Dubai is not the kind of place where you’d want to slum it. There’s a baffling array of 5* hotels spread around this huge city – literally hundreds of the things. As we were in town to celebrate my birthday, after weeks of researching we decided to splash out at The Oberoi in the Downtown area. Here’s what to expect…
We didn’t leave the hotel for the first 24 hours of our stay in Dubai, and that’s some feat for someone with such itchy feet as me.
As our taxi from the airport pulled up outside the lobby, a concierge dressed head to foot in traditional Indian dress from the maharaja era ran up and opened the car door for me before we had even stopped. This level of service became the norm for the rest of our break at The Oberoi, a branch of the luxury Indian chain in the Business Bay area of Downtown Dubai.
After checking in, we were escorted to our 14th floor room and given a tour. I had a complimentary birthday cake waiting for me as we walked in, and was happy with the floor-to-ceiling windows, blackout blinds and his-and-hers sinks in the bathroom (which was bigger than the upstairs of my house).
As the name suggests, this is a business hotel, but there were plenty of holiday-makers enjoying the facilities. It was funny watching people at breakfast – most were in suits doing deals over the phone while eating, but a few were in shorts and flip-flops gorging on the unlimited buffet to fill themselves up for a day of sightseeing/relaxation.
The jewel in The Oberoi’s crown is its 25-metre rooftop pool. I’ve never been a massive backstroke fan, but it’s the sensible way to swim here, looking up at gleaming glass skyscrapers all around while getting a nice face tan.
As soon as we approached the pool area on our first day, an attendant came running over handing us a wooden tray with complimentary water, sunblock and Evian cooling spray.
Daytime temperatures in the first week of November (when we visited) hover around 35C – arguably too hot to do much sightseeing, but perfect for lounging by the pool and doing very little. Whenever we felt like cooling off, we’d have a quick dip, spray some Evian on our faces or pop to the luxurious air-conditioned bathrooms.
Some slate Dubai for being a manufactured metropolis in the desert with no soul or culture. Maybe these people need to chill-out at The Oberoi before re-evaluating this.
Where to stay in Dubai
Despite having a fairly small population of 2.1 million, Dubai has an unbelievably high number of hotel beds, spread over a huge area with several distinct suburbs for business travellers, city-breakers, families and sun-worshippers. Where should you aim for to make the most of Dubai?
Our guidebook describes this area as a cross between Karachi and Cairo, saying many hotels double-up as brothels. Not very tempting, eh? It’s so far away from the rest of Dubai, and the city’s infamously congested roads mean getting around takes forever if you’re based here. For me, Dubai is all about skyscrapers, malls and beaches. I’d see Deira in the day if time allows, but wouldn’t recommend you stay there.
Bur Dubai is on the west side of the Creek, so is slightly closer to Dubai’s more touristy attractions. But again I think it’s too far away and it’s not that pretty. The Creek is old Dubai as it was before the discovery of oil. It’s cheaper, more atmospheric and where locals live and work so you’ll find lots of restaurants and souks. But when we saw someone throw a rat from his restaurant into the Creek, we were happy we weren’t staying anywhere near here.
This is why I came to Dubai – over-the-top architecture, 14-lane super highways and immense malls. There are loads of hotels to choose from, but you’ll need to get taxis to even nearby attractions and restaurants because walking is a big no-no (too hot, rubbish pavements, dangerous drivers). The main road is one big traffic jam in rush hour, so give yourself plenty of time to come and go.
In this area you’ll see the iconic Burj Al Arab (the self-proclaimed 7* hotel), the superb Madinat Jumeirah souk/canal/hotel complex and some of Dubai’s best beaches. The downside? It’s so bloody expensive to stay here. If I was lucky enough to return to Dubai, I’d definitely aim for this area and get taxis to other attractions. And then re-mortgage my house to pay for it all.
We loved our time in one of the newer areas of Dubai. With its water-side promenade, boat trips and al-fresco dining, it had more of a feel of being on holiday than elsewhere. But it’s too far away – 21km from the Burj Khalifa – and looked pricey. Like Deira and Bur Dubai, see it in the day but don’t stay here.