Back in March, I wrote about how to book partner award flights on Etihad Airways. We originally booked First Apartments both to Abu Dhabi from London and from Abu Dhabi back to London over the Thanksgiving holiday, but unfortunately, the airplane for our flight from London was switched from an A380 (which has First Apartments) to an A340 (which has Etihad's standard First Class). The airplane switch was somewhat devastating, but at least we will still experience the Apartments on our way home. We planned a whirlwind luxury long weekend in Dubai around these flights and I'll be covering all the details in upcoming posts.
Review: British Airways Club World SFO - LHR
Review: LHR Etihad Airways First & Business Class Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Class LHR - AUH
Review: Park Hyatt Dubai
Review: Afternoon Tea at At.mosphere Burj Khalifa
Review: Burj al Arab Part I: One Bedroom Suite
Review: Burj al Arab Part II: Grounds and Amenities
Review: AUH Etihad Airways Premium Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Apartments AUH - LHR
It was a "bucket list" item of Chris' to stay at the Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai, so when we booked the Etihad flights, he decided we should stay for just one night to experience the "world's most luxurious hotel".
There's pretty much no chance of getting a discount on the room rate and there's also no easy way to use points (unless you spend a lot of time in Jumeirah hotels and earn their loyalty points), so we paid the full cash rate for the night. In the interest of transparency, the room rate for the night was AED7990, which is approximately $2175 USD. After taxes and fees, the charge came to $2616.17 USD.
Note: We realize this is outrageously expensive and fully accept that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we will always remember.
One thing we did make sure to do when booking was to book through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, which was approximately the same rate and allowed several benefits:
We arrived at the hotel from the Park Hyatt Dubai around 3 PM. The Burj is located on a private island accessible from a single road only with a reservation at the hotel or for one of the restaurants. In order to pass through security, they had to check our name off a list of guests. Once we pulled up to the hotel entrance, we were greeted immediately by a porter who grabbed our bags and put them on a luggage cart. He asked for the name on the reservation and assured us our bags would make it to the room shortly. A woman approached us and had already been told a last name, so she escorted us inside where we were presented with hot towels and dates and offered Arabic coffee. We declined the coffee and she began showing us around. She pointed out the front desk (which really isn't used) to the right of the door and the concierge desk to the left of the door and then led us up the escalator which runs along an elaborate jumping fountain and has fish tanks along the walls. She pointed out the restaurants available for breakfast and gave a detailed overview of the hotel's facilities while escorting us to our room on the 12th floor.
The hotel is sail-shaped and has an open atrium nearly all the way to the top of the sail. Upon arriving at the top of the escalator, you'll see another gorgeous, colorful jumping fountain and will see multiple shops, including Chopard, Graff, and a shop called Rodeo Drive as well as a bank. One of the hotel's restaurants, Al Iwan, is also located among the shops, and a lounge and seating area is along the wall behind you.
The decor is completely over the top. You'll find beautiful tile designs and intricate carpets on the floor, and looking up is absolutely breathtaking. Each floor is painted a slightly different color, so there is a gradient effect going from deep blue to bright yellow. Everything is accented with gold and I'd hazard a guess that it's almost all solid gold. We visited just before the UAE's national day, so there was also a UAE flag hanging along the entire length of the atrium in celebration.
In the evening, colored lights accent everything, which really adds to the "Vegas" feel of the hotel.
Each floor has a desk that can be seen upon walking off the elevator. This is where the floor's receptionist sits and she is essentially your personal concierge, available 24 hours a day. The receptionist can help with scheduling any meals, activities, etc and serves only the floor she is seated on, so it's very personalized. Each time we would return to our room, as long as she was sitting at the desk and not helping someone else, she would stand as soon as she saw us coming off the elevator, greet us by name, and open the door to our room for us. This was pretty amazing because she remembered our faces and names after just one brief interaction when we checked in.
We were led in to our suite and had a moment to take in the incredible surroundings before both the receptionist and the woman who had escorted us up asked Chris to take a seat at the full sized desk with iMac, printer, fax machine, etc and complete check in. They asked for our passports and a credit card and explained the benefits we would receive from AmEx FHR. We were told that we would receive a complimentary 55 minute Swedish massage for two at the hotel's spa as part of the "unique property benefit" from FHR, but we were unsure what time we wanted to schedule it, so they let us know that the receptionist could schedule it for us whenever we decided.
While check in was being completed, porters also showed up with our bags and brought them upstairs to the dressing area and the butler came by with two fresh juices and a plate of Arabic sweets. We decided to leave the sweets to eat after dinner, but when we returned, we were very disappointed to find that they had been taken away. I'm sure we could have called and asked for them back, but I hate asking for things and figured we didn't need the calories anyway.
The butler was a bit of an enigma for us. We weren't really sure what her purpose was, although I would imagine you could have asked her to do almost anything. We weren't really comfortable asking for anything and to be honest, there wasn't much we needed, so we only interacted with her once. Before dinner, Chris wanted to iron a shirt and there was no iron in the suite, so he called the butler and asked for one. She arrived a few minutes later with the iron and ironing board, handed them to Chris at the door, and asked if he needed anything else. Chris was hoping she would ask if he wanted her to iron the shirt for him, but there was no such offer, so he said no. It may sound trivial, but this was pretty disappointing to be honest. We paid A LOT of money to stay at this hotel and this butler was working at the world's only self-proclaimed seven star hotel, so you would think she would at least have brought the iron and ironing board up the stairs to the dressing area (which she did not) or at best, offered to iron the shirt herself.
The Burj's website also promises several things that we never received: professional packing and unpacking, a 24 karat gold iPad for use during your stay, and evening in-suite cocktails and hors d' oeuvres. Honestly, once we were checked in, we were left completely alone and offered nothing, which was disappointing. Maybe we should have known to ask for things, but I really don't know how we would have known and like I said - I felt quite uncomfortable with ordering staff around when I had no idea what was actually on offer.
The room itself was impressive, albeit exceptionally gaudy. All rooms in the Burj al Arab are 2-story suites and we were assigned suite 1202, which was the first suite to the right when you came off the elevator. Upon walking inside, you'll see a half bathroom to your right, then the desk/office area and minibar along the right wall. In front is the living room, from which we had an impressive view of the Arabian Gulf. There was a full-sized dining table and several couches and chairs throughout the living room. Possibly in lieu of the gold iPad, there was a small display that we could use to control things in the room, such as lighting and music.
The extensive minibar offerings were impressive but confusing. There were sodas, waters, juices, bottles of liquor and wine, sail-shaped snacks, etc, but it was completely unclear whether minibar items were included in the room rate or whether we could have been charged for the items. In the end, we were too afraid of being charged $65 for a can of soda, so we didn't touch them.
To the left of the front door is a very impressive curved staircase that leads to the second floor of the suite. We'd never stayed in a multi-story hotel room before, so it was undoubtedly the most impressive feature of the room. At the top of the stairs, the bedroom was to the left, a dressing area was immediately in front, and the bathroom was to the right. The dressing area had several closets and a small seating area with a mirror for getting ready. Inside the closets and drawers were robes, slippers, a sewing kit, a Burj al Arab branded tote bag, and a few other small items, which I would imagine could have all been taken home if wanted.
The bathroom was quite large and was possibly the most gaudy part of the entire suite. The bathroom had marble floors, tiled walls - including a full mural behind the bath tub, and gold fixtures (probably solid gold if I had to guess). There was a large walk-in shower and a full sized jetted tub as well as a toilet and bidet, a double vanity and an odd bench next to the door with an angled mirror above it.
One of the other random benefits of the Burj are the full-sized his and hers Hermès toiletries offered to guests during their stay. We had heard of this benefit and thought we were prepared, but taking them home was fairly challenging - there were so many spread throughout the bathroom and they were huge! You'll receive his and hers shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, and a full bottle of cologne/perfume, plus deodorant for the guys. The perfume alone retails for about $113 USD, so overall, it was impressive. In addition to the Hermès toiletries, there were his and hers dental kits, bath salts, shower caps and other items available.
The bedroom was quite large and offered more floor to ceiling windows to capture the view of the Gulf. We were able to see the Atlantis, The Palm resort on the edge of the Palm Jumeirah Island, which was a cool landmark. The bedroom had a king sized bed with a (not tacky at all) mirror mounted on the ceiling above. There was also a sort of bar/TV stand in the center of the room, which had a minibar and which the TV was supposed to rise out of, although I couldn't get it to work. To the left was a seating area with couches and chairs. When we returned from dinner, the bed had been turned down with chocolates placed on the duvet and slippers were set out on either side of the bed.
One small thing I really got a kick out of in the suite was a clock that was projected on the wall behind the stairs so you could see the time each time you were heading downstairs or upstairs. It was a random, cute feature that was much more creative than just putting a plain old clock in.
We left for dinner and came back to eat some Arabic treats which had been provided in a cute Burj al Arab shaped box and drink the bottle of red wine provided in the room, which was also Burj al Arab branded. After a pleasant night's sleep, we spent the morning of our stay having breakfast at Al Iwan restaurant, checking out the Burj's private beach, and getting our couples massages at the Talise Spa, all of which you can read about here.
Overall, the room was impressive. While it wasn't our style, it was fun to be in a place so unique and colorful. Outside of the rooms, the Burj itself is incredibly colorful, flashy and over the top, so the rooms were a direct representation of that. In all honesty though, we were disappointed by the lack of proactive service on behalf of the butler. In fairness, we probably could have received great service if we asked for it, but that's really not our style, so we missed out.
The bottom line is that we would not pay to stay at the Burj al Arab again, but it was certainly a fun and memorable experience. Much like the rest of our trip to Dubai, it was over the top, unbelievably expensive and definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.