Discovering Dubai – Sheikhs and Shisha, Skyscrapers and Sand:

Lisa Spiller

From the camel races, we checked into the magical Bab Al Shams Desert Resort, located an hour from the city. The resort offers contemporary luxury in an exotic desert environment.

A highlight was a sunset desert drive through sandy moguls and crested dunes and stepping out of the 4 x 4 as the sky turned pink to drink Arabic coffee, eat dates and feel the ancient sand between our toes. Like a mirage, a man in a breezy white dishdasha appeared from out of the desert with a hooded falcon on his arm. Spellbound, we asked what he was doing alone in the desert at dusk. As it turns out, he was training his falcon to hunt and possibly win championships. Falconry is a national heritage sport and falcon racing is, like the camel races, a high-purse sporting event.

At nightfall, we were transported to a luxury Bedouin camp featuring a lavish “Arabian Nights” dinner show including belly dancers, whirling dervish, live traditional Arabian music, camels, sheep and horses. We feasted underneath gas torchlight on lamb shawarma, wood-fired rotisserie chicken, beef kabobs, curries, fresh shellfish, fruits, nuts, cheeses, olives, scented rice, organic salads, endless Arabian breads, dips and pastries like kataifi, marzipan and baklava.

Arabian Adventures provided a more camp-style desert experience the following night, including adrenaline-rushing dune bashing, sandboarding, camel rides, henna tattoos, fire eaters, belly dancers, shisha and a Mid-Eastern feast paired with whisky and wine under a starry sky.

Back in the city, we checked into the refined Taj Dubai in Business Bay. The Taj Dubai served as an ideal launch point to explore the city with our guide. Dubai is a sprawling city. While Business Bay and City Center are close to the airport and the iconic Burj Khalifa, one finds The Palm and the Marina district over 30 minutes away or longer in stop and go traffic.

We used a hired car and driver to manipulate the manic traffic while we viewed the Museum of the Future, the Dubai Frame, the Global Village and circumnavigated the Jumeirah Mosque and the Royal Palace on foot. All are extraordinary attractions worth deeper exploration, and the more we saw, the more we yearned for one more day!

We boarded an abra to cross the Dubai Creek, explored the Spice and Gold Souks and trekked the sandstone alleyways of the charming Al Fahidi district, location of the Center for Cultural Understanding. Here, one can engage with local Emiratis to discuss religious customs, beliefs, heritage and traditions: a truly authentic method of gaining cultural and religious insights.

One of our biggest surprises was that only 20% of the Dubai population are locals, and the balance of the population are expats, primarily from India, Russia, China, Pakistan and Europe, in the country on temporary work visas.

Interesting fact: Dubai is the safest country in the world. Law and order is strictly enforced by undercover police, and for lawbreakers, the result is deportation and fines.

We crossed town to The Palm where we savored lunch al fresco at the pristine One & Only The Palm, recently awarded “Best Resort in the Middle East” by Condé Nast Traveler. The resort features exquisite villas on the water, an ethereal ambiance and iconic Michelin Star dining.

Interesting fact: Dubai has the most Michelin Star restaurants in the Middle East, the tallest building in the world and the most Guinness World Records in the world.

The monorail and The View at The Palm are not to be missed for perspective on the wonderous achievement that The Palm development represents. From The Palm, we crossed the city to the Burj Khalifa, where we took the elevator to the 148th floor at sunset and witnessed the fantastic fountain show from the air and then at the water’s edge.

As a nightcap to a full day of city exploration and before catching the 3:00 am flight home, we booked a table at Billionaire at the Taj, a fantastic nightclub dinner show that starts at 10:00 p.m.

We were picked up at midnight, and with the assistance of VIP Airport service, breezed past lines of travelers at check in and immigration and admitted to the Emirates Business Lounge, which was worth every penny. The flight is 14 hours over and 16 back, so I recommend first class. We flew economy, and at check in, paid to upgrade to exit row seats, which was well worth the added expense.

Decadent, evocative, glamourous, culturally rich and internationally diverse, Dubai is an amazing adventure worth every mile traveled and every dollar spent.

Lisa is an Independent Luxury Travel Advisor affiliated with Preferred Travel and Company. Contact Lisa: 239-261-1177

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