Dubai never used to be value for money, but as hotel prices drop and the summer heat retreats, Dubai is desperate for visitors, making it the number one destination for winter – whatever your budget
THE ADDRESS DUBAI MALLAs the sweltering heat begins to recede at the end of September, you can almost hear Dubai breathe a sigh of relief. Dubai in the summer is a desert in every sense of the word. The beach cafés are empty, the shopping malls are vast, echoing structures and the roads are deserted. But as the blazing sun retreats, the people return and the emirate comes alive once more.
After the hiatus of the summer and the Holy Month of Ramadan, there is nowhere more thrilling, refreshing and exciting than Dubai. People everywhere are, quite literally, desperate to shake off the sand and make the most of the next six months of sun, sand and fun.
Below is a quick guide to making the most of Dubai while you’re out and about, including where to stay according to your budget and a happy hour bar crawl I made earlier.
Happy hour bar crawl
It is no secret that if you wish to wet your whistle in Dubai, you must take out a second mortgage. However, trial and error has taught me that you can do Dubai on the cheap with just a little bit of insider knowledge and military-like precision.
We begin at The Observatory at the Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites, Al Sufouh Road, Dubai Marina (www.marriott.com; +971 4 3194000). Based on the 52nd floor of this five-star hotel, it has panoramic views of Dubai Marina and the Palm Jumeirah. Happy hour runs from 17.00-19.00, with drinks ranging from US$5-US$8 (cheap for Dubai, where outside happy hour the drinks cost over $10) and, happily, selected food is also half-price, with a club sandwich costing just US$7. Dubai can be a very confusing place when you first arrive; on the ground, the air is filled with dust and lots of empty construction sites, but from above, Dubai begins to make a lot more sense. Here, at the Observatory, your idea of Dubai begins to take shape. You can see just how big the Palm Jumeirah really is (and how much of it still isn't finished on the fronds), the lovely marina that you never knew was there and sweeping views all along the Sheikh Zayed Road. Here, you can sip a mojito, munch on tapas and watch the sun set over the Arabian Gulf – the perfect way to start the evening.
Next up is The Underground bar at Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa, also in Dubai Marina (www.habtoorhotels.com; +971 4 408 4444). Here, selected drinks (beer, house wine and spirits) are 20 per cent off until 20.00 and it is the perfect place to go to if you’re feeling nostalgic over the Tube in London (I admit that’s not a likely scenario). It's also one of the better sports bars in Dubai – wherever you sit, you can always see at least three flat-screen tv's all showing the latest football from the Premiership, as well as the cricket – and there are two snooker tables.
At 20.00, we hail a taxi (the valet guys at Habtoor Grand are lovely and very helpful, usually hailing one down for you within a couple of seconds) and order the driver to take us to The Dusit Thani Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road (www.dubai.dusit.com; +971 4 343 3333). It's a 15-minute journey from The Underground but you'll still have plenty of time to enjoy the 50 per cent off selected beers, house wine and spirits at My Bar until 21.00. This is a lovely Thai hotel and bar, and it's a great place to chat and catch-up with friends before heading to Zinc (where everything gets a little fuzzy).
At 21.00 exactly, we head to Zinc, a nightclub at the bottom of the Crowne Plaza on Sheikh Zayed Road (www.dubaihotels.crowneplaza.com), where you can enjoy 2-for-1 on selected beverages until 23.00 hours.
This is where we usually finish for the night. I've tried to keep the bars as varied as possible, and they are my pick of the best, however, I've added a couple more below that might either be closer to your hotel or just better for you time-wise:
BarZar, Madinat Jumeirah, (www.jumeirah.com; +971 4 3668888):
Wind your way through the intricate alleys of the hotel's souk and head for BarZar where they have many drink deals happening on different nights, but on Thursday evening's they offer selected drinks for $5, between 5pm and 8pm.
Carter's (www.wafi.com; +971 4 324 4100):
Not easy to miss as it's inside a giant pyramid in Oud Metha, this Egyptology themed bar offers 40 per cent discount on selected drinks (beer, house wine and spirits) between 7.30pm and 8.30pm everyday of the week.
Double Decker, Murooj Rotana (www.rotana.com; +971 4 321 1111):
This happy hour actually goes on for many happy hours, between 12pm and 8pm (excluding the weekend, which is Friday and Saturday). A traditional English pub, here you can enjoy 20 per cent of all drinks!
Where to stay
Dubai used to be exclusively for the rich, but thanks to the credit crunch, a lot of budget hotels have begun to creep into the market. Below is a list of hotels according to price point.
Budget: Ibis Al Barsha
It’s worth noting that Dubai has a very high standard when it comes to hotels, so many of the Ibis hotel in Al Barsha, which is an up-and-coming area, is well situated for the malls, the beach and many of the local restaurants popping up in the area. You can get a room for US$94 a night, including breakfast.
Mid-range: Golden Tulip
For someone who wants that little something extra, such as an outdoor swimming pool, then you should head to the Golden Tulip, also situated in Al Barsha. Rooms are priced at US$120, including breakfast.
Mid-range to luxury: Media One Hotel, Dubai Media City
This hotel opened in October 2009, and it is so new that its website is still being updated (www.mediaonehotel.com; +971 4 4271000). However, at the moment and until the end of December 2009, you can really get more bang for your buck with opening discounted rates from $219 for two nights, including breakfast. Normal rates are between $163-$340 a night, which is still a good deal as it's situated in a great location (in the very trendy Dubai Media City), has a big pool with rooftop bar, and a great restaurant (I've already tried the food and it's very tasty and very reasonably priced for Dubai, with an average meal costing under $100).
Luxury: The Address Downtown Burj Dubai
Dubai is overrun with five-star hotels, but for true top-end indulgence, it has to be The Address Downtown Burj Dubai. Situated on Emaar Boulevard, the hotel isn’t to be confused with The Address Dubai Mall, which opened in October 2009 and is just five minutes down the road. With room rates priced between US$354-US$544 a night, true luxury doesn’t come cheap, but with a first-class view of the Burj Dubai (the tallest building in the world), it might, might, just be worth it.
Family: Atlantis, The Palm
This hard-to-miss, pink-hued resort can be found at the end of the Palm Jumeirah and is a great place for families, as it has everything you need all in one place, including a water park, shopping mall, restaurants, aquarium, dolphins, etc. For a family of four, room rates are priced between US$380 and US$525 a night, and it is sure to be something children will remember for a long time to come.