Direct to Dubai: New Emirates Route to Sunshine
Published: June 22, 2012 (Issue # 1714)
Dubai is keen on superlatives — the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which stands 830 meters high over the city.
From November of last year, Emirates Airline has been flying direct from St. Petersburg to Dubai daily, providing yet another good reason to travel to this unique destination. After some turbulence in the wake of the economic crisis, Dubai is again developing at a dizzying pace, with the truly outlandish scale of construction in itself providing one of the city’s main attractions. Dubai is the most open of the Emirates, and a city that is prepared to go to some extraordinary lengths to attract tourists and visitors on business.
What to See
You’d have to try very hard not to see the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 830 meters — it can be seen from almost any point in the city, and it’s well worth taking a trip up to its viewing platform. After a frenetic high-speed journey in a lift, complete with flashing colored strobes and pumping music, the doors open and you walk out into the clarity and light of the platform itself, from where you can look down on all the other immense skyscrapers in the city: From this height — and bear in mind that you’re only about two-thirds of the way up the tower — those other buildings look like dwarfish structures constructed by lesser beings.
The tower is in fact part of a much larger development called Downtown Dubai, which covers two square kilometers and came at a total price tag of $20 billion. The actual tower itself came in at a mere $1.5 billion.
At the foot of the tower is the Dubai Fountain (that’ll be about another $220 million), the world’s largest, comprising thousands of lights and powerful music. Visit the fountain in the evening to see the mesmerizing displays, which always attract a crowd.
Next to the fountain is an impressive mall — shopping in Dubai is one of the major pastimes among locals and visitors to the city, the fact that there is no value added tax on the goods makes for some bargains, especially on higher end items.
The malls in Dubai, however, have a deeper significance, embodying man’s mastery of nature. When it’s a parched 50 degrees Celsius outside, stepping into the cool, air-conditioned serenity of the malls, with their soothing fountains and water features and the sound of gentle splashing, makes remaining there for the whole day a fairly tempting prospect.
A particularly bold slap in the face of nature is Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates — an artificial ski slope and tobogganing run with authentic snow and real cold. Stepping in off the street in T-shirt and shorts to see groups of kids practicing their downhilling in full ski suits and thick gloves is a somewhat surreal experience.
The heat and glorious sunshine are best experienced on the beach or by your hotel pool — elsewhere you’ll find some ingenious ways to avoid them around the city, such as special air-conditioned pods at the bus stops and a high-tech air-conditioned metro system that makes Blade Runner look retro (the metro trains even feature first-class compartments). Taking a Dhow Dinner Cruise up and down the Dubai Creek is also a good way to take a fresh look at the city in the cool of the evening.
The Dubai Fountain — needless to say, it’s the world’s largest fountain complex.
The desert doesn’t have to be avoided entirely. Head off on a Dune Dinner Safari run by Arabian Adventures, a subsidiary of Emirates Airline that organizes excursions and services for tourists. Dozens of luxury off-road vehicles sail over the desert’s undulating dunes, taking you on a thrilling ride to a falconry display and a starlit dinner of local cuisine at a Bedouin camp. The display of traditional belly-dancing is also impressive … especially when it emerges that the exotic dancer is called Olga and hails all the way from Moscow. Dubai, it appears, is never short of surprises.
When to Go
It’s easy to see why Emirates Airline is focusing on its Petersburg-Dubai direct route — with a flight time of just six hours, this is a perfect destination for Russians searching for a winter break in the sun. Dubai in the summer can be oppressively hot for some, but from November to March the temperatures are more moderate, at about 25 degrees Celsius — just what people pine for at that time of year in cold and dark Petersburg.
Where to Stay
Dubai boasts an incredible treasure chest of hotels, all of them struggling furiously to stand out from the crowd. That means that when it says five-star on the door, it really is, with larger than average rooms for the star-ranking, excellent services and a wealth of luxurious facilities. We stayed courtesy of the Grand Hyatt Dubai (dubai.grand.hyatt.com), which proved to be a taste of Dubai’s international, hospitable atmosphere and futuristic luxury in microcosm. Acres of landscaped gardens, 14 restaurants and bars featuring varied international cuisines (the brilliant Peppercrab restaurant, which serves Singaporean cuisine and focuses on seafood, is particularly highly recommended), a first-rate wellness and fitness center, just a short hop from the airport — all this makes for an excellent choice for tourists. Nevertheless, the Grand is also renowned for its comprehensive conference and business facilities, which are onsite but manage not to intrude on the holiday mood in the rest of the hotel.
How to Get There
We flew courtesy of Emirates Airline (emirates.ru), which now has a daily direct flight from Petersburg and two daily direct flights from Moscow. Emirates is renowned for the wow factor that’s experienced by business and first-class travelers, with excellent cuisine and astounding in-flight entertainment. A visit to the airlines’ training college in the city is also an eye-opener — in Dubai, it appears, everything has to be on a bigger scale and demonstrably better. Here, they use scale models of planes on vast hydraulic arms in swimming pools to simulate emergency situations and practice safety procedures. No surprise then, that other airlines pay to use the Emirates training facilities in the global transport hub that is Dubai.