BY Lisa Lindblad
January 16, 2016
One’s impressions of places have so much to do with who you travel with, what you see, weather and your own state of mind. My last visit to the Arabian Gulf – four years ago this month – lasted but a week and was divided between Oman, Dubai and Doha. It was warm but gray and, while I found the area unique and interesting, I could not understand why my clients would want to spend any extended time in the region nor why my friends who live here could be so happy.
This trip – a two week whirlwind that has started in Dubai and takes in many hotels and activities both in the cities and in the desert – has changed my perception. Life here is ordered and orderly, weather is wonderful, infrastructure is up-to-the-minute new, service is phenomenal, smiles abound, food is excellent, the mood is welcoming, one feels safe. I love the fact that the population is so international – I have spoken more Swahili in the last week than I have in years – and rubbing shoulders with Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis and the more than 40 nationalities that make up the 3000 staff of the Jumeirah Madinat hotel, is a real pleasure. UAE nationals number only 18% of the population and, while one has very little interaction with Emeratis, there is a real sense of welcome that starts at immigration on arrival.
Much of what Dubai has to offer is great weather and warm water. But it is also an incredible Disneyesque adventure for the young who can enjoy the highest, the biggest, the deepest, the coolest, the most action packed few days available anywhere. On order, in no particular order, are: Atlantis aquarium with incredibly beautiful fish displays, the possibility of swimming inside the larges aquarium in the world surrounded by mantas and sharks and endless other fish species;
the usual swimming with dolphins and sea lions; a private visit to the top of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa; skiing or snow boarding in the Mall of the Emirates, an extraordinary venue with three ski lifts to runs of varying difficulty, with man made snow that is groomed nightly; a sky diving center which is, I am told, world class. Of course shopping is tax free and a huge draw for those from the region and on offer is every brand you can think of in fashion, accessory and home furnishings.
But there is more..there is the desert as well which I was unable to visit when I was last here. The magical desert of your imagination is a mere 40 minutes from the city center, a landscape of orange sand dunes, cresting away into the distance. There are various outfits that offer desert excursions but the best is perhaps Heritage-Platinum Safaris. Located in a wildlife conservation of many hectares, they take guests out in classic land rovers to view oryx and gazelles, to journey out on camels or horses, and to dine under the stars in desert camps aesthetically positioned in the sand dunes. The landscape is beautiful. It is shared by Al Maha Resort, a property owned by the royal family and operated by Starwood. This is a wonderful place for anyone interested in quiet, beautiful scenery, good spa services and no children.