Monday, Oct. 13, 2008

Burj Al Arab

This iconic, sail-shaped hotel — which soars 1,053 feet over the Persian Gulf, on an artificial island off Jumeirah Beach — literally epitomizes Dubai's over-the-topness. And though the property, which was completed in 1999, is ancient by local standards, guests still stop to gawk at the self-professed "seven-star" hotel's 600-foot-high atrium when they first enter (many do so after arriving via helicopter or chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph limo). The 202 massive suites (which start at 1,830 square feet and go all the way to 8,396) are all bilevel, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows; dedicated butler service; fully equipped private bars; offices with automated everything; and bed linens, furniture, and window treatments upholstered in opulent velvets and satins. The sprawling baths are stocked with full-size Hermès toiletries (other little gifts, like La Prairie night cream and aromatherapy "sleep spray," arrive in guests' suites each night). The property's common areas are equally excessive; of the six restaurants, Al Mahara, serving high-end seafood, is designed to look as if it were underwater, with a huge aquarium and a dining room accessible via simulated submarine ride from the lobby.

Insider Tip: Splurge for a helicopter tour over Dubai, leaving from the hotel's very own 28th-floor helipad.

Room to Book: At around 3,500 square feet, the Club Suite is hardly the largest here — but it does have both desert and sea views, perfect for gazing at from your dining room (or snooker) table.


The very contemporary Fairmont Dubai, located within a massive multi-use complex and connected to the Dubai International Convention Center by a dedicated walkway, sits in the heart of the city's financial district. And while it's typically business types who stay here, plenty of relaxation is also on the menu. The hotel covers the 10th to 34th floors of the building (which is modeled to look like a barajeel , or Arabic wind tunnel); the 394 rooms are decked out in neutral tones of sand and terra-cotta, with tile floors and clean-lined, Danish-modern-style furnishings; all have lofty, panoramic views through large windows. To splurge, book a room in the exclusive Fairmont Gold section (on floors 30 and 32); the private checkout area, 24-hour on-call butler, and special lounge access offer some respite from the chaotic surrounding neighborhood.

Insider Tip: The Spectrum on One, Fairmont's aptly named restaurant, which serves food from India, Thailand, Japan, China, and the Middle East, popularized the champagne brunch in Dubai. Held every Friday, it's a great way to rub shoulders with locals (and to sip unlimited Moët & Chandon).

Room to Book: A Fairmont Gold suite on the 32nd floor has close access to a lounge serving Arabic buffet breakfasts each morning, tea and sweets in the afternoon, and wine and hors d'oeuvres in the evening.

Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates

Set in the heart of so-called New Dubai (about 20 minutes south from downtown), this 393-room hotel looks right onto one of Dubai's most extravagant new attractions: Ski Dubai — the world's biggest indoor snow park. In fact, hotel guests can access Ski Dubai — and the swanky shops in the adjacent Mall of the Emirates — right from the Kempinski's soaring alpine-themed lobby. It's a surreal (but very real) draw. While the common spaces are flights of fancy, though, the rooms and suites are firmly grounded: all are warmly lit refuges with polished wood floors; high, recessed-lit ceilings; streamlined modern furniture; and spacious marble baths with bidets, separate tubs and showers, and double vanities. The hotel has three main restaurants, but the most wildly popular is the gargantuan (935-seat) Sezzam, with a menu that's organized by cooking method — e.g., flame, bake, steam — rather than cuisine.

Insider Tip: Escape the mall on the rooftop, where the open-air Mosaic Bar extends into the overflowing swimming pool and overlooks the Jumeirah skyline.

Room to Book: One of the 15 "ski chalets," with their beamed wood ceilings and European chalet décor. One-bedroom chalets look out over Ski Dubai's indoor slopes, but two-and three-bedroom suites have both slope-side and city skyline views.

One&Only Royal Mirage

A kind of über-Arabian fantasia built in the style of an ancient palace and fortress, the Royal Mirage occupies prime Dubai real estate. The compound of buildings — all vaulted sandstone arches, gleaming columns, and intricate tilework, topped by a gloriously painted dome and mirrored by a palm-lined reflecting pool — sits right on Jumeirah Beach, and is surrounded by 65 acres of gardens. The property includes two main parts: The Palace, with 246 units, and the Arabian Court, with 172 units; both sections have rooms and suites that are plush if rather European in style, with private balconies or terraces overlooking the sea and lushly landscaped gardens. There's also the more exclusive 50-room resort-within-a-resort, the Residence & Spa, which has its own reception, private dining room, and bar, and the hotel's most spacious and exotically decorated rooms and suites (lots of carved and inlaid wood, elaborate tilework, silky embroidered fabrics). The eight on-site restaurants range from Moroccan to Asian, and Mediterranean to casual beachside seafood; but wherever you eat, be sure to hit The Rooftop lounge (at the Arabian Court) for pre- or post-prandial cocktails overlooking Palm Island Bay.

Insider Tip: Book "The Royal Treatment" at the Oriental Hammam — during which you'll lie on a heated marble table for your honey facial, body scrub, and massage.

Room to Book: The four Rooftop Prestige rooms in the Residence look over fragrant gardens and have private, cushion-strewn terraces for dining and sunbathing.

Park Hyatt

Compared to Dubai's flashy skyscraper hotels, the waterfront Park Hyatt Dubai, which opened in 2005, is subtle and diminutive — which is exactly the point. While close to the city center, the 225-room, bright-white compound sits on a quiet stretch of Dubai Creek, sequestered from the streets by acres of gardens, with a stunning (and noiseless) view of Dubai's skyline. A Mediterranean-influenced design subdues the city's harried energy, using low archways and an intimate, candlelit lobby that's more sanctuary than waiting area. The serenity extends to the rooms — outfitted with clean-lined, angular wood furniture, silky fabrics in tones of cream and gold, sculptural objets, freestanding baths, and either balconies or lavish terraces with views over the creek. At the Amara spa, each of the eight treatment rooms has its own private garden; of the five on-site dining options, we like the modern European Traiteur restaurant for its enormous, impressively stocked wine cellar.

Insider Tip: For a decadent night in, order from the excellent room-service menu and have a moonlit picnic of mezze and wine on your terrace or balcony.

Room to Book: Park Terrace Suites, which have separate work and living areas and outdoor living rooms that look out over the lawn.