Friday, January 8, 2010

A Week in Dubai

It was chaos! All over Europe, people were rummaging through their drawers, frantically searching for their long johns, their thermal vests, their wooly knickers, their caps and gloves. The big chill had dug in its icy talons, dumping unusual amounts of snow on unsuspecting innocents, catching thousands of ill-equipped motorists off-guard. Hundreds of unfortunate Eurostar train passengers had spent the previous night stranded in the Channel tunnel, and airports everywhere had come to a tumultuous standstill.

As for us, at seven o’clock in the morning on December 20th, 2009, we were zipping up our suitcases, getting ready to fly to Dubai.

Apparently, it was the dawn of the coldest day on Swiss meteorological record. In La Brévine, a village up in the Jura mountains nicknamed the Siberia of Switzerland because of its extreme temperatures, the mercury dropped to minus 34° degrees Celsius. Of course, if you’re reading this in deepest Alaska, minus 34° degrees Celsius probably sounds like pool party weather, but for us Swissies it’s definitely a take-refuge-under-the-duvet-and-watch-TV sort of day. Not that it was that cold in the genteel lakeside village where we live; when the Prescott family tripped down the garden path in single file and bundled into the car it was probably a balmy minus 12°, which still feels a bit nippy when you’re not wearing a winter jacket. Since it wasn’t snowing in Geneva, we figured the airport would be buzzing with holiday-bound activity. We were far too excited to be going on our first ever beach holiday at Christmas to think about delays or cancellations due to bad weather elsewhere.

However, when we walked into the surprisingly quiet departure hall, one glance at the flight schedule board prompted a mutual moan of dismay: our KLM flight to Amsterdam was already delayed by one hour, and the frenzy of cancellations and mounting delays zipping all over the board didn’t bode well. Worse, there were rumors of a large snow-cloud blowing in from the north-east, set to dump vast quantities of plane-paralyzing white stuff on Geneva airport’s runways within the next couple of hours. We might not be going anywhere.

As it happened, we were luckier than most. Our plane finally took off three and a half hours late, which should have caused us to miss our connecting flight in Amsterdam, but since the weather in Holland was channeling the North Pole, our Dubai flight left with over five and a half hours delay. So, after a day of lounging around reading magazines, followed by a smooth six hour flight spent snoozing and watching movies (ooh, I really enjoyed “The Time Traveller’s Wife”!) we landed in Dubai’s mega-massive, ultra-contemporary airport at four o’clock in the morning local time.

Passing through immigration was an experience in itself. If you’ve ever fantasized about gorgeous young sheikhs, you’ll get a pleasant eyeful while showing your passport there! Maybe I was so tired I was hallucinating, but that night the Dubai immigration officers were all movie-star gorgeous, immaculately decked out in traditional long white attire, their black hair, dark eyes and chiseled features off-set by white headdresses secured by black cord. As for their female colleagues, they were beautiful, too! The young lady at the desk closest to us looked fabulous in her black silk outfit, her huge eyes and full mouth impeccably made-up, her gorgeous face framed by a matching veil edged with sparkly silver thread. Seriously, nobody should look that good at four-thirty in the morning. Well, certainly not immigration officers!

Haggard, sweaty, our clothes terminally creased, we dragged our luggage through the terminal where we were immediately ushered into the biggest car in the world and chauffeured through Dubai’s scintillating, techno-cool, sky-scraping scenery, catching our first glimpse of the brand new “Burj Khalifa”, the tallest building in the world, culminating at a 828 metres (apparently it’s nice and cool up there in the summer!). Twenty minutes later, we pulled up in front of the Royal Mirage Arabian Court, a beautiful seafront hotel built on reclaimed land on the eastern side of the famous “Palm”, the first of Dubai’s man-made islands. By the time we’d checked in and settled the kids in their room it was five-thirty in the morning. Mr. Prescott and I were more than ready for bed.

We were also more than ready for the bright, warm sunshine pouring into our room when we finally opened our eyes the following afternoon. We got up and managed to drag our comatose teenagers out of bed, then went to have something to eat at “Eau Zone”, the hotel’s trendy beach and pool restaurant. Later, we wandered down the long stretch of white sandy beach, our linen trousers rolled up, our flip flops dangling from our fingers in true Condé Nast Traveler style. We paddled and pottered and took deep breaths of sea air, admiring the incredible lineup of skyscrapers close-by. Still tired from our long trip, we plonked ourselves on sunbeds and snoozed for a while, and when the sun dipped a little too low for comfort we just wandered back to our room, flopped onto the bed and discussed what we’d like to do during the week.

Of course, relaxation (and getting a bit of a tan) was a top priority for all of us, and we spent plenty of time lounging by the pool, or on the beach. To Mr. Prescott’s surprise, my daughter and I even swam in the sea, quite an achievement considering neither Olivia nor I are famous for acts of bikini bravery in chilly waters. But we’d never spent Christmas in a warm country before, and there’s just something special about swimming in the sea, so we hauled in our tummies, braced ourselves, grimaced and went for it. Besides, it wasn’t really that cold at 22°, but in all honesty, at 28° the swimming pool was far more inviting!
One of the highlights of our week in Dubai was an expedition into the desert in a 4x4

I’d never done anything like this before, and wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy it; hurtling up and down sand dunes seemed more like a macho sort of thing, but as it turned out I thought it was brilliant! Nabil, our driver, was keen to show off his rally driving skills, and once reassured we weren’t going to be sick in his car (apparently it’s happened quite a few times), took us for a fast, thrilling ride. The desert is magnificent, awe-inspiring, and mind-bogglingly vast. We saw a couple of antelopes, and I tried to take photos, but we were bouncing and skidding and giddy with excitement, so they didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. We stopped at a vista point at sunset, and our giddiness subsided, replaced by a profound sense of calm. Dinner was provided at a nearby “Bedouin camp”, complete with camel rides (too many people), sand painting displays (what was on offer was kind of kitsch, but the technique was amazing), lots of rather greasy food, henna tattoos (potent stuff; two weeks later I still have mine!) and a belly dancer. We enjoyed the festivities, then skid-slip-jump-zoomed out of the desert at 120 kilometres an hour. Yeeha!

But the best was yet to come. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, we took a taxi to Atlantis, a spectacular new hotel on the far end of the “Palm”. Atlantis has 1,500 rooms, including underwater suites where you can lie in bed and watch the fish swim by! Personally, I found Atlantis’ architecture rather cheesy in a “My Little Pony” meets “The Little Mermaid” sort of way. Nor was I impressed by the sickly-sweet smell if fast food permeating the air at the entrance to the huge waterpark and aquarium. But once we checked in at the ticket office, snapped on our plastic bracelets and hopped into the little golf-cart type vehicle that whisked us off to Dolphin Bay, I forgot all about such insignificant trivia. Of course I did; I was going to swim with dolphins!

Interacting with the dolphins was a magical experience none of us will ever forget. Our dolphin was a female called Lexie, who was initially a little distracted by her sexy dolphin boyfriend busy catering to another group of wonderstruck tourists a couple of splashes away. Nevertheless, she soon settled down to entertain us. Guided by precise hand signals from two dolphin trainers, Lexie danced with us, kissed us, hugged us, spun us around, and as a grand finale, pulled us one after the other across the lagoon at top speed! She showed a series of impressively high jumps, and even “spoke” (incidentally, when dolphins “speak”, the noise comes out of their blowhole, not their mouth). What do dolphins feel like? Smooth and slick and tough. Kind of like…moisturized bananas!

Christmas morning was spent lounging by the pool. We then enjoyed a nice light lunch at the beach and pool restaurant before heading off to the Dubai Mall, which, with 1500 shops, is supposedly the biggest in the world. Of course, my daughter and I didn’t share the same shopping program as my husband and son, so we immediately split up. While they went in search of sportswear and skateboard equipment, Olivia dragged me off on a quest for Top Shop. We got terribly lost in this overwhelming temple of consumerism, but my shopaholic daughter discovered plenty other shops to pillage on the way. We had a good giggle in Jimmy Choo, entertaining a fantasy of surprising the Prescott boys a couple of hours later decked out in designer bling from head to toe. Sadly, common sense got the better of me and the bling fantasy was soon abandoned. Olivia consoled herself in Top Shop, and I briefly considered doing some credit card damage in Gérard Darel (there was a dusky pink suede fringed handbag that definitely had my name on it), but I took a deep breath and kept walking. My husband was speechless to discover that the only thing I had bought was Jo Malone’s new fragrance, “Vanilla and Anise”. It smells wonderful, but, frustratingly, doesn’t seem to linger.

On Boxing Day, we headed back to Atlantis for adventures in the waterpark. Unfortunately, it was a little cloudy, and a chilly wind made running around in a wet bikini somewhat unpleasant. Nevertheless, Olivia and I enjoyed our leisurely ride down the Lazy River in giant rubber rings, screaming in all the right places as we splashed down the rapids, but no way were we going to follow the boys and launch ourselves off the “Ziggurat”, allegedly the highest and steepest waterslide in the world. After one last super fast rollercoaster ride in a rubber ring through a pitch black tunnel, Olivia and I called it a day and headed back to our hotel for lunch at a sheltered table at the beach restaurant, leaving the Prescott boys to pursue further aquatic adventures on their own.

Just over twenty-four hours later, following a lovely long day at the pool, we boarded our flight back to Amsterdam. To my surprise, I managed to sleep almost all the way, waking up just half an hour before landing. Our connecting flight to Geneva left on time, and by nine o’clock on December 28th we were home again, having had a wonderful holiday, and looking forward to spending the rest of the holidays with friends and family.

This trip was extra significant to my husband and me because, in a way, it marks the end of our wonderful family cocoon. Our daughter, Olivia, graduates in June 2010, and in the autumn she will be leaving home to start University. Although we know she’ll often be coming home for the holidays, our baby will officially have left the nest. Our son, Greg, will follow suit in a couple of years, and the Prescott household will never be the same again. It’s not that I’m particularly worried about these milestones, I’m just increasingly aware of them and determined to make the most out of these last few years of family togetherness.

Time is precious; use it to make beautiful memories with those you love. We made some great ones in Dubai.

I wish you a Happy New Year!

Lots of love,


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Lindsay Townsend said...

Happy New Year to you and yours, Francesca! Super article! great fun.

Francesca Prescott said...

Hi Lindsay, I hope you enjoyed a lovely holiday, too.

I also hope there isn't too much snow where you live; from what I saw on the news it looks like England is having a terrible time.

xx Cesca

Savanna Kougar said...

Francesca, thanks so much for sharing your vacation here!
Wouldn't I have loved doing everything you talked about, including the mad ride through the desert.
Lexie, the dolphiness, was obviously a jewel, a true ambassador for her kind.

liana laverentz said...

You make me want to go there! Especially to see that "temple of consumerism." Oh, and those lovely dark-eyed immigration officials :)