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The adrenaline-junkie’s guide to Dubai

From swimming with sharks to sandboarding in the desert and shopping in the world’s biggest -and busiest – mall, a visit to Dubai is a dazzling Arabian adventure.

By Karen Pasquali Jones 

Home to ‘the best’, ‘the biggest’ and ‘the blingiest’, Dubai could have become the Capital of Superlatives rather than the City of Gold. Known locally as the sandpit, this former fishing village rose from the desert to become the world’s most visited destination in just over 50 years.

Dubai is quite simply unlike anywhere else on the planet. Its synonymous with luxury that’s on the same scale as its skyline, glamour and glitz galore and year-round sunshine. Currently hosting the Dubai Expo, which was delayed because of the pandemic, and home to the tallest building on earth, the globe’s only seven star hotel, the biggest shopping mall and the largest dancing fountain which shoots water 105 metres into the air (that’s taller than the Statue of Liberty), this is a city that should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list.

Whether you want a relaxing week on a golden beach, where you can dine at a different Michelin-star restaurant every night and shop at the world’s largest designer shopping mall, to explore on a stop-over or get your fix of adrenalin on a thrill-seeking adventure, Dubai has it all.

First stop, head for lunch at At.mosphere. This is a restaurant with a view as it’s on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It’s where Tom Cruise literally hung out while filming Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in the city.

See Dubai splayed out below – you can count the roof-top pools, helipads and marvel at the man-made offshore islands, including The Palm, created out of dredged-up sand.

A three-second ear-popping elevator ride back down to the eighth floor takes you to the elegant Armani Hotel Dubai. The first hotel designed by Giorgio Armani overlooks the dancing Dubai Fountain where the music from the performances can be piped directly into the minimalist-chic rooms via iPod docks.

Dubai Opera is nearby, which hosts a Friday brunch at The Loft restaurant with bragging rights as it offers unlimited caviar from the biggest tin of roe you’ll ever see.

Next, hit the shops. The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest and is a UAE destination in its own right with a skating rink aquarium, underwater zoo and hotel on sight. Head down Fashion Avenue to see what’s on offer from Prada, Gucci, Dior and Bloomingdales. There are enough stores in the world’s most visited mall to keep you busy for days, so plan ahead.

A quick cab ride away is The Creek, where traders plied their wares including the world’s most expensive spice, saffron. Take a sedate wooden dhow ride across to the Gold Souq where diamonds the size of fists are on show.

Everything that glitters is here from the latest Rolex to the most detailed gold jewellery, and gems that attract Western bride and grooms-to-be as the price is so competitive and the craftmanship so high.

Want to see where the Dubai jet set go to relax in luxury? Then head to Burj Al Arab, the so-called ‘seven-star’ hotel. There’s a long waiting list and you can’t enter without a reservation, but it’s worth booking. Belly-dancers are on the menu at Al Iwan, the hotel’s Arabian buffet restaurant, while Al Mahara offers an ‘underwater’ experience where diners eat delicious seafood in a room with a wall-to-ceiling aquarium. Cakes and desserts come with real gold leaf, and nothing is too much trouble for the impeccable staff.

For luxury with a side of adrenalin-fuelled action why not go swimming with sharks at Atlantis the Palm? Get up close but not personal with White Tip Reef Sharks, along with the Zebra, Grey Reef, Bowmouth Guitar and Arabian Carpet sharks in the hotel’s Ambassador Lagoon and 66,000 other fish and sting rays. The 30-minute dive is Dhs 1,100 (£223) and is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

If that’s not enough excitement, head to Skydive Dubai where you can freefall over The Palm, or the desert, at 120 miles per hour strapped to a professional skydiver. Fast and Furious star Michelle Rodriguez, pop star Rita Ora have tried it, while actor Will Smith is a regular.

Back on terra firma, an Arabian Adventure in the desert guarantees thrills but hopefully not spills. Dune bashing – where the driver races over the rolling sand at full throttle – leaves most passengers screaming for more (or for mercy). Head out on a desert safari afterwards on a camel; enjoy a Bedouin three-course buffet, with a belly dancer and falconry. There’s even the chance to get a Henna tattoo and go sand boarding. Book a desert safari for early in the day or late afternoon, especially if it’s summer when the mercury regularly hits temperatures of  50 degrees and above.

The Details

MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean, P&O Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises and Tui Cruises all operate round-trip Dubai cruise itineraries for the Middle East cruise season which runs from November to March.

Dubai, Abu Dhabi & Qatar with MSC Cruises

Duration: 7 nights

Where: Abu Dhabi, UAE, Sir Bani Was Islands, UAE | Dubai, UAE | Al Fujayrah, UAE | Muscat, Oman | Abu Dhabi, UAE

Ship: MSC Opera

Price: From $299 pp

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Published 03.02.22