Time travel in Dubai

From a buzzing city bursting with futuristic technology to evenings spent stargazing in the desert, April Waterston discovers what Dubai has to offer...

It’s the year 2071. I have just boarded a spaceship at Dubai’s Museum of the Future and been transported to a new era where many of 2022’s environmental concerns have been answered. 

Trees are biologically engineered to withstand extreme heat, energy is accrued from solar panels lining the moon and laser-beamed back down to earth, and children have their very own virtual pet to meet their emotional needs. Hundreds of sadly extinct species are documented in luminescent jars and the technology we once dreamt of is now a reality.

Museum of the Future

The next day I do the exact opposite: I head back to a simpler time, with evenings spent laid back on Arabic jalsa seats set upon sprawling ornate rugs in a Bedouin camp deep in the Arabian Desert. I am told to keep my shoes on, in case scorpions or other poisonous creatures are buried in the sand – not a warning I need to hear twice. 

I worry for my eyebrows as an expert fire dancer hurls flaming batons above my head, and find myself mesmerised as a traditional skirt dancer spins both himself and plates around with an admirable amount of balance and coordination.

We end the night with all the lights turned off, gazing up at the clear night’s sky. The bright lights of the city feel much farther away than a 45-minute drive.

dubai camels
Camels are treated with respect throughout the UAE

Wide appeal

The stark juxtaposition of the new and the old is just part of Dubai’s charm. 

To say there is something for everyone is no exaggeration: beaches laid with Maldivian sand, futuristic museums, impressive skyscrapers, fine dining, theme parks and adventure – there’s even an indoor ski resort in the Mall of the Emirates that seldom feels warmer than two degrees celsius.

Yes, it is artificial but for clients looking to escape reality this perfectly-architectured city fits the bill. 

“What makes Dubai unique is the versatility it offers,” says Jameela Ahli, Head of Region for the UK, Ireland, and Italy within the International Operations department at Dubai Tourism. “It is a destination that has something for every type of traveller and budget.” 

Dubai’s towering skyline

Year-round city

The UK remains a key market for Dubai – between January and August 2022 the UK was its third largest source market, with over 823,000 Brits taking travelling to the city. And there’s no bad time to go – Dubai is a year-round city with pleasant weather almost guaranteed, although July and August can be uncomfortably hot for some, with the average day temperature hitting over 40C. 

“There’s an abundance of exciting experiences,” says Ahli, “from At the Top, Burj Khalifa, which gives a bird’s eye view of the city, or for the more daring Edge Walk at Sky Views Observatory through to relaxing at the beach or getting a spa treatment. Alternatively a trip to the desert to watch the sunset is a must-do experience.” 

And with year-round sun, every day is a beach day in Dubai. There’s a range of beach resorts to choose from, including JA Resorts, Atlantis, the Palm with Aquaventure for families, Caesars Palace Bluewaters Dubai for couples.

The desert offers a stark juxtaposition to buzzing city life

Trade support

One of Dubai Tourism’s key objectives is to increase visitation through trade partners by ensuring agents have all of the necessary tools available to help sell the destination. 

“In 2023 we will have a number of incentive programmes in place for both summer bookings and also extended stay stopovers,” explains Ahli. “We’ll also be back with our annual summer training roadshow, and we’ll be hosting agent fams throughout the year.”

The Palm Jumeirah

Top experiences

Step into the future: Dubai’s Museum of the Future has been open for less than a year but it has quickly cemented itself as one of the city’s top attractions. The building – a stainless steel circular structure with Arabic calligraphy engraved on all surfaces – is something of an architectural marvel, and at 77 metres tall is a huge step away from the towering skyscrapers Dubai is known for. Visitors of all ages will enjoy the interactive and informative exhibits alluding to what life will be like in 2071. Tickets sell out quickly, so book in advance. museumofthefuture.ae

Desert adventures: With its perfectly-manicured, lush green lawns and extensive infrastructure, at times it’s hard to imagine the land Dubai sits upon was once a vast desert. However, just a short drive out of the city is the gateway to the Arabian Desert, where the nature and wildlife remain as they would have been centuries ago. For clients wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, an evening safari with Arabian Adventures is sure to transport them back in time. 

Featuring hotel pick-up and drop-off and transfers to and from the desert, clients can expect an evening of adrenaline-filled dune smashing and sandboarding followed by a relaxing BBQ dinner in a modern Bedouin-style camp with a fire and dance show. They’ll also have the chance to receive a henna tattoo, and see some of Dubai’s camels up close. Prices for an evening safari start from £125pp, with part of the fee going towards local conservation. arabian-adventures.com

Arabian Adventures employs only expert dune drivers

A day at the parks: For families and kids-at-heart, a trip to Dubai Parks and Resorts will not disappoint. Home to the Motiongate and Bollywood parks, attractions range from movie-themed rollercoasters to a new green-screen experience at Bollywood Film Studios.

For little ones aged two-12, LEGOLAND® Dubai Theme Park and Water Park features rollercoasters, car racing, water slides and a lazy river. Guests can also stay in the LEGO-themed hotel. The brightly-coloured hotel opened in early 2022 and features family-favourite characters and LEGO or Duplo bricks to play with in each of its 250 rooms. dubaiparksandresorts.com

What’s new

The NH Dubai The Palm will open in late 2022, offering unmatched views of the Arabian sea, Marina skyline as well as Dubai’s famed Burj Al Arab. This new hotel spans 14 storeys, offering 227 hotel guest rooms and suites as well as multiple restaurants, a spa, a kids’ club and four meeting rooms. seventides.com/nh-dubai-the-palm

Opening imminently is Terra Solis by Tomorrowland, situated in the heart of the Dubai desert. Offering luxury glamping experiences, rustic dining and an expansive pool, Terra Solis is looking to attract international DJs and artists. The sprawling desert chic oasis is set over 371,000 square metres with guests able to choose between three accommodation options named after stars, meteor showers and constellations. terrasolisdubai.com

Golden Sands Hotels and Apartments is taking its visitor experience to the next level with improved technology and automated processes. It offers family-size hotel apartments. goldensandsdubai.com

A Black Friday offer from November 18-December 2 means every adult day ticket booked for the Bollywood and Motiongate parks will get a free child’s ticket, for entry up to 90 days after purchase. dubaiparksandresorts.com

Where to book it

JTA Travel 

A four-night stay at the LEGOLAND® Hotel costs from £829pp. Price is based on two adults and two children under 11 sharing on a B&B basis and includes access to LEGOLAND® Water Park and LEGOLAND® Dubai theme park and return flights from London Heathrow with Royal Brunei.  Price based on April 2 2023 departure. jtatravel.co.uk