It’s a funny old place Dubai.
A favourite haunt of celebs and X Factor judges, there are few places on earth where wealth is so openly celebrated.
As a result it lays claim to many of ‘The World’s Biggest’…
Dancing fountains? Tick!
Aquarium under a hotel? Tick!
Driverless train network? Tick!
Basically, you think of the wackiest, most expensive building scheme you can – and someone will come along and do it a million times bigger and better.
And for that, you have to admire it.
Our two night stop there on the way home from honeymoon this summer was my second visit there – and it was every bit as big and brash as I remember.
With limited time, we decided to embrace its tackiness and set out on a whistle-stop tour of its highlights.
First port of call were those dancing fountains and that giant skyscraper. Both were new additions since my last visit and both were ridiculous in their magnitude.
The Burj Khalifa stands more than 2,700 feet high and is lit with a dazzling array of twinkling lights at night.
At its feet stand those fountains, which do nothing for the best part of the day but every hour, on the hour, they produce a spectacular five-minute display set to music.
It sounds ridiculous, it is ridiculous, but I found there was something incredibly moving about watching millions of gallons of water shoot up in to the sky in time to the sound of ‘Time to Say Goodbye’. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it but I almost shed a tear. It was like an amazing firework display – but even better. The sound of the water being fired in to the air, the lights, the fact they actually dance exactly in time to the music. I loved it!
I’m not sure my husband felt quite the same as he stood sweltering in the middle of the ooh-ing and aah-ing crowds. And, to be fair to him, it was still around 38C even at 10pm.
My pictures of the fountains do not do them justice at all, but here’s a useful YouTube video that shows them in all their glory:
The next day we set out to the Palm Atlantis hotel. Having seen it on so many TV programmes we figured it was worth a visit, just to wander around the building. Because, frankly, doing anything outside when the temperature is 49C is pretty much impossible.
The hotel itself is a vast, dazzling monument to money. Lavish paintings adorn the ceilings, designer shops flank its malls, and the water park is one of the biggest and best in the city. But what we really loved was the aquarium.
Here are a few pictures of its inhabitants:
The main tank in the middle of the aquarium is enormous and contains more colourful, exotic fish than I have ever seen. It’s so big that some of the hotel’s guest rooms even have windows that look directly out in to it. But as mere day guests we weren’t allowed in to that bit of the hotel – and had our path blocked by some very stern security guards!
Hopping in to yet another taxi we made our way to the outside of yet another hotel – the iconic Burj al Arab for a quick picture stop, and then it was time to head back to our hotel for a cooling dip in the pool. In a city where the heat makes walking any distance more than about 50m impossible, the taxis are invaluable. We found all the drivers to be extremely helpful and the fares really reasonably priced – about the only thing in the city that was!
That evening we headed out to the desert for a spot of 4×4 dune bashing before heading to one of the many ‘traditional’ camps, where we watched belly dancing and ate a tasty barbecue.
The rolling sand dunes are an amazing sight, and the view of the city’s skyline as you drive back towards it is such a contrast that it feels quite surreal, almost as if it could be a mirage. You can’t quite believe that this massive metropolis has risen from the sand.
As a spectacle, Dubai is a must-see, and there’s no denying the amazing work that’s gone in to creating it. But, as a holiday destination, and somewhere I’d want to stay for more than a few days, I’m not so sure. The place has glitz, glamour and lots and lots of money – but when it comes to character and soul, not a trace.
To me, it feels a little bit like a dream-land, a rich man’s fairytale. But you can’t help but wonder about those that don’t have the means to take part in that story. We spent a few hours flicking through the local papers and stories of slave labour and the ill treatment of migrant workers abound.
While my husband and I both agreed it was an interesting stop-over on what would otherwise have been a long trip home, I doubt we’ll be going back again in a hurry.