It's easy to draw parallels between glitzy Dubai and tropical expat cities like Hong Kong/Singapore. They attract foreigners (the population of Dubai is 80% foreigners), entertainment is built around malls (a sensible shield from the sun), and the landscape is littered with new construction. Although in Dubai there are remnants of the housing bust from unfinished sprawling condos, a number of sites are being brought to life again.
Burj Khalifa is the tallest man made structure in the world at 829.8 m (2,722 ft). The architecture reminded me of the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Close by you'll find the Dubai Mall, which has a fountain show accompanied by music that's the largest of its kind.
As far as malls go, the Ibn Battuta Mall was actually fairly interesting because of the displays about early age exploration. Ibn Battuta was a Moroccan explorer from the 1300s who traveled over 30 yrs.
The Palm Islands are two artificial islands constructed in the shape of palm trees, and while we didn't get the aerial view, we visited the hotel Palm Jumeirah. Great Lebanese restaurant there called the Al Nafoori.
From here we also saw sand poured into a lake to make land.
We stayed at the Cosmopolitan Hotel Dubai, a clean, reasonably priced hotel close to the metro, our primary form of transport.
How was the food?
The food was typically international (expensive hotel food) or middle eastern. The food didn't seem incredibly different from middle eastern food I've had elsewhere. Order fattoush, a delicious salad with toasted pita (lower left corner below). In general, appetizers of hummus, baba ghanoush, and stuffed grape leaves would pave the way for grilled meats. To make up for the conspicuous lack of vegetables, these plates of whole veggies would be brought out like we were shopping at a grocery store. Well I suppose this whole pepper can be dipped in hummus! The veggies were practically an after thought.
Verdict on the world's only 7 star hotel?
Burj Al Arab is the world's only (self proclaimed) 7 star hotel since 1999, because no one else has dared create such ridiculous expectations. Aside from seeing 2 Bugattis ($2mil USD car)valeted in the front, the hotel was a let down. The interior was dated and a bit tacky, and the multicolored panels had the air of lost decade. If you just want to peer inside the hotel, you still need a reservation at the hotel or restaurant to get past the guard. Otherwise you won't even get past the bridge before the hotel( well, unless you're driving a Bugatti, maybe). Smart way to rev up the hype and ensure visitors will be duly disappointed by the decor. We should have cut our losses when we walked in, but we ate at the Sky View Bar. I didn't want to see the surcharge for cancelling a reservation. Service was slow: 2 on a 7 star scale.