Dubai’s World Islands: The Next Big Holiday Destination?
Dubai always dazzles. It’s big and bold and unabashedly ambitious. Its sparkling waterfront, opulent architecture and multinational pazazz have seen the capital of the Emirates rise from the sands to offer a truly unique offering to visitors.
As a proud desert oasis, Dubai offers in spades; In addition to haute cuisine and blingy brunches, its diverse offering spans laid-back neighborhood gems, water sports, cultural fascinations and desert expeditions. As a city consistently ranked among the safest in the world, it’s also a major draw for families and solo travelers.
In addition, there is abundant sunshine and very manageable flight time. Some people call it “fake”, but it’s the vision of a destination of the future – a new kind of curated holiday experience – that makes Dubai so unique. And whether that’s your cup of tea or not, there’s no denying that’s what really dazzles.
The Palm Jumeira is an example. Built in just six years, the man-made archipelago is shaped like a palm tree with fronds lined with villas and luxury hotels dotted along its spine. More than 10,000 people now live on the reclaimed land, including David and Victoria Beckham who own a palm-lined seven-bedroom mansion there. (I saw it, I tracked it down).
But an even grander plan was the World Islands just off the coast of the city, a paradise archipelago of 300 islands forming the map of the world. This project experienced intermittent development for many years for financial and environmental reasons after the financial crash. The islands are mostly made up of sand dredged from the shallow coastal waters of Dubai. And despite the initial fanfare, the islands have looked like a ghost town of sand for almost 17 years.
Because now the very first resort has finally opened its pier to guests. And IMAGE.ie was lucky enough to get an insider’s look.
The Anantara World Islands opened in February this year and is located in the South American Islands region, arguably the best location with generous views of Dubai’s iconic skyline. It’s a study in delightful seclusion, pristine sand, and fairly remote allure.
The resort’s 70 accommodations include suites, beach villas, and pool villas with private terraces and beach access. Prices start at around €380 per night, per person, including breakfast. There’s a Thai-inspired spa, a Mediterranean restaurant overlooking the pool called Helios (a Greek and Italian extravaganza) and Quamar which serves exquisite regional dishes with an Indian twist, and is the perfect spot for sunsets. with the glittering skyline of Dubai in the distance.
The station, is a work in progress. It feels like it is still searching for its identity as construction continues. The planting is new but promises to be lush. The service is warm and the little touches like coconut with straws on arrival, and the yoga mats in the rooms give it a much more bohemian feel than most Anantaras I’ve stayed at.
And that’s part of the appeal – a barefoot, barefoot break reminiscent of Sri Lanka or Bali but with the five-star experience. The island is small enough to feel intimate for couples and yet extremely safe for families with a bay protected by a breakwater and an Anantara kids’ club.
The resort’s vision to be the first to open aligns with the unique ambition of this entire city. It’s a glorious (subjective!) 15-minute speedboat ride from town, straight to the silky skyline of sister property Anantara The Palm Resort. Plans are already underway for a new launch point closer to Dubai Airport, which would be even more convenient for those looking to get to downtown Dubai during their break.
The rooms are huge and have high bamboo ceilings, rattan furniture and touches of turquoise. The water sports offer is also impressive. Paddleboarding is popular due to the sheltered cove and e-foiling (elevated motorized surfing) is also a must try, especially for those looking for a bit more exhilaration.
One of the huge benefits of an Anantara experience is the focus on sustainability. We were curious to know, given the location of the island, how they handle waste. The World Islands Resort has its own desalination plant and its own bottling center and food waste is converted into cooking gas. As infrastructure progresses, more and more plans will be as environmentally neutral as possible. As it stands, and until some of the other resorts on the island are developed, the hotel group will continue to chart its own pioneering course.
That usual vacation dilemma – choosing between a bustling city with restaurants and cultural attractions, or a retreat on a remote beach island to get away from it all, is no longer in question. That’s the beauty of what’s been achieved here; a Maldives-style oasis but much closer to home and with the added pleasure of a city break.
In addition to the calming, invigorating massages in such a tropical setting, we had to bounce back to town for some major insider recommendations (which we have to share).
Dining in Dubai is most definitely a verb. And people are all coming out. The view isn’t the only wow factor at Sushi Samba. Perched on the 51st floor of the St Regis Dubai, the menu mixes Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian influences. Sushi Samba has already made its mark in London and Las Vegas and it also attracts hoi-polloi here. An open, rainforest-style theater-style kitchen and lavish surroundings provide a lavish ambiance alongside your nigiri.
The French-inspired restaurant La Cantine du Fraubourg is where all the cool kids go. Expect modern French-inspired cuisine, well-researched wines, plush seating and an amazing mess to die for. You will also find the best terrace for people watching.
The only tough decision to make at Bushman’s Steakhouse is where to look first. Interiors are an eclectic mix of old Australian outback and the smoky umami of a traditional steakhouse. Savor succulent cuts of premium meat and seafood
prepared on the Parilla Grill and charcoal ovens. Try the kangaroo (surprisingly tasty), the Tomahawk is delicious. You want the béarnaise or pepper sauce on the side and I still dream of the mashed potatoes. It’s a true celebration of a carnivorous lifestyle.
Visit the brand new Museum of the Future, Dubai’s last landmark. Considered the most beautiful building in the world, the doughnut-shaped building has writing on the outside in Arabic calligraphy that reads “we may not live for hundreds of years, but our creativity leaves a legacy long after our departure”.
The View at the Palm is a great way to get your bearings. Stand at an imposing height of 240 meters on the 52nd floor, the observation deck, and drink in the remarkable panoramic views.
Theater Dubai is… an experience. It is an eclectic version of the traditional cabaret. The entertainment features more than 25 acts, including salsa dancers, singers and rope acrobats. Her heavy red theater curtains burst with energy every time they reveal the next act. The puzzling combinations and general VIP vibe certainly make for an unforgettable experience.
And that’s the beauty of a city like this. He leaves an impression. Just when you think it’s peaked, it launches something bigger or bolder that turns heads like the islands of the world.
Dubai sometimes reminds me of the fictional Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz. A blurry vision, an intriguing skyline, a city that’s about to be intimidating, otherworldly. But in this case, it’s money – and it’s still a whirlwind of a world far from anything you’ve ever seen.