If there’s one word that has typified Dubai’s appeal since it first arrived, flashing its platinum card, onto the international scene, it’s luxury. And nowhere is this more prevalent than its hotels. While many of the city’s developments may strive for claims to be the world’s tallest or biggest, inside the hotels, the main aim is to offer guests the most wildly lavish and comfortable time imaginable. And if that’s what you’re after, Dubai sometimes can’t be beaten. Simply put, the place is littered with five-star options, from international chains to more exclusive designer choices, by the beach, up an enormous tower, on a palm-shaped manmade island or sometimes even out among the camels in the desert. And, as the cranes might suggest, it’s a city that is continuing to grow, with more hotels arriving almost on a weekly basis.
Sometimes, even global rankings aren’t enough for Dubai. The city’s most famous landmark, the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab off the coast, decided to hand itself an extra two awards, making it the world’s only 7-star hotel.
As you might imagine, Dubai has never really featured in the itineraries of budget travelers. That said, while prices aren’t particularly cheap, it is often relatively easy to pick up a decent price for what you’re getting, with many airlines offering deals and hotels eager to keep occupancy rates higher during the off-peak seasons (June-September). Also, with tourism suffering during the height of the economic downturn, there were reports that the city was looking to repositioning itself away from that of luxury destination, towards something more affordable. Many hotels began reducing their prices and throwing in tempting extras, such as food vouchers or free access to some of Dubai's attractions.
Things to consider before booking
Depending on what you want to get out of Dubai, this is a important factor to take into account. The city isn’t huge, so getting around (by taxi, mainly) isn’t particularly time-consuming or expensive, but if you’ve come for a beach holiday you should only really consider the coastal options around the popular district of Jumeirah or towards the Dubai Marina. Most of these are facing out towards the Gulf and come with their own immaculately-kept beach.
Many of the city’s cheaper hotels are situated in Deira. While this may be close to airport and certainly has its own charm, it’s some distance from the main tourist hotspots and often features some monumental traffic jams. As such, if you’re only visiting for a few days and want to take in the usual Dubai experience, it’s probably best avoided.
There are also some great hotels in the new(ish) Downtown Burj Khalifa area, situated around the Burj Khalifa (aka, the world’s tallest tower). It’s not near the beach (although it’s only a 20 minute taxi ride away), but is perfectly located for the vast Dubai Mall, a wide array of excellent eating options and, of course, one awe-inspiring structure.
Times of the year
Many of the hotels reduce their rates during the summer months, usually from July to the start of September. However, while the deals on offer might be great, it's important to note that the temperature can be pretty unfriendly during this time. It often touches on 50 degrees celsius and the humidity is very intense. Staying outside for long periods of time isn't really an option (just a few minutes can leave you sweating like never before) and most people simply move from one air-conditioned unit to another if they're in town during this period. There's also the holy month of Ramadan to consider, which sees much of the city - especially restaurants and bars - closed or with limited services during daylight hours. This year (2010) Ramadan begins on August 11 and will run for 30 days until September 9, but it changes each year and is definitely worth finding out about.
Service and tipping
In many of the 5-star hotels, the service can be sometimes overwhelming, with hordes of smiling staff seemingly only there to open doors for you and wish you a good day. Indeed, after a while, the choruses of ‘Hello sir’, ‘Hello mam’ or sometimes even ‘Hello mamsir’ (if they’re not sure), can get slightly too much. But despite such excessive helpfulness, the tipping culture doesn’t match. While a few dirhams here and there would obviously be greeted warmly, it’s not the same as elsewhere in the world and you won’t receive a scowl if you choose not to.
There is a total of 20% extra for service tax and municipality fees, which is usually included on the final bill or upfront if you’re paying online.