There has been an unexpected development at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.
The sail-shaped landmark, ranked as one of the most exclusive hotels in the world with rates starting at €1,370 per night, now welcomes just about anyone to roam its sparkling interiors on Inside Burj Al Arab tours. In addition, the not-so-princely price of €62 even allows access to the Royal Suite.
It’s an unusual initiative from one of the most expensive properties and most famous hotels in the world – situated just off the coast of Dubai on its own small private island and with security guards guarding the gates 24 hours a day.
Still, there was never any doubt that an open-minded audience would appreciate the opportunity. When the hotel opened in 1999, it immediately reaffirmed the emirate’s appetite for bold architecture, which was subsequently cemented by the opening of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in 2010 and the inauguration of the oval Museum of the Future last month.
One of the most photographed buildings in the world and with over a million followers on Instagram, the Burj Al Arab is truly iconic, along with the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
That doesn’t mean it’s to everyone’s taste. I’ve been to the Burj, as everyone calls it, a few times. Spread over two floors, the entry-level one-bedroom suites are mammoth. Bathrooms are stocked with full-size Hermès toiletries, including His’n’Hers aftershave and perfume, and there’s a butler on call to help with nitpicks and questions.
The interiors, however, are… full of character. Suites are vividly decorated in gold and purple, with mirrors hanging over the beds. When I’m there I indulge: with so many of Europe’s more modern luxury hotels playing it safe in grey, it’s oddly refreshing to see an alternative approach presented with such conviction. It also pays off: the hotel has been overcrowded over the years. Occupancy was 85 percent during my stay at the end of February.
Due to high demand, Inside Burj Al Arab tour guests will not see regular guest rooms, nor the hotel’s various restaurants and beach club, which can also be booked by day guests, but at significantly higher prices and with reduced availability. Surprisingly, however, they are guaranteed access to the hotel’s Royal Suite.
Before being included in the tour’s itinerary, this suite secured average prices of €23,000 per night. Occupancy could be sporadic, however, and repurposing the suite has proven lucrative: With room for up to 12 people, tour groups depart every 15 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. daily. I’m told that during the peak winter season, up to 700 people sign up per day, although the number is usually around 500. At €62 per person, that still equates to around €31,000.
That’s a lot of visitors, though the groups for overnight guests remain surprisingly low-key (I hadn’t noticed the tours taking place until I joined them). That’s because attendees enter the property through a side entrance, where they’re briefed on the Burj before proceeding through the lobby, past one of the hotel’s giant aquariums, and then up a special elevator to the 25th floor. There is an opportunity to stop along the way and take photos of the Showstopper Atrium – at 180m one of the tallest in the world. But otherwise tour groups and hotel guests remain separate.
At this higher level, a suit-wearing butler introduces all 8,000 square feet of the two-bedroom Royal Suite. For better or for worse, the Burj really lives up to expectations here. The carpet lining the grand staircase is printed with a leopard print; a bed rotates at the touch of a button; The original Majlis style living room design was rejected for not being pink enough.
Noting my astonishment, my butler surmised visitors’ usual reaction to the decor: “Many of the guests at Inside Burj Al Arab prefer softer tones and aren’t necessarily big fans of those colors, although I ask them if they’d like to stay here, everyone says.” yes,” he tells us.
After exploring the suite, the tour concludes in an adjacent zone filled with artifacts and heirlooms related to the history of the Burj. There’s the napkin on which architect Tom Wright scrawled his original design for the hotel. Nearby is the F1 car in which David Coultard made donuts on the hotel’s cantilever helipad. Through the windows there is a clear view of the world below, a map-shaped archipelago of man-made islands and a host of other ambitious luxury properties which, like the Burj, belong to the United Arab Emirates’ Jumeirah Group.
It’s a fitting finale before tour groups are brought back down to earth (via a small alfresco cafe and bar, and a gift shop where you can buy Burj-branded souvenirs, including small boxes of chocolates for €41).
Do it: Book tours on insideburjalarab.com (€62 per person). For overnight stays (from €1,370 in low season) or other experiences at the Burj Al Arab see jumeirah.com. John was a guest at the Burj Al Arab.
Six ways to explore Dubai on a budget
Had the landmark Burj Al Arab not set such an enduringly successful precedent, the surrounding city might have developed very differently. But today, Dubai is a master at offering extravagant diversions to privileged travelers. Experiencing the best of the city’s luxury offerings will never come cheap, but similar to this tour, there are ways to enjoy what’s on offer a little cheaper. Here is just a small selection…
Dubai is jam-packed with luxury hotels, and many host lavish weekend brunches, giving visitors a taste of what’s on offer. Unlimited drinks are often thrown in and the spreads can be unexpectedly good value.
At the newly opened canal-side St. Regis Downtown, Dubai, for example, the buffet brunch concept sees chefs from the hotel’s restaurants serving unique dishes at indoor and outdoor tables, making it possible to to experience the entire culinary offer in one afternoon. Dishes include black truffle and porcini tagliatelle from Italian restaurant Basta, top-shelf sushi, and desserts galore. There’s live entertainment, kids under 13 eat free, and the menu is so generous you’ll definitely want to skip breakfast (you might as well drop your dinner plans).
Do it: Brunch costs €88 including soft drinks or €112 with alcohol. John was a guest at the St. Regis; marriott.com.
Rent a supercar
Dubai’s immaculate metro is frequent and reliable, but the Ferrari and Lamborghini dealerships you’ll see as you ride it are a reminder that this is the city of supercars – even the police fleet includes an Aston Martin. While buying a Bugatti might not be profitable, it’s possible to rent all sorts of fancy cars — some by the hour if you just want to snap a quick photo.
Do it: Among the city’s many supercar rental specialists, oneclickdrive.com offers Maseratis from €260 per day.
Go (beach) clubbing
Endlessly sunny weather means Dubai’s beach clubs make a roaring trade with locals every weekend. But on weekdays they often lower their prices to attract vacationers. Overlooking a 1km stretch of beach, the high-end Drift offers an infinity pool, an excellent Mediterranean restaurant, and beautiful skyline views.
Do it: Access costs €62 at the weekend, otherwise there are various discounts waiting for you, including a ‘Ladies’ Day’ offer on Tuesdays where women pay €25, including a welcome cocktail. driftbeachdubai.com
Some people like to go shopping and many of them are in Dubai. The city’s colossal malls are attractions in their own right, while this constant consumerism has also fueled the emergence of discount stores, which sell many ‘last season’ goods.
Do it: If that sounds fun, try the Dubai Outlet Mall (for discounts on brands like Burberry and Marc Jacobs; dubaioutletmall.com); Wardrobe (used Chanel and Celine products; wardrobe.ae) and Brands for Less (which includes beauty and home goods alongside clothing from Calvin Klein and Adidas; brandsforless.com).
One of the world’s top airlines, Dubai-based Emirates offers excellent business and first class lounges (it also flies direct from Dublin to Dubai). Unusually, these facilities are also available to economy class passengers who pay a premium for access. If you fly to Dublin in Economy Class, use of the Business Class Lounge costs €95 for up to four hours. This includes unlimited food and free-flowing champagne. emirates.com
For more information on Dubai and its latest Covid-related restrictions, visit visitdubai.com.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/world/dubai-on-a-budget-affordable-tours-of-the-burj-al-arab-and-other-tips-from-a-luxury-travel-expert-41454551.html Dubai on a budget – affordable Burj Al Arab tours and more tips from a luxury travel expert