Editor’s note: Wild Wadi Waterpark will be closed for maintenance from 12 January to 7 February 2019 inclusive.
All that glitters is not gold. And it’s true, as here at the Burj Al Arab where all the gold you see that’s matt is, in fact, made of 24 karats. The shiny parts and pieces are not I was told – and I believe it.
Representing all that Dubai stands for: avant-garde modernity, awesomeness, wealth and power, the Burj Al Arab has some big shoes to fill while it functions at an impressive pace to meet such supremely high standards. In a city where there’s oodles of luxury everywhere you look, top end hotels are opening all the time, no doubt another as I put pen to paper. And as a luxury establishment in Dubai, it’s a battle to keep up with the latest, newest, shiniest addition in town.
Yet twenty years after its launch, the Burj Al Arab, the most iconic hotel in the world, remains the most awe-inspiring property ever built – anywhere. Of course, that was the intent all along. To put it into context, my video clip on Instagram of one of two massive fish tanks that are situated alongside the elevators in the hotel’s grandiose lobby, had almost 100 hits within two hours – and I’m not the most popular person on the app by a long shot. Everyone, anyone, wants in on the Burj glam.
I was in town when the hotel first opened. Journalists were invited from all over the globe as guests to experience the opulence and glitz as never seen before in the hotel world. Back then, you could only come inside the building if you were a resident guest, or had a reservation for a meal (and a suitable family name) at one of the restaurants. Awestruck tourists stood outside the gated bridge of the entrance taking photographs. And they still come by the busloads, clicking selfies non-stop as they pose before the majestic structure.
But forget the allure if you can for a moment, and focus on the product and what it has to offer. A lot, in truth. Bold, brassy and the furthest thing from discreet, this hotel will shock your senses while teasing you to fall in love at the same time. As Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory made its privileged visitors feel, you’re in a dazzling and different world at the Burj. And prepare to be spoiled.
But be warned. Stay here, and you will forever compare each and every hotel from that moment on with how your visit here made you feel, and how the hotel made you welcome.
Thankfully, most of the other guests you encounter stick to themselves (I never ran into anyone else on my floor despite the fact that the hotel was almost full); this worked just fine for me and will for you, too. Because, without a doubt, you will be way too busy experiencing all there is to enjoy here to casually strike up a conversation with a stranger – or even a passing celebrity or two.
- Daily breakfast for two
- Buffet breakfast
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Hotel credit
- US$75 or equivalent to be used in the restaurants or Spa (one credit per stay)
- One-way airport transfer
- Only applies to guests staying in a suite
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Late check-out until 4pm, subject to availability
- VIP welcome
- Personalised welcome amenity and card from the Manager and enhanced recognition throughout your stay
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
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I can’t deny that pulling up in the Burj Al Arab’s drive has a certain cachet. I was driven up to the porte cochère not in one of the Burj’s many white Rolls-Royces parked out front waiting to ferry guests about but in one of the Jumeirah group’s other Dubai hotel cars, which was, nevertheless, suitably sleek. Waiting outside the front door were at least five doormen. They are there, day and night, any time of the year.
Of course, they already knew of my arrival, as every guest is announced by the security checkpoint. As my ride slowed to a halt, one of these impeccably dressed valets opened the car door and offered me his arm. I was escorted into the lower lobby, where a team of welcoming staff members were waiting for me. I imagine every arrival is as grand; the team here is trained to impress.
From this lobby, containing the concierge desk and ‘room controller’ areas, I was taken straight up to my floor and into my two-storey suite, where the check-in formalities were finalised quickly over cool drinks. There was an abundance of goodies in the room (including a bottle of Burj Al Arab-branded French wine, a box of dates, cookies and fruit). The butler took me around, pointing out everything in detail and explaining how things worked.
Rooms and suites
The Burj Al Arab is an all-suite hotel and all 202 are simply sensational. Because every suite is a duplex, being on the fifth floor is actually much higher than you expect. Mine appeared to be up in the sky, a soaring altitude for someone who’s not terribly fond of heights, a feeling enhanced by the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
I’ve stayed in some very fine hotels in my life, but everything here was just so spectacular, so ostentatious, so fun – except for the technology, which was outdated (to say the least) and there were no USB plugs, plus a printer that couldn’t be connected wirelessly. But I hadn’t come here to work – so I ignored all that, kicked off my shoes and sat down to luxuriate while eating the hors d’oeuvres that the butler delivered at 6pm sharp. They went down wonderfully with the Burj-labelled red wine that I asked him to open and serve.
My suite was the entry-level room category (if you can call it that at 170 square metres). There was a mosaic-patterned marble entrance area, a guest bathroom with a toilet, bidet and sink, an office area, a dining table with seating for four, a bar, a huge living room with a TV (there was another in the bedroom) and everything you could possibly need to stay put. Everything you could want had been carefully attended to, and if it hadn’t, you could summon the butler (one of eight assigned to your suite).
Banish the thought that the suites are simply a vamped-up version of the best you’ve ever seen. Everything is just so well thought through – modern, comfortable and colourful in every way possible. And then there are the one-offs. Here’s a list of a few things that caught my eye – and made me smile. There was a huge mirror above every bed. Enough said. The bedroom, upstairs in each suite, was in itself the size and configuration of a usual hotel suite, and I’m not counting the dressing area, upstairs bathroom and other areas There was not one but two different styles of slippers to suit your mood, his and hers sizes. There were ear plugs (for what noise?), eye shades, various waters, bathrobes, and even flip-flops should you opt for a late-night swim. There was a minibar upstairs, as well as one downstairs, plus, a living area in the bedroom.
This space and all within it was the stuff of dreams. Of course, the style was dated and gilded: ‘gold’ fixtures with blue glass tap-ends on every faucet. Even if it’s not your style, it was all very fabulous, including the mosaic-tiled landscape on the wall. Statuario marble, Italy’s finest and Michelangelo’s favourite, was used throughout.
His-and-hers Hermès products, including full-size bottles of eau de cologne and soaps, shampoos and conditioners, as well as body lotions, all in vast sizes, were provided: Terre d’Hermes scent for men and Jour d’Hermes for women. These fragrances will remind you of this hotel and your time here forever.
Towels galore, bathmats of every size and shape, a round jet bathtub, an enormous shower, twin vanities and a mirror on the back wall to see your rear view. It was a sublime bathroom, no holds barred.
You’ll never go hungry here, that’s for sure. Especially if you opt for the half-board option, which is simpler and almost necessary when you’re in house. There are nine F&B outlets in the hotel, each one better and bolder than the last.
Top of the list, definitively, is Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara, which specialises in seafood, British-born Outlaw’s forte. Centre stage is a mesmerising and vast wall-to-ceiling aquarium. It’s entertaining but there’s something rather disconcerting about eating seafood while seated next to a fish tank. As in: ‘Is he up next?’
Given the balmy temperatures in Dubai in March, there’s nowhere else you’d rather be than outside, so I didn’t spend much time indoors on this visit. I had sundowners and canapés at the Scape terrace bar, which proved to be a sensational people-watching venue by the pool. I also had lunch at Scape, the sexy, casual-dining restaurant next door, where the food and vibe were perfectly matched.
The food was delicious, especially the fish tacos I ordered, one of my all-time favourites. Beautifully prepared and presented, each course was a showstopper, including the desserts, which looked too good to eat.
Other restaurant options
Al Muntaha, upstairs on the highest floor with great views, is another popular choice. Several years ago I ate here, and I remember dining on French oysters and lobster – the best that money can buy. Its menu appeals to everyone; continental in style, it’s the sort one would expect to find in a New York establishment. Insta-worthy moments can be found at all the bars and restaurants here, with food to rival the decor and scenery.
Spa and wellness
The gym and Talise Spa are on two levels of the hotel, about midway up. You could spend hours here, days even. There are just too many options to tempt anyone, even the most jaded spa aficionado. Treatments from world-renowned houses such as La Prairie and Aromatherapy Associates are available in all shapes and sizes.
The gyms (there’s a mixed gym and a ladies-only) are enormous and supremely well equipped with views out over the water and neighbouring resorts. Plus, there are classes (mixed) of all kinds offered all day at various intervals, from hard-core (six-pack attack and constant cardio), to hard fluff (morning stretch to chakra balancing).
Pool and beach
The Burj’s additions, changes and modifications over the years are part of an evolution, rather like the Porsche brand. The hotel has been modified and added to over the years but it has remained true to its DNA and its heritage. The most notable recent addition of The Terrace, which opened in 2016, adds a dynamic dimension to the property in the form of a spectacular new outdoor area with three pools – two of which are huge: an infinity pool with saltwater and a freshwater one. The original, smaller pool is mostly used for kids. The structure itself, 10,000 square metres in total, was constructed in Finland and shipped over by sea. Also, 1,000 tonnes of sand was brought from South Africa and there are 24 species of plants from all over the world that thrive here. There are air-conditioned cabanas of various sizes alongside the terrace bar and Scape restaurant. For those who like a swim indoors, there are another two pools in the health club, one for ladies and one mixed for both men and women. They each have sauna and steam rooms attached – single sex only.
There’s a small kids’ club for unaccompanied children over three. There is, however, no outdoor area, so if that’s what you need, you can always book the children into the nearby Sinbad’s club at Madinat Jumeirah, which is larger and better equipped for more boisterous or energetic young ones.
The hotel truly takes the comfort and pleasure of kids very seriously. It provides small people with bathrobes, slippers, wash kits, teddy bears, baby cots and bathtubs, evening snacks, kids’ menus – and the list goes on. For older children there’s a choice of game consoles and games that can be set up in your suite, ready to go.
Staff and service
They’re an international team working here, all gracious and all terribly eager to please. I liked them, even if they were not as old-hand at everything as one would have expected to find working here. Perhaps it was simply those I met but I got the impression that the turnover was high and that no one was there for life. But then Dubai’s a transient town.
The butler services during my stay were faultless but, with the best of intentions, communicating was a struggle at times as English is no one’s first language. Just when you thought you had it down pat with the Chinese butler on duty in the morning, the shift would change and you’d be communicating with a Brazilian who had taken over. Reflective of Dubai’s multi-culturalism, this situation is sometimes challenging.
Regardless, every staff member I interacted with was charming. On one occasion I visited the spa with my old notebook and pencil, where I chatted with one attendant. Later that day she sent a wrapped gift to my room with a handwritten note saying it had been a pleasure talking to me. When I opened the parcel I found an elegant Burj Al Arab embossed notebook and pen. It’s people like this working here and the personalised and precise gestures that ensure guests keep coming back.
Don’t expect to make lifelong friends with any of the guests but then that’s not what this hotel is about. It’s hard to tell who’s a resident and who is not, but most of those using the pool, gym and at breakfast were locals from the region, Russia and neighbouring countries, China, Korea, plus a sprinkling from Europe. I never ran into anyone else on my floor, despite the fact that the hotel was almost full; this worked just fine for me and will for you too. Because, without a doubt, you will be way too busy experiencing all there is to enjoy here to strike up a conversation with a stranger – or even a passing celebrity or two.
Check-out is handled by the butler in charge on each floor at the small reception area or in the suite – very discreet and very personal. Any arrangements for airport transfers or onward journeys are organised here and, with all the unusual requests and demands that must take place on a given day including helicopter transfers, this set-up is a crucial part of the hotel’s operation.
My suite was so big, and all my stuff (growing daily) was everywhere, I was bound to forget a few items as I packed up with a heavy heart before going downstairs. When I went to get into my ride to the airport, all these forgotten items – sneakers, headphones and a few other things – were carefully labelled and waiting alongside my bags for me to stuff them in and say goodbye. Classy on their part.
How to get here
30 minutes by road from Dubai International Airport