Fantasy is apparently alive and well in Dubai, the afterburn of the global recession notwithstanding. For example, you can ski three different terrains (snow, water and sand) in one day, and if you’ve booked one of the “ski chalets” at the meetings-ready Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, you can take your apres-ski, private butler service included, in the comfort of your own “decadent alpine retreat.” If you have $105,000 to burn on one night’s bar tab—as some revelers reportedly did this January—then the Fairmont Hotel’s swank Cavalli Club is your place. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the club’s operations manager called such tabs “commonplace.”
Dubai unquestionably caters to the hyper-rich—but far from exclusively so, contrary to lingering perception. From mosque tours to making your own perfume at an “oud” store, the destination offers a number of singular experiences accessible to all, including the following local gems.
Purpose-designed as a place for fostering cross-cultural understanding, The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (+971.4.353.6666; www.cultures.ae) is a profound option for groups. With programs including mosque tours, cultural meals, guided walks and Arabic language courses, the center provides truly memorable and authentic experiences of Dubai.
For centuries, the Arabian Gulf yielded some of the world’s finest pearls, which drew and sustained Dubai’s tribal predecessors. Devastated by the global depression of the 1930s and the creation of artificial pearls, this ancient tradition lives on via a new pearl diving program from luxury hotelier Jumeirah Group (+971.4.406.8828; www.jumeirah.com/pearl-diving). Wearing traditional diving clothes, participants ride an authentic “dhow” boat and use original methods to collect oysters in the shallow waters of the Gulf. Onboard activities include singing and story-telling, with Emirati fish and rice dishes served for lunch. Participants can keep the pearls they find.
Falcons are an iconic symbol of Dubai and are featured in cultural festivities throughout the year. Falconry is also included at meetings-ready desert resort properties such as Bab Al Shams (+971.4.381.3231; www.meydanhotels.com/babalshams) and the luxurious Al Maha (+971.4.832.9900; www.al-maha.com). About 90 minutes from Dubai in the neighboring emirate of Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital (+971.2.575.5155; www.falconhospital.com) is an award-winning tourism destination. The facility includes the Shaheen Conference Centre, with divisible space for up to 200 delegates.
Organized by leading DMC Gulf Ventures (+971.4.404.5880; www.gulfventures.com) at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, camel polo features riders squaring off atop 10 polo-playing camels. Groups of up to 100 can be accommodated in a tournament-style event, with breakfast or dinner options at the club for the prize ceremony.