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High Tech Meets the Arabian Nights
Dubai's iconic Burj Al Arab hotel sets the bar for luxury worldwide.

  by Arline Inge

It’s not as if this much coddled traveler hadn’t stayed in the finest hotels—like Le Bristol in Paris. I was always amazed when three attendants jumped up to twirl the revolving door for Madame, so burdened was I by my shopping bags from designer boutiques along the Rue du Faubourg Saint- Honoré. And a hotelier I’d never met actually greeted me by name as I stepped onto the dock of the Heyman Island Hotel at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (the ship’s mate had discreetly radioed a description of each new arrival). But even such niceties pale before the personal service that made the Burj Al Arab (Arab Tower) in Dubai, the first seven-star hotel in the world—even though official international hotel ratings stop at five!

Even if you’ve never set foot in Dubai, you’ve seen photos of its pale, pristine exterior, curved to recall the unfurled sail of an Arab dhow. Rising some 600 feet into the desert sky, this architectural treasure stands on its own island just off shore in the lively Jumeirah resort area. A private bridge connects it to the mainland. If you choose to arrive at the hotel by helicopter, like the Emirates royals, you will land on the flat round helipad disk you see jutting out from the rooftop. My friends and I, on a short must-see stopover, just grabbed a cab from the airport. But later we could not resist touring the city in one of the hotel’s fleet of chauffeured white Rolls-Royces.

By day, its soaring walls gleam in the perpetual desert sunlight. By night, when we arrived, this stunning hotel’s exterior drew gasps with a changing light show of rainbow hues, echoing the jewel tones of its dazzling interior. If ever I felt like the Sheika herself, it was on entering that glittering world of Middle Eastern glamour, where gentlemen in Arab robes or Savile Row suits and bejeweled women in designer gowns, or evening kimonos, saris and abayas, chattered away in at least 10 languages on their way to dinner.

Just inside the massive glass doors beneath the tallest hotel atrium in the world, stood our lineup of official greeters. Men in white robes and headscarves offered cooling wet towels, platters of plump, creamy dates and thirst-quenching drinks, along with welcoming smiles. An impeccably groomed host (each guest has his own) soon whisked me up the steep lobby escalator past a tiered fountain of spectacular dancing waters on one side. On the other, was the glass wall of the hotel’s famous two-story aquarium with hundreds of exotic inhabitants of the Arabian Sea darting in and out of a swaying reef. Then it was into an elevator with golden doors to a small period desk, where the sixth floor concierge stood up to greet me with the two sixth floor butlers. (Since it’s unseemly for a Muslem man to unpack or pack a woman’s suitcase, there is a male and female butler for each floor.)

Eager to lay down my head after a long flight from Los Angeles, I reached for my new key card...

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