It’s easy to imagine that only Premier League footballers can afford a visit to the pearl of the United Arab Emirates - but Dubai can be an affordable luxury
Driving in from the desert at dusk, it spread out on the horizon like a brooding futuristic cityscape in a sinister video game.
Dubai reminded me of Las Vegas – a concrete and glass oasis in a desolate landscape, looming out of sand dunes and nothingness.
There was a foreboding and at the same time a fascination about the place.
I was wary about Dubai after reading stories of tourists ending up in trouble for letting their hair down and doing what comes naturally on holiday.
And with its luxury hotels, it’s easy to imagine that only Premier League footballers can afford a visit to the pearl of the United Arab Emirates.
But pictures of the world’s tallest building and resorts built in the sea shaped like a palm had cast an alluring spell.
So I leapt at the chance to experience the place for myself – courtesy of the Dubai tourist board, who flew me there to prove that it is in fact affordable luxury.
And on day one they had me visiting the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (jumeirah.com).
With its five palm-fringed pools sprawling in front of its striking wave-shaped main building, there would be no need to step outside this five-star resort on a relaxing sunshine break.
There are spectacular views of the Arabian Gulf and the famous ‘seven-star’ Burj al Arab, where you can land a helicopter on the roof to pop in for a £50 afternoon tea (there’s also road access via a bridge).
This place even has its own Wild Wadi water park attached and hotel guests have free access to its 30 rides.
The water park, with its own eating places, is a great day out especially if the heat gets above 40C.
Back at my accommodation, the five-star Oasis Beach Tower, I met Sven- Goran Eriksson, who was staying there at the time during his stint as technical director of Dubai’s Al Nasr football club.
He told us that he was loving his time in Dubai.
Hardly surprising if his suite was anything like the one my group was staying in.
On the 32nd floor, it included three double deluxe bedrooms with en suites, a shared kitchen and luxury lounge – a two bedroom version with four people sharing it would cost from around £285 a night, so around £70 or so each.
I was staying in the Marina area of the city, a short walk from the beach and a pedestrian zone of restaurants with a great choice of cuisines, fast food and Michelin-style dining.
There’s a real international feel with plenty of people-watching opportunities.
A few blocks away, the owners of the Oasis Beach Tower, JA Hotels & Resorts, had another great property, the Ocean View Hotel, which was more affordable, starting at around £70 a night for two.
It has a superb pool area with a bar. There’s an excellent Brazilian restaurant, Fogo Vivo, and a Scottish bar called Girders, with live music.
Sipping a pint of lager at London prices there in the evening, another Dubai myth about not being able to enjoy a drink was exploded.
Sure, there are no pubs or street bars, but most hotels have semi-separate terraces where tourists from outside the hotel can buy a beer, or most other drinks they fancy.
The next day, I headed to the Burj Khalifa.
At 2,717ft, it’s the world’s tallest building. Like a giant hypodermic needle, it towers above the Dubai Mall.
From the observation deck, you get a true picture of Dubai in its desert setting, as well as a fantastic view of all the other remarkable buildings.
But it is equally fun to enjoy the building from ground level, outside the Mall, which has every shop and brand you can think of – from Cartier to Bloomingdales to Marks & Spencer, Prada and Hugo Boss.
If you have to shop, you probably won’t find anywhere better than this place – which makes the Trafford Centre in Manchester or Essex’s Lakeside look like Spar mini-marts.
Dubai is unique – with buildings like Las Vegas on steroids – and without the gambling and Hangover-style drunken antics.
It welcomes tourists who drink responsibly and are looking for a relaxed medium-haul break to rival Florida, Mexico or Thailand.
It’s easy enough to explore on a long-haul stopover by visiting the landmark buildings and shopping malls.
But, after spending five days there, I wouldn’t simply write it off as an interesting part of the journey.
It’s a worthy destination in its own right. And it could be just the place you are looking for to enjoy a special holiday with plenty of sun, sea, heat, amazing food, and first-rate accommodation.