13 February 2015

Mind boggling shopping and dancing fountains

As part of their plan to make Dubai one of the biggest tourism and financial hubs of the world, the rulers of the emirate have been spending big on big things, writes Brian Byrne.

The tallest building in the world, for instance. The Burj Khalifa. More than half a kilometre tall, with over a thousand luxury residences spread through its height. The highest viewing platform in the world (though there are a couple of contenders for these related titles currently a-building). The observation lounges at levels 125 and 148 have personally escorted visits and complimentary refreshments, and are akin to flying First Class.

The literally 'shop till you drop' experience of the Dubai Mall in the complex near the bottom of the tower. It has the most shops of any mall in the world (naturally), and opens until midnight each day. All the big stores of the world are there, from Bloomingdales to Hamley's of London toy store. In the afternoon and evening it's jammers.

Part of the Dubai Mall experience is the 'dancing' fountains outside it, which 'perform' to music each evening from 6pm to 11pm. A fantastic choreography of waterspouts and curtains, running two to three minutes every half hour.

In the Mall itself there's a full ice hockey pitch where regular serious games are played and which can be watched while looking over the railings around two floors. There's also a large aquarium through two floors in the centre of the complex, with a serious collection of fish, including manta rays and shark. For a small fee, you can walk in a tunnel through it to an underwater zoo, amongst the denizens of which is a giant crocodile.

Restaurants abound throughout the four floors of the mall, from standard fast food courts to high-class gastronomic venues. Especially popular in the evenings are the ones which face out onto the esplanade around the lake of the dancing fountains.

But it's all about shopping really, and providing a place of leisure to encourage walking and browsing. A place to bring the whole family — and the local people do, certainly the wealthy ones. There's a complete 'street' devoted to shops for children, especially clothing.

Overall, the sheer scale of it can be almost scary. And on the matter of scale, while the metro is the easiest way to get to the complex, be aware that it's a good half-hour walk to the mall itself, albeit on an air-conditioned walkway with travelators like you get in airports, only on a much, much longer scale.