Dubai is the on the way to everywhere. Just on the east of Europe, just on the west of Asia, over two-thirds of the world’s population lives within eight hours flight. It’s on its way to becoming the world’s third busiest airport, behind Beijing and Atlanta. With so much money passing through, Dubai’s rulers are smart enough to make sure there are luxury options available.
First stop: fresh air and decompressing after the flight. Try scrunching your toes into the sand of the manmade Palm peninsular (30 minutes from downtown Dubai), where you can paddle in the warm sea and then step inside the Spa at the Anantara Dubai Resort. Among the 2,400 square metres of dedicated, stand-alone space you’ll find nine individual spa rooms. If you’re looking for the ultra-luxury option, try the Palm Indulgence: three hours in which to relax with a Rhassoul clay scrub, water jets, soaking baths, treatment and relaxation in your own VIP area.
Now fully relaxed, why not help yourself understand the layout of Dubai with a visit to the “At the Top” viewing platform of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world?
There’s a brash quote lining one wall as you walk in: “‘Impossible’ is not in the leader’s dictionaries.” But the hubris of the statement fades as you understand the huge achievement of conceiving the building and then constructing it so quickly. Yes it’s the tallest building in the world, but it was only six years from the first dig to the official opening. At its busiest, 12,000 workers from more than 100 countries were on site every day, working round the clock, adding two storeys every week.
You’ll need to book before you set out as it’s often sold out. It is busy, but there’s a Lusso-style luxury option: buy a ‘Sky’ ticket for about double the general ticket price, which lets you into a smaller VIP queue in the lobby and at the elevators. Your group will be accompanied by its own ‘Ambassador’ and while you won’t get Ferrero Rocher at the top in the Ambassador’s party, you will get apparently unlimited soft drinks and small snacks in an exclusive lobby on Level 148.
Descend to the Level 125, and there’s a large walk-around deck to look directly over the surrounding Emirate. The surprise once you’re this high is how much prime, downtown space is still empty lots.
The best way to spend an afternoon is at Atlantis. On first sight, you might think you’ve been transported to Vegas. There are thick crowds, endless corridors, multiple stores selling trinkets. But some of this Vegas-style extravagance is stunning: a 10 metre deep aquarium fills an atrium, with 50,000 fish (go on, count ‘em!) ascending and descending through three floors. There are giant rays, a hammerhead shark, and translucent jellyfish. And if you look closely enough, you’ll see a honeymoon suite on the other side of the aquarium which has its own windowsopeningonto the aquarium.
Some of the world’s best restaurants have opened within Atlantis – not ‘world’s best’ meaning dodgy 12 courses of foam -but good food, well done, without the need for showmanship, There’s Nobu, or try lunch at Ronda Locatelli. Lusso did: service was to well-trained European standards, but the room itself is kept in a way that only inexpensive Far Eastern labour can manage.
The food follows the same idea: every dish is perfectly done, but none of it is show-off stuff. You know what Giorgio Locatelli does, and he’s doing it here: fresh sea-food, beautiful pasta with thick and delicious sauces, a filet of beef with a light dressing. The specialities are pizzas cooked in the wood-fired ovens and a tiramisu which should require you to present a doctor’s note certifying you’re fit to tackle it.
Atlantis is most famous for its water park. It’s a large park, and once you’ve changed and left your towels in the locker room, it’s so large with so many people, it feels like you’re walking down Oxford Street with just your underpants on. The fact that people of all shapes and sizes from all around the world are walking down Oxford Street with just their underwear on doesn’t necessarily make it a better experience. The only luxury option Lusso could find here (other than six months with a personal trainer beforehand) is to rent a little gazebo where you can keep a towel and perhaps lie out between rides….and the rides are good. Very good. By which we mean, very very scary.
If swimming still makes you hungry like it did when you were an eight year old, then the final stop on the Lusso luxury tour of Dubai is back at the Burj Khalifa. In particular, the stunning Armani Hotel and to be precise: tea at the At.mosphere restaurant. And yes, since At.mosphere is situated on Level 122, which is 1,350 feet above sea level and technically the highest restaurant in the world, then, yes, yes, this is the highest High Tea you can have.
From the moment you walk into the lobby, you are surrounded by smart looking people in Armani and you realise how good a tailor Armani is at creating a smart but relaxed style. It’s a vibe that permeates every nook and surface of the hotel.
The At.mosphere restaurant is full of lacquered wood, like the decking of a Lake Como launch, rippling across the walls and ceiling. Live harp music quietly sets the mood. All selfies come out looking good because the Emirate’s light pouring in from 360 degrees of windows surrounding you leaves no dark overhangs or wrinkles. On the table in front of you, you’ll find white linen napkins shaped like the Burj. Service is gentle, not rushed, and tea can easily last two hours. There is champagne to start things off, with crackers and dips, then finger sandwiches, followed by the fish or roast of the day. Pastries come next, and these are chased down by scones, and finally tiers of cakes that extend in Burj style up from the table obscuring the face of your dining companion. Everything is of the very highest High Tea standards, so much so that you can be left giggling at the perfection of it.
As you sit back and watch the shiny guests around you, or the Emirates hard at work below you, or catch sight of a plane in the sky in the distance, these are good memories to draw on. Especially when you step back onto your plane and are faced with life’s eternal question: ‘chicken or beef?’
Visit www.atlantisthepalm.com for your visit to Atlantis The Palm, Dubai. To eat at At.mosphere restaurant and bar on floor 122 of the iconic Burj Khalifa skyscraper visit www.atmosphereburjkhalifa.com and to book tickets for At The Top, Burj Khalifa observation decks visit www.burjkhalifa.ae.
Virgin Atlantic flies once a day to Dubai from London Heathrow. Economy fares start from £536 including tax. For more information call +44(0)844 2092770 or visit www.virgin-atlantic.com.