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Unread 29 Jan 08, 12:53 PM  
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Hal
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BA First to Dubai: A Few Days at Al Qasr Madinat Jumeirah

I know from my postings that many of you are looking at, or are booked on, trips to Dubai – I hope this helps you.

Background
For the first time since our eldest who is now 7 was born, DW and I were going to be away from the children. We are orphans with no family near us so we have not been able to have a break together away from the kids – ever, until now that is! Our new live out Nanny was willing to do overnight baby-sitting, so I started planning a short break. Because this was so long in coming I wanted it to be special. DW doesn’t like flying but wanted to see Dubai, so I booked two BA seats flying out on the Wednesday evening and back on the Saturday at noon. This worked for us as we would be away Wed, Thurs and Fri night but back on Sat. BA’s Dubai flights are on 777s which unlike the 747s have not been upgraded to the New Club World, so I thought splashing out on our first FIRST was justified.

After some research I booked us in to the Madinet Jumeirah resort, specifically the Al Qasr. The most famous hotel in Dubai is the Burj al Arab, which is the world’s only 7-star hotel. Rooms there cost ca. £1,200 a night but feedback on the hotel is mixed. The neighbouring hotels are owned by the same group – Jumeirah – and the ruler of Dubai (Sheikh Makhtoum for all you horse racing fans is a shareholder and board member apparently). These are the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, which was originally the top hotel in Dubai, and the Madinet Jumeirah resort which comprises of the Mina Salam hotel, the Al Qasr hotel, the Dar al Masayam Villas, and the Malaniyike Royal Villas.


The Madinet Jumeirah has a great reputation as a 5-star resort. The Mina al Salam is the least expensive; the Al Qasr is 10% more; and the Dar al Masayam Villas a further 10%. I think the Malaniyike Villas are in a different price league – the type where Madonna or Roman Abramovich would holiday. Space wise the rooms were 50m2, 55m2, and 60m2. The Al Qasr is more luxurious than the Mina al Salam. I wasn’t sure whether to book this or the villas but I preferred the idea of staying in the hotel so the Al Qasr it was. After taking advice from the internet I booked return airport transfers each way. I also prebooked the Ultimate Afternoon Tea at the Burj al Arab or the Thursday and the Sundowner Desert Safari for the Friday.

On with the report.
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Hal


Owner at Marriott Marbella Beach, Cypress Harbour, & Harbour Lake; and DVC OKW & BLT.


There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
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Unread 29 Jan 08, 12:53 PM  
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The Journey
Our flight out was at 9:40pm on the Wednesday night so the aim was to head off to Heathrow after work to commence our holidays. Access to the BA executive lounges at Heathrow T4 was an important part of the FIRST experience for me so I was keen to maximise that part of the trip – so consequently our departure time for the airport became earlier and earlier until at 3pm I was standing outside my wife’s offices clutching 2 suitcases and telling her on the mobile to pack up and go. We started our trip incongruously by catching the underground to the airport. With children I normally drive and park, or we go by taxi, so going by underground was something I hadn’t experienced with DW for over 7 years.

We arrived at 4:30pm or so, having had to change trains twice, once to get on to the Piccadilly Line which goes to Heathrow, and once because of the T5 building works our train was going to Ts 1, 2, 3 & 5 but not T4? Travelling First we had been able to preselect our seats and courtesy of seatexpert.com I had selected seats 2E & 2K which were said to be the best for couples travelling in First. I had already on-line checked in, but we headed for the separate First check-in area where there was no queue to drop off our bags. We headed through Fast Track security and on to BA’s Lounge Terraces near Gate 20. The Lounge Terraces are spread over three floors. As you enter (lets call it the Ground Floor) there is the Concorde Room which is exclusively for First Class passengers. Downstairs there is the First Class Lounge which is for First Class Passengers and Gold BA Exec Club card holders. Next to this is the Elemis Travel Spa which offers free 15-minute spa treatments subject to availability for passengers flying Club or First. On the First Floor is the normal Club Lounge. I had experienced the Club Lounge and (as a former Gold Card Holder) the First Lounge before, but this was my first time in the Concorde Room.

Despite my entreaties to visit the Spa first to book some treatments (subject to availability remember) DW just wanted to hit the lounge as she was hungry – neither of us had had lunch as we wanted to get off work early to get to the airport – so we went into the Concorde Room. It was a bit of an anti-climax as it was ultimately just another lounge albeit the furniture and lighting was discretely superior to the other lounges. There was a separate dining area which we would try later, a bar and a help yourself bar. There were menus on the tables from which you could order breakfast until 11am or light meals (soup, pasta, risotto etc) after 11am, and afternoon tea which was what caught DW’s eye. I went up to one of the stewards working away at the bar and order Afternoon Tea for two, and two glasses of champagne – one pink and one white ( these were Piper Heidsieck Rose and Lanson Noble Cuvee Blanc de Blancs). Neither was Krug or Dom Perignon but both were very nice. Whilst we waited for this I helped myself to diet cokes for DW and I. I then headed to the Spa to book our treatments. Elemis took over the Spa from Molton Brown last September or so. The treatment options were facials whilst sitting in an electronic massaging chair; or a shiatsu massage; or a facial. I booked option 1 for DW and I at the offered time of 7:20pm. I also asked about the steam showers which had been recommended but was told I didn’t need to book these. Returning to the Concorde Room it wasn’t long before the steward came with the afternoon tea and the champagne.

After some more champagne, we went for a wander down to the First Class Lounge. The Lounge Dragons there were lovely – telling us that we could go to the Concorde Room but we explained that we were just exploring. One warned us that it might be raining in Dubai as her daughter was there at the moment – and then went and spoilt it by recommending the Mall of the Emirates to DW. Amidst much laughter we entered the Lounge and had a nosey around. Unlike the Concorde Room where you are waited on, in the First Class Lounge you help yourself – so some more champagne was consumed. I have to say I prefer helping myself – strange that.

I also explored the spirits collection and noted that they had an 18 year old Glenlivet and the infamous Johnny Walker Blue Label (which retails at a numbing £149 a bottle I have just discovered writing this – damn, I should have drunk more of that, oops I did) so I had a little snifter of each. Soon we were off again as I took DW down to the Gate 1 lounge which is IMHO the nicest of the lounges in terms of actual lay-out. The Lounge Dragon logged us in and commented that we were visiting every lounge, so they do track this. I showed DW around and we then headed back to the Concorde Room, just pausing en route at Borders book store to buy a pocket guide to Dubai and a Terry Pratchet novel for me. Back in the Concorde Room I found the Johnny Walker Blue Label and had another snifter.

We relaxed and chatted away and soon it was time for our treatments, so we went down to the Spa. DW was called in for her treatment first and I soon followed. It was really relaxing and I found the massage chair great. All too soon it was over and I walked out to DW. She was a bit bashful and asked if I had heard her scream? Errr no? Apparently when the therapist put a warm flannel over DWs face she had her eyes closed and wasn’t expecting it and suddenly found she couldn’t breath because of the flannel so screamed in panic – apparently she terrified the poor therapist who thought she must have scalded her. DW didn’t like the massage chair either as it was too rough for her. Despite this catalogue of whinges she was now relaxed. She headed back to the Concorde Room whilst I was enquired about the steam shower and was told a room was ready for me, which surprised me as the earlier info was that I didn’t need to book. Anyway the shower room was very nice and the steam shower was really nice – akin to a Turkish Bath in your shower. I felt thoroughly clean and refreshed afterwards. If you have time for nothing else at the Spa I would recommend that you go for a Steam Shower.


Back in the Concorde Room they had started serving dinner in the restaurant area. Although we intended to dine on our flight, where the food is supposed to be better, you are recommended to try the lounge dining too - so we did. The only previous time we experienced BA Lounge Dining was at IAD (Washington DC) when we returned on one of the Sleeper Service’s last Easter. Then I regret to say the lounge dining was absolutely appalling, but in the Concorde Room it was great. The menu choice was...


After this we went and sat down and I noticed that our flight was Report to Gate or some such so we gathered our things and headed to the nearby gate, but when we got there it was clear that they were not ready to board. I enquired and was told it would be another 30-mins so we headed back to the Concorde Room and waited until the announcement to board which came in due course.

Now there are 3 specific service differentiations between flying First and flying Club. When flying First you are supposed to be walked to your seat; you are supposed to be addressed by name – ie. Mr Hal or Mrs Hal, rather than Sir or Madam; and the Customer Services Director (i.e. the chief flight attendant) is supposed to introduce himself to you, and have a chat. Needless to say having briefed DW on these points, none of them were observed.

The cabin layout in First is 4 angled individual seats on either side of the aircraft and 3 rows of 2 adjoining seats in the centre. We had the centre adjoining seats in the middle row. Our coats were hung up and we were offered champagne (more of the Lanson Noble Cuvee), orange juice or water, and macadamia nuts. Champagne for me naturally.


In First you are given pyjamas and slippers for the flight, so soon after take off DW and I (separately) changed into our First pyjamas in the loos and the FAs stored our clothes.



The flight menu was:...


I watched Evans Almighty which I chose from the selection of taped films available in First. I joined DW for dinner, sitting in her buddy seat, which was a nice experience.

We then slept, next stop Dubai.
__________________
Hal


Owner at Marriott Marbella Beach, Cypress Harbour, & Harbour Lake; and DVC OKW & BLT.


There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
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Unread 29 Jan 08, 12:54 PM  
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Hal
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Dubai
The flight time was 7 hours, and Dubai is 4 hours ahead of us, so at 4:30am our time, 8:30am Dubai time we landed. Prior to landing we had had a light breakfast – just yoghurt for me – and had changed back into our clothes.

Upon disembarking we set off on a long walk from our gate to Immigration, which involved going along walkways and down escalators etc. As we reached Immigration there was an area for people staying in Jumeirah properties and one of the persons there had my name amongst the 6 or so names on the board he was holding up. He invited us to sit in the waiting area behind him and after a couple of moments someone came forward to guide us through and out to our car. We followed him to the Immigration area where one of the staff opened a line especially us so bypassing the queues! You sadly don’t get this in the US! Next was baggage reclaim. Whilst DW kept an eye open for our luggage, I used a Standard Chartered ATM to withdraw £200 in local currency, and then exchanged this for smaller denomination notes at an exchange desk but they were still too large for tips, so I used US$s everywhere for tipping. Following on from a tip from the internet I then hit the Duty Free area for arriving passengers. Here people were loading up on beer, wine, spirits etc. as it is very expensive in Dubai. I bought 4 bottles of champagne – 2 white, and 2 rose. To give you an idea of the markup in the hotels, you could get Krug for £69 a bottle in the Duty Free, by comparison in our hotel it was £390 a bottle.

As our cases came around our escort appeared again loaded them on to a trolley and led us out into the arrivals area, through it to the cars outside and guided us to our transport to the hotel. I had expected a BMW or a Mercedes but we actually had a 7-seater SUV, a luxury Lincoln Navigator. I tipped the escort, and the driver loaded our cases. As we sat into the car he proferred us chilled face cloths which were very nice, followed by bottles of chilled mineral water. On the drive to the hotel he gave us a great commentary of the sights.

The Al Qasr was stunning. Instead of a traditional reception desk we were ushered into a side room to the lobby where we were sat at desks and had desk side check-in. At the Mina A' Salaam there is a traditional front desk, at Al Qasr it is desk check-in, for the villas and the Burj you are actually checked in in your suite – its just an example of the differentiation. Our room wasn't ready – it was still only 9:30am, we had only landed at 8:30am. We were escorted to a coffee lounge where we had complimentary tea and coffee and read the various booklets given to us and planned what we would do until our room was ready, and were still doing this 20-mins later when I had a call on my mobile informing me that our room was ready. We headed back to the check-in area and were then escorted to our room. I had requested a quiet room close to the pool and beach and that was what we got. The room itself was absolutely stunning – as you can see.




I had preordered a bouquet of roses through the concierge but they were not in our room, so I telephoned and requested/reminded them. Thereafter we unpacked and relaxed and explored. The pool is said to be the largest in the Middle East. There were plenty of free sunbeds and a very helpful pool boy showed us around and informed us that the pool was heated, and was in the most part shallow so perfect for families. Every 20 yards or so there were lifeguards.


Just beyond the pool was the beach, which was pristine and stunning.


In the distance I could see a copy of the Atlantis resort (from the Bahamas) being built on the Palms.

To get to the pool area we had to cross over one of the waterways which thread through the resort.


Small traditional ferry boats called Abras work these waterways as complimentary on-demand water taxis. We caught one to go over to Mina A' Salaam, the other on-site hotel, and the driver asked if we wanted to go the short way or the long way? We opted for the long and were treated to a great tour of the resort.

Eventually after swimming and relaxing we returned to our room to get changed to go for our afternoon tea at the Burj. Not only had the flowers been delivered but there was also two small boxes of stuffed dates, a local delicacy, but also a platter with 8 or so gorgeous chocolates (incl. strawberries dipped in white chocolate etc) and the most elaborate chocolate I have ever seen as a sculptured centrepiece, and a bottle of sparkling wine with a card congratulating us on our second honeymoon.




And two towels had been sculpted as swans kissing with rose petals laid out in a heart on the bed (read it and weep girls. Mr Romantic or what!).


To get to the Burj we took one of the golf buggies which also act as on-demand taxis within the resort. Security was tight - we had to show our reservation to gain access to the Burj. The Burj was stunning, but photos are not allowed beyond the lobby area.


We travelled up to the 27th floor from where we could see the man made islands which would be The World to the right, and the Palm to the left. Afternoon tea was 6 courses and included a glass of Moet champagne.

We then headed back to the Al Qasr, via the Souk (market). This was a labyrinth of attractive shops and stalls which lay between the Mina A’Salaam and the Al Qasr. We just window shopped and then caught an Abra back to the Al Qasr.

After changing back into more casual clothes we caught a taxi to the Emirates Mall. The first thing we saw there was the Ski Dubai ski centre which looked absolutely amazing.


The mall itself appeared to be just like a more polished version of any UK mall (think Blue Water or the Trafford Centre). Shops present included Harvey Nichols and Debenhams. There is also a large Carrefour supermarket there. After a little while wandering around we decided that the Souk back at the resort was actually better for the gifts we had in mind so we caught a taxi back and headed straight to the Souk, which was due to close in 30-mins, it being 10:30 in the evening by now. We browsed and bought a present for one of our DDs and resolved to shop there again the following day. The bars and restaurants around the Souk were really buzzing this is the night life spot of Dubai, but we were bushed and just headed back to our room.
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Hal


Owner at Marriott Marbella Beach, Cypress Harbour, & Harbour Lake; and DVC OKW & BLT.


There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
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Unread 29 Jan 08, 12:55 PM  
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Hal
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The next day we slept in until 10:30am so we missed breakfast in the main restaurant, the Arboretum, but it was served until mid-day in the pool side restaurant, so we made our way there. The breakfast was a superb international buffet and was excellent. After breakfast we changed and headed down to beach where we just lazed for a few hours reading books and swimming in the hotel pool. Service from the Beach boy was again excellent.


We were due to be picked up for our Sundowner Desert Safari at 3:15pm so we went and changed for this. Advice was to take warm clothes as the desert gets cold at night.

There were 6 of us plus the driver in our 7-seater so it is wise to book these things ahead if you want to do it.

We drove about an hour out to a Desert Reserve. During this drive we passed the site of Dubailand where the proposed Universal Studios is under construction. I think that Dubai will overtake Florida as a tourist destination – given that the largest Disneyland Paris Resort investor is a Saudi Prince, I think it will only be a matter of time before there’s a Disney theme park here too.

The Desert Safari was fun. There were about 20 4x4’s in the party, but our was the lead vehicle. We drove for a bit. Visited a Bedouin oasis and had our photos taken with camels, and hawks.



Then we drove into the desert to watch the sun set.



Then we went to a site where we were served a meal and there was belly dancing, shishas, henna painting etc. It was OK but I wouldn’t want to do it again. Soon we were heading back to the hotel which we reached at 9:30 or so. We headed straight back to the Souk and bought some more gifts and had another (deliberately) long ride on the Abras, then called it a night.

Back in the room we found that the towel sculptor had been busy again - opinion is divided over whether it is an elephant without a trunk or a dog with big ears, but it was really nice.


The following morning we got up and packed then had breakfast in the Aboretum restaurant – whilst this was great I preferred the poolside restaurant of the previous day, just for the surroundings.

Back to our room we got ready for the journey home and summoned a porter for our bags. Checkout was painless, and I was walked out to a waiting Mercedes where our bags had alreasdy been loaded in the boot for us. At the airport a porter carried our bags to the BA desk. The airport itself seemed empty. We went through security and windowshopped a little before making our way to the BA Lounge. This was a small lounge for First, Club and Exec Club members so was heaving and had a poor choice of drinks (no champagne only sparkling), so we didn’t dawdle long and instead went to the gate. At the Gate there was a long line caused by further security checks but eventually we passed through and made our way on to the plane.

The Return Flight
This time we were greeted by name and shown to our seats - still no dialogue with the CSD though. The Lanson Noble Cuvee was again served, followed by the usual hot towels and arabic coffee and dates. I changed into the First pyjamas again for the flight. The IFE on this aircraft was older than on the flight out – the TV screens were tiny little 5” or so efforts but DW settled down to watching Nanny Diaries. I opted for one of the DVDs (Spiderman 3, and after that Transformers) which was actually a DVD, and I was given a DVD player to watch it on which was a good alternative.

The return flight was an hour longer than the outward flight.

Lunch on the return flight was...



Afternoon Tea was served before we landed.


Back in the real world of Heathrow we had to wait over an hour for our luggage at the baggage carousels. It was then back on the underground to tube and train our way home.

Opinions: Dubai is a fantastic holiday destination. It does everything well. It is more convenient to get to than Florida and offers more luxury albeit at a price. The Madinat Jumeirah was an excellent resort and is thoroughly recommended. That isn’t to say however that you might not find 90% of the benefits at 50% of the price elsewhere. Dubai is booming. We had a great time. Was flying BA First worth it? I think it was – I just hope it hasn’t spoilt Club for us for the future.
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Hal


Owner at Marriott Marbella Beach, Cypress Harbour, & Harbour Lake; and DVC OKW & BLT.


There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
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Unread 29 Jan 08, 12:55 PM  
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Hal
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more photos













__________________
Hal


Owner at Marriott Marbella Beach, Cypress Harbour, & Harbour Lake; and DVC OKW & BLT.


There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Hal is offline Boy Mouse Click to view Members Gallery Click to view Members Trip Plans
Quantum of the Seas maiden TA
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Unread 29 Jan 08, 12:56 PM  
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Hal
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some more photos

These are of the childrens water play area which is part of the Sinbad Club. Even this play area has its own lifeguard.







This photo taken on the beach shows the collection of toys available for kids to play with - what a brilliant idea.

__________________
Hal


Owner at Marriott Marbella Beach, Cypress Harbour, & Harbour Lake; and DVC OKW & BLT.


There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Hal is offline Boy Mouse Click to view Members Gallery Click to view Members Trip Plans
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Unread 29 Jan 08, 01:40 PM  
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purple myra
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absolutely stunning! thanks for a very thorough insight into Dubai
i'll come back when the rest of the pics are added.
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Unread 29 Jan 08, 02:38 PM  
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Hal
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Thanks. There are some gaps in the trippy at the moment, but I will aim to fill these shortly.
__________________
Hal


Owner at Marriott Marbella Beach, Cypress Harbour, & Harbour Lake; and DVC OKW & BLT.


There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Hal is offline Boy Mouse Click to view Members Gallery Click to view Members Trip Plans
Quantum of the Seas maiden TA
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