It may be a tiny emirate on a spit of land that spikes out into the Persian Gulf, but Dubai scores big on fun and entertainment. Each time I visit the city, usually twice a year, its smorgasbord of supersized shopping malls, theme parks, buzzy bars and restaurants, and spiffy hotels never cease to amaze me. Though modern Dubai is frequently criticized as a self-indulgent panegyric to consumerism, there's just as much fun to be had in the unalloyed pleasures of "the Orient": haggling for gold and frankincense in atmospheric souqs, navigating curvaceous dunes on a rollicking camel, inhaling from a fragrant sheesha pipe, or exploring the charming delights of old Dubai.
I began my Dubai trip this time with an enchanting Middle Eastern food trail in the warren lanes of Deira with Frying Pan Adventures. Peppered with eateries from several countries, each shop in Deira has a story to tell. There's a delight around every corner. I feasted on authentic Emirati, Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese delicacies that made my stomach groan with pleasure! In the cavernous kitchens of these eateries I met humble and talented chefs who have been cooking amazing food for decades ~ dishing out crispy falafels, gooey knafeh, soft pita bread, creamy hummus, delicious sweetmeats and more.
It helped that my hotel ~ the Madinat Jumeirah Mina A' Salam ~ a stunning beachfront property overlooking the ocean and Dubai's most iconic building, the Burj Al Arab ~ allowed quick access to all parts of the city. Jumeirah Mina A' Salam (or "Harbour of Peace") is also the gateway to the Madinat Jumeirah complex with its winding waterways, walkways and a world of dining and leisure facilities. The hotel complex offers a mindboggling 22 restaurants apart from world-class conference, banqueting and events facilities.
After a long day of business meetings, I treated myself to a massage at the hotel's Talise spa. Located amid semi-tropical gardens, and exquisite water bodies, the spa's access is only through waterways.
So I took a charming abra (a boat) to get there. Done up in earthy warm tones, the spa offers Swedish, Thai and Balinese massages as well as Reiki, Shiatsu, hot stones and local holistic therapies. And as the nimble-fingered Indonesian therapist massaged my aches and pains away, I sleepily wondered if I could take her home with me!
The next day I revisited my childhood at IMG Worlds of Adventure, a brand new theme park. The Lost Valley Dinosaur Adventure Zone took me on an exciting safari ride deep into the jungle through the Forbidden Territory surrounded by 70 prehistoric, life-sized animatronic dinosaurs. Up next was another highly immersive adventure ~ the Avengers Battle of Ultron, where I joined Marvel's Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain America and Hulk as they took to the skies in the Quinjet to battle the evil villain Ultron.
Action, adventure, comedy, music, dance, and emotion is what I experienced at Bollywood Parks. The world's first Bollywood themed park covering 1.7million square feet. The park offers cinematic rides, blockbuster attractions, extravagant live shows, delicious dining and fun shopping. A celebration of Mumbai's legendary film industry, it is divided into five zones. One can also enjoy cinematic rides here while pop up performances by look-alikes of stars like Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan add to the visitors' fun quotient.
The adjacent MotionGate theme park took me across seven seas to Hollywood. It houses the best-in-branded entertainment from three of the largest motion picture studios in Hollywood ~ DreamWorks Animation, Columbia Pictures and Lionsgate. After entering the park via a huge movie reel gate, I walked along a street styled like 1920s New York lined with merchandise stores. After an engrossing behind-the- scenes tour of a movie set, I watched a live hip-hop show based on the Step Up film franchise housed in an 1,000-seat Art Deco-style theatre.
Touted as "Hollywood in the desert", the theme park also offers the world's first rollercoaster inspired by The Hunger Games, along with rides based on blockbuster films like Ghostbusters. It is the star attraction of the 13 billion dollar Dubai Parks and Resorts, comprising three separate theme parks and a water park.
Global Village is another must visit in Dubai. The region's first-ever, multicultural Festival Park offers a smorgasbord of shopping, dining, entertainment in an al fresco environment. "The park showcases the best from different cultures across 75 countries through 30 pavilions in its 21st season," the park's affable marketing director John Charles informed us as we whizzed around in a motorised buggy across the sprawling complex. The Village also offers an array of global cuisines through 21 restaurants and cafes. Over 130 Food and Beverage kiosks offer international street food experiences while 50 exciting rides and 12,000 entertainment shows add to the visitors' entertainment experience.
On the last day of my visit, I stopped by at the recently inaugurated The Green Planet in the spiffy City Walk area. The bio-dome allows one to explore the planet’s fascinating flora and fauna through an immersive expedition into the tropics. Designed as an enclosed ecosystem, the ecological museum recreates the enchanting world of a tropical forest with over 3,000 plants and animals and the world's largest indoor man-made and life-sustaining tree. "The idea", as a staffer elaborated, "is to focus on the fragile balance of nature and the preciousness of one of the world’s oldest living ecosystems!" Fascinating indeed!