirati Dirham (AED) = Rs 16.3.
Where to stay
Fairmont the Palm (AED999–10,799; + 971-4457-3388; fairmont.com/palm-dubai) is on Palm Jumeirah, just after the Shoreline Apartments. Fairmont Dubai (AED 2,400–30,000; +971-4332-5555; fairmont.com/dubai) is on Sheikh Zayed Road, right beside the World Trade Centre Metro station. The airport-to-hotel transfer costs from AED 250 and the hotel-to-airport transfer from AED 225, in a Toyota Lexus. The Cavalli Club is right next to the Fairmont Dubai and there is no cover charge for hotel guests. Both the hotels have a range of rooms and suites. The Gold floor rates are higher by roughly 10-15 per cent, and include bespoke services, such as private check-in, personal butler service, complimentary high-speed and wireless Internet, and an exclusive Fairmont Gold lounge accessible 24 hours, providing complimentary breakfast and evening drinks and canapés.
What to see & do
The pace of life within Fairmont the Palm’s Gold floors and in the slice of the city immediately outside is unhurried. A morning tour of the splendid Jumeirah Mosque or an hour at the Willow Stream Spa could be followed by tasting all the exceptionalArabic salads created by Chef RoberSalloum, the Syrian-born head of Arabic cuisine at the hotel. Meanwhile, a full-fledged play room run by qualified instructors could make your kids a lot smarter between check-in and check-out.
What to buy
The list is endless, but a good place to start luxury shopping is at the Fashion Avenue, the Dubai Mall, a circular area chock-a-block with designer labels and with an Armani/Dubai Caffe in the middle. This mall also has its own gold souk, a posher version of the original gold souk in Deira, one of the oldest areas of the city. A quick way to pocket some precious metal is to buy a biscuit or a coin at a gold ATM (locations: At the Top, Burj Khalifa; Galeries Lafayette, the Dubai Mall). This is perfectly safe, as all gold in Dubai is very strictly quality-controlled and the vending machine rates are adjusted in real time via the Internet.