With three overseas mileage runs under my belt, I set off on my longest mileage run in 2013 (on my Journey to 1K Status with United Airlines), this time a 4 day jaunt to Dubai, which would yield over 20,000 EQM’s and give me a chance to see this vacation/tourist destination rising in just 12 short years from the sands of the Middle East. I would also get to visit the newly opened World’s Tallest Hotel, the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, the a towering, 72–story edifice facing the man-made islands of World Dubai. I also relished the opportunity to set foot in the lobby of the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 7-star hotel and visit Ski Dubai, the indoor snow skiing facility in the middle of this desert city attached to one of the popular malls in Dubai.
With layovers in San Francisco and Washington DC, and a 13-hour flight to get to Dubai, this would prove to be a very long day in each direction, with lots of time on the return flights to ponder the changing landscape of modern Dubai.
Situated amid the oil fields and scorching deserts of the Persian Gulf, Dubai stands as the region’s monument to modern skyscrapers and conspicuous consumption. However, as a tourist destination, Dubai offers a lot and parts of the city continue to offer a glimpse into the world of an old Arab trading center. Dubai is endowed with an extensive coastline, sandy beaches and varied landscape where a wide variety of activities can be indulged, ranging from powerboat races to sand skiing. Manicured golf courses provide ready enjoyment and for the less active, shopping opportunities abound. In addition, the country’s deep-rooted cultural heritage, accessible in the many cultural centres, has been a powerful attraction for tourists. Home to just over 2 million people from more than 200 nationalities, Dubai is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. It is safe, politically stable, centrally located, has a good education system and healthcare facilities, modern infrastructure and much more. The sun shines almost every day, the shopping and leisure facilities are impressive.
Dubai is one of the few cities in the world that has undergone such a rapid transformation – from a humble beginning as a pearl-diving centre – to one of the fastest growing cities on earth. Dubai today is a tourism, trade and logistics hub and has earned itself the reputation of being the ‘gateway between the east and the west.’ It is also considered as the dynamic nucleus of the Arabian Gulf region.
The flight from Washington DC to Dubai is a 13 hour non-stop leaving the Dulles airport at approximately 10pm. Having gotten to DC with little time to spare, I made the long trek from gate D24 to C7 and boarded straight away. As I have not achieved 1K status, and all business class seats were full, my seat strategy was to get row 9 where the row in front only has two seats near the window and the row I was sitting in had three seats so I would have room to stretch out in front of me…. I made a miscalculation – imagining that the extra legroom afforded by the lack of a seat in front of me would exceed the lack of a seat pocket for my long journey. I had nowhere to put my flight materials like the iPad mini, iPhone, headphones, etc. Luckily, I had a nice seatmate who let me store my iPad mini in her seatback pocket, and I used the small overhead bin as my seatback pocket.
The flight on this United 777-200 was uneventful, with videos available at each seat. Having gotten a nice 6 hours of sleep on this long flight, we landed in Dubai at 4:40pm the next day and disembarked to 75 degrees and sunny weather. The Dubai airport is a beautiful facility. United comes into terminal 1, teh Sheikh Rashid Terminal, which was updated in 2000, and the immigration/customs stop went very fast with a 15-20 minute process.
The first big Aha moment in Dubai is their new, sleek metro train system, which whisks you from the airport to the hotel district in just 25 minutes. Modern, clean and air-conditioned, the train is a marvel of current technology. The Dubai Metro is very user friendly and very easy to navigate. The Metro proved to be an excellent way for get to my hotel and use it for most of my sightseeing trips into downtown Dubai. The whole system is incredibly efficient in every respect, the only time I saw Metro personnel was in the ticket office. I bought a day pass from the ticket office of the local station (a NOL ticket) which allowed unlimited travel in all zones, including the bus links from the stations. An ordinary pass costs 18 AED, but we decided to buy a Gold pass at 30 AED each (About $8 — 3.67 AED=$1 USD) which gives access to the front carriage of the train where it is less crowded and has leather seats. As there is no driver in the train, one can then view the scenery through the front window which is great for taking photographs. The trains run every 4 to 6 minutes and stop at every station.
The carriages are air conditioned, beautifully clean and eating of any kind is forbidden. The stations themselves are air conditioned as the platforms are sealed. The train stops with its doors exactly opposite the sliding doors from the platform which then close before the train moves off. Access to the platforms is gained by tapping your pass against the card reader at the fare gate and the same when exiting. The red line which runs through Deira from the airport travels the length of Sheikh Zayed Road down to Jebel Ali. Links to the Green line are available at Union Square and Burjuman. I journeyed well down the Red line and then back to the Mall of the Emirates, which is linked undercover to the station with horizontal escalators. Then I took it to the Dubai Mall which is connected by a short bus ride between the Mall and the station.This is an excellent and very easy, safe and cheap way to get around Dubai if you wish to avoid traffic and taxis. Once I got off the elevated metro train near my hotel, I walked the two blocks to the 72-story JW Marriott Marquis, which just recently opened in January 2013. This is Marriott’s first Marquis hotel and it wanted to start off with a bang with this being the world’s tallest hotel.
MARRIOTT MARQUIS DUBAI
Travelling all over the world I have stayed at many Marriott hotels – mostly in USA – and the interior design and decor has always left me with the impression that it would suit my parents taste. In other words – somewhat dull and unadventurous. Only exception to the rule have been some Marriott’s in Asia (like Hong Kong) where the level of standards are much more demanding. But this hotel in Dubai sets a new standard with a huge reception area, flowers everywhere, attentive staff who almost carry you to your room. The rooms have plenty of storage facilities and plenty of hangers and the bathroom was great and very modern. Maybe too modern, since the toilet was in open connection with the rest of the bathroom.
The lobby is stunning with an enormous flower arrangement of fresh cut lilies, the space is simply huge and overwhelming. Greeted by three people in the lobby, I was ushered to the 37th floor for my platinum check in. The Marriott is a great find here with high floor king rooms available for $168. I got settled into my generous-sized room with free wi-fi on the 65th floor, overlooking the man made islands of World Dubai. Using my Platinum status, I checked out the 37th floor, which is an entire floor dedicated to club level services and included food and beverage service all day, as well as a computer room with six computers and printers available for guest use.
As to the hotel room, the bedroom is superbly equipped, with an iPod dock music system, 60 inch tv with bluray player with the sound piped into the bathroom, the walk in rain shower, full bath, lots of easily controlled hot water… Everything you need in an amenity box or drawer somewhere in the room – down to a prayer mat.
The service was so attentive, always a smile, always willing to help. Everything ran well with an atmosphere of calmness. I was worried that I had chosen a hotel not on the beach but actually everything is easy to get to and taxis are cheap and actually coming back to the hotel in the afternoon without all the other beach goers was very pleasant. And being close to the Metro let me use my all-day pass to get around.
Here are some photos of my room and other goodies:
Even when the city is enveloped by sizzling triple-digit temperatures, this massive indoor winter wonderland is never without fresh powder. Boasting five ski runs (the longest of which spans more than 1,300 feet with 197 feet of vertical drop), a quarter-pipe freestyle snowboard zone, and a chairlift, Ski Dubai still has room for toboggan runs and snowball fights. The Snow Park offers a twin track bobsled ride, a snowball throwing gallery and a snow cavern filled with interactive experiences, just to name a few of the amazing sights and sounds. Ski Dubai has 5 different runs varying in difficulty, height and steepness. The longest run has 400 m with a fall of 60 m, making it the first indoor black run in the world. People can enjoy the series of slopes and can practice stunts on the 90-m long quarter pipe, too. For children, the interactive Snow Park is an excellent place to have a good time. The capacity of the complex is 1,500 people. Ski Dubai is connected to the Mall of Emirates southwest of the Burj Al Arab and Wild Wadi Waterpark; you can easily reach the slopes from the Mall of the Emirates metro station. Ski Dubai is open every day from 9 or 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight, depending on the day. A day pass will cost 300 AED (just over $80 USD) for adults and 275 AED (roughly $75 USD) for children; the entrance cost covers winter clothing and equipment rentals. You can find more information on Ski Dubai’s website.
The snow of the Park is made by shooting water at elevated pressure into an atmosphere maintained constantly at roughly freezing point (-1ºC to -2ºC) by coolers both below and above the slopes. There is a complex system also that allows carrying immediately skitters and snowboards to the top, after every slope. Some cafes, restaurants, retail shops, changing areas and children’ playrooms are available in the Park, like the St Moritz Café at the entrance and the Avalanche Café at mid-station.