White hot Dubai
As if it weren’t already enough – the manmade island-resort communities you can see from outer space, the soon-to-be the world’s tallest building, a solar-powered revolving apartment building, a Sports City and an entire ski slope inside a shopping mall – now Dubai is planning to open the world’s first luxury underwater hotel later this year.
The $500-million Hydropolis Hotel, located in Dubai’s port city of Jebel Ali, sits on the floor of the Persian Gulf 20 meters (66 feet) beneath the surface. This is a hotel where you can literally sleep with the fishes – the bubble-shaped suites feature clear glass walls along both the sleeping areas and bathtubs.
Like most everything else in Dubai, the scale of the hotel is far from modest. Covering a full 27 acres, Hydropolis includes a wave-shaped above-ground ‘land station’ which is connected to the jellyfish-shaped underwater hotel by a submerged transparent train tunnel that’s 515 meters (1,700 feet) long. Unlike another well-known, albeit far less elaborate, underwater retreat in Florida, Jules’ Underwater Lodge, guests need not dive to enter the hotel.
Hydropolis also has a concert auditorium, a ballroom that breaks the water’s surface (with a retractable roof), its own cosmetic surgery clinic, a movie theatre and shopping mall.
But like other over-the-top hotels in Dubai, the opulent accommodations come at a steep price. To stay at the Hydropolis, for example, it’s reported that guests could pay at least US $5,500 for a day’s lodging.
Other ‘big’ sights
• Burj Dubai. Soon to be the world’s tallest building when completed sometime in 2008, it is expected to be about 2,700 feet (more than twice the height of the Empire State Building). This is no small feat particularly when you consider that Dubai is literally built on a foundation of sand. Many buildings require foundations as deep as they are high to remain stable.
• Burj al Arab, the 1,053-foot hotel built in the shape of a sailboat, is located 900 feet offshore on a manmade island. The Burj is also known for its luxurious accommodations, including helicopter service and an underwater restaurant. (Be prepared to pay at least $2,000 a night for a suite.)
• Dubai Waterfront. This manmade island is nearly twice the size of Manhattan with 250 ‘master-planned communities’ that will reportedly house 400,000 people. (Dubai’s collection of manmade islands adds more than 900 miles of beachfront property to an emirate that’s only 41 miles long.)
• Time Residences. This solar-powered 30-story apartment building actually revolves (somewhat like a barber pole). The building rotates once per week.
• Dubailand. A 107-square-mile, $64 billion “leisure, tourism and entertainment” park which includes the 10 million-square-foot Mall of Arabia, a Jurassic-themed park with animatronic dinosaurs, a snow park under a see-through dome and a theme park with life-size versions of the Eiffel Tower, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Taj Mahal.
• Ski Dubai. This 25-story indoor ski resort is over 260 feet wide and holds about 5 acres of snow. It has a freestyle zone, a quarter pipe, five runs and a quad chairlift.
• Chillout is the Middle East’s first ice lounge. The bar/restaurant is made entirely of ice from its furniture, glasses and plates to the art on the wall, the beaded curtains, and the 7-foot-chandelier.
• Floating museum. The Queen Victoria is set to replace the legendary Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2), which will soon become a floating museum in the port of Dubai.
• The Dubai Promenade. This new waterfront community will feature a five-star hotel – shaped like a donut.
Dubai sits in the north coast of the United Arab Emirates, a co-op of seven sheikhdoms on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula. When it first appeared on maps in the early 1880s, it was a tiny trading enclave. Like its neighbours, the tiny country discovered oil in the 1950s. When oil production peaked in 1991 – and it was feared the oil reserves would soon be depleted – the country’s leaders made the decision to diversify into banking, retail and tourism.
With close to two billion people living within a three- to four-hour flight from Dubai, it has become not only a popular luxury tourist destination but is increasingly on the world map as ‘the place’ to do business. According to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the country expects 15 million visitors a year by 2015.
While Dubai’s culture is rooted in Islamic traditions, it is tolerant to foreigners who do not practice the religion of Islam. Expatriates are free to practice their own religion, alcohol is served in hotels and the dress code is relatively liberal. (Although it is always a good idea to respect local culture and in this case, dress more modestly than you might at home.)
The official language is Arabic, although many people in and out of the workplace speak English. Popular local sporting events include Falconry, camel racing and dhow sailing. Arabic cuisine consists of many types of cooking from countries like Morocco, Egypt, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. Alcohol is served in licensed premises like restaurants, bars and a few recreational clubs. Shisha (water) pipes are smoked at most establishments.