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  January 7th, 2013 | Written by

Destination Dubai

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Tips For Tourists and Business Travelers, From One Exec to Another

Dubai offers much for the business traveler or the tourist. Port Jebel Ali is the world’s largest man-made harbor, the biggest port in the Middle East and seventh busiest in the world, so a lot of my business takes place in and around this area. For the tourist, or when I want to get out on weekends (Dubai works six days a week, so the weekend is really on Friday, the only day off), shopping in Dubai is the thing to do. The actual shopping is average, but the experience is intriguing. Malls in this city are realizations of unrestrained fantasy, offering surreal attractions to lure you—and your credit card—in.

Over the past few years, I have traveled to Dubai several times for business. It is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). The best and fastest direct way to get there is on Emirates Airlines, which offers superior business-class service with direct flights to DXB from LAX, SFO and JFK. They even pick you up in a private car for transport to and from home, airports and hotels!

When you arrive at Dubai International Airport, the first thing you notice are many men wearing the traditional Kandura—or dishdash, as it is referred to by visiting expats—and many women dressed in burqa, along with droves of other travelers wearing variants of western world dress.

Dubai is simply amazing, as it lies directly within the Arabian Desert, but you can swim in the Persian Gulf at the beaches of many 5-star hotels along Jumeirah Beach. It is a city of the super-rich and super poor. You are unlikely to see a place where the divide between the “have nots” and the “have yachts” is so apparent. The local-born Emiratis, who make up about 12 percent of the population, are typically extremely wealthy, but the town was built on the backs of a huge working-class population predominantly from the Indian subcontinent and from less prosperous areas of the Gulf. Sitting between the two groups is a burgeoning band of expats, mostly from the West, who are profiting to varying degrees from the city’s modern day Gold Rush.

Dubai has more than 70 shopping malls, including the world’s largest, Dubai Mall. You can visit the indoor Ski Dubai, the artificial skiing slope and snow park, and carve out a few giant slalom turns inside while watching the world go by outside in 114F heat.

Ships in port along Dubai’s skyline
Ships in port along Dubai’s skyline

The city draws large numbers of shopping tourists from countries within the region and as far as Eastern Europe, Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. Dubai, also called “The City of Gold,” is known for its souk districts. As you migrate around the Gold and Spice souks, you can really experience the originality of the city as it was before the massive commercial expansion took place in the early 1990s.

My favorite hotel on Jumeirah Beach is the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel. It is huge with its own waterways to transfer guests from its shops, bars and restaurants to the neighboring cluster of hotels. The landmark Burj Al Arab Hotel is just down the beach, which is the world’s tallest hotel and a beautiful sight, especially at night when it changes colors. You will easily part with $2,500 per night for a nice room there, and that is the only way to gain entry to the Burj, unless you can secure a dinner reservation.

If you like boats or “mega yachts,” the Dubai Marina is the place to go. It’s a massive new development that borders Jebel Ali. The Marina is full of yachts and skyscrapers and hosts the Jumeirah Beach Walk, with a number of restaurants, hotels and an open-air market when the weather permits. Be sure to take this in if you have time.

Arabic is the main type of food in Dubai. Many restaurants feature Shawarma, which is a wonderful medley of lamb and chicken mixed with tomatoes, pickles and garlic sauce. It’s a bit like a kebab and the taste can be different depending on the restaurant. Falafel and Arabic bread are nice compliments to most meals in Dubai. Settling in to a nice restaurant and starting off with a flavored tobacco Hookah pipe makes for a nice evening’s experience.

A few times I have ventured out beyond the city’s grasp to experience the Arabian Desert to its fullest. The Bab Al Shams resort is a plush desert escape built in an Arabic fort setting in and around an oasis. Inside the walls, shaded courtyards, walkways and water features provide cool shelter and maintain the unique ambience and atmosphere. The after dinner show includes Arabian horses performing on their natural desert sand stage right outside the courtyards.

Shopping in Dubai is average, though its malls are realizations of unrestrained fantasy.
Shopping in Dubai is average, though its malls are realizations of unrestrained fantasy.

I also stay in other areas of Dubai, mainly downtown where the newly commissioned Burj Khalifa is located. It’s currently the tallest building in the world, and the super exclusive Armani Hotel occupies its highest floors. From the observation decks on these highest floors you can see all of Dubai from downtown to the beach on a clear day. The Palm Jumeirah, which is billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World, is a master-planned community that can be seen off in the distance, along with The World, an archipelago of islands that forms a world map in miniature. (The islands are for sale, so if you can afford it, you can buy a “country” for yourself.)

Downtown Dubai offers many types of hotels depending on your budget and style. I have found that the Al Manzil and Qamardeen Hotels offer up a great value for the business traveler with locations central to downtown Dubai.

Dubai is a fascinating city with a converging dichotomy between opulence and poverty. There’s plenty in Dubai, with exclusive hotels, shops, high-end malls, mega yachts, Ferraris, Bentleys, Lamborghinis and BMW 5 series police cars on one side, and traditional souks with outlying areas of poor and poverty on the other. A must-see for both the tourist and the business traveler!

Teddy Roosevelt Almost Slept Here

The Inn at Irving Place, New York City [By Linda Fish]

If you are looking for a quiet, quaint place to stay in the city that never sleeps, The Inn at Irving Place just might be your cup of tea. Known for Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon and its afternoon tea with the locals, the 12 guestrooms and junior suites cater to that business traveler who wants something ”homey.” During my recent stay, the Inn provided just that—a nice respite from the usual city bustle.

Built in 1834, the old Lower West Side brownstone takes you back in time. You won’t even find hotel signage out in front, just the address, 56. Furnishings and architecture are from the Victorian period, reminding me of some of San Francisco’s B&Bs.

HotelChampagne and an appetizing fruit and cheese plate are served upon arrival. My room at the top of the stairs was on the small side, but the bathroom—by New York standards—was voluminous. Although cozy and very quiet with its Victorian furnishings, a “fluff job” is probably due for this charming New York City Inn.

Located on a quiet, tree-lined street, The Inn at Irving Place is not only near the beautiful Gramercy Park and its revitalized neighborhood but also just two short blocks from the subway station, offering a quick ride to the financial district or midtown.

Rates start at $445 a night. Residences or apartments are available for longer stays starting at $375 a night.