A visit to Dubai must include a date with the Burj al Arab, that fabulous sail-shaped hotel, the icon of Dubai and brain child of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Raschid Al Maktoum. It is so exclusive that no one is allowed to enter the gates leading to the hotel without a reservation. This meant that everyone, in tour groups or alone, was required to consume something. Just sightseeing was not permitted. Venues and Menus were online, and I.had an eight o’clock reservation for hors d’oevres and two drinks at the Skyview Bar on the 28th Floor - for a price of $180. Sounds expensive? The tour lunch at the bottom level cost more.
The limousine dropped me off at the grand entrance past the Ellipse fountain that looked like bursts of fire. Next to it, four fireballs, eight feet in diameter, appeared to be floating on air. The façade of the hotel, covered with a Teflon-coated woven glass fiber screen, displayed spectacular pastel lights, a fabulous mirage.
From the entrance level elevators and escalators flew up and down an interior that resembled a collage of shells, with lighted waterfalls cascading through the center and in intervals bursting close to one hundred fifty feet into the air. I was standing in the world’s tallest atrium, nearly six hundred feet high. It’s glass wall on the right displayed a multi-storied aquarium with fabulous fish of all sizes.
An army of liveried men was standing and talking with guests near and behind grandiose desks and invited everyone to look and walk around. So much gold everywhere, over five thousand feet of 24k gold leaf embellishes the interior.
There are no rooms at the Burj, just suites, and all 202 of them are double-storied. Each is equipped with the latest technology, and each has its own crew of butlers and servants. Children play in their own club on the 18th floor, and guest arrival can be arranged by limousine or helicopter.
The escalator brought me up to the lounge level where a string quartet was playing classical music. From there, an elevator lifted me to the Skyview Bar. I was lead through lights, crystal, glass, mirrors, and flowers to a round terraced room where small tables on numerous levels presented a spectacular view. Since I was alone, I stayed at the bar where I could watch the bartender mix exotic drinks like "Devine Dates" consisting of dried dates, spiced rum, cointreau, and fresh pineapple juice, "Monkey Freeze," a mix of Oreo cookies, banana, vodka, and coffee liqueur, and "Burj Royal," a concoction of vanilla vodka, ripe blackberries and raspberries, topped with champagne. I chose the "Devine Dates" and the "Burj Royal" for the two drinks of my reservation. Luxury seemed like an understatement when I discovered that I could splash myself with Hermes Elixir des Merveilles in the ladies’ room.
The Burj al Arab was reputed as the most luxurious hotel in the world, though the newer Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi I visited the next day seemed much more grandiose and luxurious.
Visiting dignitaries with government business stay at the Emirates Palace, a sprawling extreme of more than half a mile from wing to wing. There are nearly four hundred rooms and suites, forty meeting and conference rooms, a ballroom that can accommodate 2400 people, and an auditorium for 1100. For an open air concert, there’s room for 20,000.
Chefs from around the world cook in 128 kitchens and use 11 pounds of edible gold to decorate deserts. Everything is just extreme. 114 domes, 1002 chandeliers. The Emirates Palace offers the world’s most expensive tailor-made holiday for a mere one million dollars.
Walking through this palace was almost intimidating. Everything was hushed. The hotel’s lobbies and halls were as large as stadiums, exquisitely decorated with statues and Persian carpets, furniture of the most expensive and beautiful materials possible, much red and much gold. Arabic men and women in candoras and abaias seemed to float noiselessly, as many people in Western dress walked and sat quietly, or spoke in whispering voices.
I discovered a sign for "Picasso Abu Dhabi." The gallery, its entrance flanked by liveried men, advertised rotating exhibits. It was just as enormous as everything else in the hotel, with hall after hall of Picasso’s work. Men, women, and families were assigned different visiting days. This, fortunately, was the women’s day.
It had been accidental that we, a small group, could even enter the Emirates Palace. It was not meant to be a tour destination. Someone coming from Dubai was dropped off at the hotel, and our guide took the opportunity to show us what real wealth looked like. And it looked – incredible.