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March 2017 Travel News


After first visiting Dubai in 2003, ANDREA McVEIGH is now a regualr visitor. She explains how she fell in love with this expanding metropolis...

I first visited what is one of the world’s fastest- growing cities back in 2003, which, in Dubai years, is roughly like travelling back in time from the Belfast of today to Iron Age Beal Feirste. Back then, fourteen years ago, Dubai was the fledgling holiday spot of the United Arab Emirates, known mostly for its shopping and sunbathing opportunities. Accommodation was largely limited to just one row of luxury beach-front hotels while the now-thriving Marina and its surrounding district was just being built. These days, Dubai is very firmly on the tourist map with just under 15 million visitors a year descending on a place which offers sun, sea, shopping and surprises! Located on the Persian Gulf coast, it is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, or UAE as it’s more often called, and shares its borders with Abu Dhabi in the south, Sharjah in the north-east and Oman in the south-east.


In 2003, there was no Palm Jumeirah, the artificial island that’s now home to luxury hotels and retail destinations. In fact, back then the reclaimed land was only just starting to be dredged from the sea to create it.

Among the luxury hotels and attractions on today’s Palm is the Atlantis resort. Built around the myth of

UBAI is the very epitome of 21st century holidaying, with a real ‘if you build it, they will come’ philosophy behind it.

the lost continent of Atlantis, its aqua attractions include a huge labyrinth, The Lost Chambers, boasting tens of thousands of fish and marine species plus a water theme park, Aquaventure.

I’m not the most adventurous person in the world so I mostly stuck to Aquaventure’s beaches, its smaller water slides and its ‘rivers’ boasting tidal waves and rapids, when I visited!

But perhaps the heat got to me, because before I knew it I was standing in the queue to go down the Leap of Faith, a water slide with a scary nine-storey near-vertical drop. And when I say ‘near-vertical’ I mean it. When my turn came I tried to chicken out, only to be reassured by a staff member that: “It will be all over before you know it.” Taking a deep breath and closing my eyes, arms folded across my chest, within seconds I was hurtling down the slide, screaming my head off, before I was propelled into the clear acrylic tube that runs through a shark-filled lagoon (not that I saw the sharks because my eyes were clamped firmly shut) and emerged into the plunge pool at the bottom, triumphant and proud of myself while vowing never to do it again!

That was just one of my ‘wow’ moments in a city full

of them. Dubai is outlandish and fabulous, exciting and dynamic, and there always seems to be a new ‘world first’ making the news.

In fact, one has to wonder if there any ideas the

Burj-al-arab - the world’s most luxurious hotel in Dubai can be seen behind a new "Old" Sukhin

powers-that-be in Dubai ever dismiss for being just too wacky or adventurous.

Build the tallest structure in the world? Sure, no problem.

Create a tropical rainforest in the middle of the desert? Yeah, why not?

Construct the planet’s largest shopping mall, equivalent in size to more than 50 football fields, with its own aquarium, 250-room luxury hotel, an Olympic- size ice-skating rink and more than 1,200 stores? Consider it done.

The distinct arcitecture of Dubai - slick, sleek and modern High energy city by the Arabian Sea

EXPERIENCE a holiday Dubai style combining high energy city action with the beauty of the Arabian Sea.

The city towers over stretches of Arabian Gulf coastline, and white sandy beaches lie literally on its doorstep.

With a vibrant nightlife and shoreside shopping scene, luxury resorts and seaside adventure sports, Dubai offers the best of both the city and the sea.

Only in Dubai can you climb the world's tallest building one minute and sip mocktails on the beach the next. Luxury daybeds and blissful beats are in abundance at Dubai's paid- entry beach clubs, where cityscapes and coastal views shuffle for attention. All-white Miami import Nikki Beach on Pearl Jumeira features 14,000 sqm of luxury amenities and is quickly becoming one of Dubai's most exclusive urban beach escapes. Zero Gravity sits on a private beach off Dubai Marina and its glass-fronted

infinity pool is the perfect spot to size up the skyline.

See the sunset with your feet in the sand and some tunes from some of the world’s biggest DJs. At Barasti's shoreline location in Dubai Marina, DJs spin tunes right on the sand (past gigs have included DJ Jazzy Jeff and Vanilla Ice). The beach club vibe at Zero Gravity picks up during the cooler months, with a roster of “day-to-night” gatherings and festivals including One Big Friday, featuring headliners Paul Van Dyk, Erick Morillo and Sam Feldt. Home to a wealth of five-star hotels and coastal resorts, Dubai knows a thing or two about urban beachside luxury.

Luxury knows no bounds at Jumeirah's Al Qasr, where water canals weave between beachside villas, or the city’s newest luxury resort Jumeirah Al Naseem, which offers views of the waves and the stunning Burj Al Arab right from your hotel room.

A holiday in Dubai combines high energy city action with relaxation by the beautiful Arabian Sea

In a city that thrives on retail, it was only a matter of time before Dubai combined two of its biggest loves. Shopping and beach life come together a treat at outdoor entertainment district The Beach at JBR, where retailers including Adventure HQ and Victoria's Secret can be perused just metres from the sand. On the same strip, The Walk at JBR is scattered with restaurants and lesser-known stores good for knick-knacks.

For active holidaymakers and sports fans,

Dubai makes for the ultimate urban paradise. Ever wondered what Palm Jumeirah looks like from space? Jump out of a plane over Skydive Dubai's Palm dropzone to get an aerial view of the city's golden coastline, manmade islands and turquoise seas. There's something for spectators, too, with the game of kings, Beach Polo Cup Dubai, taking place every year around April.

For more information on visiting Dubai visit

The world’s tallest artificial structure is the Burj Khalifa, by the way, rising 830 metres into the blazing blue Arabian sky. While one of Dubai’s most recent openings is The Green Planet, a bio-dome high above a giant aquarium that opened in September last year to house 3000 species of plants, animals and birds, bringing the magic of the rainforest to the desert. During one of my visits to Dubai (I’ve visited around six or seven times now over those 14 years), I enjoyed swooshing down the ski-slope during a beginner’s lesson at Ski Dubai, the Middle East’s first ski resort, located in the Mall of the Emirates (that’s right, an indoor ski slope in a shopping mall). Doing so, I realised that it’s not mere hype to say that there’s nowhere in the world like Dubai. It’s breathtakingly over-the-top and dazzling in its ambition and scale, and that’s part of its charm. You can visit year after year and experience something new and exciting each time. Perhaps the only thing that stays constant is the sun – the weather ranges from hot to very hot to scorching depending on the time of year, but with everything indoors being air conditioned, there are plenty of opportunities to cool off.

In much the same way that Las Vegas has a replica of the Eiffel Tower and full-scale indoor canals with singing gondoliers, Dubai brings the rest of the world to you. Another of last year’s openings was Bollywood Parks Dubai, the first resort of its kind in the world. With interactive rides and multi-media shows, visitors can engage in action-fuelled experiences based on around top Bollywood celebrities, Indian cricket stars and singers.

Most people in Dubai are not Arabian, they’re expatriates and migrant workers, and less than ten percent of the people who live there are Emiratis, so English is widely spoken and has become the common language of Dubai tourism. But while it may seem, on the face of it, a very Westernised place, it’s respectful to avoid showing too much bare skin when in public, in malls and indoor tourist attractions when traditional dress is worn by most Emirati people. You can play camel polo by day and midnight golf by floodlight or seek out the ‘real Dubai’ in the traditional gold and spice souks. A city tour will point out all the main attractions, while another ‘must do’ is the desert safari – nothing says ‘Arabian nights’ like dune bashing in a 4x4, riding a camel and then watching the sun go down over the sand dunes before heading to a Bedouin encampment for dinner. But what is the ‘real Dubai’ anyway? Is it shopping- till-you-drop or belly-dancing in the desert? Is it sampling some of the best food in the world and being treated like Royalty in a seven-star hotel or soaking up culture in a world-class museum? Is it the race to be the tallest, the fastest, the newest and the biggest? The answer, of course, is that the real Dubai incorporates all of these things, and more.

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