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Review: Burj Al Arab, Dubai – “the world’s most luxurious hotel” (Part 1)

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This is my review of the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai.

I should warn you in advance that this is not a standard HfP hotel review, because this is not a standard hotel. Logic and intellectual criticism don’t really apply.

I had always wanted to try the Burj. If you stay at any of the other Jumeirah hotels in Dubai, as we often do, you can’t avoid seeing it. It is even taller than it looks in photographs. I’d been in the lobby and bar before so I had a feeling of what to expect.

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

The snag is cost. It is usually £2,000 – £2,500 per night (remember that website prices usually exclude 25% of VAT, hotel tax and service). It can reach £5,000 per night in peak weeks. However the hotel was closed for many months due to covid, had only reopened three days before we arrived, and was keen to get people in.

Emyr Thomas, our hotel booking partner, had access to a rate which was noticeably lower than the hotel website (you can contact Emyr here with luxury hotel requests). There was also a ‘3-4-2’ deal running. The net result was that we were going to pay an average of £900 per night, although this ended up dropping to £450 per night for reasons I will explain.

The key for us with the Burj is that – at 170 square metres for entry level rooms (the average UK house is 76 square metres) – you only need one room. We are a family of four and this was a decent deal compared to paying for two rooms at one of the beach-front hotels, given that Christmas pricing doesn’t come cheap. For a couple the maths would be different.

“The world’s most luxurious hotel”

These are the hotel’s words – they are even printed on the envelope your bill comes in. It is, of course, nonsense.

Having spent well over 100 nights in Jumeirah hotels over the years, let me explain all you need to know:

  • No hotel group spends as much money on construction and fit-out as Jumeirah, in my view. Money is literally no object when the Dubai state is your owner. The quality level is exceptional. This doesn’t apply to some of the hotels outside the Middle East which it manages but does apply to everything it fully controls.
  • Service levels are not great. There is no shortage of staff – a life guard once told me that the company employs 500 life guards alone across the Dubai hotels and water park – because they are cheap, but Four Seasons it ain’t. Any request for something to be done should be treated as just that, a request. It might happen, it might not. To be fair, the staff will smile a lot whilst not doing what you want.

About Burj Al Arab

What is interesting about one of the world’s most iconic buildings is that there is no big name architect behind it. The hotel was designed by WS Atkins, the engineering group, and is as much an engineering achievement as an architectural one.

To put it in context, it is the 3rd tallest hotel in the world. Construction required 230 x 40 metre concrete piles to be rammed into the water. It opened in 1999.

Don’t blame Atkins for the interiors though ….

Arrival

We landed in Dubai at around 1.30am. Since you would be crazy to pay for a night at the Burj only to arrive at 3am, we booked into the brand new Sofitel The Obelisk near the airport.

Sofitel The Obelisk – website here – was excellent. We paid £99 per room and the quality level was exceptional. It was massively ahead of InterContinental Festival City where we ended up later in the trip. If you want a five-star business hotel near the airport then this is for you. The only downside is that the Wafi Mall it is attached to is effectively derelict with only a handful of stores trading. The Festival City mall, on the other hand, is excellent.

We went to bed at 3am, got up around 11am, had a snack at Paul in the mall – about the only food place which hadn’t closed down – and then headed down to the Burj for 3pm check-in.

Because the hotel is built out into the sea, you approach down a long drive:

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

They have got very strict on security in recent years so don’t turn up hoping for a look around. The best option is to book a table in the bar for drinks or in the lobby for afternoon tea.

Unfortunately, at 3pm, our room was not ready. It wasn’t ready at 4pm and it wasn’t ready at 5pm. We finally got the keys at 5.30pm. We were offered a free meal whilst we waited but we didn’t need another meal. For some reason they refused to upgrade me into an available room beyond the upgrade I had already got for booking via Emyr.

When we finally got the keys, the Guest Relations Manager asked me what I wanted as compensation. I said I wanted the first night comped. Slightly surprisingly she agreed. (That said, having kept two kids entertained in the lobby for 2.5 hours whilst waiting for a set of keys, we probably deserved it.) This meant that I didn’t pay for Day 1 and wasn’t paying for Day 3 due to the ‘3-4-2’ deal. Only Day 2 was charged in the end.

Here’s a view from the lobby, looking up:

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

Rooms at Burj Al Arab

So, what do you actually get in a 170 square metre room? Remember that this is ‘entry level’ and the smallest room they have. We were upgraded but that was simply to a higher floor with a better view.

You get a staircase and a Christmas tree:

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

… you get a big bedroom with a mirror above your bed (classy):

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

You get a dressing room (not shown), a big bathroom with full-size Hermes toiletries (RRP £35 per bottle) and your own jacuzzi:

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

You get a huge living area (it doesn’t come with a receptionist, that is my daughter!):

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

…. and (the sofa is made up as a sofa bed here, with an extra bed installed alongside):

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

…. and

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

If you look out of the window:

Burj Al Arab hotel review Dubai

There is clearly no point discussing the actual practicalities of anything in the room, because that isn’t why you stay here.

Part 2 of my Burj Al Arab review – click here – also published today, looks at the butler service and the leisure facilities including the new pool deck, before trying to draw some conclusions.


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Comments (56)

  • Alex says:

    Well, seems bang average haha!

  • Michael C says:

    I totally thought it was a private receptionist! But good on your daughter for getting on with her online learning (maybe?!) ;o)

    The comped first night made it very worth while. Otherwise, it would be the cheapest meal at the cheapest table for me!

  • TGLoyalty says:

    When I saw that pic on Instagram I genuinely wondered why you took a picture of a receptionist 😂

  • MQ says:

    It looks like Saddam Hussein’s interior designer worked on this hotel. A golden, tacky mess.

  • Fadi says:

    Wafi mall! Goodness. You took me back to my childhood with that one.

  • Joan says:

    It sounds awful !
    I have never been to Dubai but there always seem to be avios redemptions there so was thinking we could book something for a bit later this year for some sun . Any suggestions for a nice hotel for a couple , not madly expensive , maybe even with all inclusive ? Relatively quiet ? Thanks 😊

    • JP-MCO says:

      We like One&Only The Palm or One&Only RM: The Residence & Spa. It’s not madly expensive but at both you will receive half board if you book through a travel agent. Note I put The Residence & Spa and that’s important. One&Only Royal Mirage is a huge resort and The Residence & Spa is a smaller enclave within the resort with better service and amenities. One&Only The Palm is a small hotel with only 95 keys and has great service. The location on the Palm might put some people off (it won’t if you want to avoid the bustle of malls) but if you want a great hotel with superb service it’s the way to go.

    • NigelthePensioner says:

      We stayed at the Burj some 14 years ago and it was as described, but with seemingly much better service. The hammerhead shark restaurant at the top reminded me of an Ed’s Easy diner with food to match the ambience. The seafood restaurant however on the ground floor offered amazing food…….and the short “Santa Claus” style ride on an “underwater” simulator was a fun touch!
      Seeing scuba divers cleaning the glass on the aquaria beside the entrance escalators is quite a sight!
      Dubai however………there really are other places in the Middle East other than Dubai! IMHO they are all far superior in every way. Dubai is bankrolled by Abu Dhabi as it has no oil. Dubai makes its own wealth solely from tourism (bling). The shopping is UK high street retail – no cheaper these days, at any time, even during the annual “shopping festival”. If you want the Middle East and you want somewhere with a bit of class, then look at Abu Dhabi or Manama (Bahrain). If you want beauty then it’s Oman and if you want absolutely nothing to do then its Doha (Qatar)!
      Of course you can make up your own mind on this – Im just sharing my experiences as to why Ive been to Abu Dhabi and Manama many many times (annually for many years in November) and why Ive been to Dubai and Doha once. I will go back to Oman in a flash too.

      • Joan says:

        Thanks Nigel 😊 yes just want some sunshine and to use my 3 companion vouchers . BA have stopped going to Abu Dhabi though 😞

      • Sandra says:

        Totally agree, having lived in both Abu Dhabi & Muscat. Abu Dhabi is much classier than Dubai in a discreet way, Dubai is a nice day out/weekend break from there. Oman is beautiful, doesn’t have the shopping of the UAE if that’s what you like but for scenery, the Indian Ocean and diving in the ME it’s hard to beat. I find the really big bling hotels I need Dubai are a disappointment, we stayed in Atlantis once when the kids were young, never again – drunken hen parties, poor service & needed a refurb. For reasonable value the Middle Eastern Rotana group hotels can be good but no membership other than their own loyalty scheme. They like to keep you though, we still get emails trying to entice us to stay at the Erbil Rotana from when my husband regularly used to use it on his travels to Kurdistan!

      • ayearinmx says:

        So you went to Dubai once, 14 years ago…. and you feel like it hasn’t changed any in that time?

  • ThinkSquare says:

    Are you using some weird filter on your photos, or does it actually look like that? I wondered if they were all stock photos until the one with your daughter

  • Andrew says:

    I think that’s totally reasonable to get the first night comped – you lost the afternoon on the beach which if you’d been able to check-in at 3 would have given you a couple of hours but by 5:30 it’s dark. My usual approach is to tell them how I would like to be compensated rather than wait for an offer – and they rarely refuse then, as long as it’s not totally unreasonable.

    • The real John says:

      Is there no way to go to the beach without having checked in?

      • Rob says:

        Technically, but all our stuff was in the suitcases (we were wearing the clothes we flew in) and the delay was incremental. If they’d said come back at 6pm from the outset then we may have done something.

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