Billed by many as a “7-star hotel” or “The world’s most luxurios hotel” by Jumeirah Group, Burj Al Arab (The Tower of the Arabs) is an experience you have to try at least once in a lifetime. At the end of July we’ve checked-in at this iconic property to check-out what makes it so special.
“Collect moments, not things” they say. Moments of pure bliss which you will long remember – if not forever – after you’ve checked-out. Unforgettable moments spent with the person you love, moments that make you wish there was a way to freeze-frame time. Beyond the comfort, the amenities, the service, the glitz & glamour or the breathtaking views, each time we are reviewing a hotel / resort we’re also considering this: can it make a lasting impression? Can it give you enough reasons to rave about it, recommend it to all your friends and business partners? Can it make you dream about returning there sooner rather than later and experience it again?
From depths to stars
Take, for example, a romantic dinner for two in Al Mahara, Burj Al Arab’s signature seafood restaurant. Checked! Recognised as one of the finest dining venues in the world, Al Mahara (Oyster Shell) is accessed by a gold-plated elevator located in the upper lobby. Exit the elevator and you will be greeted by a golden entrance revealing a stunning floor-to-ceiling aquarium, The Oval, around which all of the dining tables are arranged. The huge jaw-dropping aquarium is home to many species of fish and marine life, from reef sharks to George, the Napolen-fish (humphead wrasse, for connoisseurs). With such surroundings, it’s easy to “take a dive” and get lost in the eyes of the person you love. We only had to sink into the soft seats at a table right by the aquarium and choose from the mouth-watering seafood delicacies. Add a fine selection of wines and the team of award-winning chefs – we’ve also experienced live cooking – and you get a memorable evening in one of the finest restaurants we’ve sampled so far. Haute cuisine at its best.
Or, if you fancy seeing The World and The Palm from above, you can head to Al Muntaha (“The Ultimate” or “The Highest”) restaurant and Skyview Bar, suspended 200 metres above the sea level. Two express panoramic elevators – travelling six meters per second – whisk you to the hotel’s 27th floor, where breathtaking views over the Arabian Gulf are part of the menu. We’ve experienced Al Muntaha in one of our previous visits at Burj Al Arab and we highly recommend it for afternoon tea or pre- and post – dinner drinks. It is the only place in Dubai to offer Mixology, the unique concept of creating personalized cocktails to suit guests’ tastes and mood. Together with their cocktail, guests also receive a card with the unique formulae of their personal drink. While Al Mahara and Al Muntaha are just two examples of the fine culinary experience awaiting guests at Burj Al Arab, you can check here the other dining venues. In total, nine world-class restaurants and bars.
Arriving at Burj Al Arab
Since we’re speaking about the hotel that put Dubai on the map, the arrival experience had to be special. For some, being transferred to / from Burj Al Arab in the latest generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class or GL-Class doesn’t quite cut it. How about arriving at this iconic hotel in a white Rolls-Royce Phantom? Automotive enthusiasts already know that Burj Al Arab has one of the world’s largest chauffeur-driven fleets of Rolls-Royces. Can the arrival experience go higher than this? All you have to do is ask. Guests can also arrive (depart) by a dedicated helicopter transfer service. They will experience a 15-minute birds-eye-view of the city, culminating in a dramatic landing on the hotel’s helipad on the 28th level. Yes, the same helipad where Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played tennis, where Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy performed some golf shots, where a Vanquish supercar was airlifted to mark Aston Martin’s centenary and the helipad where David Coulthard did some burnouts in a Formula 1 racecar. Surely this won’t be the end of such one-of-a-kind events organized here as Burj Al Arab turns 15 this December. Therefore, expect other PR helipad stunts to go viral on YouTube.
Smooth, seamless check-in
Touring Burj Al Arab during press visits – like we did many times – or discovering some areas of the hotel when holding a reservation in one of its restaurants / bars and actually checking-in for a stay are two different things. Our flight landed in Dubai at 8 PM, so we arrived at the hotel a little over one hour later. As the car waved through traffic on Jumeirah Road and inched closer to the security gate, the hotel’s impressive sail – lit in white when we arrived – caught my attention. Although we’ve photographed it many times and watched every documentary aired on this iconic property, the hotel still seemed magical, holding some secrets waiting to be discovered. “Welcome to Burj Al Arab, Mr. Stefan!” said the security officer before allowing the car to cross the slender, gently curving causeway connecting the mainland to the man-made island, 280 metres offshore.
At the hotel’s entrance we were greeted by Claudia, a member of the staff who smiled and asked how the flight was before accompanying us in the lobby. There, a short traditional welcome ceremony followed, with dates and Arabic coffee. If you’re expecting the usual check-in procedure at Burj Al Arab, think again. After all, it wouldn’t be too pleasant for the hotel’s distinguished guests to queue in the main lobby, would it? That’s why Burj Al Arab offers in-suite check-in and check-out. After the welcoming ceremony, Claudia accompanied us to our suite (2202), located on 22nd floor – the hotel has 202 duplex suites spread on 25 floors. Upon exiting the high-speed, ear-popping elevators – some of the fastest in the world – we’ve arrived at the reception desk found on every floor. Here we met the butlers in attendance 24 hours a day, ready to address every request guests might have. Not a bad feeling!
Once the check-in formalities were smoothly completed, our private butler showed us around the suite and did a walkthrough of the state-of-the-art technologies available, a remote controlled environment including curtains, TV, in-suite music and lights. More than just fulfilling our requests, there were several occasions during the stay when Burj Al Arab’s staff anticipated our needs before we voiced them, which felt rewarding. Speaking about this, we can’t go further without mentioning the three Hallmarks, rules at the core of Jumeirah’s service philosophy which every employee follows in his / her daily duties: I will always smile and greet our guests before they greet me; My first response to a guest request will never be no; I will treat all colleagues with respect and integrity. Another interesting fact: there are over 1,600 colleagues from 75 countries working in Burj Al Arab, which makes the staff-to-suite ratio 8:1. It is one of the highest in the world, ensuring a personalized service and luxury pampering for all guests.
Deluxe One-Bedroom Suite
Suite 2202, 22nd floor and breathtaking views of Palm Jumeirah. This was our 170-square meter home for a few days. With rich colors and extensive use of gold – found in other areas of the hotel, as expected – the suite’s interior won’t please everyone’s tastes. If you don’t understand Middle Eastern culture, then Burj Al Arab will seem kitsch. If you know a thing or two about their way of living and their expectations, then you’ll feel right at home. Your own 24-hour butler, ready to accomplish every request, should also help, or the 24-carat gold iPad (US $8,100) which guests are allowed to use during their stay. A side note: these gold iPads can be purchased from the hotel’s shop alongside iPad Mini, iPhone 5 and BlackBerry Q10. Gold-plated, obviously. We also wanted to purchase two iPads, but they were sold out. Well… better luck next time!
The goodies list continues with a set of 14 his and hers (Kelly Caleche) full-size Hermes amenities, including Eau de Parfum and Eau de Cologne, and a master bathroom complete with full-size Jacuzzi and separate five-head rain shower. A selection of 17 types of pillows, exquisite Egyptian bedding and an ultra-deluxe super king bed should provide the ultimate sleep experience. Last, but not least, hi-tech aficionados will smile upon playing with a 21-inch iMac, 42-inch and 28-inch widescreen interactive HD LED TVs, a Bose iPod/iPhone docking station and media hub or the private all-in-one printer, copier, scanner and fax.
The height of luxury: two Royal Suites
Although this wasn’t our first press tour of Burj Al Arab, it was the first time when we’ve accessed one of the two amazing Royal Suites occupying the entire 25th floor (thank you, Kim!). Palatial in every sense, each of the two 780 square meter Royal Suites has been designed with an opulent color scheme, sumptuous furnishings and exclusive amenities, including a private lift and cinema – bring on the popcorn! As only the best will do for Royal guests, both floors feature natural light and breathtaking, uninterrupted views over the Arabian Gulf. You can’t quite describe how vast this suite feels until you experience it first-hand. Besides the amenities from “our” Deluxe One-Bedroom Suite, each of the Royal Suites boasts a private dining area for 12, two personalized bars (upstairs and downstairs), two King Size beds – one of them, revolving – and two large dressing rooms. Also factor in the world’s largest brigade of butlers (available 24 hours), daily breakfast buffet for four in Junsui, Bab Al Yam or in the privacy of the suite, as well as separate staff entrance with private butler’s kitchen, an exquisite majlis style lounge plus a library and you get a picture of how it feels to live like Royalty.
In focus: the youngest guests
If you thought kids don’t quite fit in the Burj Al Arab picture, think again. Whether it’s splashing around, face painting, playing sports, watching movies or doing crafts, the youngest guests will have the time of their lives at Sinbad’s Kids Club, located on the 18th floor. You can also use the 1,178 square meters Sinbad’s Kids Club (both indoors and outdoors) at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Burj Al Arab’s sister property shaped like a wave. Older kids can choose from a range of alternatives tailored to them and all activities taking place within the Club are supervised by a trained, professional team. In-suite babysitting services are also available upon request.
Then there’s Wild Wadi Waterpark, where the young and young at heart can splash all day long. Situated in front of the Burj Al Arab and themed around the tale of Juha, a known character from the Arabian folklore, Wild Wadi offers 30 rides and attractions for the entire family. Kids will also love the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project, currently the only project of its kind in the Middle East and the Red Sea region. Based at Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah, the project has been running in its current form since 2004. So far, it has seen the release of over 560 rescued sea turtles back into Dubai’s waters. In 2011 alone over 350 sick or injured sea turtles have been treated by the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project after being washed up on the region’s beaches.
Seven years at Burj Al Arab
It seems some people love this iconic hotel more than others. Way more. During our stay at the end of July we’ve found out that, apart from regular guests, there are also residents who spend longer periods here. Nothing unusual so far. However, it will take some time and financial resources to beat the “record” of one particular guest who spent seven years at Burj Al Arab. Yes, seven. Much as we’ve tried, we couldn’t find more details on him like age, nationality or field of activity. But we can tell you, randomly ordered, which are the top 5 nations when it comes to guests’ spending: United Arab Emirates, Russia, China, United Kingdom and the United States. Remember the sold out 24k gold iPads?
Our feelings upon check-out
Regardless if you fancy the interiors or not, if you like the hotel’s daring architecture or it doesn’t move you at all, staying at Burj Al Arab is an iconic experience. The story behind the hotel, the engineering feats that had to be achieved to meet the Sheikh’s requests and vision, the staff-to-suite ratio, the signature restaurants, breathtaking views and impeccable service – all create a story worth living. And retelling. Another highlight of our stay was taking a stroll on Burj Al Arab’s private beach at sunset, photographing the hotel while enjoying blissful moments with that person close to our heart. No matter how many luxury hotels you’ve experienced so far, no matter how many destinations you’ve crossed off your bucket list, in the end it all comes down to this: you’ll always remember those properties which made your heart beat faster. Which felt more than just “another hotel”, adding the “wow factor” to those unforgettable seconds, hours and days spent with the person you love. From this point of view, Burj Al Arab delivers. In spades.
AT A GLANCE
Burj Al Arab rises out of its own man-made island 280 meters from the Jumeirah coast, 15 km south of the city and 25 km from Dubai International Airport. In 1993, architect Tom Wright of WS Atkins took on the challenge of creating this groundbreaking superstructure. Construction began in 1994 and involved 3000 companies and contractors; 250 designers from the UK, USA and Dubai; and 3500 workmen on site at any given time. It took two years to reclaim the island in the shore waters of the Arabian Gulf, and a further three years to erect the landmark. Burj Al Arab’s doors officially opened on 1st December 1999.
At 321 meters above sea level, Burj Al Arab is the tallest all-suite hotel in the world. It is one of the tallest buildings in the world and the tallest single structure on a man-made island, taller than the Eiffel Tower and 60 meters shorter than the Empire State Building.
Designed in the shape of a billowing Arabian dhow sail, Burj Al Arab represents a tribute to the nation’s seafaring heritage. Burj Al Arab continues the nautical theme established by its sister hotel, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, and the neighbouring Wild Wadi waterpark.
The sail was a considerable technical challenge, featuring a double-skinned, Teflon-coated woven glass fibre screen across its ribbed belly. It is the first time such technology has been used vertically in such form and extent in any building worldwide.
Located 212 meters above the sea level, the helipad provides an opportunity to arrive or depart from Burj Al Arab by helicopter and admire the city from a different perspective.
An incredible 70,000 cubic meters of concrete and more than 9,000 tons of steel were employed in the construction of the tower. The hotel weighs 250,000 tons.
Burj Al Arab stands on a man-made island 280 meters offshore, connected to the mainland by a slender, gently curving causeway. The building is supported by 250 columns that go 45 meters under the sea and is held in place by the friction of the sand.
The Ellipse fountain
20,000 litres of water, combined with bursts of fire, are orchestrated into a unique and dramatic visual symphony at the entrance of the hotel. This taming of the elements has never been achieved anywhere else in the world and was developed by Wet Design.
Each of the four towers located in front of the hotel propels fireballs into the air, created by releasing a controlled amount of non-toxic propane gas. The result is a spectacular optical illusion, with the flames reflecting in the hotel’s glass exterior.
Khuan Chew of KCA International drew the inspiration for the interiors from the land, its people and culture. A robust and vibrant color palette was derived from the elements; earth, air, fire, water. The layout incorporated ancient and revered traditions of hospitality, particular to Arabic nations.
Situated between the escalators leading to Sahn Eddar, this waterfall combines finely atomized water with fibre optics to produce a unique kaleidoscope effect. As water and fog flow downward through its glass, stone-filled steps, water arches elegantly in choreographed movement.
There are three aquariums in Burj Al Arab, two situated on each side of the main hotel lobby and the circular tank in Al Mahara restaurant, with approximately 50 species of fish kept in the tanks.
The world’s tallest atrium is over 180 meters in height. It is abundant in warm, natural light, flanked by golden columns, with a beautiful central fountain where water arches dance in sudden bursts over 42 meters into the air.
There are over 28,000 light fixtures in Burj Al Arab.
The finest and most exclusive materials were sourced for finishing the interiors of Burj Al Arab. Amongst the fine items brought in to create the magical interiors were custom-made carpets and rugs from South Africa and India; marble from Brazil and Italy; wooden doors from Dubai and chandeliers from the UK.
The rarest Statutario marble was used in walls and flooring. This is the same marble that was used by Michelangelo when creating his masterpiece sculptures. Over 30 different types were used throughout the entire hotel, covering nearly 24,000 square meters: 10,000 square meters of marble flooring in suites and lift lobbies and 13,000 square meters in public areas.
Approximately 1,790 square meters of 24-carat gold leaf was used to embellish the interior.
43,446 square meters was used to embellish the interior.
Burj Al Arab is an all-suite hotel with 202 luxury duplexes which range from 170 square meters to 780 square meters.
142 One Bedroom Deluxe Suites
28 Two Bedroom Deluxe Suites
18 Panoramic Suites
4 Club Suites
6 Diplomatic Suites
2 Presidential Suites
2 Royal Suites