Friday 9 December 2016

Dubai: Towering tribute to wow-factor opulence

While keen to embrace Dubai's over-the-top luxury Padraic McKiernan did find that even among such trappings of affluence the best things in life are free

Padraic MacKiernan

Published 19/12/2011 | 06:00

The iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai. Photo: Getty Images
The iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai. Photo: Getty Images

So does every long-haul flight have to be such a long haul? Standing at well over six foot and having only ever flown "steerage" with the various Air Lilliputs that travel to long-distance destinations, I would have said the answer to that question was always in the affirmative. A recent trip to Dubai with Emirates airlines, however, left me questioning the accuracy of that assumption. In fairness to my previous cramp-induced resignation in this area, there were a couple of mitigating factors about my flight to Dubai.

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Firstly, it took place on the world's largest passenger plane, the awesome Emirates Airbus A380. Nicknamed "superjumbo", its double- decker construction delivers a reassuring sense of being cocooned among the clouds. Secondly, the flight delivered another personal milestone, an air-milestone if you will, in the shape of my induction into the exclusive smile-high club that is the decadently delightful business class.

Besides the gourmet delights of business class, each pod-like seat comes with flat-bed potential and a wide-screen TV. The departure from reality was completed by the presence of a private bar towards the back of the plane.

Emirates is initiating a direct Dublin to Dubai route in January and the business-class option comes recommended for travellers chasing that once-in-a-lifetime getaway experience. It's certainly a service that can be said to hit the heights. Which was appropriate as, at first glance, hitting the heights is what the city of Dubai seems to be all about. At least visually. We arrived after nightfall and, lit up against a dark desert backdrop, the city's futuristic skyscape is breathtaking. Think Gotham City meets Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century and you've pretty much put yourself in the picture. The only question is whether "25th Century" is sufficiently futuristic to describe a skyline that seems straight out of science fiction.

I had heard Dubai described as Vegas without the Elvis impersonators but initial impressions suggested a much more sophisticated destination than the Vegas I remember. In terms of architectural wow factor, it is much more Gaudi than gaudy if you get my drift. We spent our first night in the world-famous Atlantis, The Palm on Dubai's iconic Palm Island and it represents the ultimate one-stop-shop for those in the market for a luxury, though family-friendly, hiatus. Located on a man-made 46-hectare site, the resort encompasses the Dreamland Aqua Park together with massive open-air marine habitat that includes 65,000 marine creatures. As with everything in Dubai, this aquarium was built on a dramatic scale. Visible in the main body of the hotel, this undersea world comes complete with vistas of the numerous tropical fish, (including piranhas) that reside within.

Dubai's sense of opulence on an epic scale was reinforced at our second port of call, the One&Only Royal Mirage. Considered Dubai's most stylish beach resort, and located more centrally than The Palm, this fantasy destination certainly lives up to its name. The idyllic Residence & Spa fulfils all the criteria required of a bona fide pamper palace, while a dip in the balmy Gulf waters offers confirmation that amidst all these trappings of affluence, the best things in life are free.

I had heard prior to arrival that the Dubai economy was a tad on the sheiky, sorry shaky, side, but if the prevalence of sports cars and SUVs on the numerous six-lane highways can be taken as an indicator of anything then the buzz is definitely back. Rolls-Royces and Maseratis are as common as Mondeos would be on the streets of Dublin and with 13 five-star hotels due to open over the next year the sense of a city that is a stranger to austerity is palpable.

A visit to the towering edifice that is the Burj Khalifa is sure to draw gasps of wonder. Soon to be seen in all its splendour courtesy of the prominent part it plays in the forthcoming Mission Impossible movie, the Burj Khalifa is the world's tallest building, and its shiny silver finish surely renders it the world's most majestic. The words of Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum quoted at the entrance, in many ways sum up the spirit of Dubai. "The word impossible," it tells us, "is not in the leader's dictionaries." Those familiar with Shelley's Ozymandias will know that desert-based monuments to man's greatness often end badly, but there is no sense that this must-see metropolis is heading for a dust-covered denouement any time soon.

And who said you can't worship God and mammon? A visit to the Old Dubai area coincided with the evening call to prayer, and as the various minarets in the area started to hum, the soul-stirring muezzins' chants echoing out over this ancient quarter combined with the swarm of humanity going about their business in the warren-like souks and spice markets delivered an intoxicating ambience.

The presence of a Starbucks close to the iconic Jumeirah mosque also offered the compelling possibility of the call to prayer being combined with the call of caffeine.

The flight home represented a return to the wow-zone that is Emirates business class. The highlights this time around came courtesy of the in-flight sound system.

Talk about the last word in sky-fi. The journey passed in a borderline bacchanalian blur but I can confirm that such were the levels of comfort-induced bravado reached, this nervous flier hit the runway with eye-popping visuals supplied by the A380's external tail-cam and sounds supplied by The Smiths's The Queen is Dead.

Morrissey crooning about meeting by the cemetery gates as the Heathrow rooftops loom into view.... tempting fate or what? Steerage is never going to be the same again.

GETTING THERE

Direct daily return flights from Dublin to Dubai on the awesome Airbus A380 'superjumbo' with Emirates start on January 9. Prices from €509.49, economy class, inclusive of taxes. Visit www.emirates.com or your travel agent.

For One&Only Royal Mirage details see www.oneandonlyresorts.com and for Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai, visit www.atlantisthepalm.com

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