I’ll admit it – when we first landed in Dubai, I hated it. The noise, the people, the excess, not to mention the sweltering heat. It was the polar opposite of the tiny island from which I’d just travelled, where there were little more than 20 other guests in the whole resort, and even more so to Lonubo, where we were literally the only two people on the entire island. But, after a few hours of acclimatising, I started to get on board with the whole thing, and began falling in love with this completely unique place.
Shock to the system
The first thing that hits you as you arrive in Dubai – aside from the wall of heat – is the sheer scale of the place. The airport alone is the size of a small city (I’m probably exaggerating, but you get the idea), and outside it’s a sea of skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, of all different styles and designs, with the iconic Burj Khalifa piercing the sky above the rest.
Then there’s the pace of life. Everyone’s in a hurry, not least the taxi drivers, who expertly – and sometimes terrifyingly – weave their way between lane after lane of traffic, the continual blast of the car horn being the soundtrack of every journey.
The excess of Dubai is truly something else, and it’s apparent from the moment you get there. From the high-end top-spec cars that race past you on the highway, to the four-storey-high billboards for luxury villas in the latest residential developments (with a Mercedes Benz thrown in, naturally), and that’s before we even get to the lavish hotels, yachts and shopping malls that pepper this sprawling city.
So you can see why it was a bit of a shock to the system! Particularly as our first activity was the infamous Friday Brunch.
Brunching on the Palm
I had visions of luxurious marble-clad buffet tables, the finest glassware, chandeliers, jazz playing in the background and champagne on tap; the kind of classy, extravagant experience that wouldn’t be out of place in the time of Marie Antionette. I probably should have done my research, because it wasn’t like that at all!
At least not at the Atlantis, where it had been recommended we go, as what we got was more like Brits on tour. The champagne was definitely on tap, but so was every other alcoholic drink imaginable, complete with numerous food stations and a DJ playing the latest club music at one o’clock in the afternoon, where dancing between the tables was almost obligatory. When we first arrived I was desperately disappointed, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of things – particularly after a coconut cocktail or two!
Brunching gave us access to the hotel’s club – in the daytime – and as luck would have it, we managed to miss the shuttle bus that would have taken us there, which meant we made our way through the hotel instead. Remember the lavish hotels I mentioned? Well, it probably doesn’t get much more lavish than the Atlantis.
This is no ordinary hotel. This is a hotel on Dubai scale. From the impressive lobby to the designer clothes stores and jewellery shops lining its corridors, not to mention the likes of Nobu and similar high-end eateries (we went into Nobu for a cocktail but left when we realised they were £15 each – if only we’d have known that cocktails everywhere in Dubai where £15 each!), it’s as much a destination as it is accommodation.
And did I mention the aquarium? In the hotel? Insane. There were even people diving in it.
The one thing that really surprised me was the sheer number of people there. It isn’t exactly a cheap hotel, but it was full to the brim of guests, and it made me think about the different standards of luxury in today’s travel environment.
On the one hand, you’ve got the over-the-top extravagance of the Atlantis, which thrives on people and busyness and displays of wealth. Then you’ve got places like the Maldives, which is all about exclusivity and the feeling of being in a castaway experience. Luxurious, yes, but laid-back luxury rather than all-out grandeur.
I feel so incredibly lucky that I got to experience both sides of the coin on our honeymoon, and while I have a definite soft spot for the Maldives, I wouldn’t hesitate to do either one of them again. I went from hating Dubai to wanting to live there – I was looking up jobs for expats on the way home – and the following couple of days only made me love it more.
We visited shopping malls – malls which included their own ski slopes, dinosaur skeletons, waterfalls and yet another huge aquarium – wondered at the Dancing Fountains, enjoyed afternoon teas at our hotel by the beach, and marvelled at the yachts in the nearby marina. We visited the gold souks, ate fabulous food and drank at bars overlooking the Burj, and all the time were planning the things we’d like to do when we next visit.
There really is nowhere else quite like it.