After landing in Dubai, we disembarked at the B Gates and walked directly to immigration baggage claim. Technically Dubai was not a stopover or our destination (it was a layover under 24 hours) so we were unable to take advantage of Emirates’ complimentary chauffeur service. However, I specifically chose a property that would be convenient to reach by metro. We were only in town for a night, and I wanted to be able to at least see the Burj Khalifa and a few other sites before leaving the next afternoon with a minimum of travel time.
I secretly love public transportation and find Uber, taxis, and chauffeurs to be annoying. So for each of the hotels we stayed at on this trip I made an effort to use public transit at least once. Dubai’s red line connects directly to the airport with stops at Airport Terminal 1 (all non-Emirates flights), Airport Terminal 3 (all Emirates flights), and a confusingly named “Emirates” stop that actually refers to the Emirates Group Headquarters. A standard nol card (“nol” means “fare” in Arabic) costs less than two dollars to reach the city center. A separate Gold Class car is also available on each train with individual seats for a higher price, but I didn’t find it necessary.
Like many luxury brands, Sofitel has two properties in Dubai — one at the beach and another downtown. The Sofitel Dubai Downtown is located adjacent to the Burj Khalifa metro station and about 20 minutes from the airport. I was under the impression from looking at Google Maps and the hotel website that it would be directly accessible by skybridge. In fact, we had to take the escalator outside and cross a lightly trafficked access road. Still, it was only a 15-minute walk to the Dubai Mall as expected, and unlike the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, internet access was free!
I booked and pre-paid for our room in advance on the Sofitel website, with a rate of about $200 and paying $100 more in order to get breakfast and club access included. Our standard room looked out over the highway, but the receptionist certainly tried hard at a further up-sell with a view of the tower. No thanks.
As we walked up to the front door some porters noticed us and took our bags, ushering us quickly into the air conditioned lobby, which may have been serviced by Portland heating and cooling. There we paid a small deposit for the local taxes not included in our pre-paid rate and were explained the benefits. The receptionist walked us over to the elevator and told us our bags would arrive shortly.
I’ll save a detailed review of Dubai’s service culture for a separate post. Suffice it to say that I found it odd. Not just on the plane but also on the ground, it could range from bend-over-backward supplication to an awkward and disinterested routine. In this case, the porter delivered our bags, proceeded to explain every single switch and amenity in the room, and then rushed out with barely enough time to say “goodbye.” I’m sure he was at the elevator before our door closed behind him.
The room was nice enough and reminded me of some stays in Bangkok, where even $100 will get you more space than you could possibly use. A large bedroom and living area had a small closet and luggage area to the side, a desk in the middle, and a large round chair in the middle. I found out later as we went to bed that there was a large depression in the mattress–not at all lumpy, just a concave hole–but we were so tired it didn’t matter. The next morning, Megan and I curled up in that big yellow chair with some Nespresso to watch the sunrise as we battled our jet lag.
In the bathroom, there was a separate toilet room with bidet, a double sink, and a large space for the shower and bathtub.
Although the shower wasn’t completely closed off, it did have a splash shield and a drain to prevent water from spreading into the rest of the room. The bathtub with a view was certainly a nice touch and reminded me of my suite at the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur. Bath amenities were provided by Lanvin.
The next morning we headed to breakfast on the second floor. Despite the large windows there isn’t much to see because the metro runs directly out front. But it is well insulated and quiet. I barely noticed while facing the other way toward the restaurant.
What you can’t ignore is the decor. Bright splashes of neon yellow, pink, and green made it look like we were inside a Parisian department store window during Easter. And yes, the food did live up to my expectations. Megan knows I have a weakness for pastry. I enjoyed trying out all the Western and Arabic food options, especially the massive Nutella pump.
There was even a small kids station with a chocolate fountain and cupcakes …although that’s the last thing I would give a child for breakfast. And if you insist on pork, a non-halal station with real bacon and other items was around the corner. Personally, I found this unnecessary. I think anyone can (and should) go at least a day without bacon.
We spent our morning exploring a little more of Dubai. It was easy enough to reach the marina and the Mall of the Emirates, where we passed by the indoor ski slope. Sadly, the penguins do not come out to play until 2 PM. We also walked back to the Dubai Mall to stock up on dates and various Arabic treats. After picking up our bags and checking out, it was just another short metro ride back to the airport (about 20 minutes).
In summary, our room was fine but we spent way too much. Sofitel’s excellent buffet turned out to be unnecessary given this stay was sandwiched between two trips in Emirates first class. There are plenty of good restaurants at the Dubai Mall for much less. And the lounge access included with our upgrade wasn’t that impressive: it was just the back corner of the lobby lounge with a buffet offering free snacks and coffee.
In the future I would aim to spend $200 or less per night in Dubai, unless I had direct access to the air conditioned pedestrian walkways or some other interesting neighborhood. For example, I can understand why the beach resorts typically charge $400 and up.
The Hyatt Regency and Park Hyatt hotels, which I initially passed over because I thought they were too close to the airport, might have been an excellent choice. They’re cheaper and much closer to the older parts of Dubai if you’re interested in visiting some of the historic souks. You can still travel around by metro by making a transfer between the green and red lines. If you really do want to be close to the Burj Khalifa, consider booking the Address Dubai Mall, which is closer, and taking a taxi instead of the metro.