Sunday, October 16, 2016

Am I done with Dubai yet!!

Am I am done with Dubai yet!!

In my last text immediately after landing in Dubai on 30th Dec. 2015 I had expressed my owe for the miracle that Burj Khalifa is but the real amazement came from my 4 year old daughter who got immensely fascinated with the ‘rocket’ building. After having heard a lot about the great “Dubai Mall” there was no way we would have headed anywhere else but this ostensibly monumental real estate extravaganza.
The imposing Burj Khalifa
It made sense also as it was directly connected with our hotel Sofitel via a one KM long chain of air conditioned travelators which made for another joy ride for my young lady. Once we reached the mall I won’t say that I was disappointed but quite matter of factly, I found all of its awe-inspiring adulation quite pretentious as back home in Mumbai there are scores of malls which may not have as much of carpet area to boast about as this world famous landmark proudly possesses but they won’t show a pauper’s face while showcasing almost equally glamorous bells and whistles! So beyond its strenuous distances (which quite astonishingly don’t allow for any less fatigue by inadequate and dare I say misleading signage) there was little to gung-ho about. Of course there were two majestic waterfalls within the mall which more than made up for an otherwise ordinary outing. The life-size busts of upside down hanging divers were a sight to behold. Just do not miss them should you decide to pay this mall some of your precious time while in town.

Dubai Divers
The indoor Dubai Aquarium was just about alright and it may appear out of this world to only those who haven’t been exposed to any decent aquariums anywhere else around the globe. Unless you are hell bent on ticking all the boxes in your bucket list (prepared on guidance from some popular websites / reference travel magazines) I won’t recommend your hard earned money on this grossly overrated experience. You may as well have a look at this transparent (of course it has to be as such) aquarium from outside its perimeter which is very much visible from inside the mall!

The real action lied towards the exit leading to the Burj Lake which houses the famous “Dubai Fountains” starting its fascinating 5-7 minutes long show every evening at 6:00 PM and continues it until late in the evening until 11 PM at an interval of half an hour. The Dubai Fountain is the world's largest choreographed fountain system featuring water that jets as high as 500 ft (152 metres), which is equivalent to a 50-storey building. My four year old had a charm spell cast upon her as she merrily watched the water “snakes” swirling around to the tunes of enchanting classical, Arabic and world music. They say that the beam of light shining upward from the fountain can be seen from over 20 miles away, and is visible from space, making it the brightest spot in the Middle East, and quite possibly in the entire world. It indeed was the high point of our visit to the Dubai Mall.

Some more on Sofitel Dubai Downtown

Call it an infatuated paramour’s obsession for his coveted heartthrob, if you will, but I do not have any worldly inhibitions in openly admitting my adulation for one of the ‘Best’ stays away from home I have ever experienced. In my last post I had shared my first impression about this captivating property in Dubai the very fact that I had completed & posted this story 2 hours post mid night after having struggled with my own typing devices would itself be a good enough indicator of how seriously I fell in love with both Dubai on the very first day of my landing there and Sofitel. To top it up what a beautiful coincidence we bid farewell to 2015 from our suite no. 2015 :)

Sofitel's Welcome
We had planned indulgence in luxury after doing full research on Google, Trip Advisor, in selecting Sofitel Downtown’s Prestige Suite as “The place” for celebrating the New Year eve right in front of the legendary Burj Khalifa which hosts mother of all the fireworks at the stroke of midnight on 31st December every year. I have showered enough encomiums on Sofitel in my last post and even as I am running the risk of sounding boorishly repetitive for my so very patient readers, as it turned out, by all means we were so very proud of our decision. From the word go we were treated like Royalties and got pampered with a never before experience infused with such elegance and class. We had a dedicated, well attired and awesomely cultured front desk executive Fatima who was too adorable and sweet to help us in every little way she could. 
Sofitel's Magnifique Lobby
As my wife’s would put it in her own words, “This was the place for enjoying touch technology, unrivalled views of Burj Khalifa & musical fountains as well as to admire exotic glass lamp shades, huggable pillows, feather light quilts which just wrap around to give the perfect sleep with a smile, a simply wow shower area, hi-end cosmetics / toiletries, body wash n shampoos from Paris, mind boggling selection of music of all languages with Bose speakers in the entire suite, bathrobe, slippers, n towels arranged specially for even our cutie pie! 

Shades of Rainbow @ Sofitel
Sofitel’s breakfast buffet was a revelation of sorts as the moment one enters the buffet area an array of refreshing colours welcomes you. The entire space is so tastefully and uniquely done to find a match elsewhere. And to top it up are the relishing delicacies in the most amazing cutlery! It probably was the most premium breakfast we have ever been to (and it beats all our 5-star experiences until now hands down). It was no less than a छप्पन भोग with राजसी ठाठ बाठ Chappan Bhog with rajsi thaat baath as we say in India (popular euphemism for the most extensive and elaborate spread). The varieties served in the buffet was so enormous that out of curiosity I thought to check n decide my vegetarian menu before picking up the plate and you won’t believe it took me one hour to just decide what I will finally put in my platter! From the fruits, smoothies, cakes, muffins, cheese, mousse, cookies, breads, salads, dressings, juices, dry fruits, sandwiches, mini burgers, pizzas, waffles, crepes, spring rolls it was just like an ocean of food! I mean this is called love for detailing as we got treated to countless surprises & yummylicious delights, fresh from their bakery. My favourite was kiwi n green apple tarts and for our own apple pie she couldn’t have enough of sugar coated candies.”
The Royal Feast
They say that the way to a man's heart is through his tummy! Well! Why just males only? This place for sure had a (breakfast) spread for all shapes n sizes of tummies. Scrawny ones with lesser appetite would just feel frustrated for their being less biologically privileged to stock all of it up. The ones with pot bellies would get so much of it for all their guilt & the ones pregnant with immense possibilities would have all of their cravings satiated here. What a blissful place & what amazingly delectable offering! Surreal indeed!! Now I can die a well fed glutton ;)

If we weren’t pampered in the most aristocratic manner already during our 2 day stay there Sofitel didn’t forget us even after our checking out and moving on to another Accor group hotel! Next day on our way to the Ibn Battuta Mall we had to come back to Sofitel as it suddenly started raining. The ever so courteous & helpful staff gave us umbrellas and stroller for our daughter! I must say that this hotel would go a long way in keeping its relationship and bond so strong with its patrons. They really value their customers and we were completely flabbergasted with their hospitality.

The ‘Two’ Fireworks in Dubai

All the hotel guests had been strongly advised by the management several times to get back to their hotel premises by no later than 5 PM on the new year eve lest it turn into a logistically challenging and financially burdensome endeavour for them as the sea of humanity (estimated to reach a mammoth 2 to 3 Million) would flock around the area to get a glimpse of the fireworks at the midnight. We did duly pay heed to this advisory and got back in time and started anticipating the event of our lives unfolding right up there. It was around 9:30 PM and I was sitting in our suite while overlooking Burj Khalifa & the Burj Lake through its window. The late evening show of the Dubai Fountain was just about to begin when I saw some sparks billowing out of a tall sky scrapper. We all were just going through the motions to wait for the midnight 'artificial' fireworks. Already having downed two beers I could only think it was some sort of a weird (as it obviously didn't look like one) kind of rehearsal (or may be a teaser) just couple of hours ahead of the real 'fun'!! But my initial reaction dramatically changed as within just 2 minutes the ‘fire’ appeared to have embraced the entire building! It was the same place where we went for our lunch just few hours ago, one of the glistening city’s most prominent luxury hotels, The Address! It goes without saying that all that excitement and anticipation for the clock to strike 12 went in a flash as everybody was just so concerned for countless of those who could have possibly got trapped inside a gargantuan structure of 63 floor having 625 rooms & apartments. The number of people finding themselves in such a horrific situation could only be imagined to have swollen beyond its capacity as tonight was the night when this property would have also welcomed scores of non-resident guests already who would have paid a bomb to have an unobtrusive view of Burj Khalifa! No such mishap could ever deemed to strike at a worse time (my sincere apologies if that sounded outright insensitive) but in the circumstances it was just the last thing anybody could have imagined in their most bewildering of thoughts. Amidst all of the commotion and a valley of emotions almost an hour later somebody broke the news that there wasn’t any casualty and all of the hotel patrons got evacuated in time! That was a relief which everybody was praying for and all thanked their own Gods for blessing a sea of humanity from a very likely collateral damage.

With the settled sentiments (but amidst loads of uncertainty over the prevailing scenario) everybody once again (tentatively) started anticipating “The Event” to unfold right at midnight! The moment did come and for the next 8-10 minutes what we saw was an out of body, out of mind extravaganza. Every single millimeter of the whole of 829.8 metres of Burj Khalifa seemed to be lit up on its own while vying for attention of every single awe-struck eye around (there were at least a couple of millions of them). It won’t be an overstatement to say that most of us had to fight with nature to keep them blinking for the entire show’s duration lest they miss the ‘unknown’, jaw-dropping fireworks ever being staged on earth! According to the organizers the Burj Khalifa was fitted with 400,000 LED lights and 1.6 tons of fireworks were used in the display. For those who still haven’t watched this spectacle online here is the link that captures the full show.

By the time the show got over we were still gasping for what we saw in front of our eyes. At the same time everybody thanked the great Almighty God for the divine intervention in averting loss of even a single human life in what looked like could have been a massive tragedy in the hours leading up to 2016. Cheers to the bubbly positive spirit of Dubai topped up with its palpable enthusiasm as it welcomed the New Year with such a mature and definitive approach. As they say, the show must go on!

Fun in Dubai

1.  Desert Safari

In my childhood whenever I used to see a Land Cruiser or Rand Rover zipping past me I used to wonder as to what would be their 'own' to do justice to their muscle. I finally got my answer when I visited the desert of Dubai. The trip started off with our driver picking us up from the hotel after lunch and as he took us out of the hussle and bustle of the town we realized that he got hundreds of other from his clan to give him company. After a brief pit stop just before the 'thing' the fun began and next one hour was to be felt to believe. It was nonstop madness as all of these trained driver indulged in dune bashing as they played with sand like nobody else could. I was also mesmerized by their discipline, coordination and also the precision with which one would exactly emulate the guy right next to him in the pecking order!

After the most enervating thrill ride it was time for fun as all the people who have booked a Safari get to enjoy sexy music, fire show, belly dancing, folk dance while having their dinner. The whole evening was simply too good.

Fun @ Desert Safari

2.   Miracle Garden

      We had heard so much about this man made wonder that we postponed our original plan of visiting Dubai in the month of October by a couple of months since we realized that this garden is open for just over 3-4 months starting towards the end of the year (you would have to check the exact dates online as it might change for a particular year depending on the weather conditions).

      The world's most beautiful flower show I ever saw and that too in a desert city! Even as it's size was huge like it would never end we made sure not to miss even one spot or lane of this truly incredible masterpiece. Each of the intricate and elaborate work had its own beauty n charm as it won't fail in casting its mesmerising spell on the thirsty soul. We especially loved the umbrella lane. For any Dubai visitor this garden should feature in their "must do" bucket list.

Awesome Dubai Miracle Garden
Umbrella Walkway

Umbrella Foodcourt @ Miracle Garden

3.  Butterfly Garden

After having a thoroughly entertaining time at Miracle Garden when we saw that there was a butterfly garden right next door we were filled with lots of anticipation but very soon we realized that it couldn't hold a candle to the "Uber Cool" Miracle Garden. What a pity it turned out to be a real bummer. Unless you are bored and out of options to spend your rest of the day this place can definitely be given a miss.

4. Dubai Garden Glow

We had heard about this garden and it appeared that it was the latest entrant in the already long list of places that compete with each other in enthralling their visitors. Most of the cabbies also didn't seem to be aware of this place and as such it was more than just some effort in finding the place towards the end of day.

At the entry gate itself we realized that we are going to be in for something truly extraordinary and it sure did! To sum it up it was a fun packed blockbuster having valleys of lights, fiesta of colours and celebration of ideas facilitating for an absolutely amazing display of creativity at The Garden Glow. Again, this place shouldn't be missed by any person, regardless of their age.

Dubai Garden Glow

Garden Glow's Glory

The Light Carpet
What a delight!

Awesomeness has a new meaning

The Glowing Kids

5.  Dubai Aquarium

As I said earlier, unlike other mesmerizing man-made wonders Dubai can't really boast about its aquarium. For those who haven't been exposed to some of the finest aquariums around the world it might still seem enchanting but when a person like me has seen the World's biggest property in Atlanta over a decade ago I found the Dubai aquarium quite ordinary and it's not something you would want to extend your stay in Dubai another day for.

For our little girl it was a beautiful afternoon though in The Lost Chambers Aquarium @ Atlantis as she enjoyed watching different species of fishes, tapping the glass, running behind when a big fish came closer. She especially loved the jelly fish changing her colours n wanted us to take one to our home n put in the bed beside us.....wish I could fulfil this wish of hers.

6. Ski Dubai

Of all the things that we enjoyed doing in this desert city Ski Dubai would undoubtedly rank up there on the top. It has to be put among the modern day's wonders especially as it's a serious task to maintain such a massive infrastructure made up of just snow and ice all around the year and that too in one of the hottest cities of the world! Truly incredible.

As for the indulgences Ski Dubai has to offer there are many for all the age groups. As you are geared up in the thick suits made of special fabric to provide you insulation against the freezing cold weather inside you just can't help taking your gloves off the hands to capture those magnificent frames every single minute! That puts your body under double whammy and eventually you are forced to come out of the chilly terrains to get your body back to its normal self. If that aspect be taken care of you sure have a gala time at Ski Dubai. For all that it has to offer, I found the entry ticket price of AED 325 per person way too steep as there is no guarantee that one would be able to spend quality time inside owing to the challenging requirements from one's body. I would recommend this thrill ride to only those high on self confidence and will power.

Ski Dubai

Fun n frolic @ Ski Dubai

Sledge @ Ski Dubai
The Gold Souk

Mercure Gold Hotel Al Mina Road - A Home away from home

After having spent the last two nights of 2015 we ushered 2016 in the comparatively (and obviously) less pretentious property of Accor viz. Mercure Gold Hotel on the Al Mina Road in Bur Dubai. For all its warm hospitality and ease of access to different parts of the town while not puncturing a hole in your pocket I very strongly recommend this property to the tourists of all types, whether in friends group or family.

Accor Le Club

In my earlier posts I have strongly recommended about this annual membership offered by Accor group of hotels and I once again quite convincingly reiterate on the same. I have been using this membership for the last three years and trust me the kind of value proposition it brings along it's a no brainer to go for this. One could get the entire membership fee reimbursed in the form of a free night which could be availed in any of the Accor properties (and there are hundreds of them) spread over the Asia Pacific region including Australia and New Zealand. For example I have booked myself in Sofitel Melbourne on Collins (which would have cost me 18,000 bucks or around 1.5 times the membership fee) & unlike such other membership proposition from other hotel chains this one is absolutely less fussy. If you have planned your holidays well in advance you could be almost sure of getting your free night in your chosen property.

Also, add to your complimentary night the other privileges which come as part of the membership it's a real steal. I won't take too much of space here in listing them but just the thought of going for a lip smacking dinner with your family in the best Accor restaurant of the town while getting a birthday cake served on the table along with two signature cocktails (yes, all as part of the membership) should be good enough to fall for this patronage.

This membership also gives one access to the global sales from Accor (and they do so every quarter) ahead of the general public apart from giving an additional 10℅ discount all round the year.

As such this recommendation to Accor Le Club membership comes with a money back guarantee of yours truly.

Last but not the least - Have you still not heard of The Entertainer?

Some of the finer things in life come when you are least expecting them. During my basic checks while planning our Dubai sojourn I accidentally stumbled upon something called as 'The Entertainer' and thankfully didn't pass it on as just another website. There was something in it that kept motivated and glued to it to know more about its concept and value proposition for its customers. After getting convinced with it in its first impressions I just bought it for AED 445 and what it returned to me was simply incredible to say the least.

I got one night's stay free in Abu Dhabi during our 2 days stay there and saved around AED 600. At Ferrari World I could get an express pass valued at AED 500 free (I could have got another free if we were in a bigger group). At Ski Dubai I availed another free offer worth AED 325. Add to it virtually all the eateries in Dubai and five star restaurants that give you one free with other (BOGO) as you flash your Entertainer app and you have made a killing when it comes to saving your money on vacation. Alas, I didn't know about The Entertainer before booking my stay in Dubai or I could have tried availing the "one night free with one" offer at the same properties we eventually stayed.

The Entertainer is spreading its wings in all the geographies in a phased manner and that is only very exciting for people like me. It provides it's users with the BOGO offers in some of the best hotels, restaurants, spas, amusement parks and recreation centers for the city you have purchased the App for (yes, The Entertainer has localized products for some of the major tourist destinations across the globe). What more would you ask when you get to know that when it comes to hotel bookings you could actually avail the BOGO offers anywhere in the world (of course, The Entertainer has to be having a presence there) regardless of which local Entertainer app you have purchased! Essentially, I can book a complimentary room night in Grand Hyatt Goa using my Dubai Entertainer app. How cool is that!!

If only The Entertainer was already present in Australia I would have been far more happier with my family's upcoming vacation starting in next couple of days.

Closing Remarks

If by now you are already fried up reading the above lengthy piece you might find the article I posted on some of the finer logistical & practical nuances while planning an overseas trip just handy.

Yours Everlastingly
(C) Rits Original @

The Scorpio :)
P.S.: Excuse any typos and/or contextual errors as like always I have composed this entire write up over my rather plain handset's 5" screen devoid of any spell checker.