December in Dubai – Suzy’s Site Inspection 2006

My passion for travel is still a fire deep in my soul that occasionally must be stirred. I’ve always been drawn to Arabia and set out now on my own desert fantasy. My mom seems to think my life is one big vacation by leading groups around the world. In reality it’s been years since I had my own getaway. I can’t remember the last time I saw something for the first time. Already I miss my husband, but need this escape to recharge my over stressed batteries. It’s a deep need to forget myself, to play and to be astonished. No better place than 21st century Dubai which was like landing on another planet. Morning Desert Safari Dubai

It’s my first flight on award winning Emirates Airlines with the world’s fastest growing fleet that now fly’s 55 countries. Very impressive with in-seat massage system, sandwiches on demand from the galley and twinkling star’s that sparkle on the ceiling when the lights are dimmed. EK won the Best Inflight Entertainment Award. I can choose from 600 movies, 6000 audio tracks and books, 40 games, check email and view the new “Pilots Camera” where take off’s and landings are seen from a camera mounted below the aircraft nose. Coach class can’t get any better than this!

There are 7 emirates on the Arabian Gulf that are sandwiched between Iran, Qatar, Saudi rand Oman. What’s an emirate? A kingdom ruled by a Sheik. Dubai became a Sheikdom in 1833, but nomadic tribes had settled here 3,000 years ago. They survived off the sea in this arid land. Once upon a time, this rich but obscured kingdom decided to become the world’s premier tourist destination. It expanded at an alarming rate by adding 500 miles of new waterfront with countless man made islands. Now it is called the “Las Vegas of the Middle East” with its sun, sand, sea, snow and sex. It’s also referred to as the “St. Tropez of the Gulf” or “Monaco of the Desert” because it’s so ultra-chic.

Here tolerance and hospitality are highly prized virtues. Dubai is a pocket of freedom in Arabia, like Hong Kong is to China. And a bit of a dichotomy with its Islamic culture in an environment of Western affluence, a total fusion of East meets West. I nevertheless packed modestly for this trip with my “covered elbow to knee” rule. Still at night, there are a plethora of clubs where anything goes. Dubai’s population is 1.3 million. Only 12% are nationals who can own property here. All others are foreigners. I witnessed zero poverty and was told that Sheik Al Maktoun is good to all with free social services. It’s clean and truly crime free along with year round sunshine.

I do have an agenda on my “vacation.” I flew with my Uganda group as far as Dubai. They continued on from here to Entebbe for gorilla trekking. I’ve also arranged site inspections with suppliers through the Ministery of Tourism. On airport arrival, I was greeted with my name sign by a chauffer. He transferred me to the deluxe Grand Hyatt, an oasis of tranquility. There was an ice skating rink to the right of the lobby. All rooms are Gulf view. Mine overlooked “The Palms”, a spectacular wonder of fanned out artificial islands that are filled with priceless residences. This is near “The World” with its 300 manmade islands where one may purchase a “country.” Plans or no plans, my favored mode of travel is to let the wind blow me where it may.

My private city tour revealed a shimmering futuristic skyline. There are unprecedented developments here with extravagant creations that make Vegas dull in comparison. It seems every crane in the world is here now. Some hotels are simply indescribable. Grand boulevards are lined with palm trees. The new city Bur Dubai has the most prestigious mile on earth now. In contrast, there is old Deira area with historic architecture in ancient wind-towers, forts, royal palaces and a mosque on every corner.

My dream has been to visit the Burj Al Arab, inarguably the most amazing hotel structure on earth. This masterpiece is shaped like an enormous billowing sail and set on its own island. It rates “7 stars” with a staff to guest ratio of 5 to 1. Room rates start from $950 per night and they are booked full through 2007. Tourists are no longer allowed to visit with the $50 entrance fee. The only chance to enter is by lunch ($160), high tea ($85) or dinner (if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.) I decided to break my budget for any option but my concierge was unable to procure me a reservation on any given day. Mind you I’m only here for 97 hours! So I headed to Jumerirah Beach instead to use my time well.

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