What’s the saying? When in Dubai do as the Emiratis? Something like that. As we’re starting this trip in Dubai, we decided we’d kick it off with a taste of the highlife.
You’ve likely heard of the Palm Jumeirah, one of two man-made items visible from space, it’s an artificial archipelago built in the Arabian Gulf off the coast of Dubai. It’s somewhat symbolic of the over-the-top construction in Dubai, so we decided to spend our first couple of days on the islands at the Atlantis Palm hotel.
It ain’t cheap pretending to be rich
We came to Dubai thinking it would be a little crazy, and so far it hasn’t disappointed. Being in Dubai, and especially at the Atlantis, we were prepared to pay a little more money than we’re used to on our typical trips. Despite that, the cost of things has definitely been a shocker. It’s one thing, when you’re getting luxury for your money, which there is certainly a lot of, but it hurts a bit when you’re paying far more for something which would be better and cost less at home. In the end we just closed our eyes and paid the bills.
If you do decide to stay at the Atlantis, there are a few things you can do to save a little money. Having yoghurt and a croissant from Starbucks for breakfast instead of a massive buffet with the hordes is about a sixth the cost. Also, make sure to sign up for the Emirates Airlines loyalty program, Skywards. So far that has saved us over 15% on the room cost and given us free access to wifi, about $30/day in value. I’ll save you the rant on expensive hotels that charge exorbitant amounts for wifi.
Upgrade sweet upgrade
Another way to get a little bonus, is if you are celebrating a wedding anniversary. We happened to arrive on our 4th anniversary, which Katy used (succesfully) to request an upgrade to our room. I’m rarely on the top floor of a hotel that there is a certain strange enjoyment. Every time we get in an elevator with someone else I think to myself, “nice try with the 17, but we’ll be going to 19.” They’re oblivious to the competition and don’t care at all, but I still win. Especially when we open the doors to the balcony and find a view of the Gulf.
Sharks, rays, dolphins and munchkins
So, the Atlantis is expensive, but there is a lot going on here. Everything is over the top and verging on tacky, but somehow it kind of works. The hotel itself is a large monstrosity at the top of the Palm islands. You arrive at a large driveway streaming with expensive cars and enter into a massive lobby. That sets the tone for the rest of the hotel, large and opulent. The hotel includes: two pools, over 10 restaurants, a water park, a large aquarium, private beaches and a small mall with luxury stores.
The aquarium is pretty mesmerizing and we find ourselves stopping to watch for a little while each time we go by. The small sharks and various fish are interesting, but the highlight are the rays. There’s something very cool about watching them glide towards you before turning off at the glass. If you have money to burn, you can get one of the rooms that have windows directly connected to the aquarium instead of windows to the outside.
Of course, the type of wildlife that outnumbers all others is children. They’re everywhere and with all the fun things to do, it would be a great place to bring kids.
Time for an Aquaventure
The water park at the hotel is free if you’re a guest. So, after a few hours at the pool on our first morning, we decided to go check it out. It’s not a huge park, but it makes for a fun afternoon. On the walk over, I was shocked to learn that Katy had never been on a lazy river so that’s where we started. This lazy river wasn’t Ike others I’d been on before, it was a little less lazy. Everyone so often, the slow ride drifting along in your tube was interrupted by some rapids.
The main attraction at the park is the Shark Attack which inovles riding your tube through a winding pitch black tunnel before you’re ejected into a clear tunnel that runs through the middle of an aquarium. It was fun, but the trip through the aquarium was a bit anticlimactic. Those walking to the ride actually get a better look at you drifting along than you do at the fish around you. Kind of gives you a taste of how the fish in the aquarium feel with all the people watching you float by.
An interesting side note is that visiting a water park in the UAE on the grounds of a massive tourist resort brings with it an interesting mix of swimming attire. (Actually, it can be seen at the pool too.) There were women wearing everything from tiny bikinis to full body burka bathing suits, somewhat like a wetsuit with a hood. The men, longer shorts to the occasional, and always unfortunate, banana hammock.
Speaking of conservative attire…
The clothing discrepancies aren’t limited to thr pool either. The hotel guests have proven to be a study in contrasts.
Any guide book about travelling in this part of the world will include a note about the need to dress conservatively. In Dubai, this is a bit more flexible than other places, but it is still respectful to cover up a bit and we packed accordingly. Katy and I both have pants and shorts that fall below the knee. Katy also makes sure she has shirts that are light for the heat, but still cover her shoulders, or at least has a scarf handy to cover up with.
Apprently, not everyone got the memo. It’s pretty funny to walk by the massive window to the aquarium and find a woman in mini-skirt standing next to one in a burka. I have to admit that there are nuances that I have yet to sort out, so that might not be the exact right term. Suffice it to say, lots of skin next to no skin.
The Vegas of Souks
After a morning by the pool and an afternoon at the water park, we decided it was time to get out of the complex. A short taxi ride took us to Madinat Jumeirah which isn’t any more “real” than the complex. Madinat Jumeirah is effectively a recreation of a souk, but one that lets you shop in air conditioned comfort.
Like every thing we’ve seen of Dubai so far, it’s very clean, and very new. While the shopping is all at tourist prices, the complex does have some nice restaurants along the creek with a view of Burj Al Arab.
Burj Al Arab is a posh hotel built on its own island. If the Atlantis is a little too common for your tastes, the Burj Al Arab might be for you. Apparently the world’s tallest all suite hotel, it’s shaped like a sail and features a helipad and bar that is suspended in the air near the top of the building. We wanted to go up to the bar but it has a minimum drink spend of around $60 per person and requires real shoes, which I didn’t bring. We may buy some if we come across a pair at a decent price, but for now we settled for a view from the bottom while we ate our Persian-style dinner.
All-in-all, a great first full day in Dubai. With jetlag catching up with me, it’s time for bed to rest up to explore downtown Dubai tomorrow.