Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along with a select group of event professionals to the sunny shores of Dubai & Abu Dhabi. Whilst I had visited Dubai many times, Abu Dhabi was a first and an Emirate I was very much looking forward to exploring. Needless to say, it did not disappoint.
Departing from Heathrow we boarded our giant A380-800 Etihad flight (post obligatory Champagne in the lounge) and safely landed in Abu Dhabi 6 or so hours later to 35 degree heat. A fleet of GMC 8-seater SUVs awaited and soon ate up the 60 minute transfer to Dubai (often quicker than flying direct to Dubai due to traffic) and I must admit, traveling after a flight in a beast of an SUV like that was a welcome change to a coach.
A quick alfresco welcome dinner at the stunning new Viceroy Palm Dubai Jumeirah and we turned in for the night.
A great night’s sleep in a monster room overlooking the Dubai Marina preceded breakfast in BLVD On One before being whisked away for our first activity. No matter how many times you’ve been to Dubai one of the best ways to take in the sheer size of the building and infrastructure is by boat. Cue Super Yacht.
4 hours on board sipping a cold one(s) whilst taking the odd dip in the clear sea / thrashing a jet ski and you have a very acceptable way to start your trip.
After an afternoon at leisure we dressed up and took a trip Downtown. Standing at the foot of the Burj Khalifa (over half a mile high!) is impressive but a quick trip up to At.mosphere on the 122 floor and you have yourself a view to savour. It’s mind blowing and definitely worth the trip if you’re happy to splash out on the wines.
A quick bite to eat on the Armani Hotel Terrace (excellent for large groups) with drinks and we witness whilst quaffing the famous fountains.
Next up is a hard hat tour of La Perle by Franco Dragone – this is set to be a huge attraction with a capacity of 1300 guests in a purpose built, state of the art theatre filled with 2.7 million litres of water. It will be amazing and one to consider when it opens in September this year.
Back to the hotel we trot and we have an exceptional tasting menu at the Viceroy’s Quattro Passi Italian restaurant – thank you very much!
Check out of the hotel and driven in the stretch Mercedes G Wagon (as you do) towards the old part of Dubai which is still a busy hub of traditional trade activity. It’s amazing to see so many dhows being loaded with everything from fridges to fruit before setting sail to their destinations. Back to modern Dubai reality and we arrive at Dubai Creek Golf Club and board a 9-seat sea plane and marvel at the sights of Dubai & islands of Abu Dhabi from the sky.
45 minutes later and we touchdown near to the Viceroy Yas Abu Dhabi and straight down to the drag track. Muscle cars: check, burning rubber: check, 238KPH in 14 seconds – I thank you. As described by the team at the F1 track circuit this is “the most boring experience we run”, well I can tell you it was amazing.
We all took turns to floor a V8, 6.6 litre, 400bhp muscle car and it was as much fun as it sounds – I would have loved to have tried the vast array of activities on offer but we had more to see.
Next up is a long lunch and lounge at the uber cool Saadiyat Beach Club; think Shoreditch House Rooftop Pool but a lot hotter and in my opinion, far superior! Afterwards back to the hotel, a quick site visit of the Presidential Suite & their meeting space (great for large scale events as well as vast amounts of outdoor reception options) before settling down for some fantastic Japanese cuisine in their Kazu restaurant. Black Cod anyone?
A quick breakfast at Origin’s restaurant within the hotel and we’re off again. First stop Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque – wow! Irrespective of your religious beliefs this place is incredible and certainly something that has to be seen. It can welcome over 41,000 worshippers including just over 7000 in one hall alone. It also has the world’s largest carpet, all 5625m2 of it. Our guide provided a fascinating insight to the Mosque and I would highly recommend doing the same if you ever visit.
Next up is the 74th floor of Jumeirah’s Etihad Towers. The Observation Deck at 300 boasts 360 degree views of Abu Dhabi's amazing skyline and we’re treated to views for miles.
We can’t hang around though as our next stop is the blossoming Saadiyat Cultural District. Home to the Guggenheim Exhibition amongst others including the development of the Louvre Abu Dhabi means this area will soon be a thriving hotpot of cultural activity.
Lunch is next but not in the usual manner. After arriving at Asia de Cuba based at the St Regis Hotel (very nice indeed) we’re introduced to Head Chef Phillip Harbin and his exec chef Luis.
They provide us with a demonstration on how to prepare tuna ceviche before handing over the knives (sharpest blade I’ve ever witnessed!) and it’s down to us. End result: tuna ceviche with seared foie gras, orange, Asian pear, malanga chips.
YES CHEF! The food didn’t end there as we were treated to some sumptuous cocktails and amazing delicacies that one would expect from Asia de Cuba. Asia de Cuba – you’ve got my vote and I would definitely recommend this for a large or small group looking to do something different in the UAE.
Belly’s full and we’re picked up in a fleet of 4x4’s and we head off deep into the desert. Our drivers certainly know the roads and sand dunes as we literally fly to our final destination – the middle of nowhere.
It’s awe-inspiring being amongst the dunes and soon you realise how special this place is and how the central hub of Abu Dhabi and Dubai used to be. Some obligatory dune bashing (not for the faint-hearted) and we’re back at the food again. A private dinner setting at the Arabian Nights camp with local entertainment and cuisine was very special. It was truly spectacular and you can even stay the night and take advantage of the simple yet classic Arabian palm houses. If you have a decent size group this would be perfect to take exclusively.
The night was almost over but before we got our heads down for check out the next morning we had a few drinks on the rooftop bar back at the hotel.
A quick swim, some breakfast and it’s a short 10 minute transfer to the hotel. The lovely people at Etihad arranged Business Class Lounge and flights and we finished our trip in true style. Hello flatbed!
We’re all very lucky AOK Events to work in an industry that’s constantly changing and striving to be the best. The UAE is no different.
Dubai still holds a very large key to incentive travel and there are literally hundreds of things you can do for any number of guests. The good thing is you can return the following year and experience something completely different such is the rate of development and tourism demand.
Abu Dhabi; this was my first experience and I loved it. Plenty for groups to do and regular holiday makers alike and rather humble compared to the bright lights of its smaller Emirate, Dubai. Would I recommend it? In a heartbeat.
Thanks have to go to our fantastic hosts of the trip: Viceroy Hotels, Momento DMC, Etihad Airways and Mags Worldwide. 10 out of 10.
If you’d like to explore the UAE is an incentive or MICE destination you can get in touch with Ben.
Find our more about how AOK Creative can help with your incentive travel here.