Dubai: Arabian delight

Want to know what it is like to travel on the largest passenger airline in the world? Sophie Hazan finds out on a trip of a lifetime to Dubai

FRESHLY showered and fed, I snuggled under the bed covers to enjoy a Hollywood blockbuster with a chilled glass of champagne.

Pyjamas, bed socks and feather pillows were the finishing touches to the luxury night in.

It was hard to believe that I was flying thousands of feet above the Earth, but then I was not travelling on any ordinary aeroplane.

The Emirates A380 Airbus is the world's largest – and self-acclaimed greenest – passenger aircraft.

It is the first to have installed two onboard fully-equipped bathrooms with underfloor heating, mood lighting and shower facilities.

Upstairs passengers in first class and business class can take a drink at one of two bars.

And it was there that I found myself sipping pre-dinner cocktails and guzzling canapes along with fellow passengers while gazing across dazzling blue and cloudless skies.

I was en route to Dubai travelling in one of 14 individual cabins located on the upper deck.

Back at my cabin, doors closed, passenger seat in bed position and the "do not disturb" sign firmly switched on, I was left to enjoy 2,100 channels of in-flight entertainment.

I watched a couple of the 190 movies available, and flicked through the extensive music library and games.

Caviar and a selection of breads, followed by a rare steak and steamed vegetables, topped off with Arabic coffee, fruit salad and a cheese board, proved just the dinner ticket.

A hot shower in the onboard "spa"– a spacious bathroom with underfloor heating, Bulgari fragrances and the airline's own line of cosmetics – allowed me to freshen up before landing.

Only the odd heart-fluttering jolt reminded me that I was airborne.

Up until this point Dubai, one of the seven countries that make up the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, had remained somewhat of a mystery.

I knew that it was an oil-rich country that liked to achieve the impossible.

I'd read about the indoor ski slopes with real snow constructed under desert conditions – 40 degrees and dry.

Manmade islands that are in the shape of palm trees – the trunks in fact suspension bridges linking them to the mainland – have created even more opportunity for ocean view hotels and restaurants.

The globe's first "underwater" hotel is still under construction, but will allow people to experience the tropical Gulf waters without getting wet.

The rich and famous have been fighting over owning a slice of The World – literally a collection of islands in the shape of countries such as the UK.

But to someone who always preferred old over new, I was tentative as I set foot in Dubai.

From the moment I emerged inside the chilled designer interiors of the airport I felt like I was at the heart of something new and exciting.

It was 1am but arrival and departure lounges were swarming with people; counters and shops bustling with business.

Outside it was dark and an exotic 32 degrees.

The air-conditioned transfer vehicle was a godsend as we rode a six-lane motorway towards the coast.

Nearing the Jumeirah Beach resort, where most of the tourist hotels are, roadsides were lined with shopping malls, skyscrapers and advertising billboards.

We turned off the multi-lane highway and pulled straight into the driveway of The One and Only Royal Mirage hotel complex – a blunt reminded that this was city-beach living.

Fountains, palm trees and a sparkling exterior beckoned us inside as we transferred to golf buggies and rode to the more exclusive of the resort's three residences.

The Residence & Spa has less than 50 rooms – including a garden villa and 16 suites.

All rooms have balconies with sea views or terraces onto lush gardens where a muster of peacocks can be see roaming free.

Bedrooms are seriously generous – the smallest being 624 sq ft – and pay tribute to Arabian architecture with richly painted walls, key shape doorways, and luxurious upholstery.

A private reception, dining room, bar lounge and library are all exclusive to paying guests.

When not lounging by the elegant garden-side pool, a short stroll takes you straight onto the dazzling white sands of Jumeirah beach, with its strikingly surreal cityscape views.

Out across the hot Gulf waters – which range from 70 to 90 degrees all year round – is the famous suspension bridge leading to The Palm, Jumeirah.

Looking back at the hotel, a bundle of skyscrapers rise above the palm trees and stretch high into the clear blue skies.

When not sun-lounging, guests can luxuriate in the resort's One&Only Spa with its oriental hammam (wet steam room), hair salon and fitness centre.

For those wanting to explore the city, the hotel can help organise excursions.

Alternatively, Arabian Adventures offers a whole host of tours that can be booked directly.

And as only one of a handful of companies with permits to enter The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, it specialises in desert tours.

We chose the Just For You package that included a thrill-seeking high speed spin around the sand dunes in a 4x4. On the way to the reserve we finally got to get out bearings as our host pointed out the sights.

What soon emerged is that Dubai is split into areas.

Nomad

Local Emiratis live in high-walled residences away from the travelling Bedouin or nomad communities, who have now been given permanent homes by the state. Expats live in their own communities.

Likewise, industry is divided into areas. Media city is a huge space dedicated to some of the world's largest news agencies. Reuters, Associated Press and Bloomberg rub shoulders along a prominent stretch.

International Academic City brings the country a dozen or so university campuses from around the world, including one affiliated to the University of Bradford.

Knowledge Village is wholly dedicated to business professionals working in human resources and management. Water and amusement parks share the same patch.

And on the outskirts is the country's camel racing track, where - no joke - remote-controlled robots have replaced the jockeys.

At the conservation park the one hour thrill ride proved why the sport is restricted to people under the age of 70.

Riding along the side of a steep sand dune, with the skyline at a wild and unnatural angle, is exhilarating if not heart-stopping.

After an hour or so of bombing around the sandy peaks and dips, and a couple of stops to take in the surroundings, we met several one-humped friends of our own.

A short camel ride delivered us to what could have been a mirage – a torch-lit barbecue.

We took our seats on low stools laid upon Persian rugs that had been rolled out in a secluded spot among the dunes.

We feasted and recharged, later moving to some low slung couches to enjoy the starlit skies.

Sitting under the stars, and sucking on hookah pipes we contemplated the magical place that is Dubai.

FACTFILE

Sophie Hazan flew on the Emirates A380 from Manchester International Airport to Dubai. Return prices start from 489 per person.

Emirates (www.emirates.com/uk) flies twice daily from Manchester to Dubai, with the A380 operating on its afternoon service, which departs at 2.10pm.

The trip was planned by Prestbury Worldwide Resorts, a family-owned luxury travel operator offering an exceptional collection of hotels, internationally renowned resorts and private villa holidays in sought after destinations worldwide.

A three night stay at the One&Only Royal Mirage Residence & Spa (www.oneandonlyresorts.com) in a Prestige Room on a half board basis costs from 1,080pp, including return economy class flights onboard the Emirates A380, and private transfers to and from the hotel.

Upgrade to Business Class for 2,115pp or a First Class Suite for 2,995pp.

A 'Just for You: The Enchantment of the Desert' tailored package from Arabian Adventures (www.arabian-adventures.com) costs 130pp (AED 750). Prices include a 4x4 excursion into the heart of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, camel ride and private dinner in the sand dunes. Valid until August 31 2011.

To book, visit www.prestbury worldwideresorts.co.uk or call 01625 855 853.

EP 22/1/11

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