In my former life, I traveled for business quite a bit, and between Eric and I we held status on airlines and at hotels. I quickly became accustomed to upgrades and priority lines. I stayed so much at the Westin Palo Alto that the guy who manned the desk at night knew me by name, and stopped asking for identification when I checked in.
Now, as pseudo budget travelers, we are no longer used to the VIP treatment. It has been one of the more difficult things to get used to as we now board the airplane with the regular folks, get stuck in coach in regular seating, and rarely get hotel upgrades, particularly as we generally stay in budget accommodations.
When we received the offer from Dubai Tourism to host us for a few days in Dubai, we jumped on it. Of all places. We would not be able to afford it for more than a night on our flashpacker budget. And, we figured we would be able to see things that we would not have seen on our own. We were not prepared, though, for the VIP treatment we received when we arrived, particularly with our reception at the Palace Downtown Dubai.
First, a representative met us as we entered immigration, to whisk us through the VIP line. Eric made fun of me for being so impressed, especially considering there were no long lines that we were jumping. He would have felt differently if there were a long line. I was impressed.
We were then whisked off towards the Palace Downtown Dubai, which sits in the foot print of the famous Burj Khalifa. As we distanced ourselves from the airport and neared downtown, I was simply flabbergasted. We have both watched so many documentaries on the building of Dubai – the airport, the Palm, the Burj Khalifa, and here we were, heading to the city center, like a metal mirage in the middle of the desert.
Our driver pulled up to the Palace Downtown, which looked like a palace in the middle of the desert, as I expected, with the ever present Burj Khalifa towering over the building. Luxury cars lined the driveway. I immediately felt like we did not belong. We tried to dress up that day – I wore my fanciest jeans on the flight, and we kept the straps of our backpack tucked into the storage areas so that our backpacks looked more like professional suitcases. Still, though, I felt that people could smell that we flew economy to Dubai, and that we make our living as traveling nomads.
Within seconds of arriving at the front desk, though, one of the sales managers greeted us, gave us an upgrade and a welcome gift, and personally walked us to our two room suite. We were VIPs right from the start, and I certainly felt welcomed. Granted, this is probably not the treatment that all visitors to the Palace are provided. I did not care. I loved being treated like royalty in the Palace, even if for just a night.
We immediately threw on our bathing suits and made our way to the pool for lunch before our Dubai Tourism program officially began. The pool was gorgeous, overlooking the water (a creek that runs through the desert) and in the shadows of the Burj Khalifa. I spent most of my time marveling at its size, as well as the bill for lunch – a sandwich and a selection of meze appetizers with one iced coffee was close to $60. That was certainly a welcome to Dubai moment. When we returned to our suite, there was a giant wooden box of fruit and dates, which we quickly became addicted to. If the fruit had been there before, we probably would not have spent the money on lunch by the pool.
After our driving tour of the city, we returned to the Palace. We walked out to the pool area in order to watch the famous Dubai Fountain, nestled at the base of the Burj Khalifa and the nearby Dubai Mall. It is supposedly larger than the fountains in front of Vegas’s Bellagio. In Dubai, everything is largest and biggest. It was like we had a private viewing of the fountains.
The Palace’s VIP treatment continued with a fabulous Hammam spa treatment and a complimentary dinner. They had scheduled us for dinner at the Thai restaurant, Thiptara. It has a lovely view overlooking the creek, so I can understand why they wanted to showcase the experience. We politely explained that we live in Southeast Asia and were craving something different, anything different. They quickly obliged.
We ended up at Asado, their Argentine grill. We sat outside under the lights of the Burj Khalifa, watched the Dubai fountain off in the distances, ate an enormous grilled platter of meats (a parillada, which was meant for only one person – what I assume would be one very large person), drank wine, and enjoyed our VIP treatment. I slept soundly in the enormous bed, after spending the night before in an economy seat on an overnight Qatar Air flight.
We checked out of the Palace Downtown Dubai the following morning after the buffet breakfast spread, which was also fit for a king. That I knew they did not lay out just for us. The food just screamed attention to detail. Eric ordered eggs, sausage (not pork), a container of yogurt, and juice. For him, he wanted the comfort of an American style breakfast. I relished the local delicacies – cheeses, olives, pita breads, freshly made yogurt with fruit, a local pudding called Mohalabiya, spinach pie, freshly squeezed juice with avocado – everything that I have not had in such a long time.
I knew we received some special treatment at the Palace Downtown Dubai, and the aim was certainly to aid us in providing a fine review, but many of the staff had no idea who we were, you know, that we were “VIPs,” and they also provided top notch service. Regardless of the intention behind it, I enjoyed being a VIP for 24 hours. I could get use to this.
Dubai Tourism hosted us for our tour of Dubai, but all of my opinions are my own.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.