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Old Mar 2, 16, 8:34 am
Join Date: Oct 2003
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the luxury hotels of Dubai

Las Vegas on steroids, Dubai is a modern phenomenon, a contemporary city currently with 911 skyscrapers with more being constructed everywhere one looks. The city is connected with busy freeways and a light rail transit system, all in a destination whose intentional and rapid development began less than 20 years ago.

Dubai is an urban center in an arid desert, utterly dry sand dotted with patches of plush green lawns, colorful flower beds, and palm trees. Dubai is a city of contrasts, a cosmopolitan financial center in which you will see significant numbers of men dressed in dishdash and women in abaya. Dubai and nearby Abu Dhabi are an important air hubs with direct flights from many U.S. cities with convenient connections to the rest of the world.

The ultimate sign of wealth in Dubai is not “gold” but green: palm trees, flowers, fountains, lawns, and the sound of birds singing are the ultimate expression of wealth. You will encounter these in varying degrees as you visit hotels throughout Dubai.

Where to stay? The most important question is location, location, location. Dubai is a very spread-out city. The northernmost hotel in this survey is 17 miles from the southernmost. By way of comparison, New York’s Carlyle Hotel is only 6 miles north of Ritz-Carlton Battery Park. Dubai is not a walkable city. Getting from place to place requires driving. Traffic can be heavy, and it’s not uncommon for taxi drivers not to know how to get to a destination. So my first question is: where do you need to be? What’s the reason for your visit? If you’re coming on business, choose a location convenient to your meetings. If you’re coming for a winter vacation (Dubai is a popular warm weather destination for travelers from the UK and Germany), choose one of the beach resorts. Staying for an overnight stopover before flying elsewhere? Choose a hotel near the airport. Dubai offers great hotel choices for any travel scenario.

I made site inspections at the following hotels during my three days in Dubai. As always, I would emphasize that these are my subjective opinions of the room product based on my own aesthetic. I'm not in a position to evaluate service. Your own opinions may and should differ!


Park Hyatt Dubai

Just two miles from DXB, the Park Hyatt is a 10 year old desert oasis set on Dubai Creek. Belying its name, the creek is a wide body of salt water that serves as Dubai’s harbor. The Dubai Golf and Yacht Club was developed alongside the creek, and the Park Hyatt is part of that development.

One approaches the hotel on a long drive lined with palm trees, arriving at a simple, octagonal lobby where guest reception is found. My first impression: this is not a typical Park Hyatt lobby with a cool, masculine palette of colors. It is decorated in shades of off-white, using architectural motifs of Arabic domes and arches.

The hotel consists of four buildings with five floors each, a total of 225 rooms. A large swimming pool set near the middle of the resort is tiled with attractive blue tiles and shaded with palm trees.

We were shown two rooms. The first was a Park Deluxe King, 52 sqm with a small balcony overlooking a green lawn and Dubai Creek. The bathroom offered dual vanities, soaking tub, step-in rain shower, and enclosed WC. The other room, a one bedroom Park Terrace Suite, was a spacious 109 sqm with separate bedroom and living room, a full bathroom as described above, and a separate powder room. The very large terrace had two lounge chairs looking out over the view above described. The interior was decorated with sand tones and dark brown wood. Adding some splashes of color with accent pillows and bed throws would make the rooms especially attractive.

The hotel is set adjacent to a golf course and a marina with a 2 km walking path along the creek and is blissfully free from the road noise one hears in other urban hotels, although you will hear some jets taking off. The hotel hosted us for drinks on the Terrace and dinner afterwards at Cafe Arabesque, the hotel’s all-day restaurant featuring excellent Lebanese cuisine… but our most lasting impression of the Park Hyatt was the sound of chirping birds as we sat by the marina enjoying our pre-dinner drinks.

Raffles Dubai

We spent two nights at Raffles Dubai because a client had previously commented to me about the hotel’s excellent service and I was able to exchange Fairmont points for a complimentary stay.

Connected to the Egyptian-themed WAFI Mall, Raffles Dubai is eight years old. It is built in the shape of a pyramid — but don’t confuse it with Luxor. The hotel has 225 exceptionally large rooms and suites, a lead-in Signature room being 70 sqm and the Diplomatic Suite we stayed in being 160 sqm. Signature Rooms are spacious accommodations equipped with a good working space, with the bathroom featuring dual vanities, step-in rain shower, soaking tub, and WC. Rooms are decorated in shades of sand, gold, and dark brown wood with red fabrics providing a splash of color. Our Diplomatic Suite had more than double the space with a huge living room, a large outdoor patio overlooking the Dubai skyline, and a guest powder room. The bedroom has a large dressing area and a bathroom with the same features mentioned above. My one complaint with the suite was that the desk was in the bedroom, not the living room, negating the value of booking a suite so that one guest can work without disturbing the other guest who may still be asleep.

The hotel has a large outdoor pool on the south side of the hotel overlooking the freeway, but there is no shade and road noise would be quite evident.

Club rooms and Suites have access to the fourth floor lounge, but I frankly don’t feel this Club is worth the add-on cost. It is not equivalent to a Ritz Carlton Club with its five meal presentations daily.

We had breakfast at Azur, one of the hotel’s restaurants which featured an extensive buffet with hot food, meats and cheeses, yogurts and cheeses, breads, fresh juices … with the option to order a la carte items. Service was attentive and friendly. A great breakfast buffet, breakfast is complimentary to guests who book through a Virtuoso agent.


Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach

We spent one night at Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach. Opened just one year ago, Four Seasons has quickly become the hotel I book most frequently in Dubai. The hotel’s concept is that of an “urban resort,” a hybrid city hotel and beach resort where one can relax by day at the beach, then dress up up at night and go out to dine and have fun. The has a private, well tended beach with lounge chairs; sea walls at either end both keep out the public and but also limit how far hotel guests can walk down the beach. Most of the action was around the resort’s two large meandering outdoor pools, a quiet pool for adults only and a Family Pool.

The hotel has 236 rooms and suites. There are two room categories — Deluxe rooms being on the lower floors and Premier rooms on higher floors with commanding views of the skyline or gulf. There are likewise two categories of lead-in suites, Junior Suites on the lower floors and Four Seasons Suite on the higher floors. Each has a 3/4 bath in addition to the regular bathroom and a pullout sofa in living room.

Deluxe and Premier rooms are large at 700 sq. ft. and very nicely proportioned. Doorways are recessed off the hallway (creating a lot of opportunities for outside connectors). Guests enter into the central area of the accommodation, a foyer with walk-in closet straight ahead. To the one side is a large bathroom providing what we have come to expect from Four Seasons: dual vanities, soaking tub, rainshower, and WC. To the other side is the bedroom with a balcony looking out either towards the Dubai skyline or towards the gulf. The room’s design creates a bedroom that is nearly square, giving the room a residential feeling. Light green wallpaper covers the walls, floors are carpeted with a wave design using sand tone and off-white, and woodwork is painted ivory. The rooms are attractive with a pleasant, restful atmosphere. Middle eastern design motifs (carved wood panels and the pattern in the ceiling freize) help create a sense of location.

Public spaces are elegant, rooms are large and comfortable, and fans of Four Seasons will be extremely comfortable here.

Ritz-Carlton Dubai

Ritz-Carlton Dubai is one of the first resort hotels in Dubai. Constructed 18 years ago, before the building boom began and the city grew up around it, the resort offers an oasis of greenery and calm right on the beach. There are two wings of the hotel. The original wing was entirely renovated four years ago, and a new wing was recently added.

We began our site inspection with a wonderful lunch at Palm Grill. Opened just one year ago this restaurant is a casual, laid-back dining option on the beach featuring fresh grilled seafood. The grilled shrimp I had for lunch was exceptional, my best meal in Dubai, and Claire enjoyed her grilled Loch Duart salmon.

After lunch, we were shown two rooms in the new wing. The Deluxe room was 50 sqm and employed attractive, restful tones of greens and golds and dark brown wood. (The color scheme in the old wing is turquoise and blue, providing a contemporary nautical feel.) Bathrooms provide dual vanities, tub, walk-in shower, a WC, and a television in the mirror. In the new wing, bathrooms have a glass wall to the bedroom, providing natural light to the bathroom, but a shade can be lowered for privacy.

We were also shown a Junior Suite - 90 sqm - that can sleep four guests. There is separation between the living room and bedroom, and a powder room is available in this category.

Ritz-Carlton Dubai feels like a traditional Ritz, and lovers of Ritz Carlton resorts will enjoy this property. A Ritz Kids program is designed for children ages 4 -10. With a lower price point than Dubai’s newer hotels, most leisure guests are wholesale clients from the UK and Germany, but STARS or FHR amenities help make this a good value for a luxury option on the beach.

One & Only Royal Mirage

One&Only Royal Mirage is a complex of three resorts set on one kilometer of private beach, each section of the resort having a distinct character. The Palace, built in 1999, was the original resort with 231 rooms. In 2003 came the openings of The Residence (48 rooms) and the Arabian Court (172 rooms). Together, 451 total rooms are provided on an expansive campus of 65 acres.

The Palace - Arabic with an European touch

We were shown a Superior Deluxe room, 45 sqm. The room was decorated in sand tones with dark brown wood and blue and turquoise accents. The accent pillows and bed throws are changed daily so that guests come back to something fresh and new every day. The bathroom had dual vanities, soaking tub, step in shower, and WC. Sofa beds are available in some rooms, so these should be requested at booking.

We also were shown a Suite which measured 100 sqm and provided a bedroom, living room, and a guest powder room. Suite guests also receive a complimentary cabana at the beach and pool.

The Residence - intimate and more strongly Arabic in design

The Residence & Spa is an exclusive part of Royal Mirage, only Residence guests have access to to its facilities, an à la carte dining room and library. An amazing 80% of guests are repeat guests. The resort offers butler service, and same butler is assigned to guests during each stay — even if they are staying in different rooms — in order to build on that relationship.

Arabian Court - contemporary Arabic design

The interior designer for the Arabian Court was also the designer at The Palm. Rooms have a more contemporary interior which may be preferred by younger guests. Rooms are also a bit larger; we saw a Deluxe twin twin, larger (50 sqm) than the comparable room category at The Palace (45 sqm). The bathroom had just a single vanity, although there was soaking tub, step-in shower, and WC.

We were also shown a Balcony Suite at 125 sqm. This suite was decorated with beige and ivory tones, turquoise accents, and silver drapes.

Guest amenities at Royal Mirage include free Kids Club, free half board with a 5+ night stay, and free access to the water park at Atlantis. All rooms permit occupancy of three guests.

One&Only The Palm

One&Only The Palm is elegant chic in every way, perhaps the most elegant property that we visited (with the possible exception of Burj Al Arab which is in a different category). Unlike the Burj, The Palm has the true feel of a beach resort rather than being a beachside hotel. Just six years old, the resort is a part of The Palm, an ambitious series of man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree. A boutique resort with just 90 rooms, it also boasts a three-star Michelin restaurant.

The interior design employs a light and contemporary color palette of silver, crystal, and off-white. We were shown two rooms. The Palm Beach Premium room is 65 sqm, its light and bright light colors were accented with throws and pillows in shades of blue and turquoise. The bathroom had dual vanities, soaking tub, step-in rainshower, and a WC.

Connected to the Palm Beach Premium by an outside connector was a Mansion Junior Suite. A large suite (100 sqm) with separate bedroom and living room, the bathroom featured an immense walk-in shower.

First floor suites feature large 25 sqm private pools. Be aware that Pool Suites are in high demand and reserved far in advance — as are suites with connecting possibilities — so if this is what you want, you should book it. Do not hope for an upgrade into a suite or room with private pool, as you will most likely be disappointed.

Guests staying five or more nights receive complimentary dinners every night of their stay, including meals at The Palm’s three-starred Michelin restaurant. Guests also having dining privileges at One&Only Royal Mirage and receive a 25% discount on the value of the meal. Complimentary scheduled boat transfers take guests back and forth in 10 minutes. Additionally, guests have free access to the water park at Atlantis.

Burj Al Arab

“Over the top” doesn’t begin to describe Burj Al Arab. Built 16 years ago, the hotel was the first installment in the Sheik’s ambitious plan to put Dubai on the map. It is now an iconic landmark.

Built in the shape of a sail, the Burj was intended to be “the world’s most luxurious hotel,” a phrase that continues to serve as the hotel’s trademark. An impressive tower 321 meters (1053 feet) high, Burj Al Arab is an-suite hotel, but lest that phrase bring to mind Embassy Suites, please be aware that the lead-in accommodation is a duplex one bedroom suite 170 square meters in area. There are 142 one bedroom suites in the hotel, and 40 suites boast two bedrooms or more. The rack rate for lead-in Deluxe Suites (170 square meters on two floors) is 10,000 AED the night. The ultimate Royal Suite is 780 square meters in size and offered at 60,000 AED nightly.

Built on a man-made island in the gulf, an extension is under construction with completion expected by early May. The additional island space will add two outdoor pools, a restaurant, and a bar.

Burj Al Arab impresses the moment one enters the lobby. The hotel is not open to the general public, by the way; only hotel guests — and those holding dining reservations — are permitted in the front doors. When you do enter, you are greeted by the sight of the entertaining fountain immediately in front that shoots playful squirts of water. Approaching the fountain, your eyes go upward to take in the cavernous atrium and the ascending floors of the hotel with a spectrum of colors leading from blue to green to gold. Ascending the escalators to the second level of the lobby, you will see a second playful fountain with an even more elaborate choreography of playful squirts of water.

Our host first took us to the very top of the hotel in a dedicated elevator that whisked us straightaway to the Skyview Bar with commanding views of the Gulf and of the Palm and World islands. Though expensive, you may wish to reserve a table for the Sky Tea, as this gets you in the front door. There are two seatings for Tea every day except Friday, the cost being 620 AED per person (about $170).

Burj Al Arab has a celebrated seafood restaurant, Al Mahara, whose floor to ceiling aquarium is the center of attraction. Looking for an unique way to “pop the question?” You can arrange to have a table by the aquarium with a mermaid swimming by during your meal to unfold an underwater banner with your proposal.

Intentionally ostentatious, Burj Al Arab is on many a bucket list. The hotel is intended for superlative service with a staff to guest ratio of 6-to-1, a butler’s desk on every level, and suites that surpass the area of most private homes. The bathroom amenities you will receive say it all — two full-size sets of Hermes toiletries, one for for ladies and one for men, with a retail value of $500.

Al Qasr

Just to the north of Burj Al Arab (and Jumeirah Beach Hotel) is the Madinat complex, the largest resort in the UAE with shopping opportunities as well as over 40 restaurants and bars. The term Al Qasr means “the palace,” and the hotel’s entrance was designed to resemble an Arabian palace. Driving to the entrance, the driveway goes around a fountain with carved horses, reflecting the royal family’s passion for horse racing.

Al Qasr is eleven years old with 294 rooms and suites on 8 floors. Because of high occupancy, we were able to see one lead-in room, an Ocean Deluxe. The room is spacious with 55 sqm of space with distinctly Arabian design motifs. Doors are carved from solid wood, and Arabian arches separate the entrance area from the main bedroom All rooms have balconies, and bathrooms provide double vanities, step-in shower, tub, and WC. The hotel’s color scheme uses tones of gold, red, ivory, and white with dark brown wood.

Guests enjoy unlimited use of the Wild Wadi water park at nearby Jumeirah Beach Hotel; the entrance fee for the general public is 275 AED. The hotel offers a free Kids Club for children age four and older. Virtuoso amenities provide the added value of daily full breakfast for two, one Dinner for two, and two 60 minute aromatherapy sessions.

Al Qasr is larger than other resorts that we saw, and while it felt a bit “Disney” to me, some guests may appreciate this representation of an Arabian palace.


Four Seasons DIFC

Set to open three weeks from the date of my site inspection, March 21, 2016. Four Seasons DIFC is substantially finished with finishing touches being taken care of and the team getting ready for actual guest arrivals. This is a boutique, city-center hotel with just 106 rooms. Like FS Marunouchi, the intention is to place an an emphasis on personalized guest service. There is direct access from the hotel to Gate Village, a trendy hub with galleries and restaurants that is walkable between ten buildings in the DIFC area. Local restaurants are patronized at lunchtime by employees in the ten buildings, and Friday brunches are popular.

The hotel’s seventh floor features a glass-sided swimming pool with views of Dubai’s skyline (reminding me of the FS Hong Kong pool). The most prominent building visible from the pool is the Al Yoqoub Tower which was designed to resemble London’s Big Ben. The seventh floor also offers a jacuzzi, exercise room, and spa with five treatment rooms. The eighth floor is the home of Sky Bar with an outdoor patio overlooking the city. The ninth floor is the location of the Churchill Club, a cigar bar.

I was shown three guestrooms. Colors are warmer and more comfortable than the heavier golds, browns, and reds seen elsewhere in Dubai. The interior design uses earthtones with light brown wood for trim and paneling. Textures in the carpeting and wallpaper lend an informality to the accommodations.

Superior rooms are just 33 sqm in area, and there are just fifteen of these smaller rooms, frankly intended for corporate guests with negotiated corporate rates. The Bathroom had but a single vanity, step-in shower (but no tub), and a WC, perfectly fine for typical business clients traveling alone. Deluxe rooms are larger at 37 sqm with the same limited bathroom. The Deluxe Executive Suite is a large 120 sqm with a spacious living room. The bathroom has everything one would expect, and the room also provides a large walk-in closet.

A restaurant of note, Firebird Diner by Michael Mina, looks like the diner from Grease and has an outside entrance from Gate Village.

Armani Dubai

The first Armani in the world, Armani Dubai opened in April, 2010. Every detail of this hotel was designed by Mr. Armani. There is no reception desk; incoming guests are greeted by the Lifestyle Team, the intent being to create a sense of “coming home” and relaxation. Armani is conscious of Feng Shui design principles, avoiding angles, edges or corners in the building. Guestrooms have no corners, and Armani uses natural, warm color themes — subtle shades of beige, brown, and green — and silk wallpaper. The effect is quite distinct from the black-and-white metallic design of Armani Milano.

There are 160 rooms and suites, and 25 residences are also in the hotel’s rental pool. I saw a Deluxe room, 40 sqm with a King bed, but the bathroom had just one vanity, a rain shower, soaking tub, and WC; single vanities actually being preferable for single business travelers.

Fountain Suites ranges in size from 70-80 sqm. Because the building narrows as it goes up, rooms on lower floors are larger than those on upper floor. Fountain Suites face the Fountain which is triple the size of the Fountains at Bellagio in Las Vegas. Designed by the creators of the Bellagio fountain, Fountain Suites have direct views of choreographed water shows performed every half hour in the evening.

There is direct access from the hotel to the Mall of Dubai.

St. Regis Dubai

St. Regis Dubai opened Nov. 20, 2015, just over 3 months ago. The grand lobby has two winding staircases and a central chandelier all meant to evoke the spirit of St. Regis’s flagship New York hotel, albeit on a much grander scale. As opposed to other Dubai hotels with Arabic design features, the St. Regis uses art deco design elements with the result being a subtly contemporary classic New York feel. The diamond design motif seen seen throughout the hotel serves as a reminder of Caroline Astor, wife of founder John Jacob Astor and her love of diamonds.

There are 234 rooms and suites; the 180 guestrooms are equally divided between Deluxe and Grand Deluxe. The only difference is the view; Grand Deluxe rooms overlook the Garden or the hotel’s quiet Courtyard while Deluxe rooms have street and city views. All rooms receive Butler service.

We were shown a Grand Deluxe with courtyard view, generously proportioned at 55 sqm. The color scheme is taupe and tan with hints of purple, creating a very restful feeling. There is a luggage area just inside the front door. The bath room has dual vanities, soaking tub, step-in shower, and WC. The courtyard view room was quiet with no noise from the heavy freeway traffic.

The Royal Suite was an immense 900 sqm with multiple living rooms furnished with French provincial furniture. This Suite had a Garden view, overlooking the gardens at the front of the hotel. The huge bathroom was equipped with dual vanities, clawfoot tub, and an 8’ square shower room.

The St. Regis Bar is a tradition continued in Dubai, and this property’s version of the Bloody Mary is called the Golden Mary, made with yellow tomatoes and gold leaf.

The St. Regis is a part of a larger Starwood complex nearing completion, intended to anchor the new Al Habtoor City neighborhood of Dubai, just one freeway exit to downtown and right by the new Canal which is due to open in October. Two other hotels will connect with each other on the second floor. W Dubai with 356 rooms is scheduled to open April 1st. A Westin with 1004 rooms is scheduled to open in May. The three hotels together will have a total of 1600 Starwood rooms and 25 food and beverage outlets with cross-charging privileges. A Water Theatre with 1200 seats is planned for an October, 2016 opening to host an acrobatic water show (similar to Cirque du Soleil).
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