How to have a white Christmas in the desert
Escaping Britain’s big freeze and heading to Dubai – the land of guaranteed sunshine – for Christmas? Make it a white one. CD Traveller shows you the way to go…
Despite Dubai’s wonderfully warm winter temperatures, it is possible to experience a white Christmas in the desert city. The kingdom of bling could never be accused of not aiming to please: Dubai is dedicated to ensuring that everyone’s wildest dreams can be fulfilled and so if visitors want a white Christmas, heck they can have one – even when it’s a blistering 35 degrees outside. It might sound surreal but then as Sir Richard Branson – who remains entranced by the emirate – puts it: “Everything about Dubai is slightly unreal”. CD Traveller gives you the low down on where you can experience a white Christmas in the city of gold.
Mall of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Road
One of Dubai’s jaw dropping wonders, Ski Dubai is situated slap bang in the middle of the air conditioned cathedral to consumerism that is the Mall of the Emirates. Whether you’re a skier or a boarder, a visit to Ski Dubai should feature on any tourist itinerary – after all how often do you get to ski in the desert? The emirate’s first ski resort (yes, there is another one on the way), comes complete with 6,00 tonnes of real snow that falls over night at around minus 10 degrees Celsius. So when you’ve had enough of sun baking by the hotel pool, slalom down the slopes instead; there’s a gentle slope for beginners and the world’s first black indoor run for the pros amongst you. All equipment (think ski boots, thermal jackets and disposable socks) is included in the price – all you need to do is bring gloves. Ski you there?
Ice as nice
Today ice-skating enjoys a status somewhere between a sport and an art. However a few hundred years ago, skating on ice was a means of transportation across frozen lakes, rivers and canals with the Dutch widely believed to have been among the early pioneers in the 13th century. Ice skating seems to have a special attraction for Dubaians, as it does in all the Gulf countries. No country in the Arabian Peninsula it seems is complete without an impressive ice rink or two – and Dubai is no exception. It’s a decision that makes sense; not only is ice skating a great way to feel festive but as an activity it’s a low-impact way to both burn calories – important given the tendency to over indulge and pile on the pounds at this time of year – and have fun.
If you’re more of a wobbly beginner than a pro, CD Traveller recommends signing up for a lesson so as to save humiliation – not to mention bruises. A 15-minute lesson at either of Dubai’s two ice emporiums aims to teach participants the basic techniques of ice-skating such as how to fall safely and how to stop (always important). Of course, in some cases the full 15 minutes can be spent trying to persuade jittery tutees – from tots to teens and the other end of the age spectrum – to push off from the edge of the rink. On the other hand, it’s not unheard of for those that show a natural aptitude for skating, to have mastered a few backwards swivels by the end of their first lesson. Once the lesson has ended there’s the opportunity to stay on the ice and participate in open skating, where first-timers and pros can skate alongside each other, enjoying the open ice to a soundtrack of blaring beats. These events allow adults and ankle biters alike to relish some upbeat, unpretentious music while simultaneously skating and spending time with their friends and family in a safe environment.
Where to get your skates on:
Get your skates on over at Al Nasr Leisureland in Oud Metha (04 337 1234). Alternatively try the Galleria Ice Rink at the Hyatt Regency in Deira – arguably the true heart and soul of Dubai.
Chillout (341 8121), Times Square Mall, between the 3rd and 4th interchange on Sheikh Zayed Road.
If ski-ing, snowboarding and ice skating all sound a tad too active for your liking, take a taxi to Times Square mall and chill out in the aptly named Chillout bar which has proved a hugely popular hang out since it opened in June 2007. As high-concept bars go, it beats the Burj Al Arab’s Skyview hands down. This bar takes coolness to new depths – minus six degrees Celsius to be precise – so we suggest wrapping up warm. On arrival, drinkers are kitted out in a cloak, a hat and gloves before entering the icy inner sanctum. The USP here is that the entire place (the walls, the bar, the tables, chairs, seven foot chandelier, stools and even the portrait of his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) is made from solid ice imported from Canada. Staff advise that visitors stay inside for around 40 minutes – enough time then to sample the menu before freezing to death. While the other eight ice bars in the world all offer alcohol, the emphasis at Chillout (given that this is an Islamic country) is fittingly on mocktails and warm drinks like hot chocolate in a thermos flask, all of which are complemented by a small selection of food. It’s not cheap (guest are charged Dhs60 each just to enter the establishment) but it is very cool in every sense of the word.
Life’s a beach
Finally, for a quirky white Christmas, make for the pristine white beaches of Jumeriah. While everyone claims that they love a traditional Christmas, we’re willing to bet that when you’re lying horizontal on one of Dubai’s beautiful beaches, over-cooked brussel sprouts will begin to lose their festive appeal. The majority of hotels in Jumeirah and Dubai Marina boast their own private beach. However if you’re staying on the Sheikh Zayed Road or perhaps keeping it real in Deira, you can still pay to access a beach club for the day. The price usually includes access to the beach and pool, plus a lavish lunch.
For just a few dirhams (Dhs5 per person or Dhs20 per car), you can dip at both Jumeirah Beach and Al Mamzar Beach Parks. The former opened in 1980 and spans 13 hectares. Facilities such as showers, sunbeds, changing rooms, children’s playground areas and four outlets selling heart attack inducing junk food are all on offer. Alternative there are 13 grill stands for those seeking that quintessential ‘barbie on the beach’ experience
If you want a slice of pearl white sand to yourself, head for Al Mamzar – the park that most of Dubai forgets owing to its location on the outskirts of Dubai. This hidden gem is much quieter than its Jumeirah sibling, making it a decent spot to lay your towel for those tired of being surrounded by tonnes of fellow tourists. Bored of baking in the sun? Amble around the amphitheatre or simply stroll along the paths that wind between grassy spaces, pretty picnic areas and a children’s playground. Both the sea and swimming pool are manned by lifeguards and the park also provides changing rooms, chalets to rent and a barbecue area. To avoid embarrassment, men must remember that Wednesdays are for women and children only.
So there you have it! As our definitive guide proves, it is possible to have a white Christmas in the heart of the Arabian Desert. Whichever of the above options you plump for, to paraphrase Irving Berlin, ‘may your Christmas be white.’