A stopover in Dubai usually entails snatching a flavour of the emirate’s rapacious appetite for the razzle-dazzle. The arsenal of head-turning new sights and mega-attractions is constantly evolving. It’s shaping up to be a huge year for the audacious emirate because come October, Dubai plays host to World Expo 2020, and sustainability is one of the central themes. 37,000 workers are currently toiling to complete the mega-city of pavilions, taking shape in the south of Dubai. From promoting water consumption and waste to promoting natural solutions, Dubai’s six month-long Expo claims it will deliver a legacy of sustainable infrastructure and cutting-edge sustainability practices, on a globally-applied scale.
As an aside, it is interesting to note what previous world expos have bestowed upon the world. The ice-cream cone was unveiled at St. Louis, the telephone in Philadelphia and of course the Eiffel Tower was purpose-built for Paris’ exposition. No pressure, Dubai – the ice-cream come takes some beating! Among those who have confirmed they’re involved are 190 countries. The US is expected to spend $100 million on its space, which will display modern graphics and feature a hyperloop ride, while the Saudi Arabian pavilion will span the size of two football fields. New Zealand is shelling out spending $53 million to build and operate its pavilion at Expo, the first New Zealand has attended since Shanghai in 2010.
If you believe the hype, Expo 2020 is going to be nothing short of a utopian fair and ultra-futuristic. In the lead up to the much-awaited global showcase of innovative marvels, Dubai has swiftly expanded its palette of theme parks and thrill attractions. In the past couple of years, some of the new head-turners on the block include IMG Worlds of Adventure, the largest temperature controlled indoor themed entertainment destination in the world. Cartoon Network and MARVEL anchor the superhero and cartoon character pulling power.
Then there is Bollywood Park, bling bling India-style, featuring 30 live shows on five stages, along with Motiongate and Legoland. Adding to its theme park platter, Zombie Apocalypse Park (ZAP) will be a giant entertainment zone themed around the living dead, scheduled to open mid-way through 2020. Dubai is never bereft of fantastical ideas and extravagant constructions and the world’s tallest ferris wheel will also debut in 2020, just ahead of Expo’s opening. Nearly double the height of the London Eye or the High Roller in Las Vegas, this colossal observation wheel is nearing completion Bluewaters Island, jutting off the shoreline of Jumeirah Beach Residence.
The Dubai Eye or “Ain Dubai” reaches a height of 250 metres, with 25 per cent more steel used in its construction than iron used in the Eiffel Tower. It will be able to carry up to 1,400 passengers at a time across 48 double-glazed capsules, including some fine-dining pods. As you do. Then there is the architecturally striking Museum of the Future, currently under construction in front of Emirates Towers. The large silver structure is designed in the shape of an eye, hollowed out in the middle and will showcase globally-acclaimed prototypes. If you have a head for heights, a new Dubai attraction set to open any day now.
Strung across the 53rd floor of the Sky View Hotel in Downtown Dubai, visitors will be strapped into a safety harness and taken up to the observation corridor, 200 metres above ground. You will proceed to walk outside the building, on a 30-metre-long cantilever. This one probably isn’t for those with vertigo. As a point of comparison, the Skywalk on Auckland’s Sky Tower is 192 metres high. Size always matter in Dubai! Awe-inspiring escapism doesn’t get any loftier than at the world’s tallest tower, cloud-piercing Burj Khalifa, right across the road from SkyWalk. I’ve been lucky enough to scale many of the world’s iconic observation towers, but Dubai’s “At the Top” experience is so high, it can literally feel over the top - as if you’ve been thrust into low-orbit.
The building reaches a height of 828 metres. Needless to say, the horizon-wide views stretch into infinity, notwithstanding the pesky intrusion of desert dust and urban smog. Burj Khalifa springs from the loins of Dubai Mall, an all-consuming shopping colossus, with over 1200 stores sprawling over 500,000 square metres of retail real estate. Soak up the splashy delight of the dancing Dubai Fountains, designed by the same wizards behind the Bellagio waterworks, which burst into soundtracked, choreographed glory, every 30 minutes from 6pm. The illuminated water jets shoot 500ft into the air, and it goes without saying - it’s the world’s biggest dancing fountain show.
Currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, Burj Al Arab remains a compelling totem of raw luxury. Inspired by the shape of a billowing sail on traditional Arabian dhow, if you’re up for one serious splurge in Dubai, make a date with this masterpiece, to marvel at the bold theatrics of its interior. The towering atrium slopes like the hull of a giant ship, studded with a frenzy of art works and cascading fountains. Take a jaunt to Palm Jumeirah, an audacious extension of humanity into the Arabian Gulf, shaped like a giant palm tree with 17 fronds.
Home to the equally audacious Atlantis The Palm resort, this leviathan of gaudy hospitality, with a colossal aquarium and mega-sized waterpark, is what Kim Kardashian gushed all over, on a recent stay. The easiest way to get to Atlantis is to hop aboard the Palm Monorail, which will also provide you with an elevated perspective over the Royal Family’s palace and the swathe of exquisitely beautiful villas springing up all over Palm Jumeirah. Speaking of which, the signature man-made island marvel is also home to Anatara The Palm Dubai Resort, a strikingly distinctive retreat that sweeps you up in its lagoon-style, low-rise embrace.
Boasting 400 metres of private shoreline, why not indulge a little by splashing out on this exclusive beach escape, while still enjoying the thrills of the city? The Anatara brand is synonymous with Thai-style luxury and this resort sets the benchmark for waterside luxury, fusing Asian inspirations with knock-out vistas. The resort comprises 293 elegantly designed rooms and villas, including the only Over Water Villas in the United Arab Emirates. For undeniable wow-factor, lock in a Lagoon Access room, which offers direct access to the tranquil waters. All rooms and villas are equipped with an interactive 42” LED TV, media hub, Nespresso coffee machine, mini bar, personal safe, and Wi-Fi Internet connection.
If you’re travelling with children, there are some great family layouts available too. With a plethora of dining options, I tucked into a lavish array of global fare at Crescendo, a poolside al fresco terraced restaurant. The breakfast buffets are masterly with live cooking stations and a delirious array of tropical fruits and juices. The a la carte menu sports Middle Eastern spices and ingredients, underpinned with indulgent international comfort foods. Another unmissable is Mekong, particularly if you share my infatuation with Thai cuisine.
The ultra-contemporary and quirky decor sets the stage for an exotic sensory feast. I loved the rickshaw tables on the terrace and the variety of delicious Thai cuisine, along with Chinese and Vietnamese dishes, is sublime. Mekong’s “Pad Cha Kai” or Holy Chicken is a glorious assembly of minced chicken, holy basil, asparagus, mushroom red chili, long beans, fish sauce and turmeric. Bliss! Another salivating menu option is the Mekong Sharing Platter which comprises crispy vegetable spring rolls, Vietnamese rice paper rolls, prawn toast, papaya salad, sun-dried beef, chicken satay and golden cup. Languidly bathing in the lagoon-style pool is highly addictive, so if you can’t tear yourself away from those welcoming waters, Mai Bar is at your disposal. In addition to the swim-up bar, poolside eats include tasty platters of nachos, panini and Wagyu burgers.
For added pampering, the cherry on top of the 50 metre infinity pool is the dhow-style drinks boat that floats about, serving you a thirst-quencher in the water. Every home should have one! Also on tap, a wealth of excursions and on-site experiences including scenic trips around Palm Jumeirah onboard the city’s first Thai long tail boat. It’s a novel way to admire the lush fronds and sea life off the Dubai coast and capture the audacious cityscape. from a unique perspective. If you’ve earned yourself some spa time, you’ll be blissed out at the Traditional Turkish Hammam at Anantara Spa.
Unleash your inner chef and master the art of Thai cooking with an interactive class at Mekong. A Thai master chef will lead you through a step-by-step guide to preparing world-famous dishes which will seriously impress your friends and family back home. Dubai’s dazzle-power unquestionably can leave you feeling throbbing with sensory overload. Anatara The Palm Dubai Resort is the pitch-perfect antidote, royally treating you to relaxed indulgence and a restful recharge, before the big flight home. No wonder it’s a hit with families, groups, and couples seeking an all-in-one getaway. You will never want to leave. www.anantara.com/en/palm-dubai/
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.