If you want anything, and you want it bigger and better than anywhere else, you’ll find it here, says Jane Archer
Love it or hate it, you can’t help but be impressed by Dubai, a tiny state in the Middle East that got rich on oil in the 1960s and has since blossomed into one of the world’s most successful tourist destinations.
It’s a world where everything is done to impress, be it the world’s tallest building, scariest water slide or biggest shopping mall. It’s where visitors can be on a desert safari in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. Shoppers in Dubai Mall don’t just splash the cash, but go ice-skating or visit an aquarium with a giant 10 million-litre tank.
Most of Dubai’s tourists are fly-and-flop hotel guests but the number of cruise passengers is growing fast. Some 750,000 are forecast for the current season, which runs from November to mid-March, with one million targeted within two years.
That’s impressive given that Dubai was just a port of call for ships sailing between Europe and Asia until a little over decade ago, when Costa Cruises based a ship there for the first time.
This season six ships – including one from P&O Cruises and two from MSC Cruises – are homeporting in Dubai, and they will be joined in winter 2020 by Royal Caribbean International’s Jewel of the Seas.
There is so much to see and do in the emirate that most lines – those with ships based there, or others who are just passing through – schedule a couple of days in port so folk can tick off as much as possible. Whether clients are aged 10 or 70, want activities, thrills or just to see the sights, there is something for everyone, which is all the more impressive given Dubai is no bigger than Cornwall if you exclude all the offshore islands that have been manufactured in recent years.
Thrill-seekers can go for a hair-raising 4×4 roller coaster ride through the sand dunes in the desert – afternoon tours usually end at a Bedouin-style camp with a BBQ and belly dancing – or ride the XLine over Dubai marina. It’s a zipline on which ‘flyers’ lie horizontally (think Superman) and go from 170m (roughly the height of London’s BT Tower) to ground level at 60mph.
Families can get their kicks on the Riptide FlowRider, scary Jumeirah Sceirah and more serene Burj Surj in the Wild Wadi Waterpark. Or head to IMG Worlds of Adventure – the world’s largest indoor theme park, which has rides that loop, roll, spin and travel through jungles full of dinosaurs. There are also superheroes to meet and live shows to watch.
Visitors can also travel in one of the world’s fastest lifts to the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, to enjoy the views over the city. Atmosphere on the 122nd floor is the highest lounge bar in the world, of course.
It’s worth returning to the Burj Khalifa after dark, but staying on the ground to watch a sound, light and ‘dancing’ fountain show at the foot of the building (shows run every half hour from 6pm-11pm). Advise clients to grab a seat at one of the nearby restaurants and try some local cuisine at the same time. Grilled lamb and fish with rice are favourite dishes.
There are seaplane rides above the city, a spice market and gold souk to explore and a chance to peek into ‘old’ Dubai in the Al Fahidi district, where a museum in an 18th century fort tells of the rise of Dubai from when it was a fishing village to the discovery of oil and the riches that followed.
Skiers can take to the slopes in an indoor resort in Mall of the Emirates that has real snow and a colony of gentoo and king penguins. For something more refined, there’s afternoon tea in the Skyview Bar on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel. It costs about £130pp; booking is a must.
Cruise lines offer excursions to suit all tastes, but for those who prefer to explore alone, there’s a metro, tram and monorail, as well as buses and taxis (these can be hailed in the street or pre-booked using the Uber app).
Keen walkers or cyclists can get away from the hustle and bustle on a towpath that runs alongside the Dubai Canal – a 3.2km long man-made waterway that runs between Business Bay and the Persian Gulf. At night a colourful curtain of water cascades down from Sheikh Zayed Road and is literally drawn back when a boat approaches. Like with many other things – only in Dubai.