Around four decades ago, Dubai was little more than desert. But thanks to the discovery of oil there in 1966, the city was built at an incredible pace, with the first skyscraper constructed in 1979 and others added from the 1980s.
master a look across the skyline today shows how construction is accelerating across the region. On a recent visit to the United Arab Emirates, I decided to get out of the city and into the desert to get a flavor of old Dubai.
The result was a magnificent morning sandboarding (make sure you do this at least once), quad biking over the sand dunes, and a short camel ride. Sandboarding was the highlight. You can shop around for this experience, with prices (for largely the same experience) ranging from £50 to £150 per person.
It is essentially a blend between surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding. Do expect to burn a lot of calories trying to walk back up the sand dunes with your board.
And that desert workout will set you up nicely to eat like a king or queen back in the city, which really is a foodie heaven.
I did just that at the superb Jumeirah Beach Hotel (JBH), which has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best family hotels in the world.
The five-star resort has helped shape and define Dubai’s position as a leading tourist destination, and it doesn’t rest on its laurels.
Once you get a glimpse of it as you arrive, you will be blown away by this wave-shaped, beach-side tower. The curved silhouette of the hotel represents a breaking wave of the Arabian Gulf, on the shore of which the hotel is located.
JBH offers 599 sea-facing rooms and suites and 19 signature villas, all with amazing views of sister hotel the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. Meaning ‘tower of the Arabs’, the sail-shaped hotel is 321m tall, with its royal suite costing $24,000 a night. Famous guests of the past include Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Wayne Rooney, Lewis Hamilton, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber.
Most people will know the luxurious hotel from its reputation as “the world’s only seven-star hotel”. You can tour and see how the other half holiday, but the seven-star claim is just a myth. While it may be brilliant PR for the hotel, there is no such rating, and the phrase was dreamt up by another journalist. However, do book a tour of it. I doubt you would quibble over the star rating if you could afford to stay there.
Next door, Jumeirah Beach also offers the five-star luxury and service you can expect at its neighbor. With more than 10 restaurants and bars, Talise Spa and direct complimentary access to the neighboring Wild Wadi Waterpark for all guests, you will never need to leave the 26-storey hotel’s grounds, even though there is plenty to see and do in Dubai.
For couples who wish to avail of the facilities and enjoy some ‘we time’ without their children, JBH’s kids’ club will keep the little ones happy. It includes a three-floor jungle gym, trampolines, interactive game zone and outdoor splash pad, and provides a range of supervised activities for children aged between two and 12. Children staying at the hotel receive daily complimentary entry from 8am to 8pm.
Expect to see a few famous footballers around the resort as JBH offers a Football Escapes program where children can learn skills from the players. Robbie Keane was there the week I visited.
The waterpark will also ensure the kids are never bored, with 30 rides and attractions for all the family, including the 32-metre, near-vertical drop thrill ride Jumeirah Sceirah.
On our first day, we dined at the Villa Beach Italian restaurant, which offers stunning views of the Burj Al Arab. The pastas and pizzas rival anything you would get in Italy, where I had visited less than a month before, so I had some dishes fresh in my mind to compare.
For dinner, we had a wonderful meal at Bastion on the 25th floor, with spectacular views overlooking the Burj Al Arab.
A modern European brasserie and grill, there were a lot of French influences evident on the menu. Highlights included ox cheek wagyu beef bourguignon and a butternut squash risotto with shavings of black truffle. The ingredients and the way they worked together on the plate demonstrated the exceptional skill in the kitchen. This is a destination restaurant you need to try. It’s also a beautiful setting for a romantic meal with your other half.
Go for a pretty superb post-meal cocktail on Floor 24 (obviously one floor below), which also offers spectacular views of Dubai’s striking skyline.
Lunch on our second day again emphasized just how good the food is. The gastropub Dhow & Anchor is very much British-themed and is a popular spot to watch live sports. It also has a ladies’ night and weekly quizzes.
We shared some BBQ pork ribs with chips and the most sensational salad I have ever tasted — a kale salad with an apple, pear, walnut, parmesan and truffle dressing. I rarely order a salad in any restaurant but would choose this any day over anything else.
Next door to the hotel is the Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel, home to the Kayto restaurant. It offers a combination of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine known as Nikkei. The result is a taste sensation. Our favorite dishes were wagyu beef mini tacos, seabass sashimi and 36-hour cooked lamb shoulder with truffle mashed potatoes.
After undoubtedly overindulging with so much fine food, you may feel like a lie-down in the sheer luxury and comfort of one of the rooms, which have superb views across the beach and the clear-blue Arabian Gulf.
A good night’s sleep will always be guaranteed, as all rooms have Hypnos beds that come complete with a royal seal of approval from the Queen. All ocean deluxe, ocean deluxe balcony and ocean club rooms also feature Murphy beds, where the little and not-so-little can enjoy a relaxing night’s sleep without compromising on space.
The calmness and serenity of the Arabian Gulf was clearly in the minds of the designers. All rooms have nods to the beach and sea with subtle tones of blues and beiges (ie waves and sand). They also have a flooring design that resembles water rippling over sand, and walls covered with both real stone wallpaper and reflective materials, giving them a stunning shimmery effect.
You could also justlaze by the pool all day. JBH has five external swimming pools — the main leisure pool, featuring a walk-in Jacuzzi and submerged airbeds with a swim-up pool bar; a family pool surfaced in synthetic rubber with a walk-in ‘beach’ effect and water slide; a shaded shallow children’s pool with water play equipment; a 25m lap pool; and the executive pool, complete with a decking area of 290 sunbeds and 22 gazebos.
The hotel’s 2km-long private sandy beach is the perfect place to soak up the Arabian sun or for taking part in a variety of motorized and non-motorised watersports, including flyboard, sailing, waterskiing, windsurfing, kayaking, wakeboarding and banana boating.
The luxurious private beach cabanas have service buttons and ‘do not disturb’ options, so you can get food and drink delivered whenever you want.
If you yearn for further relaxation or, like me, just love to avail of a spa and a massage while away on holiday, the Talise Spa is the answer to all your problems — back and shoulders in my case. A body massage had me feeling like a new man and fixed some knots that had been plaguing me for months.
The lifestyle and wellness hub also includes fitness facilities with six tennis courts and a new outdoor gym.
My biggest disappointment was that I only stayed three days. I had so much more to see and do, but I will be back.
If you want to live the good life in Dubai, Jumeirah Beach is the place to stay. Do yourself a favor and stick it on your 2022 holiday list.
Where to stay:
Jumeirah Beach Hotel, www.jumeirah.com/jbh
How to get there:
Fly in style to Dubai with Emirates. The airline, which flies direct from Dublin, offers a range of flight options from economy to first class. If flying business class with Emirates, the experience begins even before you board the plane or step foot in the business lounge as the airline also offers complimentary chauffeur service to the airport.
Passengers flying first class can enjoy a very generous baggage allowance of 50kg, in business class 40kg and in economy up to 35kg, so you can pack a lot more than with most other airlines.
The Emirates entertainment system is the best I have ever experienced on a flight.
ICE (information, communication and entertainment) offers a choice of more than 4,500 movies, television programmes, games, audio books and music from across the world.
The lie-flat seat in business class extends to 79 inches.
Dublin to Dubai economy class return inclusive of all taxes & charges from €575.
Dublin to Dubai business class return inclusive of all taxes & charges from €3,000.
From Dubai, Emirates connects customers to 120+ destinations.
For details, visit www.emirates.com.