The Burj Al Arab from afar looks as if it’s about to sail into the Arabian Sea on a windy day. It touts itself as a “7-star hotel,” so I figured I’d find out for myself when I stayed there in November — on an ultra-luxury, fact-finding mission. (Hey guys, please don’t hate me. Somebody’s gotta do it.)
The experience started out star-studded, for sure. Upon arrival in Dubai, we were greeted at the airport and taken to a private lounge by the hotel rep, offered drinks and sweets, and then escorted to a white vintage Rolls, where a uniformed driver awaited with a bunch of roses. We were given a choice of music to listen to along the 30-minute drive through morning rush hour (we chose Middle-Eastern music), while the driver enlightened us about the city. (We could have been transported by helicopter; there are landing pads at the hotel, but the Rolls sufficed, thank you very much.)
The building is set around an atrium, with buttresses and soaring spaces, and the interior is perhaps even more interesting than the iconic sail-shape exterior.
Our butler greeted us at the reception desk on our open floor, and asked if we wanted our clothes to be unpacked or ironed. (No thank you; they may not meet the standards normally set here!) He then led us to our suite and explained the technicalities, a procedure that normally takes a few minutes. But not at the Burj. For example, when opening the door normally you look through a peephole and let someone in. Here, when the doorbell rings you have to answer the phone, listen to an announcement of the visitor, and then turn on the TV to see an image of who is at the door. I had trouble remembering how to let my husband in the room.
The décor could be at a high-end Arabian-themed hotel in Las Vegas, except that the Burj really is in Dubai, where more is not only more, it’s never quite enough. Our one-bedroom lodging (all are suites) was almost 2k square feet (the largest is over 8k). It has a dramatic entry way/study, a winding staircase worthy of Tara, and a downstairs living room, kitchen and dining area and powder room. Upstairs is a bedroom, dressing room, and a sprawling bathroom in marble, tile and mosaic. And that’s a standard suite.
If you have a mobility issue, that winding staircase to the bedroom may be a problem, unless, of-course, butler service includes carrying you up and down the stairs. Or, you could stay in the Royal Suite, which has an elevator, for about $20k a night.
Furnishings are a mix of Middle Eastern and contemporary, with bold colors, scads of gold plate, and a canopied bed with a mirror above it and a pop-up TV in front. Views of soaring Dubai, the desert and the man-made, Palm Island in the Arabian Sea are suitably dramatic when you part the automatic curtains. Fresh roses are everywhere; bath products, are from Hermes, and huge. (Thankfully each guest gets a bag with the Burj Al Arab logo, so it’s convenient to haul them out of there.)
The outdoor pool area and beach fringing the Arabian Sea on the man-made island are not the hotel’s strong point, but there’s a better beach right over a bridge. The spa is dramatic and gorgeous, with all amenities, and stunning Dubai views stretching beyond the indoor pool.
To see the public rooms, you can come for a drink or a meal at one of eight venues from lobby level to skyline, Asian to contemporary. Be aware: drinks and dinner are ultra-expensive. (A standard suite rate includes breakfast, which tips your stay over to a bargain, right?) Al Mahara, “The Oyster Shell,” surrounded by floor-to-ceiling aquariums, is an especially stunning restaurant.
If stars equal one-of-a-kind luxury I’d give this hotel five stars, and you could add the others, depending on your taste and your appreciation of over-the-top service and security. And yes, the price may be sky-high, but so are bragging rights.
Besides the Burj Al Arab, you can choose from several deluxe Jumeirah properties, which hosted me to get an idea of the premises:
Madinat Jumeirah –themed as an Arabian resort. Besides the elegant hotel there are meandering canals transversed by dhows; a souk with 75 shops; villas and summer homes with private pools, an award-winning spa, a theater, a turtle rehab center and a kid’s club.
Jumeirah Zabeel Saray –on Palm Island. Sumptuous décor and rooms, with an outstanding spa that includes sensual Turkish hammam treatments, and a “snow room” with real snow to cool you down quickly when you get out of the steam room or sauna.
Jumeirah Emirates Towers—in downtown Dubai, near the world’s largest mall; Zabeel Park; and the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. This combo hotel, residence and office building is known for its top restaurants including The Ivy, and one on an upper floor called, of course, Vu’s.
Jumeirah Beach Hotel— adjacent to the surprisingly cool Wild Wadi Waterpark. This family-oriented hotel is another architectural icon, built to look like a huge cresting wave. And it offers the best beach of the bunch and the best view of the next-door Burj Al Arab.
Jumeirah Creekside Hotel—near Old Dubai. Cool, hip, like a Middle East version of a W hotel. With local art, red accents, spacious rooms, near Festival City and dhow cruises on the Dubai Creek, it’s especially convenient if you’re using the airport.