Dreading to stay yet another week at home watching the snow fall or contemplating the endless London drizzle, me and two of my girlfriends had planned a special getaway to a sunnier destination which we would be heading two by the end of February, thus escaping another cold week at the mercy of the unsettled British weather.
We picked Dubai as our destination after doing some research on reliably sunny destinations around the world at this time of year, which at the same time wouldn't be too far away from home. We certainly didn't fancy flying for long hours and we were also looking for luxury and pampering without breaking the bank and ,on this ocassion, the Caribbean would definitely overstretch our budget. Plus there was another thing the Caribbean didn't have – a trendy city life, a strikingly modern cosmopolitan appeal, amazing shopping and sophisticated nightlife, all of which a Dubai holiday promised; so Dubai it was in the end.
It was great that Dubai was one of the destinations we sell at The Holiday Place, so we went for one of our fabulous packages that included the return flights with Emirates, hotel transfers and accommodation for five nights. As a Customer Relations assistant at The Holiday Place I knew that we were in for a great experience, after hearing such great feedback from our clientele of holidaymakers who had also chosen that destination for their getaway.
Upon arrival to the airport at London Gatwick's North Terminal we took a speedy early breakfast right after checking in our bags. The staff at the Emirates check-in desk were pleasant and friendly and we felt welcome long before I arrived to my final destination. The flight was scheduled to take off at 10 am so while we waited we browsed the shops and had some coffee (after all this was a morning flight and it's no secret that us girls don't function that well without our beauty sleep). Once onboard we found the aircraft of our Boeing 777-300 to be spacious and our cabin in Economy had seats in rows of threes and fours in the middle offering reasonable leg room. In general seating was very comfortable and spacious; even though we travelled in Economy, we never felt too cramped. Everything looked fresh and modern with all seats featuring small TVs on the back offering good in-flight entertainment with individual controls that allowed you to choose what you wanted to watch – and let's face it with almost 7 hours of flight ahead of us we were going to need all the entertainment we could get, so this was a welcome touch.
In-flight meals were very good overall, with the odd exception of slightly stale sandwiches at the end. Shortly after take off we were offered drinks and a snack and just an hour later lunch was served, with steel cutlery (a nice touch – we all know it's impossible to have a decent meal with plastic knives and forks!) and a choice of soft or alcoholic drink. The servings at lunchtime were very generous, we only regretted they didn't offer it a bit later as we were already full from breakfast at the airport and the onboard snack served just an hour earlier! Still, everything was very tasty and considering it was plane food we had no complaints. Another drink and snack were offered again before the end of the flight, which consisted of a sandwich with a scone, clotted cream and jam accompanied by a choice of tea, coffee, soft or alcoholic drink. This is where we found the sandwiches to be a bit stale but the scones were lovely and fresh, just the sweet treat we needed before landing. To get a better idea of what Emirates offer food-wise, have a look at the full in-flight menu we were offered (I took a snap of it and it's posted below).
We arrived to our hotel in Dubai after a quick transfer offered by local representatives from The Holiday Place. We were staying at the Media Rotana hotel, a wonderfully located retreat at the heart of Dubai's Media City, just five minutes from the Emirates Shopping Mall, which was easily accessible by a shuttle bus provided by the hotel free of charge. Other hotspots nearby included the beautiful Jumeirah beach and the marina as well as the Emirates Golf Club. Check-in was smooth and quick and we were offered a room upgrade and Wi-Fi at an additional charge. We declined both but for those curious as to how much these extras would have cost, the Wi-Fi was charged at 22 AED for one hour's use (approximately £4) with different packages available such as the Wi-Fi and Tea which included tea, cake and one hour Wi-Fi connection for 39 AED (around £7) or the 24 hour Wi-Fi package which was charged at 110 AED (roughly £20 per day).
Upon arrival to our room, we were glad we didn't pay more for an upgrade, as the room was generously sized and spacious enough for the three of us. It had a smart, chic and modern layout and was equipped with two twin beds and a third additional bed which was added after our arrival. Two to four complimentary bottles of waters were provided and replenished daily depending on how many we had finished each day. Complimentary tea and coffee facilities were also available and someone would come to the room each evening to personally ask us if everything was OK, whether we had any special requests or if we needed anything changed or replenished such as towels, drinks or anything else in general – a lovely touch and something we haven't seen in many hotels around the world, at least not when you're staying in standard accommodation! The room also included other standard amenities such as in-room safe which was very easy to use, an iron and ironing board (which were a bit more difficult to master but we got the hang of it in the end) and other niceties such as toiletries, etc. Room service was available and although a little pricey (we paid £13 for a plate of burger and chips) it was very, very nice, we ordered it on the last night of our stay and we found the food to be lovely, hot and tasty.
When it came to dining, at the hotel's food venues we only tried some of them so I can't comment on them all. There was an Italian called Prego's, an international restaurant called Channels, an English-style pub called Nelson, an outdoor lounge bar called The Terrace and a lobby lounge cafe called Connexions. We enjoyed drinks at the hotel's Terrace bar, where one drink per person was on the house but the selection was limited to wine, beer and some spirits. Still, the ambience was nice and very chilled in the evenings. The drinks there were reasonably priced considering this was Dubai and you're in a really posh bar. The Terrace bar is adjacent to the swimming pool but if you want to sunbathe don't come here until after 11.30am because there's no sunshine until then. But if you're desperate to work on your sun tan before then there is a small section with a few sun beds to use before the sun makes an appearance. Once it shines though, you will find this place to be a true sun trap where it gets to sizzling temperatures so a cooling refreshment will surely be in order. The slight downfall of this place is that the bar here doesn't' open until 12pm so you better take water from the room with you if you come earlier.
Another bar at the hotel was Nelson's Bar, where you also get one complimentary drink per person. Although we didn't venture here it had a typical English pub feel and a lively atmosphere that would appeal to most guests.
We had our breakfasts at the Channels restaurant every day and couldn't find a fault with the service offered and the quality of the food. There was a good variety of hot and cold foods served in a buffet style with show cooking (your eggs prepared in front of you and cooked to your liking) plus a few random choices such as sushi or curry and rice; now we can't imagine who would order the latter two choices for breakfast unless you're seriously hungover or have a really big early morning appetite, but it's certainly nice to have the option of a more substantial and filling breakfast if desired, especially if the night before you've partied into the early hours. Dinner at the Channels restaurant was equally satisfying, again buffet style with a varied selection consisting of salads, a choice of meats including beef, lamb, Yorkshire puddings and more, traditional fish and chips with a side-serving of mushy peas and fresh fish also available at show cooking stations and prepared in front of you. The desserts at Channels were amazing, my mouth waters just remembering…yum! If you have a sweet tooth you certainly won't be disappointed here.
An interesting meal-related fact we discovered is that most Dubai hotels host a "Friday Brunch" event every week with a set price for all diners (hotel guests and visitors). It was £40 per person at the hotel we went to, which was _____ but we never got round to finding out how much it was at ours. The meal included all food and drink between 12 to 4pm and we enjoyed a roast buffet which was very tasty. We imagine this would be ideal for big parties celebrating special occasions like a birthday or hen party getaway but we wouldn't really recommend it for older couples as the atmosphere is very energetic, young and lively and might not appeal to senior travellers. However, considering the sky-high costs of practically everything in Dubai it's the Friday Brunch is definitely worth a try and it might be cheaper at some hotels more than others.
Now, for the attractions, the sightseeing and the places we visited whilst on holiday at this modern Arab paradise. During our time in Dubai we climbed the Burj Khalifa tower, and seeing this is one of the emirate's most striking wonders and the tallest building in the world we couldn't give it a miss. In fact it was our number one landmark to visit and we certainly didn't regret the trip there. Admission costs are currently at 130 AED (approximately £26) per person if you book in advance, which we highly recommend because the entry ticket price escalates to as much as 400 AED per person if you purchase upon arrival. It takes about 40 minutes to get to the top of this sky-high wonder and on your way to the lift you get some interesting facts and information displayed on the walls about how it was built. Once you're in the lift, escalating all the way up your ears will pop as you approach the 124th floor! When you reach the top you will find lots of amazing photo opportunities and an incredible eagle's eye view of this magnificent city. A definite must-see if you ever find yourself in Dubai!
The second attraction we visited and probably our favourite of the whole trip was the Atlantis water park, a truly amazing place where you are guaranteed to have fun to no end, whatever you do. My suggestion would be to bring your own towel along as Atlantis charges a fee for hiring towels there. Upon paying the entrance fee you are given a wrist band and it's very important not to lose it as it also gives you access to your personal locker. As part of your Atlantis experience there are a number of meal deals available when you buy your tickets (see the snippet of the info leaflet I post here). This was by far the best day of our entire holiday – we had a blast!
Another place we visited during our holiday to Dubai was the famous Dubai Mall and we were truly overwhelmed not only at the sheer size of the place but also at the vast quantity of shops – so many in fact that there was no way we could see them all in a day. So we went only to browse a little here and there, to see the beautiful waterfall feature and the huge fish tank. If you and your gang of friends are mad shoppers you will love it and even though many of the same shops and brands can also be found at home in the UK, they do sell different styles that you'd only find there.
All in all our four days were fast-lived but we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of them. At the end of it all we were back at the airport waiting for our return flight, and even though there was a one-hour delay we found the same high standards of service onboard as we did on the outbound flight. To test the professionalism of the air crew we saw a passenger collapse during our flight and staff dealt promptly and professionally with the situation.
Overall, I had a great time in Dubai, and I can say the same for my friends; we felt very safe at all times and would recommend a visit to this awe-inspiring emirate to any traveller. It's a magical destination that will blow you away, where you can find something for everyone, whether you're a couple, a family with demanding kids or a group of friends looking for a fun time together. If you're looking for relaxation you'll love the luxurious spas and the serene man-made beaches, if you're out on a business trip you'll find state-of-the-art facilities for meetings and working abroad and if you're after a party holiday, you'll find all the entertainment you could wish, including a large selection of bars and party venues. In my opinion Dubai is for all; young, old and everything in between, it has something to wow every traveller.