Dubai is a very changed place since I first visited, over 20 years ago. While there was a small community of ex-pats even then, finding their fortunes in the oilfields, the place was still mostly desert. Not like now; when new, gleaming towers seem to spring from the sand almost every other day and there’s a small retail park near my sister’s house that I would have remembered from my last visit (it has a McDonald’s in it).
If the “new normal” of low oil prices is supposedly encouraging the Gulf states to diversify their economies, Dubai has its sights on the title of millionaires’ playground. You can only drink in the hotels, so the hotels are the size of shopping centres – and the shopping centres the size of large villages. The Dubai Mall, you’ll remember, is the largest mall in the world … so, of course, they’re building another one.
This month’s visit was my third since my sister moved to Dubai, and this time around it was as if we unconsciously decided to pack as much over-the-top, ridiculous stuff in as possible. In just four days I experienced two world records, drank ridiculously expensive cocktails and got to dance to a live Bruce Springsteen cover with my favourite person in the world as the sun went down – and plenty more besides. Why? Because: Dubai.
1. Watch the hottest new films… in bed
I’d timed my visit to coincide with the release of Disney’s live action remake of Beauty and the Beast, so MC thought it only right I experience it in true Dubai style. The Directors’ Lounge at Roxy Cinemas The Beach boasts fully-reclining seats, an in-screen menu and a lounge-style area where you can sit back and relax before your film while somebody brings you a hot towel and takes your hot food and drink order. Oh, and that pack waiting for you on your seat? It’s your pillow and freshly-laundered blanket. Of course.
2. Party on a boat
Oh, did I mention this one already? Sure, there’s nothing to stop you chartering a boat in Scotland – but it’s not quite the same as taking off for a couple of hours around one of the world’s most spectacular marinas, lined with man-made wonders such as the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab hotel. (I’d love to add a stay in the $24,000/night Royal Suite to this list, hmu #prrequest.) Oh, and the rules prohibiting alcohol consumption don’t apply once you’ve left shore…
3. Enjoy live music outdoors – if you respect local prayer times
The Dubai Media City Amphitheatre hosts most of the open-air concerts in the emirate, and the St Paddy’s Day Party – sponsored by Dubai’s only Irish bar – featured the likes of Gavin James, Walking on Cars, The Coronas… and the cast of a touring production of The Commitments. T in the Park this was not, though – you could sit on the ground without risking dysentery, for one thing, while the food trucks on offer included Nandos and Wagamama.
4. See an Airbus A380 made out of flowers
The Guinness-certified World’s Largest Floral Arrangement (it’s not a real Emirates jet – just a life-sized one) is perhaps the ultimate in because: Dubai moments. But the rest of the world’s largest flower garden, where around 100 million flowers bloom in the middle of the desert, is worth a wander too, although it can be hard to know whether to be impressed or disturbed by the sheer gaudiness of the place especially if you pause to think about the amount of water that must go into keeping it open. Perhaps my favourite bit of Dubai Miracle Garden? Watching people cut each other up for a chance to take a photo in the middle of a heart-shaped plastic flower feature, while surrounded by millions of the real thing.
5. Visit… just about anywhere else
It’s hard to properly put Dubai’s Global Village into words. Part theme park, part shopping mall and loosely based around the countries of the world, you could spend hours exploring this sprawling site – which is also the best value night out in Dubai, at only AED15 (£3) for an adult ticket. Of course, you could easily barter away your life savings in any of the gilded pavilions, which are each themed around a country – apart from the forgotten corner at the back of the park where France, Germany and the United Kingdom share some tawdry stalls and a model of Big Ben. Brexit Britain, take note.
6. Have a cocktail in the world’s highest bar
Located on the 122nd floor of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, Atmosphere also nabs the title of world’s highest restaurant and bar. With a minimum spend of AED320 (approx. £70) per person if you want a window seat, it’s not the cheapest of nights out – but there can hardly be a more quintessential Dubai experience than taking a 30 second lift journey from the lobby of the Armani Hotel below and then looking out across the lights of the emirate while enjoying some incredible cocktails. Drinking alone here, as I saw one woman do, perhaps after pulling up in one of the Bugatis or Ferraris parked downstairs, is one for the bucket list.
Have you ever visited Dubai? Do you agree with my picks?