JEDDAH: I’ve frequently visited the busiest emirate of them all, Dubai, with my family, and specifically my mother. When my superiors came up to me with this trip to Dubai, I was enthusiastic, yes, but I felt there was nothing left for me to discover in Dubai. How terribly presumptuous of me.
I checked into the Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, which left us — I treated my mother to an impromptu trip — completely in awe. We spent the rest of the day wandering around The Dubai Mall and devouring some Lebanese food at Al Wafi Gourmet, something that had become a ritual of ours on countless Dubai visits.
Bright and early the next day, I was treated to an insightful tour of the Kempinski hotel’s facilities by Marketing Director Bianca Cartin, starting with the Aspen Chalets overlooking the indoor ski ramp, Ski Dubai.
The suite, or mini-cabin, transported us into a city in northern Europe with its sophisticated yet cozy ambience. I was fairly impressed with the electronic fireplace running, as I settled down on the sofa and observed families enjoying the slopes.
Later, we were shown the tennis court, swimming pool, in-house spa and the hotel’s Brazilian restaurant, Texas De Brazil, which garnered a noticeable drop in enthusiasm from the entire team as, frankly, nothing could top the chalets.
We then headed to City Center Mirdif and the mall’s managerial duo took us on a round trip across two stories of easy, accessible shopping, before leaving us in front of iFly Dubai.
To experience skydiving without the complications and distress that comes with jumping off a plane is breathtaking. iFly Dubai is the first to offer that inside a 10-meter wind tunnel in a shopping mall, where an instructor — Julie, in my case — helps adjust your form and signals for her partner to adjust the airflow depending on the guest’s adaptability and how safe they feel within the tunnel. To be able to let myself go and watch the ground diminish before me while being sure Julie was an arm’s length away in case anything went wrong was liberating and absolutely empowering.
Our evening was spent strolling around City Walk — an outdoor urban retail complex, with restaurants and a central fountain, and exploring Hub Zero: Home to a plethora of hyper-reality experiences for children and adults.
We started out with a Final Fantasy VII spin-off where we join Cloud Strife and his party to save the fictional land of Midgar from a monstrous Behemoth, and then moving on to Double Agent where I got to act out my favorite scene from 1999’s “Entrapment,” in which Catherine Zeta-Jones avoids laser beams to steal a Chinese mask from a museum.
Our last leg at City Walk consisted of a stop at the award-winning chocolate store, Boutique Le Chocolat (that has the chocolatier world's equivalent of an Academy Award, pictured below), where we were spoiled with all kinds of flavored chocolate. We were also swept into Le BHV Marais, “the Parisian’s favorite department store,” before finally dining at Cocoa Kitchen, where every recipe is accentuated with cocoa.
The first place we explored on the second day was the Italian-inspired mall, Mercato Mall.
The shopping center’s interior design resembles high-end European streets. It seemed to have opened a portal from Dubai to the streets of Italy; its roof was encased with glass panes letting in the sunlight as we received shopping vouchers from the management and split up to shop through the Italian districts.
We then met with the team behind More Café, who informed us that it is set to branch out in Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as an outlet opening soon in Jeddah. The news delighted me greatly, as I had the best meal for the duration of my stay there. Their tomato soup was the perfect concoction, and they offered numerous stuffed pies that I found myself enjoying without really getting full. We were treated to some gelato from More’s Glow parlor after that, and I settled for a flavor titled Cleopatra, with ingredients like dates and cinnamon.
Our last stop at Mercato was at Singaporean brand Charles and Keith, for chic footwear, handbags and accessories, where we were introduced to their latest line, an accompaniment of their spring collection, as well as their special Ramadan collection for Muslim-majority countries.
The Dubai Mall is a monument that almost every UAE visitor stops by, and I’m no exception. I’ve probably been to Dubai Mall more than the locals themselves due to the onslaught of never-ending retail stores, cinema, and my absolute favorite place to be, Kinokuniya — a Japanese bookstore, stationary and a hidden gem to anime and manga fans.
Having visited the mall quite often, I wasn’t expecting this experience to be different. However, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo has had a massive expansion, and experiencing it with a guide made it more fun as he continued to shower our group with very interesting fish trivia in the walk-through tunnel.
After that, we took a quick spin around the new extension, Fashion Avenue, which introduces an additional 150 luxury brands to The Dubai Mall shopping experience.
In case you need convincing, you should know that The Dubai Mall welcomes more than 80 million visitors annually while the mall’s total area is at 12 million square feet, which is the size of 200 soccer pitches. How’s that for a day out?
All in all it was a perfectly enjoyable 48 hours in Dubai, filled to the brim with new experiences and meal after meal of fantastic food.