Dubai Hotels: Madinat Jumeirah

The Madinat Jumeirah is my favorite hotel in Dubai.  By hotel, I mean sprawling, massive resort complex. Madinat Jumeirah means "The City of Jumeirah" and you could never leave the hotel except to visit the must-see sights of Dubai (malls, Burj Khalifa, other hotels).  It's on two miles of beach, with a beautiful canal, and a modern shopping complex called Souk Madinat. There are two boutique properties within Madinat Jumeirah called Mina A'Salam and Al Qasr as well as courtyard summer houses called Dar Al Masyaf.  Al Qasr was my favorite area of the complex as it resembles a sheik's summer palace with striking marble and tile features, huge displays of fresh flowers, sparkling chandeliers and beautiful fountains.

LobbyBecause you can only drink alcohol on hotel properties in Dubai, Madinat Jumeirah is extremely popular for its restaurants within the hotel and at the souk.  There are 44 restaurants and bars.  Feel like spaghetti in the Middle East? Head to Toscana.  In the mood for French bistro dishes?  P is the place for you.  We hosted one of our Good People: Great Dinners at Al Hambra and it was truly magical as the night went on and the candles were lit as we enjoyed Spanish-Moroccon fusion tapas.

One of the Madinat's restaurants on the WaterFrom most points on property, there are views of the "seven-star" Burj Al Arab hotel, which is Dubai's Eiffel Tower and the landmark you see on TV. If you have dollars to spare, paying for this view from your room is worth it.  A view is always worth it to me.

Burj View from RoomThere are almost 900 rooms in the Madinat Jumeirah complex and they are decorated in mock-Arabian style.  The rooms have a "new car" smell, beautiful bathrooms and lots of space to unload your suitcases and settle in for your time in Dubai.

Bed in room

The Beach and the BurjI found a beautiful tunic at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, where there are 75 stores and stalls to browse in.  I found more I wanted here than at Dubai's old spice market and famous gold souk.  The clothing and jewelry selections here are unique and I'd recommend finding your souvenirs to take home from this area. The malls in Dubai are large but you'll walk by store after store that you can find in America (Pottery Barn & Banana Republic for example). Here, there is more authenticity.

A View of Souk MadinatPicking out tunics

 

The Pool

Madinat Jumeirah proudly calls itself a recreation of an Arabian fantasy and does that well.  Like most of Dubai except for the old souk, culture has had to be manufactured.  Knowing that and knowing that most Dubai hotels feel a bit Disney-esque will help when you arrive in the city.  And then just sit back and enjoy the spectacle that is Dubai and its hotels.  The Madinat Jumeirah is luxurious, fun, and a center of Dubai life.

 

The "new" Dubai skyline

Dubai Hotels: Bab Al Shams

 

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.

Bab Al Shams LobbyThe 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.

Masala Restaurant Outdoor SeatingThe 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.

Sunset Drinks at Al SarabMy 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.

More photos:

Pools at Bab Al Shams

Sneak Peek: Al Qasr at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai

If you visit Dubai, you have to go check out the spectacle that is the Madinat Jumeirah.  The Madinat is actually two separate resorts and courtyard villas, with a giant modern souk (made to look authentic) in the middle with tons of restaurants and shops.

Here's a sneak peek at Al Qasr, a gorgeous mock-Arabian resort that is part of the Madinat.  I think it's worth it to pay more and get a view of the Burj Al Arab, which has become the symbol of Dubai and is an uber-luxury hotel also operated by Jumeirah.  If you see Dubai in the news, you see the Burj Al Arab.