There was an old lawyer
Who went to Dubai.
How do you think you get to Dubai?
Of course you fly.
(Early less popular version of Burl Ives ditty)
Sure, Dubai is not at the top of everyone’s bucket list. The ISBA presidents’ Italian lake region tour, organized by Jim McCluskey and David Sosin, is probably a better trip for beginning travelers. But when you are ready for a bit of a more exotic adventure, you’ve got to look beyond the first two pages of the Sunday Tribune travel section.
My wife Kris and I travel. And every time we hit the road, our email seems to connect us to two or three new travel websites. I made the mistake of looking at one. A six-day trip to Dubai, including a direct flight from O’Hare on Emirates Airline and a room in the world’s tallest 5-star hotel for less than $1000. They got me!
I had a few questions. What is it and where is it? Dubai is the name of the largest and most populated city in the United Arab Republic (UAR) and the name of the emirate in which it is located. There are seven emirates in the UAR. The UAR is a constitutional monarchy with an economy based on a centrally planned free market economy, originally built on oil. But really, what difference does it make? We were just passing through.
Dubai is located in on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf and north of the Persian desert. Just think of it as a little northeast of Abu Dhabi. I’m sure more complete directions are available on your iPhone. Don’t sweat the details. Emirate Airline picks you up at O’Hare and, a short 16 hours and eight full-length movies later, drops you off in Dubai.
Our Emirate Holiday package put us up at the J.W. Marriott Marquis advertised as the tallest 5-star hotel in the world. And when I say put us up, I mean up. We were on the 59th floor of this 77-floor hotel. We were shooting up to our room in the elevator when I realized it had a glass wall and we were on the outside of the building. Since heights scare the heck out of me, I spun around to face the elevator door. Unfortunately, it was a mirror. I feared I would have to spend the rest of the weekend in our room. Fortunately, we found an interior elevator the next day.
The Marriott was excellent in all regards, including the complimentary breakfast featuring western, eastern, and Asian buffet areas. So the next morning we ate a western, then an eastern, and then an Asian breakfast. We headed out exploring at the crack of 11:00 a.m. We hopped on and hopped off all three routes of the hop on/hop off bus. The first route took us to the spice souk (market), the gold souk, the old souk, and the Dubai museum. This was pretty much old time Arabia, with the type of hawkers and patter you’ve seen in every bazaar in the world. Think Maxwell Street with flowing robes.
The second day’s route took us past historical mosques and along pristine beaches bordering the calm waters of the Persian Gulf. Then we swung inland through some of the world’s most extraordinary architectural wonders. We stopped at the Mall of the Emirates, one of the world’s largest shopping centers. It was over 100 degrees outside the mall, but the kids inside put on their snowsuits, gloves and goggles to schuss down the mountain in the world’s only indoor ski slope.
The next stop was Dubai Mall, another one of the world’s largest shopping centers. The aquarium in the mall was three stories high (deep) with a tunnel walkway, surrounded by 33,000 sea creatures including 8-foot tiger sharks and giant stingrays. You could ride a glass bottom boat or SCUBA dive with the sharks and then wander the mall to a Starbucks or a Victoria’s Secret. Virtually every franchise or chain retailer is represented in one or both of these malls. And the name of every single business is prominently displayed in both English and Arabic, on the slim possibility you do not recognize icons such as Ronald McDonald or the doughnut from Dunkin. The Dubai Mall also claims the world’s most spectacular fountain. It appears to be an exact duplicate of the fountain outside the Las Vegas Bellagio, but without a blackjack table or cocktail waitress in sight. Dubai is now building another mall even larger than its two existing mega malls. Somebody better warn them about Amazon.
The third hop-on/hop-off leg took us back along the coast to the Palm Jumeirah. This three mile long man-made island is the home of towering apartment buildings, international hotels, and upscale restaurants. Dubai build the island in the shape of a palm tree, apparently to distinguish it from all the other three mile long manmade islands. We took a harbor cruise around the island and out to the Atlantis Palm. The Palm is a 1500 room, two-tower hotel, with a bridge between the towers creating a giant palm leaf opening. It appears to be an exact duplicate of the Palm built by Merv Griffin’s company on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, but without the blackjack tables and cocktail waitresses. There seems to be a pattern here.
Evening approached. And consistent with Dubai’s full swing at tourism, it was time for the traditional culture show and folk dancing dinner. We headed out to the desert to bounce and slide over the sand dunes in air-conditioned jeeps. The desert started about three steps outside of the city, so we didn’t have far to drive. The first stop was a falconry exhibition: big leather gloves, soaring, swooping majestic birds attacking bait at the speed of sound on a 30-foot rope. Falcons 1, bait 0.
Then it was back to the jeeps, across more sand dunes (or maybe the same sand dunes, they are all very similar), and on to the Bedouin style camp for more culture. We rode camels, slid down giant sand dunes in saucers, then settled onto pillows around low tables for a nice dinner of chicken and goat. Sometimes it’s hard to find good goat. . . and this was no exception. We enjoyed a couple of cold beers and a few cups of wine, then settled back for the belly dancing. There was a whole lot of shakin’ going on.
Finally, it was day five, our last day in Dubai. I could delay it no longer. With knees knocking, heart pounding, and sweat dripping down my brow, we stepped into the Burj Khalifa. It’s 160 stories high and is the tallest building in the world. But I was hardly scared at all. I kept telling myself. After all, the observation deck was at a mere 124 stories. After carefully checking to determine that the elevator had neither glass walls nor a mirror, I entered with confidence. It was getting out that was going to be the challenge. But I made it. And it’s amazing how much you can see from the 124th floor without getting within 10 feet of a window. They served us champagne and cookies. Nice.
Dubai built the tallest building in the world specifically as a focal point around which to develop a tourist/shopping/service economy. Dubai’s oil supply is expected to be exhausted about 2045. The plan appears to be working. Today, less than 5% of the emirate’s revenue is derived from petroleum. Tourism is their golden goose. Expatriates make up 90% of the population. Free trade zones combined with international banking and financial centers are attracting both eastern traders and western manufacturers.
Dubai is an exotic, extraordinary mix of Arabic and western cultures. But don’t take my word for it. Pop for the $1000 and see for yourself. But try to get a hotel room on a lower floor.
Oh, by the way, I just watched Casablanca on TCM. Anyone up for the $799 trip to Morocco?