Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hotel, Abu Dhabi
Feels like… Panama City
Best for... Jetsetters
The first time I flew in a plane I was just three months old. I soared high in the sky cradled in my mother’s arms (as good as gold I’m sure), Dublin bound in a tetchy tin can posing as a plane. I had no idea of the milestone I was ticking off that drizzly day, obviously. But becoming airborne before my first birthday must have kick-started a love of flying.
A love that caused me to jump at the chance – literally whacking my head on the way in – to fly on a Seawings sea plane. Another box to be ticked. And apparently the thing to do in Dubai as recommended by the New York Times, no less.
‘Those guys must know about travelling in style,’ I think, my head still throbbing as I settle into my seat. We are about to take off from Dubai Creek with our destination: Yas Marina Island, only 30 minutes away over hot sands and Dubai’s hidden backwaters. I gaze out of the window as our pilot Jason rumbles us into action, across the water’s surface and up towards the clear blue sky.
The plane’s shadow hovers over the ground as it steadily sinks away. I can’t keep my eyes off it and in no time at all we are approaching Abu Dhabi. ‘Look to your left,’ Jason bellows over the noisy propellers. There I see Ferrari World – stretched out like a gigantic red jelly fish that’s fallen from the sky and splattered on the ground. ‘It looks like something out of Independence Day,’ cries a passenger taking pictures of the shiny sprawling creature below. The final showpiece of our short but sweet flight to the capital.
Back on dry land my next stop is the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hotel, a hidden gem close to the capital’s corniche. I jump in a cab from Yas Island and arrive at the hotel in just a few minutes. It’s an impressive building, rising from its beachside location like a huge sculpture made up of five shiny blades, which takes me back to my first time flying into Panama City, dangerously close to its beachfront skyscrapers.
Three of these blades are residential towers, one offices, and the fifth is the hotel where I’ll be staying – all 382 rooms with stunning views of the Arabian Gulf and city.
Walking into the lobby feels like I am entering another time entirely. A futuristic cavernous space with light flooding in through a slanted glass wall and a ceiling so high it positively dwarfs the huge iridescent balls suspended from it, let alone the guests enjoying cups of tea at ground level.
My mouth is open and neck aching, so I decide to get my staycation started. Soon enough I’m lying on a sun lounger next to one of the hotel’s three swimming pools overlooking a silky private beach and enjoying a tasty chicken salad sandwich. The beginning of a relaxing afternoon of doing not much at all.
For dinner I’m booked into French restaurant Brasserie Angélique where circular gilded crystal chandeliers hang low above soft velvety grey couches and the monochrome floor gleans underfoot. It’s laced with art deco accents and well-placed design detail – the arched alcoves, old-fashioned dusty pink lampshades and delicate ruptures of dogtooth – capturing that elegant brasserie-out-of-Paris feel.
I start with Saint-Jacques seared Hokkaido scallops served with brown shrimps, braised leeks and crustacean sauce, and a delicious spinach and walnut salad with blue cheese dressing. Next my friend and I opt for marbled Wagyu beef – made for sharing with Béarnaise sauce, buttery greens and truffle mash. Incredible. I’m too full for dessert, but use it as a catalyst for a deep dreamy sleep.
The next day I pop to the Talise Spa to try its signature massage – made up of a unique mix of pummelling, kneading and stretching. I float out and into a taxi home. Yes, sadly the sea plane was a one-way treat. But after just a few hours in this hotel I am walking on air anyway.
Room rates start at Dh700 (Deluxe room) and Dh1,000 (Grand Deluxe) exl. 10 per cent service charge and 6 per cent tourism fee and do not include breakfast. Call 02 811 5888 or email JADReservations@jumeirah.com. Seawings prices start for a single flight at Dh895, with value added packages available. For more information visit www.seawings.ae.
Le Méridien Dubai Hotel and Conference Centre, Dubai
Feels like… Central London, UK
Best for... Urbanites
Whisper the word birthday and one Dubai hotel springs to mind: Le Méridien, where there is a celebration every Friday with its famous brunch. But now that it has opened The Royal Club, there is another rather chic reason to head here for a staycation.
Located in a separate wing to the main hotel, The Royal Club houses a lounge and the royal rooms, which come with everything you could want for at a home from home.
The hotel is literally over the road from the airport so has traditionally been a stop-over hotel, but The Royal Club is about to change all that. With rooms that are 52 sq m, have designer interiors and come with a host of added extras, this is luxury with a capital L and come to think of it, exudes the feel of a high-end London home.
We only had time to nip to our room before it was time to taste that iconic Yalumba brunch. Luckily we had reserved our table because the restaurant was packed. And I could see why. From the garland, party hat and whistle on everyone’s table, to the must-get-up-and-dance soundtrack and large terrace overlooking the city, the place was buzzing.
It felt like we’d stepped into a wedding or – if it wasn’t for the bright sunshine outside – a New Year’s Eve party. Everyone was dressed up, smiling and ready to have fun. The food was amazing too with an international buffet and an à la carte menu.
As well as soups, salads, sushi, curries, roast dinner and the biggest baked brie I’ve ever seen, there was also lobster thermador, caprese salad with huge slices of creamy mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, and beef mignon that was so juicy and tender my husband ordered seconds.
I tried out every vegetarian dish, a gently spiced biryani, paneer and jasmine rice and that mouth-watering brie with garlic bread. Every mouthful was delicious but what was even more impressive was the impeccable service from the army of waiters.
The moment I put my knife and fork in the middle of my plate to signal I’d finished they whisked away my plate and yet they were never intrusive – just uber efficient.
By the end of the brunch the party was truly in swing with people dancing on the terrace, wearing their party hats, and laughing. ‘Do you want to join them?’ my husband asked. I shook my head. I wanted to explore the rest of The Royal Club.
With its own entrance and drop off, it has the wow factor with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a café-style restaurant, and modern designer decor that wouldn’t look out of place in Italy.
The indulgent and designer theme runs throughout the whole place from the lounge through to the spa, which offers in-room treatments but has an ice room as well as the usual sauna and sweat room, so why would you want to miss that?
Our room came with a basket of fruit, evening canapés – perfect for us as we were too full from the brunch to go for dinner but were a little peckish. And the beds are ridiculously comfortable – I was asleep by 10pm and only woke up at 8am because my husband didn’t want to miss breakfast. It was a stylish affair with pastries, cereals, fruits as well as full English breakfasts and Arabic fare.
By the end of the weekend we left feeling fully refreshed and twenty minutes later we were back in our Dubai marina apartment having been treated like royalty.
Prices from Dh800 per night per person. For reservations call 04 217 0000 or email Reservations.email@example.com. Visit www.lemeridien-dubai.com for details.
Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach
Feels like… Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Best for... Families
Sitting in the den at the top of the Four Seasons’ Kids For All Seasons club surrounded by cushions and the latest electronic gadgets, my son steadfastly refused to come down. ‘But the ladies want to go home,’ I told him. ‘It’s dinner time, we can have some fun together and you can come back here tomorrow.’ Reluctantly, he dropped the games control and with his bottom lip out, head hung down, descended the steps.
It was our first day at the newly opened five-star Four Seasons hotel at Jumeirah Beach and I hadn’t seen my son since we’d checked in and discovered the kids’ club.
But this was no toddler or pre-schooler – my petulant son is actually a tweenager who hadn’t liked a kids’ club since he had learnt his times table. So what was so different about this one? Well it is brand-new, state-of-the-art and equipped with more fun, games and gadgets than a Virgin Megastore or Apple HQ.
I’d realised that the Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach would be special long before our staycation. I’d become a fan after visiting the London hotel in Canary Wharf while former footballer David Beckham was staying there – and became as smitten with the brand almost as much as the icon. While the English capital hotel is all dark wood and marble with giant windows overlooking the river Thames, the Dubai resort is a modern twist on traditional Arabic architecture with swathing views of the Arabian Gulf. But it reminded me of holidays spent in sunny Jamaica in the Caribbean with its laid-back but luxurious vibe and sunny climes.
The lobby was impressive – all-white marble with floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of the equally impressive beach and the sea – and our room was just as beautiful.
The size of a small apartment, regal and yet modern with designer decor in creams, taupes and a hint of royal green, our room was the ultimate home from home. The marble bathroom and giant balcony make it hard to leave, but we tore ourselves away and headed to Sea Fu restaurant.
Located on the beach, the contemporary seafood restaurant has an impressive menu from chef Pierre Barusta, which includes poached langoustines, lobster and off-the-wall desserts such as tofu and candied ginger with shortbread yuzu jelly and sesame ice cream. We savoured every mouthful while listening to the waves crashing on to the shore.
Up early the next morning we relaxed on the beach before I dropped off my son back at the kids’ club and treated myself to a sleep-inducing massage. The spa was gigantic and the massage was – well I don’t remember after the first 10 minutes. I know it’s the ultimate accolade but it’s also frustrating as I would like to experience the actual treatment that left me rejuvenated as well as knot and stress free. An excuse to go back again I guess!
Massage over it was time to pack and check out – much to my and my son’s chagrin. But 15 minutes later we were back home and totally relaxed thanks to our Four Seasons fake-ation. I can’t wait to return – it’s the perfect holiday as it has a totally tropical feel but is on my doorstep. Perfect!
Room rates are seasonal. Current starting rate per room per night is Dh2,200. Call 04 270 7788 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.fourseasons.com/dubaijb.
The Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel and Towers
Feels like… Venice, Italy
Best for... Foodies
For 37 years the Sheraton has stood overlooking Dubai Creek. Since 1978. More than three-and-a-half decades. A third of a century, and then a little more.
In most cities, that would mean it was aged. In Dubai – a town always changing, modernising, innovating – it’s practically an ancient monument.
It’s over twice as old as the Burj Al Arab; and three times more mature than any of these upstart resorts down the Marina. It’s only seven years younger than the UAE itself.
Not to push a point too far but when you sit in Vivaldi, the astonishingly good Italian restaurant from chef celebre Alfredo Russo, and you look out over the Creek and on to the city skyline – the Burj Khalifa, Emirates Towers and Al Yaqoub Tower all as clear as day – it’s worth remembering none of that was here when the place opened.
Which begs one question: in such a fast-moving town, how does the Sheraton – located in Baniyas Street – not only survive but continue to apparently thrive?
During my two days there, the answer is obvious. Because it’s a wonderful place to spend time and enjoy the incredible cuisine and meandering old-world creek. And because, after a Dh18 billion renovation last year, it’s as bang up to the minute as if it opened yesterday.
Let’s start with the rooms. Big, welcoming things. A double bed the size of a tennis court. A desk overlooking floor to ceiling windows. A bathroom you could fit a rugby team in. In the central lobby – which all 268 rooms and suites open out on to via internal balconies – there’s a vast waterfall that can be heard even when you shut your door. But even this, as you drift to sleep, is somehow therapeutically relaxing.
That’s the rooms. The facilities don’t disappoint either. Where do we start? With the pool. It’s triangular. It’s a sun trap. There’s an onsite spa too. Sauna and steam rooms. A gym. But the headliner of this hotel is surely the restaurants. I enjoyed dinner in Ashiana and lunch in the aforementioned Vivaldi. Both were, without fear of exaggeration, superb.
The former is a colonial-style dining room with a menu specialising in food from across India created by Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia (I particularly recommend the lamb). The latter is a fine-dining Italian, which doesn’t come cheap but which has the sort of amazing menu that is only matched by those views across the city and the creek.
That’s the Sheraton. They call her – because of her grand age – the Lady Of The Creek. She’s one who’s well worth visiting.
Save up to 30 per cent on rooms during staycation season with starting rates of Dh300 per night per room. Call 04228 1111 or email email@example.com. Visit www.sheratondubaicreek.com for more details.
Rixos The Palm, Dubai
Feels like… Ibiza, the Balearics
Best for... Fun-loving couples
A dazzling white beach? Check. Five-star chic hotel with nine restaurants and bars? Check. A royal spa with a private jetty and helicopter pad? Check. A saxophonist by the swimming pool and a VIP nightclub that keeps the best-dressed dancing until the early hours? Check, check check.
At first – and even last glance – Rixos has all the credentials of a top Ibiza hot spot and celebrity clients to match. But while the hotel has hosted J-Lo, Justin Bieber and many more from Hollywood and Bollywood, it is not actually on one of the Balearic Islands, but on The Palm Dubai.
We’ve been to Ibiza and hit the nightclubs and this is just as good, but without worrying about the jet lag. Don’t expect a quiet staycation, lolling around on the beach or simply feasting on fine food. This is a fake-ation where the f stands for fun – so you had better get enough sleep beforehand so that you can party on the Palm.
That doesn’t mean that Rixos isn’t uber-luxurious. Everything about this Eastern Crescent resort is beyond stylish with a marble lobby, chic suites with a beach view and a terrace with a Marina-scape backdrop with skyscrapers and twinkling lights.
After checking in, we headed straight for a beach cabana and gently warmed ourselves under the sun – 20 minutes on either side and then a run across the talcum powder sand into the sea to cool off. With our tans topped up, we were ready to dine at A La Turka, the Turkish buffet where we feasted on fresh salads, a metre-long Turkish pizza, kebabs, pasta and fish.
We could have continued eating but had to ensure we weren’t too full as we wanted to join the beautiful people at White-X Beach night club. Outside, overlooking the ocean, we listened to the cool tunes and drank chilled drinks until 2am.
After a good night’s sleep, we had a delicious breakfast at A La Turka – the egg station should win an award on its own to join the clutch of others this hotel has in its trophy cabinet.
Then we hit the beach before it was time to try my first-ever traditional Turkish hammam at Rixos Royal Spa. I was led into the biggest wet room I’ve ever seen and asked to lay on a hot marble plinth. My therapist, dressed in a swimming costume, proceeded to give me a deep-cleansing massage, which included lathering me up until I was lost under a mountain of bubbles. I left squeaky clean and refreshed but really hungry.
I couldn’t wait to get changed and head to L’Olivo, the Italian restaurant. Chef Francesco Cavazzina, who looked like Superman’s Clarke Kent, came out to greet us. We dined on the most delicious caprese, with creamy burrata, fresh, juicy tomatoes, and a mouth-watering seafood platter with fresh lobster, salmon and mussels, followed by delicious truffle risotto and finished off with dreamy tiramisu. We waddled out, but every mouthful was incredible.
We were too full to dance that night but we will be back soon. Who needs the hassle of catching an aeroplane when we have such a fun, luxurious resort right here? Rixos rocks!
Rooms start at Dh750 including breakfast for two as part of Summer Promotion from June 15 to September 30. Call 04 457 5424 or email Reservations.firstname.lastname@example.org.