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Dubai: Always wondered whether you can take a tour of Dubai’s iconic hotel, Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, without having to book a room there? The curious would book an afternoon tea, which was the usual way for non-hotel guests to visit this architectural marvel on Jumeirah Beach Road. However, starting October 15, you can get a 90-minute butler-guided tour, called Inside Burj Al Arab, and hear untold stories about the hotel.

Burj Al Arab 1
Architect Tom Wright of WS Atkins was the concept architect behind the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. Architecturally designed to resemble a billowing Arabian dhow sail.

If you are a tourist in the UAE, or visiting the emirate for Expo 2020 Dubai, don't forget to put this on top of your list of places to see in the city.

The idea behind the design

One such story is about how, on an October afternoon in the year 1993, Tom Wright, a British architect sat facing the sea, on the terrace of the Chicago Beach hotel, which stood adjacent to the site where the Burj al Arab would be built. As he watched boats sailing in the water, it gave him an idea. The shape of the hotel that is now unmissable on Dubai’s skyline, was inspired by the shape of the sail of a boat.

On the 25th floor of the hotel, in a small frame, is the paper napkin on which Wright drew the design of the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, with a felt-tip pen.

Here's the paper napkin that Tom Wright first sketched the Burj Al Arab on.
Here's the paper napkin that Tom Wright first sketched the Burj Al Arab on, in 1993. Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

The construction of the hotel began the following year, in 1994, and five years later ‘Burj Al Arab’, which translates to ‘The Tower of Arabs’ stood tall. Today, it has become one of the world’s most photographed superstructures and a jewel in Dubai’s skyline.

“Seven-star” luxury

The all-suite hotel not only challenges the norms of hotel design but also redefined the meaning of luxury hospitality in both Dubai and around the world. You’ve probably heard people calling it a “seven-star hotel”. It was an expression, actually, first given by a journalist when reviewing the newly opened Burj Al Arab in 1999. The catchphrase clearly caught on.

Luxury drips right from the get-go on this tour. You are first greeted with a welcome drink at a ticketing counter adjacent the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, a sister property of Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.

The tickets can be bought at the ticketing counter adjacent the Jumeirah Beach Hotel
The tickets can be bought at the ticketing counter adjacent the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

From here, a buggy ride and an extremely polite driver who knows everything Burj Al Arab, takes you through the hotel gates. Your first stop is a vantage point with a high-tech camera that clicks a picture of you with the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah as the backdrop. You can collect this picture at the end of the tour.

A buggy ride and an extremely polite driver-butler await to drive you to the hotel entrance.
A buggy ride and an extremely polite driver-butler await to drive you to the hotel entrance. Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

He drops you off at the entrance designated for the tour. As you step in, two Emirati hosts welcome you with some Arabic coffee, dates, and rose water and hand towels. It is called the ‘Marhaba welcome’ and is a symbol of hospitality, a value deep-rooted in Emirati culture and well reflected in the hotel staff, who go that extra mile to create a memorable experience for every visitor.

Gold interiors

Approximately 2,000 square meters of 24-carat gold leaf was used to embellish the hotel’s opulent interiors. It is also home to the largest Swarovski crystal ceiling in the world. The ceiling is adorned with 21,000 crystals, used to represent the Milky Way. The installation is worth Dh1.3 million.

At the entrance, don't forget to look up for the most royal view.
At the entrance, don't forget to look up for the most royal view. Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

More than 24,000 square metre of Statuario marble is used throughout the hotel. It is the same marble that was used by Italian artist Michelangelo to create many of his most famous sculptures including the statue of David.

The hotel lobby has fountains you cannot miss.

Another thing you cannot miss at the entrance are the elaborate flower arrangements. A team of up to six florists takes around eight hours to create the arrangements in the lobby, using flowers shipped from Holland, Kenya, South Africa, and Thailand. There are always flowers in the suites, even on the very rare occasions when there are no guests staying.

The interiors

Famed Chinese interior designer Khuan Chew is the woman behind Burj Al Arab Jumeirah’s distinctive interiors. Drawing inspiration from the sights and cultures of Arabia, Chew used a vibrant colour palette to design the interiors.

Look up and you will be amazed. Different colours reaching up to the ceiling. A host explained that the colours represent the different elements, fire, wind, earth and water.

From here, an escalator with a panoramic view takes you to the Royal Suite on the 25th floor. “This is technically the 50th floor as every suite in the hotel is two floors tall,” the hostess explained.

The Royal Suite

“Welcome to the Royal Suite, I’ve been expecting you,” a butler announces as he opens the door to the suite. If you ever wanted a grand entrance into a room, this is one. With many butlers to guide you through the room, you want to head in every direction.

There’s so much to see – from the handmade carpets from India, to the gold leaf-plated interiors, from a 19th century Japanese screen to walls that change colour based on the time of day, everything is surreal.

The stairs leading up to the second floor are covered in leopard-print carpets. 

There's a royal reason for the leopard-print carpets on the staircase.
Don't miss the leopard-print carpets on the staircase.

In the two bedrooms, the Eiderdown bedding comprises feathers hand-picked from abandoned Eider ducks' nests in Iceland. And, the washrooms in the Royal suite have 24-carat gold showers.

Many international celebrities and heads of states have stayed in this room. Some popular names are Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Wayne Rooney, Lewis Hamilton, Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid, and Justin Bieber, who shared a video dancing on the stairs, when he stayed here.

The Experience Suite

Next you are guided to the experience suite where you can learn all about how the hotel was built. Here you see Khuan Chew’s design board that she used over 20 years ago, her tools, sketches from her team and items used in the design of the hotel. A solitary post-it note on a sketch reads “Contract Tues PM”. It’s like travelling back in time.

Khuan Chew’s design board from 20 years ago.
Khuan Chew’s design board from 20 years ago. Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

You also get a virtual dining experience, more information about the hotel using Virtual Reality and immersive technology, and additional insight into the aquarium and turtle rehabilitation programs at the hotel.

Tickets start at AED 399 with the option to add signature experiences for even more unforgettable memories, including the hotel’s 24-carat Ultimate Gold Cappuccino or signature afternoon tea at Sahn Eddar in the famed atrium.