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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)

  • S says:

    “”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.”

    Love how direct this is. Gave me a good chuckle!

  • Magic Mike says:

    All fur coat and no drawers.

    Nice article Rob, bursting the Insta-bubble.

  • Kevin says:

    Looking from the outside it reminds me of the W in Barcelona, which I’ve stayed in once, but plan to again this summer now I have Bonvoy membership.

    • Rob says:

      True, but a lot shorter. I went to party at W Barcelona a couple of years ago and was impressed by the location – I didn’t realise it was directly on the beach.

  • John says:

    Never been tempted by these places. Only stayed at Four Seasons, Aman and the occasional airport hotel in the past 15 years. Probably missed a few gems as a result, but with FS and Aman I typically know what I’m getting into. And, on the rare occasion when they don’t deliver they always comp the night.

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