Butler service, Rolls Royce limousines, champagne baths – your imagination is the only limit when it comes to luxe lodging in Dubai. Yet the tiny turbo emirate offers the entire gamut of places to unpack your suitcase, including boutique hotels, heritage B&Bs, quality midrange hotels and, of course, just about every international hospitality brand under the sun.
Dubai has more than 100,000 beds, a number that's still growing in the run-up to World Expo 2020. With so much competition, standards are generally high, and even most budget hotels deliver decent-sized rooms with at least a modicum of style, a private bathroom, cable TV and wi-fi.
Midrange hotels often have superb facilities, including a pool, multiple restaurants, a gym, satellite TV and a bar. Top-end hotels boast the full spectrum of international-standard amenities, plus perhaps a scenic location, great views and ritzy designer decor. Budget hotels cluster in Deira; most are fine for a one- or two-night stay, although the cheapest may also be places where sex workers conduct their business.
Beach resorts come with private beaches, fancy spas and an entire village worth of restaurants and bars. City hotels, especially in the Financial District, tend to flaunt corporate flair, with design and amenities to match.
Free wi-fi is commonplace, with only a few hotels charging as much Dhs100 per day for access. Some hotels still restrict free access to the public areas.
Most hotels have at least one snack bar or restaurant, although only the international four- and five-star properties serve alcohol.
By law, unmarried men and women are not permitted to share a room, but in reality, most international hotels turn a blind eye. Having two different last names is no tip-off, as most married Arab women keep their name.
Although designed for long-term stays, hotel apartments are a great way for wallet-watching travellers to economise in comfort. Available in various configurations from studios to two-bedroom apartments, they come with cooking facilities and room cleaning. Facilities such a gym or pool are fairly standard, but on-site restaurants or bars are not. There are two main clusters of hotel apartments: in the Mankhool area in Bur Dubai behind the BurJuman mall and in Al Barsha just south of the Mall of the Emirates.
If you are after a short-term apartment rental, Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) has a whole range of options, including apartments. A good alternative to this is opting for a hotel apartment, which provides virtually the same advantages but with the addition of housekeeping.
Boutique & Heritage Hotels
In a city where a 'bigger is better' mentality rules, boutique hotels have been slow to catch on, but there is a growing number of charismatic heritage hotels. Located in Bur Dubai and Deira, they're essentially B&Bs set up in historic courtyard buildings and offering ample authenticity and sense of place. Travellers in need of buckets of privacy, high comfort levels or the latest tech amenities, however, may not feel as comfortable here.
Room rates fluctuate enormously, spiking during festivals, holidays and big events and dropping in the summer months.
The best beds often sell out fast, so make reservations as early as possible if you've got your eye on a particular place. You can book most properties online with a best-price guarantee.
The Call to Prayer
If you’re staying in the older areas of Deira or Bur Dubai you might be woken around 4.30am by the inimitable wailing of the azan (the Muslim call to prayer) through speakers positioned on the minarets of nearby mosques. There’s a haunting beauty to the sound, one that you’ll only hear in Islamic countries.
Muslims pray five times a day: at dawn; when the sun is directly overhead; when the sun is in the position that creates shadows the same length as the object shadowed; at the beginning of sunset; and at twilight, when the last light of the sun disappears over the horizon. The exact times are printed in the daily newspapers and on websites. Once the call has been made, Muslims have half an hour to pray. An exception is made at dawn: after the call they have about 80 minutes in which to wake up, wash and pray before the sun has risen.
Muslims needn’t be near a mosque to pray; they need only face Mecca. If devotees cannot get to a mosque, they’ll stop wherever they are. If you see someone praying, be as unobtrusive as possible, and avoid walking in front of the person. All public buildings, including government departments, libraries, shopping centres and airports, have designated prayer rooms. In every hotel room arrows on the ceiling, desk or bedside table indicate the direction of Mecca. Better hotels provide prayer rugs, sometimes with a built-in compass.
Need to Know
A 10% room tax and 10% service has long been added to room rates, but in 2014 an additional tourism tax (ranging from Dhs7 to Dhs20 per night) was introduced to raise funds for World Expo 2020 projects. This is on top of 5% VAT.
Check-In & Check-Out
Flights arrive in Dubai at all hours, so do confirm your check-in time with the hotel before arrival. The earliest check-in is generally at 2pm, although early access is usually no problem. Checkout is 11am or noon, though some hotels will give you an extra hour or two.