On Tuesday afternoon we were sipping Moet in the Emirates Lounge* at Melbourne Airport to toast the start of our grand tour, at dawn on Wednesday our luggage was being unloaded from our chauffer-driven limo**, minutes later our housekeeper Azem was showing us around our swish five-bedroom villa on The Palm Jumeirah, and soon after we were watching the sunrise over our infinity pool.
It occurred to me that we were having what for many visitors to Dubai has become the quintessential experience — champagne, chauffer limo, luxury hotel. Only we’re not staying at the Burj Al Arab, which we can see poking behind the villas on the opposite ‘frond’ (no dull ‘streets’ or ‘roads’ here), rather, our accommodation is a luxurious HomeAway rental villa — our first for the year!
Just as we’d expect at a five-star Dubai resort, the sand on the beach was being groomed… but here on The Palm, the locals were getting their early morning exercise, walking and jogging beside along the beach, gardeners were already pottering in their yards, and — when we returned in the afternoon — fishermen were on the sand throwing in a line to catch their supper.
For all the media hubris, snark and jealousy that followed the announcement of The Palm project — Dubai’s ambitious man-made offshore islands (you know, the ones that can be seen from space) — it turns out that The Palm Jumeirah is a living, breathing place.
We’d only been to The Palm once before when we reviewed Atlantis — another project the critics derided and in its early days claimed was a ghost town, yet when we visited the hotel was packed full of people enjoying their holidays, a million miles away from the critics.
When we first drove through a few months ago, we were surprised just how much the island’s swanky homes resembled the 3D renderings — but with washing on the lines. Now, having arrived at our rather decadent rental (take a look here, but more on the digs later), we were relieved to find ‘humanity’ everywhere and that life on the fronds is indeed very ‘real’.
Sure, it’s a comfortable neighbourhood, with colossal homes with infinity pools and expensive cars in the driveway. But there are basketball hoops in the drives too, along with bicycles hurriedly dropped in the yard by kids rushing inside to dinner, and open garage doors revealing tools, sports equipment, camping gear and other junk accumulated by families over years. It’s heartening to see the places so ‘lived-in’.
In contrasts to some of Dubai’s other cookie-cutter housing developments, each home here is decorated idiosyncratically — and there’s everything from contemporary-Arabian with faux traditional wind towers to Spanish-style places with window boxes overflowing with red geraniums. And each boasts gardens in different designs and various states of development — some verdant with towering date palms and bougainvillea cascading over balconies, others obviously having a harder time trying to keep up with the Jones or Al Jabers.
Reassuringly, life on The Palm is a million miles away from the days this was just sand pumping offshore.
Seeing one in five people now choose holiday homes over hotels, and HomeAway recently joined TripAdvisor as one of the world’s top ten travel websites, I’m wondering if a stay at a plush villa on The Palm might not become the new quintessential Dubai experience…
*No, HomeAway Holiday Rentals are sadly not sending us Business class — that was our return ticket to our ‘home’ base in Dubai and we used our frequent flyer points to upgrade.
**Limo comes free for Business passengers on Emirates!