Dubai Goes All In On Spectacular

Gazing out my window from the Address Downtown hotel in Dubai on a recent FAM visit, viewing the world’s tallest building and the world’s largest fountain system up-close, some words from a media colleague from the UK came to mind:

“Dubai doesn’t do things by halves, do they?”

The English have a way of putting things, and that remark sums up the dazzling United Arab Emirates city perfectly. Everywhere you look there are mind-boggling offerings, with countless others on the way, and it’s hard to picture a place more perfectly designed to impress a visiting group.

How many cities do you know where a wonder like the towering Burj Khalifa (pictured below)—nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building—could practically get lost in the shuffle? Or where you have to be reminded that an ‘Atlantis’ resort is among the hotel inventory? Incredible.

Here are some of the more memorable takeaways from my whirlwind four-day excursion, hosted by the adept folks at Dubai Tourism, led by director Steen Jakobsen.

REMARKABLE RESORTS

The famed Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic ‘sailboat-inspired’ resort, is one of those rare lodgings that is worth a group visit even if you’re not staying there. My party enjoyed a behind-the-scenes visit that included examining the colorful and diverse sea life populating the property’s large and stupendous aquariums, and exploring the regal deluxe suites boasting elements like palatial staircases and lush seating areas. The towering atrium design makes for breathtaking views whether you’re in the lobby looking up, or looking down from a top-floor corridor balcony.

Our host hotel, the Address Downtown, showcased its own impressive aspects as well, including a sparkling nightspot on the venue's 63rd floor with amazing vistas of the Burj Khalifa. Another big highlight was Atlantis The Palm Dubai, sister property to the famed Bahamas resort and a sprawling oasis of massive pool areas, meeting spaces and regal dining spots; our group lunch at the Palm’s Ossiano (below), seated along the gigantic Ambassador aquarium and its bevvy of sea life—from sharks to jellyfish and beyond—was definitely a meal to remember.

REGAL RECEPTIONS

My personal favorite experience was probably the remarkable desert soiree held at the Al Sahra Desert Camp (below) a short drive outside of the city, held at an iconic old fortress straight out of a Foreign Legion film. Superb Middle Eastern fare served alfresco, camel rides, authentic hookah pipes, colorful little shops and luxurious open-air tents added up to an exotic evening for the hundreds of planners and smaller contingency of international media on hand.

Another big hit was a dinner reception at the Armani Hotel, based in the towering Burj Khalifa, with a spacious outdoor deck overlooking a lively fountain show—and dramatically loomed over by the sky-high structure.

The final evening’s dynamic indoor-outdoor dining celebration bordered on the magical. Held at the magnificent Madinat Jumeirah resort, the experience began by boarding abras—traditional, covered wooden boats seating about 10—and meandering lovely canals before arriving at a charming courtyard enlivened by exotic dancing and numerous international food stands. An adjoining mansion venue exuded charm—and offered indoor seating and AC—and it would be hard to imagine a nicer send-off.

TREMENDOUS TOURS

Dubai offers no end its impressive excursion options, from boating jaunts along the ‘Creek’—actually a substantial river offering ample views of the city’s older realms—to helicopter flights based at Paradise Atlantis, to ascending 125 floors in about 10 seconds aboard a high-tech elevator to reach the breathtaking viewing platform at the Burj Khalifa. In fact, our group enjoyed all of the above and a brief Segway outing as well in the course of one day.

And while the city’s modern wonders may be taking center stage, its ancient heritage is equally fascinating and can be embraced at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (below) along Dubai’s Creek. Housed in traditional, time-tested wind tower structures, the enchanting venue offers informative tours, mosque visits and delicious traditional group meals—enhanced by a host providing perspectives on local culture, history and religion. It was an eye-opening experience, especially for someone new to the Middle East.

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