Travel Weekly's Lee Duskwick went to Dubai with 19 travel agents.
Beautiful. Fake. Luxurious. Building site. Bombarded by many conflicting opinions, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I headed off on my first trip to Dubai. I wasn’t the only one. Most of the agents I travelled with hadn’t visited the destination before, but after a fun-filled stay being hosted by the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, many of them are keen to return.
Some of the reports were true. Dubai is large and impressive. The shopping centres alone are some of the biggest in the world, and there are various building projects going on, including Dubai Pearl, a huge mixed-use development that will have hotels, restaurants, entertainment and shopping facilities and is due to open at the end of next year.
There were other highlights I hadn’t heard about. From our group leaders to the tour guide and the hotel staff, everyone was so friendly and accommodating.
Atlantis The Palm is one of the most impressive hotels I’ve ever stayed in. The grounds are lovely and there is a huge blown-glass centrepiece in the lobby depicting water turning into the sky. The Atlantis theme is evident, from the murals to a ceiling-high aquarium, which runs from public areas up into some of the rooms. There are 1,373 rooms and 166 suites, served by 19 restaurants, bars and lounges, and the hotel’s entertainment options are second to none. The Aquaventure water park was so much fun we went twice, and the dolphin encounter at Dolphin Bay was the highlight of my trip.
The 294-room Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina is more understated than Atlantis, but feels very classy, and is set on its own private stretch of shoreline at Jumeirah Beach. The choice of facilities was extensive, with five pools and eight restaurants. And, when it reopens after refurbishment in October, there will be access to the restaurants and bars at the hotel next door, Le Meridien Seyahi.
From theme parks to cultural sights and desert adventures, we packed a lot into our trip. A visit to the Jumeirah mosque was interesting and informative, explaining the rituals involved and the background to the mosque.
The Dubai Mall is more than just somewhere to shop. There’s an aquarium inside, reached through a tunnel where sharks swim overhead. Once inside, we saw turtles, snakes, crabs, catfish and my favourites, the penguins, who appeared to love the attention, and even seemed to pose for photos. Also inside the Mall is the Sega Republic, a huge arcade with games machines, and Kidzania, an amazing creation for families. It’s a world where children run everything. When you enter, via an airport-style check-in desk, kids are given first-class tickets, and parents, economy. Children can be left for up to five hours – a lot of child-free shopping time – and they’ll fill the time being given ‘jobs’, with options including working in a supermarket, a radio station or a dentist’s surgery.
There’s no better way to get an overview of Dubai than to go to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. The lift takes 60 seconds to reach the top. As well as looking at the views, there are interactive screens, allowing you to ‘place’ the Khalifa in a selection of cities around the world to compare its height with other buildings.
Kate Taylor, sales consultant at Virgin Holidays Cruises, says: "The trip really changed my perception of Dubai. I had never considered it as a destination before and now having been there I would happily go back. I was expecting it to be similar to Turkey or Egypt, but it was so different. The buildings are amazing, the people are really friendly and the experiences are one of a kind. I enjoyed it so much I recommended my parents go there for their 25th wedding anniversary this year and they booked last week."
Suzanne Harlow, cruise specialist at Planetcruise.co.uk, says: "I really struggled to decide which clothes to take before I went out to Dubai and worried that I would be showing too much, but once there I realised that as long as you respect customs and are sensible, covering yourself with a pashmina, you have nothing to worry about.
"I was very surprised at how safe the country was, being reassured that it was ok to leave your handbag in a secure area."
Vicky Hutchinson, cruise concierge at Cruise118, says: "I thought Dubai would be like Egypt, but I was hopeful that it wasn’t. I was awestruck by the sights on arrival. The beautiful buildings were just inspiring, the cleanliness was unbelievable, the people were helpful, courteous and friendly, and most of all, very warm. I loved the hospitality shown to me. I want to work there."
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