Living Large at the Burj al Arab in Dubai

Diners enjoying an evening at Al Mahara Restaurant in Burj al Arab hotel, Dubai, UAE. Seafood restaurant accessible by a three minute virtual submarine voyage. It has an oval aquarium visible throughout the restaurant. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

“Ah, not the elevator,” my friend said in the lobby of Dubai’s Burj Al Arab hotel.

“We will ride the submarine to the restaurant.”

And indeed, we did. After entering a small capsule with bucket seats and fastening our seat belts, lights flickered, sirens screamed, dials trembled and we were pushed back by what truly felt like G forces, then leaned sideways as we “banked” off the ocean floor past coral, tropical fish and the occasional shark.

Three minutes later, we glided into port, the whole thing having been a virtual ride straight from Disney.

“We only dropped six feet,” I stammered. “Yet it felt exactly like we were moving in a real submarine. How did you do that?”

“Well,” came the reply, “some things must remain secret.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You secretly love all things Disney and think a real live Disney City would be cool to visit.
  • You have a LOT of money, a rich friend or just want to gawk at the rich stuff.
  • You don’t mind travelling halfway around the world to do this.
  • Good for folks who like fantasy and are curious about an ultra modern Middle Eastern country.

Hey, who needs Disney when you’ve got Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

There were many things I expected to find in an Arab country … but a city that looks and feels like one giant amusement park wasn’t it.

The comparison gets even stranger when you learn about all the ”cities” in Dubai.

Dubai’s “Cities”

Like Disney’s “world,” Dubai has “cities” … Internet City, Media City, Academic City. And when I asked where all the thousands of fresh roses for my hotel was grown, I was told “Rose City,” of course.

On this trip, I could have flown straight through to my eventual destination, which was Thailand. But like many people, my friends and I figured, why not break it up with a day in the Middle East.

Reception desk with women and balls of roses at Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, UAE. This is the hotel shaped like a sail. The Burj Al Arab stands on an artificial island 280 m (920 ft) out from Jumeirah beach, and is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

The modern city of Dubai sprang from the desert — erupted actually — in just a few decades. It has captured a lot of biggest and tallest accolades including the world’s tallest building (the Burj Khalifa), the world’s largest shopping mall (Mall of Dubai) and surely the world’s most over-the-top housing community (a complex of man-made islands that look like a map of the world when seen from the air).

The city gleams and sparkles with buildings of glass that soar, lean, bulge, twist and fold. And it looks, honestly, like all those pictures from world’s fair’s of the 1960s that showed cities of the future. All that’s missing are the jet packs and hovercraft.

But truly, the heart of this fantasy for me was our hotel, The Burj Al Arab, an Al Jumeirah property that is self-ranked seven stars (on a scale around the world where five is top…so who knows what it really means except that it IS luxe).

I know mere mortals don’t usually get to stay in a $1,900 a night place like the Burj but through incredible fortune, our group of travel writers (yeah, there are some great perks) were its guests.

My Trip Into Fantasyland

Atrium lobby of Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. My room was on the right, second from center on the top floor. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

My trip into Fantasyland started with the dancing fountains and floor-to-ceiling aquariums in the lobby. From the outside, the hotel looks like a giant unfurled sail. Inside, 28 double-story floors hold 202 suites, the SMALLEST of which is 1,800 square feet, almost as large as my entire house.

The largest, by the way, is 8,400 square feet and goes for something like $18,700 a night, making it, according to CNN Go, the 12th most expensive hotel suite on earth.

This is what $1,900 gets you for a bathroom. And this is the cheapest room! Photo by Yvette Cardozo

As for my room … well, I had my own personal butler, though it took me a full day to realize he was my personal slave, assigned to me and no one else.

He showed me — or tried to, anyway — the astounding computer technology that runs the room, controlling the TV, stereo, lights and drapes. When someone rings the doorbell to the suite the phones all ring and the TV comes on with a video of the visitor.

Sad to say, I couldn’t even figure out the ultra-high-end espresso maker. Chalk it up to the fact that I had just spent 24 hours in travel, 17 hours of them in a middle seat in coach. I never did work it out, and had to call him every time I wanted coffee.

Luxe and More Luxe

Night time picture of Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, UAE. This is the hotel shaped like a sail. Its ‘standard’ rooms cost $1500 US and up per night. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Date sweets sat waiting for me, along with chocolate dipped strawberries and a bottle of $150 Dom Perignon champagne.

After a day of trying to cram in a week’s worth of sightseeing — the cultural center, shopping, a cruise, the mall with the indoor ski slope — I crawled back to my room at the Burj.

I asked my butler to do me one more special favor … draw one of the hotel’s famous aroma baths.

He disappeared upstairs with a box of vials, a dozen choices of fragrant oil ranging from “wake up” through “sport,” “refresh,” “relax,” and “goodnight.” I sank into the fragrant bubbles of my whirlpool tub and closed my eyes in ecstasy.

The next morning when, sadly, I had to leave, I patted the door frame lovingly and actually kissed my room goodbye.


  • As expected, the most comfortable time to visit Dubai is winter, specifically November through March. Nights then can be cool, dropping into the 50s.
  • This is NOT a walkable city. Sign up for tours. If you are not staying at the Burj, take a tour of the place.
  • Tourism now accounts for 20 percent of Dubai’s income, which is saying a lot in a Middle Eastern country rich from oil. Visitors doubled from 3.6 million in 2001 to 7.5 million in 2008. There are 61,000 hotel rooms with plans to add 18,000 more. 
  • More info on Dubai. and toursMore info on the Burj Al Arab Hotel.



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