If you're going to Dubai, I highly recommend one night at Bab Al Shams, an hour outside of the city. Many of Dubai's hotels are over-the-top but Bab Al Shams captures the Arabian desert fantasy that I wanted. The resort blends in with the desert, but pops of color come out in the fabrics, palm trees, blue pools and refreshing cocktails. I had afternoon tea, sunset drinks at one of the coolest rooftop bars I've ever been to, and rode a camel with nothing around me.
The lobby has lots of little nooks and plush pillows to relax in. In fact, I took a long nap there while waiting to meet the general manager. Colorful rugs cover the floor. This is where afternoon tea is served and you can look at the big camel statues and wonder where they found some of the decor. In the heat of the day, hanging out in the lobby is really nice, or you can book a spa treatment and use the health club.
The food is excellent at Bab Al Shams, with Al Hadheerah being the most fun. If you're not staying, you should still book dinner at this desert restaurant with live music, belly dancers & camels-all surrounded by decor made to look like an ancient Dubai souk. You're served delicious Arabian cuisine from a huge buffet, with wood-fired ovens and grills. The dinner runs about $100 per person (kids can go for half that, with those under 4 eating free) and lasts from 7:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. I also loved Masala, their Indian restaurant. I got to watch them prepare part of a meal and wish I could have bottled the smell of the spices to take home.
My favorite part of the resort was Al Sarab, the 2-story rooftop lounge with colorful pillows, flickering lights, palm trees, water fountains and expansive views of the desert. It's one of the more memorable sunsets I've seen, with everyone sipping one of the UAE's famous fruit juices and listening to live music.
I felt the true magic of Bab al Shams at dusk. With the luminarias lighting the way, you can find a firepit to sit down, hop in the pool to enjoy the place lighting up or simply wander the many winding paths through the sand-colored buildings.
Rooms feel authentic without being Disney-ish, have complimentary Internet, great beds and either garden or desert views. I think the design has echoes of Santa Fe, and suites almost feel like Southwestern adobes. Suites have even more nooks, hideaways and places to relax.
You cannot miss booking a camel ride, which runs about $100 and lasts an hour. The resort will take you out to the corrals (a five-minute drive) and depending on how adventurous you are, the guide can speed the camels up to almost a run or slow them down. This was a highlight of my entire UAE experience.
Cabs are cheap & plentiful in Dubai so you'll only pay about $25 each way to and from downtown (yes, for an hour ride!). Bab Al Shams takes you out of the Dubai glitz and into a laidback but genuine desert hotel experience.