DUBAI: Even five years ago, we would never have associated Dubai with wallet-friendly holiday accommodation. Most of the top-rated hotels were considered upmarket, resulting in travelers having to shell out quite a bit to experience the luxury lifestyle that the emirate is synonymous with.
But affordable trips to the UAE are becoming more widely available, thanks to the arrival of mid-market concepts in the past few years. We’re not talking about the business-focused hotels which, let’s face it, can have rooms that are boring and bland. Rather, we’re referring to the more exciting, uniquely designed ‘boutique’ hotels that are wildly popular in cities including London, Barcelona and Zurich.
Opening earlier this year, the three-star Zabeel House Mini by Jumeirah, Al Seef was the debut property for the ‘Zabeel House by Jumeirah’ collection, aimed at “modern-day explorers” and “experience seekers,” with each hotel designed to fit in with its neighborhood.
In this case, that neighborhood is Al Seef on Dubai Creek, situated close to the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Home to the Museum of Illusions Dubai, along with the textile souk, and plenty of shops and restaurants — not to mention beautiful views of the water — this area is perfect for those who want to explore old Dubai.
The hotel lobby is a modern-design lover’s paradise. Featuring a mish-mash of colors — brightly hued couches adorned with slogan-print cushions — together with unique Emirati-inspired art, a foosball table, and swings, guests have the option of checking in via the manned reception or through the self check-in area.
Having arrived during a non-busy period, we were surprised at the speed of check-in — it should have been quicker than it was — but this was quickly forgiven when we were surprised with a free upgrade to a room with a view of the city.
The hotel has 150 rooms split into three categories: Pocket Room, Pocket Room — City Scene, and the Family Room. Each comes with an extra-large double bed as standard.
We were pleasantly surprised by just how much is packed into these little spaces. There’s a retro Smeg mini-fridge, a tablet to control lighting and other functions, an espresso machine and kettle, along with a television featuring over 100 channels. Quirky design adds to the charm, with artsy touches all around, including a fully functioning rotary dial telephone. A particular highlight is a city map of Dubai painted on the ceiling, so if you’re having trouble sleeping, you could always plan your next day’s itinerary.
Although the City Scene room costs more, there’s really no difference between the cheaper option except for what you can see out of the window. However, if you’re staying at a time when fireworks are expected by the Creek, then this category offers a view like no other.
A Dubai hotel wouldn’t be complete without a swimming pool, and Zabeel House Mini’s rooftop pool with a view is well worth the visit. For those preferring to stay indoors, there’s a fitness center and sauna (although, to be honest, we spent more time playing mini pool and foosball). What’s more, there are bikes available to use around the neighborhood; a great way to get around and see some sights, at least in the winter months.
As mentioned, there are plenty of restaurants around Al Seef — from tourist-hotspot Arabian Tea House to burger chains like Five Guys — but there are also options at the hotel. C.U serves up pan-Asian and Middle Eastern, while MishMash features street food from around the world. There’s also a ‘grab-and-go’ area.
At around $75-95 per night, you really do get your money’s worth and more. The hotel is truly delightful and part of a concept that is much-needed in the region. It just goes to show that you don’t need to flash the cash to holiday like a VIP these days.