Dubai, with its mix of modern culture and history is a natural stopover point for Australians travelling to Europe. Lulled by the soporific desert heat we were surprised at numerous local suggestions we head "for the mall". Normally we hate shopping malls, but we succumbed, entering past traffic-style stop signs depicting a woman wearing modest clothing and a head dress. Inside the huge space, and welcome air-conditioned blast it's a hoot watching ice skaters, bargain hunters and even a slightly sad enormous Aussie crocodile in the Dubai mall's massive aquarium. Many scoffed at initial plans to convert Dubai to a mecca of western-style conspicuous consumerism, but successes including the World Trade Centre entrance to the famous Sheikh Zayed Road, flanked by duelling skylines and a 12-lane highway soon silenced the sceptics. Guest workers toil from midnight to keep up with sprawling demand. Thrill seekers can float above the desert dunes in a hot air balloon, take a high-speed ride at IMG Worlds of Adventure or skydive over the Palm Jumeirah.
Developer and architect, Mirage Mille, took 36 months to complete the first phase of the resort in 2003. Madinat Jumeirah is a short drive from Dubai airport, beside sister properties Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Burj Al Arab and Wild Wadi Water Park. The vision? Recreate life as it used to be for residents along Dubai Creek, complete with waterways, traditional Abra boats, wind towers and a bustling souk. But who knows what the traditional peoples would have made of the sometimes scantily clad Westerners piling into the resort with its own two-kilometre private beach, so sumptuous many make it their destination and rarely leave to explore. It's a big hit with three generations of our family, and my youngster even took part in the beachside yoga classes in exchange for a visit to the neighbouring Wild Wadi Water Park, free to hotel residents. Authentic Arabian-styled architecture linked by gardens and waterways are all built around the hotel souk, Guests can travel by Abras (water taxis) and dine on floodlit boardwalks in the warm evenings. And the turtle preservation program is a big success — you can watch their happy paddling for yourself as you enjoy an outdoor breakfast.
Our ocean room is sumptuous and spacious with Arabian style decorations, sea views and sounds and plenty of room for an adult, a child and a pullout bed for granny. Cool and quiet air conditioning is a joy in the desert heat and the room is teamed with a large ensuite.
Brilliant breakfast catering for all tastes including made-to-measure omelettes. There's delicious local fresh fruits for the health conscious and even a chocolate fountain and pancakes for the rest of us. At night the wooden boardwalks lead to a wide range of eating spots . Don't miss the authentic Lebanese restaurant with its own smokehouse. Self-catering cottages are available and this may be a better choice for longer stays so you're not limited to eating out.
Don't miss a night tour to the sand dunes by four-wheel-drive, operators do hotel pick-up, or just saunter along the resort's network of wooden boardwalks. Golf carts and Abra boats will ferry you around, but make sure you know your hotel, as there are three in one complex and we got dropped at the wrong place more than once in the dark. See arabian-adventures.com
Although it's a bit pricey Mina A'Salam at Madinat Jumeirah is a firm favourite with visiting Europeans and Australians and the connected water park and two-kilometre beach with free in-house yoga offers something for everyone.
Double rooms from $450 per night, subject to the seasons. Packages including meals and facilities available. Madinat is 30-minutes from the Dubai Airport; see jumeirah.com
Chugging around on traditional water boats in the evening and during the day watching the antics of ponderous turtles, saved by the resort's rehabilitation program.
Watching a drunken tourist flicking lit cigarette butts into the resort's enclosed stretch of waterway dedicated to turtle rehabilitation. Dubai has 7.5 million expats and many seem to weave their way around hotel and resort bars during evenings and lunchtime to take advantage of the chance to buy alcohol.
Amanda Phelan was a guest of the resort.