After having my reservations about the place - I was pleasantly impressed with what Dubai has to offer.
...began like any good one should: with a glass of red wine and a comedy on an Emirates flight. Once I was off the plane I was greeted by a humidity I can only associate with some of my great travel memories. The first thing to do was head for a cocktail, naturally, at Souk Madinat - a shopping centre (and I use that word lightly) which appeared to have a Venice style canal running alongside some fine looking restaurants and bars. So far, so good.
Where to stay?
I awoke on my first proper day in Dubai to the sun shining and the rooftop swimming pool beckoning me to join it. After getting my much-needed vitamin D fix I headed over to The Palm to check out the latest and greatest properties Dubai has to offer. This new Anantara is like a Thai Mecca which has literally been picked up and plonked on the shores of The Palm. The rooms were wonderfully kitted out with modern furnishings and high quality appliances, with a lagoon swimming pool meandering between the villas. The over-water villas were my favourite with partial glass bottomed floors and bathtubs that have windows opening out in to the ocean; I honestly did not want to leave! The beach was very clean and peaceful and the beachside bar is definitely worth having lunch/dinner or, on Ladies night, a cocktail or two. Having always had it in my head that the Atlantis is the place to go with kids, Anantara seems like the perfect fit for those looking to get away with the little ones and wanting a peaceful luxury resort.
I then went to the One and Only The Palm, which is nothing less than you would expect from a One and Only; it is classy and sophisticated and is really bringing a different dimension to the Dubai portfolio of hotels. The private villas and suites are simple in design, yet nothing short of superb on the interior design front, with some leading out on to the beach. I really felt like I was in an oasis of luxury on their private beach with a fresh fruit juice. This place is also pretty family friendly with a Kid's club and great activities for the little ones like cooking classes, belly dancing and even Arabian camping. Sold.
As sunset emerged...
...it was definitely time to visit the One and Only Royal Mirage which has become increasingly famous for its roof top bar, and more importantly its happy hour. There are so many bars and restaurants it is hard to choose from. Luckily enough I was with my sister, a recent Dubai resident who has educated herself in all the best spots to see and be seen at. I began to hear the decadence calling as we got dressed up and went to visit the harbour, which on the weekend is the place to be and the views are simply stunning at night with chilled out vibes and wonderfully cold beers. Taxis are surprisingly cheap here, so instead of walking down the road, you literally jump in a cab, which is apparently the Dubai way of doing a bar crawl. If I'm honest a rooftop bar is the best way to appreciate and soak up the skyline, I personally recommend Vaults bar at the top of the Marriot. For celebrity spotting the Atlantis hosts a number of great bars and clubs. If celebrities aren't on the agenda then the Dubai Mall is worth visiting in the evening for the fountain shows - I had a fantastic Thai meal with a table overlooking the fountains, which is the best way to enjoy the show. Fact.
BRUNCH, BRUNCH, BRUNCH
I really underestimated how popular a Friday brunch is in Dubai with people getting dressed up for a day of fine wining and dining. I experimented with the Madinat Jumeriah for my first brunch, and if I could do it weekly I would! Sat in prime position with the Burj al Arab in the distance and four restaurants, many different cocktail and beer stands to choose from,I was in heaven. As a five star hotel the food was of top quality, and needless to say the gym has been a hardship since my return to the UK.
...when planning my trip I must say snooty comments were plentiful with the popular opinion that there is no culture in Dubai. I decided to trial this notion and explore Old Dubai and visit a little Indian restaurant my parents used to go to 25 years ago. This area was a lot less wealthy and I gradually added layers of clothing (something not wholly necessary in all areas of Dubai). Not only did I have a fantastic curry and buy a pretty good fake designer handbag, but I experienced a different side of Dubai that I did not think really existed. The cars were smaller, the buildings slightly more decrepit and there were no signs of the glitz and glamour I had been used to for the duration of my stay in Dubai.
That evening I decided to sample the creek for its souks and traditional Dhow boat cruise. The boat cruise I was unimpressed with and felt it was very gimmicky and not good value for money; however the souks are well worth a visit and a chance to practice your bartering skills, which were not well accepted when I returned back to the UK! The souks are filled with spices, Arabian slippers, patterned cushions and furnishings, lanterns and trinkets galore. There are souks on either side of the river and small Dhow boats can transport you across for a top fee of 50p, so really no need for the cruise - just do the mini boat trips and buy yourself a shwarma and the experience will be much more worth it.
...no trip to the Middle East would be the same without an expedition to the desert - a particular highlight of mine. Having door to desert service, the desert safari is definitely worth setting some time aside for. We drove out to the desert, buckled up and I endured dune bashing for the first time in my life! The jeep hurtles up and down the sand dunes until the driver stops for sunset. Once I found my legs again I thoroughly enjoyed the sunset and will crown it the best bit of the trip. The warm colours of the sand and sun make for a happy snappy time. We then drove to an Arabian style camp for camel riding, belly dancing and an Arabic feast. I even found myself getting dressed up in traditional Arabic clothing. Although it is a little touristy, a lot of hard work goes into these trips and they really are such a fun day out. Take me back.
So...would I go back?
Absolutely. Except next time with a little bit more money so I can visit the designer shoe world in the Dubai Mall and not leave empty handed.