The third of three big competition wins in as many years (after a 2018 Trek America Deep South Tour win and a 5* weekend in Cannes win in 2019), my 2020 prize – consisting of a week all inclusive basis at a hotel on The Palm in Dubai, return economy flights and private transfers – had been booked, cancelled and delayed a few times since I won it at the height of Covid restrictions. With Dubai remaining on the ‘red list’ for much of 2020 and 2021 and then heavy restrictions on testing and isolating once we could technically travel there, we were beginning to wonder if it would ever be the right time to go.
In fact, it had been so long since I won the prize that the hotel it was in conjunction with, Sofitel Dubai The Palm, was under new management and the terms and conditions of when we could take the prize had changed from having just a few obvious blackout dates which coincided with school holidays to having only very limited low and off-peak dates allowed. But with a ‘take it or lose it’ ultimatum now that travel was starting up again, we plumped for a week in May, right on the cusp of Dubai becoming unbearably hot and outdoor bars and terraces beginning their summer shutdown.
Luckily, by the time we flew, most restrictions on travel had been lifted with no requirement for us to take any PCR tests as we were fully vaccinated and masks only having to be worn on the airplane and indoors once in Dubai.
We’d been booked on an early flight from London Heathrow on the Saturday morning so had decided to stay in an airport hotel the night before. Using public transport to access the airport itself, we had chose to stay at the Premier Inn for Heathrow T2/3, just a short distance from the airport but not walkable with the under-the-runway tunnel for vehicles only and still a rather expensive taxi ride of you don’t want to grapple with luggage on the local buses. The airport does offer a Hopper Bus which transfers passengers between the airport and its main hotels but we found this didn’t run late enough into the evening or early enough the next morning to suit us.
We were up early on Saturday morning to meet our pre-booked taxi to take us back to the airport. Flying with Emirates from Terminal 3, we were relieved that despite media coverage of lengthy check in and security queues at UK airports, it didn’t take us any longer than usual to reach the departures lounge where we grabbed some breakfast before it was time to board.
Our flight wasn’t full so we were allocated 2 seats either end of the middle 4 giving us plenty of room to spread out on the 2 empty seats between us. As I’ve always found with Emirates, there was a great selection of TV shows and films to keep us occupied on the 7-hour flight and the food wasn’t bad for plane food!
Arriving into Dubai on time despite a slightly delayed departure, we were met straight after clearing immigration by our transfer company, Arabian Adventures, pointing us in the right direction to meet our driver once we’d reached arrivals and given a welcome pack with information on tours and our pick up time for our transfer back to the airport at the end of our trip.
Quickly locating our driver, we were soon on our way to The Palm, memories of my last (and first) trip to Dubai flooding back as we passed some familiar landmarks along the way.
Pulling up at our hotel, our luggage was whisked away and we were shown to the reception area to check in before being escorted to our luxury seaview room. The room was bright and spacious with two large twin beds as we’d requested and a large balcony overlooking the pool. As it was already dark, and a ‘dusty’ Dubai day, we couldn’t see much beyond that but looked forward to checking out our view in daylight the next morning. Our luggage was brought to our room not long after we arrived there ourselves so after quickly freshening up, we headed out to dinner.
Despite our prize being an all inclusive stay, this didn’t really exist in the hotel in the form I know it as for European package holidays at least. Rather than all inclusive, we were actually staying full board with an inclusive drinks package added on.
With a variety of bars and restaurants on site there were an awful lot of rules on what was and wasn’t included and with it being late and certain restaurants having to be pre-booked, we had been advised to make use the Manava Buffet restaurant that evening.
This certainly turned out to be a good choice as we found plenty of dishes on offer to suit two rather fussy eaters! We were told as we entered that the night’s theme was simply ‘international’ and there was a real range of dishes available. We both left feeling full up.
Breakfast the next morning was also held in the Manava restaurant and was again pretty impressive with a range of hot dishes, continental options and both pancakes and waffles! From here, we headed straight out to the main pool area around the hotel’s lagoon pool and soon found sun loungers under the shade of an umbrella.
Most loungers had a table next to them with a button on to press for service when we wanted a drink or food. Having the inclusive drinks package, we were brought a laminated menu listing what was available to us. While this menu was limited, not being big drinkers, there was more than enough on it for what we wanted.
Our full board package including 3 meals a day, we decided to leave our sunloungers to sit and have dinner at Maui Beach Bar where we had a limit per person on what we could spend as part of our package or could pay the difference if we wanted something that cost a little more.
While there was plenty on offer on the menu, there was a lack of smaller snacky lunch time meals – my BLT sandwich came with a huge portion of fries and was as big as a main evening meal, way more than I needed after a big breakfast and before another meal to come later that day and later in the week, I found myself asking to order off the children’s menu instead – luckily the staff were happy to bring me the kids’ grilled cheese!
We spent the day relaxing by the pool and taking regular dips in the lagoon pool to cool off not returning to our room until early evening. We had booked dinner at the hotel’s World Eatery restaurant that night but upon arriving there for our reservation, were told it was closed with a later opening time that night! Disappointed, we returned to the Manava buffet restaurant instead. Once again enjoying the range of food on offer here we decided to stick to this restaurant for the remainder of our stay!
With the daytime temperatures being so high and having been to Dubai before, we had decided to spend most of our days on the hotel complex and use evenings for sightseeing. The Palm is not the easiest place to navigate with public transport being mainly non-existent so we used taxis to get around each night.
This evening, we had decided to stay on The Palm to visit The Pointe, a new shopping and entertainment complex which had only recently opened. The main draw for us was The Pointe’s Fountain Show, billed as the largest in the World and running every half hour from 6pm til late. With a show scheduled to start, we, along with all the other visitors that evening, made our way to the barrier overlooking the fountains expectantly only for nothing to happen! Deciding to wait half an hour and see if the next show was on, we went for a walk down to The Pointe’s beach area overlooking the famous Atlantis hotel across the water grabbing an ice cream along the way. As we made our way back for the next scheduled show, we heard a worker telling someone that they weren’t on that evening and again, despite crowds gathering at the barrier at the scheduled time, nothing happened. Disappointed, we got a taxi back to our hotel and went for drinks there before heading to bed.
The next day was another relaxing day, this time spent mainly on the hotel’s private beach and in the sea. That evening, after another trip to the buffet restaurant, we caught a taxi down to Dubai’s Marina Walk. The marina looks especially impressive at night with its towering buildings lit up and reflected in the waters and dhow boats transporting tourists on dinner cruises. From here, we walked to the Jumeirah Beach Residence area and The Walk, a lively beach side area lined with hotels, bars and restaurants before catching a taxi back exhausted by the heat of the night.
We were up a bit earlier the next morning to grab breakfast before heading off-site for the day to visit Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark. It was just a mile’s walk along The Palm’s Crescent from our hotel but with the heat an already stifling 30-something degrees at 9am and with taxi’s being relatively cheap, we decided to ride there instead.
Arriving at the park, we made our first mistake of the day. Although we’d be taking our towels, sun lotion and flip flops around the park with us, we’d hired a (rather expensive) small locker for the day to put our valuables in and had chose to put these things in a locker near the front entrance of the park. Not realising the size of the park, this meant we had a long trek back every time we needed to return to get something! (We later found out there were lockers a bit more central and that we could move our things to a different locker free of charge.)
Our second mistake was to jump straight on the first ‘ride’ that we saw – what we assumed was a lazy river – without studying the map or investigating the park further. Not only did the ‘lazy river’ turn out to be a rather vigorous and raging rapids ride for the most part, it also turned out to be the longest in the World of such a ride and, being unfamiliar with the park, we were soon lost along the course with no idea where we got on – or where we should get off – the ride! This caused lots of laughs as we lunged into rapids section after rapids section until eventually, what must have been a good 30-45 minutes later(!), one of the park’s lifeguards said to us “Oh, you’re riding again?” as we drifted past, signalling to us that we’d finally done a complete lap and getting off at the next exit to find where we’d left our flip flops, sun lotion and towels!
Finally off the rapids ride, we found our way to the first of the three towers containing the park’s main waterslides. We started at the closest tower to the entrance, the Tower of Neptune, home to the infamous Leap of Faith ride but both decided to forego the body slide rides in favour of those we could sit on a double raft to ride down together.
After doing a couple of the lower level rides here, we moved on to the Poseidon Tower, home of some of the park’s family rides. Riders needed to be in groups to ride these which worked in our favour as we got to jump the queue when 2 more riders were needed to fill a boat on the Zoomerango slide and then again on the Aquaconda.
From here, we walked down to the final, and newest, tower, the Trident Tower where we waited in our longest queue of the day waiting 30 minutes to ride the new Odyssey of Terror group slide as well as riding what became our favourite ride, Shockwave.
With the sun beating down in the hottest part of the day, we found our feet burning as we walked from the ride exits back to pick up our flipflops left in the open storage areas back at the tower entrances. It was only when we walked back to our locker at the front of the park that we realised our third mistake -the aquasocks we had seen many visitors to the park wearing to protect their feet and which we’d assumed had to be purchased from the gift stores, were actually available for free from guest services!
Collecting our pair from a booth near the entrance, it was a relief to be able to walk between ride exits and entrances without worrying about the balls of our feet!
After lunch sat out on the Atlantis hotel beach, which was accessible from the waterpark, we spent the afternoon revisiting the three towers riding any slides we’d not yet been on and revisiting those we’d enjoyed the most before catching a taxi back to our hotel.
Arriving back to our room later than we would have on a pool day and therefore being later for dinner, we decided to have an evening in going for drinks at a hotel bar instead of sightseeing in Dubai that evening.
With the stifling heat continuing for the rest of our stay, we abandoned our tentative plan to have a ride into Old Dubai one of the days and instead spent the rest of our week relaxing on the beach and around the pool on site. We did make it out to Madinat Souk Jumeirah one evening for a spot of souvenir shopping and a walk along the canal to see the famous 7* Burj Al Arab hotel and then back to The Pointe on our penultimate evening after we got confirmation that the fountain show was definitely going ahead that night!
Unfortunately, on our departure day, we had been booked on a morning flight, the early start meaning we lost the chance for one last breakfast buffet at the hotel’s Manava restaurant but the hotel staff were very accommodating making us up a takeaway breakfast of fruit, pastries and drinks for our journey.
It had been a very different type of holiday than I’m used to – lots of time to relax and unwind instead of dashing around sight-seeing – but I’d enjoyed every minute of it!