Splendor In The Desert
Underwater hotel suites, indoor skiing and exotic supercar parades – in Dubai, a city synonymous with excess, nothing is too far-fetched. Here’s how to plan your escape to the Middle East’s mecca of luxury
Dubai is a destination defined by superlatives – the biggest, the best, the priciest – where cheetahs are considered status pets and police drive Ferraris in lieu of standard squad cars. It’s where you’ll find the largest shopping mall on the planet, the world’s biggest indoor ski resort and the tallest building on earth, known as the Burj Khalifa, an architectural marvel that soars half a mile into the sky and is more than twice the size of the Empire State Building.
Up until 50 years ago, the now-glittering metropolis was a modest fishing village. It was only after oil was discovered off the coast in 1966 that the region was catapulted into a period of explosive growth, with revenue from black gold fueling the rise of a modern city seemingly overnight. The Dubai we know today is largely a reflection of its leader. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who transformed the Emirate into a booming hub of global activity, diversifying the economy with tourism, manufacturing, finance and technology. (Oil now accounts for just 6 percent of Dubai’s economy.) The Sheikh has made his goals for the region abundantly clear. “We want to be number one,” he says. “Becoming number one is not impossible – the word impossible doesn’t exist in our dictionary.”
Without question, Dubai has a reputation for making the impossible possible. There’s its indoor ski resort, where locals and guests can hit the slopes year-round despite the region’s unforgiving desert climate. Or its 12 million-square-foot mall, which manages to attract more visitors per year than all of New York City. And then of course, there are the Palm Islands, a trio of man-made archipelagos so expansive, they can be seen from outer space. Conceived in 2001, the project promised a solution to the dry’s beach shortage – Dubai’s 37-mile-long coastline was completely inundated with skyscrapers and hotels by the ‘90s, leaving little room for expansion. (Developers extracted 3 billion cubic feet of sand from the Persian Gulf to form the palm-tree-shaped islands.) Though only one of the planned three is complete, it’s already paying dividends: The artificial land mass has doubled the amount of coastal real estate available in the dry. Residential villas are selling for millions, and the list of luxury hotel brands opening properties on the Palm continues to grow. The St. Regis recently announced plans for a development with 289 rooms and 504 apartments, set to open in 2018. When it does, guests will be treated to views of the city’s extravagant skyline from a 360-degree infinity swimming pool – 50 stories above ground.
It’s this brand of next-level luxury that makes Dubai a rich man’s Disneyland, with sprawling hotel suites, desert off-roading and indoor black-diamond slopes. You can spend the day with a falcon trainer, and the night at a Champagne-soaked nightclub. If you’re in the market for an opulent escape, you’ll find it in Dubai. Here’s what to do when you go.