Now that Dubai's glory days are over, it's a great time to visit.
That sentiment is true enough to guide your travel plans. In a city where $600 per night hotel rooms were once routine, a premium vacation now comes at a nice discount. But once you land in the emirate and start taking in the city there's a buzz that defies the economic downturn. World-class restaurants are full enough, but will still give you a table at late notice. Hotels abound, at much friendlier rates (a 5-star stay goes for $150-$400 per night). With fewer crowds, service staff are happy to see you, striking just the right deference toward a paying customer.
Here's what happened: over the past year, while Dubai's corporate giants downsized and the city stared down payments of roughly $100 billion in debt, a half-built city was largely completed. The over-construction of luxury hotels, swanky apartments, and all-age entertainment meant they all virtually went on sale. The result is that there is now, at last, a way to do a Dubai vacation on the cheap.
That's especially true in August, when a combination of desert summer heat and the holy month of Ramadan coincide. Travel in the Muslim world slows down, leaving surprising low rates. Just prepare to avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours (just keep your consumption indoors - hotel restaurants and many eateries remain open, but draw curtains over the windows). On the other hand, Dubai during Ramadan can give you a great local experience, with lush nighttime tents and lavish buffets that open at sunset.
Choosing your hotel is, in some ways, the fun part – a multitude of luxury resorts, some with enough self-contained entertainment to fill a short vacation. The 5-star Monarch Hotel, which played host to Paris Hilton's Dubai visit last year, starts at $106 on Expedia. A beachside Westin starts at $162. At the bottom, a Holiday Inn Express in Dubai Internet City, at $36 per night (all prices on Expedia.com). Go to the hotels directly and you can get a rich package deal; the Atlantis Hotel, an entertainment mega-complex, offers deluxe rooms at $243 along with unlimited access to its Aquaventure water park and Lost Chambers aquarium. Otherwise Aquaventure and its competitor, Wild Wadi, cost $54 per adult, with a slight discount if you enter after 3 pm (Aquaventure is running sessions by dark, called 'Cool Summer Nights,' charging $40 for access from 7 pm to midnight. Available most Thursdays).
Some hotels jump their rates in September, when the weather cools and the social scene ramps up. But the Holiday Inn, Dubai Airport keeps it low at $34 per night. The centrally-located Novotel is a reasonable $112, while the superb Park Hyatt, with lush grounds and a top spa, runs at $200 per night. Taxis are cheap, and should cost under $20 to take you from the airport to any city destination. If you're looking for a short term rental, www.dubizzle.com serves as the city's local equivalent of Craigslist.