To have one luxury hotel experience of a lifetime in an already memorable day is pretty special. To have two is frankly unbelievable, but this is just one day not only for the gal but but anyone in the right place, right time, and right attitude.
You have got to be fit, flexible and fortunate in this 21st century existence of top luxury travel. Let us get straight into our watery theme (yes, we had it yesterday, with Lech Bunnag’s designs on Mauritius..)
Now we are at Jumeirah’s Burj Al Arab in Dubai, having dinner at Al Mahara, a restaurant that is reached via an elevator cabin that looks like the inside of a mini-submarine. We are, like all the diners in this full-full restaurant, sitting on the outside of a 30-feet wide tank.
The tank is higher than the restaurant’s ceiling and it is filled with over 2,000 exotic fish, some really really big, like two feet long. Suddenly, up pops a diver in wet suit, holding up a board that says clearly WELCOME BACK MARY.
Well, what to say? The fish swim around unperturbed. The diners around smile, applaud, carry on eating. They seem to come from many nations. The one table of Chinese charmingly includes a couple of young girls in tight-fitting shiny-damask cheong sams, (shades of books by Lisa See, who wrote Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Wendi Deng Murdoch co-produced the film).
We have blue and clear glass Murano plates, and glasses with stems that must be a foot high. I tuck into my wild mushroom cigar, or at least a cigar shape on a big square plate – the shape is a savoury filo dough filled with a purée of mushroom and baby corn, with a parallel, same-size, shape of mushroom choppings.
Every dish looks like an art work here. Even the breads, which include savoury croissant-like swirls, are presented as an art work. Individual butter dishes have three shapes, unsalted, salted, flavoured, with a small dish of cheese dip.
We talk about Burj Al Arab, surely now the most photographed hotel in the world. Inside, snapping away is banned but outside the iconic sail-shaped building it is nonstop posing. Smile sweetly and your other half, or someone you have given the Nikon or Vertu, takes this angle and that, and images will be fired immediately back to Minneapolis, Moscow or Mongolia, or perhaps Seoul, Sendai or Sydney. I am allowed to record my fish tank message, but this is a special occasion.
But ANYone can have specials here, the whole time. This lays claim be the world’s most luxurious hotel but it is accessible to all, including the charming little boy, could not have been more than five, in one of the gold-bling elevators. I am Kazak, he said, turning his heart-shaped face up at me. Where are you from (in perfect Queen’s English)? (Where did you learn your English?) From the BBC. He is in mid-calf sailor suit, a white version of the last-known photographs of Alexei, son of Tsar Nicholas II.
Time, not for tea, but for the second experience of a lifetime. After a sensible period of post- prandial recovery, I am invited to test the new Romantic Moonlight Swim. Change into bikini, head to the 18th fitness floor, which has a huge Technogym (Power Plate and four Kinesis) and views over The Palm.
First you are taken through to the spa area, for a 55-minute soothing massage for two. Next you are escorted to what is your private pool. The hotel has two, near identical, their 15-foot wood ceilings (medieval mansion style) supported by heavy columns of tiny, shiny, tiles. Two walls are all glass, for – daytime only – birds’ eye views of the Arabian gulf, and Dubai coastline, far below. Tonight, there is a walkway to the pool, indicated by thousands of deep-red rose petals and lit nightlights. Other petals form a big heart.
Swim as long as you want. When you are ready, a waiter cracks a chilled bottle of Moet & Chandon, pours it as if he is playing a violin. Bubble in the really-hot hot tub, long as you want. The attendant life guard keeps discreetly out of the way, behind one of those tiled columns. You pad back home, ‘an aide’ carrying your goody-bag to take home, with a giant bunch of must-be-red-carpet-time flowers.
Now what is home like, here? Even the most humble of the 202 abodes here is more than pretty sensational. All are set back from the open-V terraces that have their arms open, so to speak, around the atrium that soars from the third-floor lobby to the 27th floor. Suite 2004 is not the most lavish – those include ones with rotating circular beds with mirrored walls and ceilings and much more. Suite 2004 is modest by those standards, over-the-top by real life.
Downstairs is enough seating for 20, with a big desk for one, and a half-bathroom. Up 21 carpeted marble stairs you find the bedroom (merely one mirrored panel over the bed), and a bathroom with circular Jacuzzi tub, and semi-circular shower, and Kelly by Hermès toiletries. Nice touches include the real-time clock surprisingly reflected on to the stairwell wall, near the 32-light brass chandelier. At night, what looks like a bedtime chocolate is an anti-ageing cream. The bedlinens are Italian (Venice). The safe is big enough for the crown jewels.
Does this sound colourful? Well, colour is the dominating theme of all the bedrooms. The palette of Khuan Chew, the former Chinese musician who made her design debut, and name, here when the hotel opened in 1999, is mainly stone-colour, gold, deep burgundy – which I will call Burj red – and rich royal blue.
Take the parlour here: the carpet is the blue, with an inner area that is Burj-red bordered, with its middle the-stone with Burj-red flecks on it. Gold-button draped curtains are deeper burgundy with a blue hint, the same fabric as on the swivel chairman’s chair by the desk. A wall alcove has gold-leaf, all over. No, this is not Mardan Palace, this is just the right side of Bling and actually it is very agreeable.
Burj Al Arab is billed, by the hotel’s marketing genius, Detria Williamson, an American who came from Discovery Channel, as ‘the world’s most luxurious hotel’. I have stayed in the world’s tallest hotel, Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, and the most northerly hotel, Radisson Blu Longyearbyen… now here is the most luxurious. Let us add some more ingredients to this recipe. The butlers always on duty at the desk on the 20th floor promenade never intrude, breakfast in the room comes with two kinds of butters (but which is what?) and a chilled towel. And oh the facial, ask for a basic and you get a Platinum Rare by La Prairie, and a view down from the 18th floor.