Don't be surprised if they know your name. The staff at the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai do their homework. They also take service very seriously — at a buffet lunch there three weeks ago, your correspondent was assigned a personal assistant.
The Burj bills itself as the world's only seven-star hotel, a self-awarded distinction that seems unlikely to be challenged, at least until someplace is imaginative enough to start calling itself an eight-star establishment. It is definitely, however, the world's tallest hotel. That's been verified.
But in an oil-rich country that is home to one out of every six cranes in the world, and is building (among other things) the world's tallest building, largest mall, and biggest indoor ski resort, the Burj is par for the overly manicured course. Dubai is the Vegas of the Middle East. A private island chain in the shape of a world atlas is currently under construction.
If you stand along the Persian Gulf coast of the city, and gaze out towards Jumeirah, the buzzing nightlife district, you'll see the Burj perching imperiously above the skyline. Its 54 stories make the other beach-resort behemoths look like roadside motels. At night the hotel is lit by spotlights, a beacon of luxury that attracts Rolls Royce limousines ferrying passengers seeking all manner of unparalleled accommodation experiences.
Unless you're a guest, you won't be able to drop in for a quick look. Just getting into the lobby to admire the two-story-high aquariums and dancing laser fountains will cost you. Nonguests must make reservations at one of seven restaurants (as well as the SkyView Bar), and give credit-card details that guarantee a minimum spending of roughly $100.
And don't even think about visiting without a cell phone. Your reservation confirmation will arrive in a text message, that you must show the security guards to gain entry. When you do, you must abide by a dress code that forbids jeans, tennis shoes and shorts.
But once you have met these challenges and breached the "Tower of the Arabs," a world of excess awaits. The lobby atrium is, naturally, the world's largest. The rooms are all duplex suites, with marble staircases and personal butlers. The royal suites have revolving canopy beds and private mosques. One of the hotel's seven restaurants is cantilevered 600 feet above the beach, and the other has an under-the-sea theme and is accessed by a fake submarine ride.
The list goes on: the bar requires a reservation, and the beach staff includes dedicated water-bottle sprayers. Guests are shuttled to the airport by helicopter, Rolls Royce or BMW. And the service is like everything else in Dubai: extremely earnest in the pursuit of being the best, greatest and superior in every way. Staying at the Burj is like being an Emir for a day.
The question is: when does a lot become too much? And do leapord print rugs every really go out of style? In the end, that's for the guest to decide. After an in-depth tour of the premises, we came up with a list of highly notable features of the Burj Al Arab Hotel. Enjoy.