After a rather disappointing flight on Etihad Airways in Diamond First I was driven from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, where I spent three nights at the Park Hyatt. Unfortunately I caught a cold last weekend so the trip hasn’t been as enjoyable as I had hoped given that I’ve spent half of it in bed with nothing more than a tissue box keeping me company, but fortunately I still got to do some fun stuff. I’ll have a full trip report later, though I wanted to first share my experience having afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab.

I’m sure most of you have heard of the Burj Al Arab, the world’s self-proclaimed seven star hotel. If you don’t know it by the name you probably at least know what it looks like, given that it has a sail-like shape.

The hotel is on a man-made island and you can’t just visit the hotel for free. I wasn’t going to go to Dubai without visiting the Burj Al Arab, so I chose one of the cheaper options to visit it, which is afternoon tea. At 395 AED (~$108USD) per person, it’s no cheap afternoon tea, though it’s well worth it.

I only thought of actually visiting the Burj Al Arab a day before I was supposed to leave Dubai, so my options were limited. The concierge at the Park Hyatt managed to snag the last opening they had for 1PM the following day, and it would be in their lobby lounge, Sahn Eddar. I would have preferred it at the Skyview Bar, though unfortunately they were already booked out.

I was driven to the hotel at noon, and as you reach the island there’s a gate where your name has to be checked off on a list in order to enter.

One of the nice things about visiting the hotel for afternoon tea is that you can get a sense for the hotel without shelling out the money it costs to stay there. And I’m happy I did, because this place is obnoxious… fascinatingly obnoxious. And I kind of mean that as a compliment, because I think that’s their goal.

For me hotels are about hospitality and creating an environment that’s relaxing and low key. Of course no one stays at the Burj to be low key, but there’s nothing relaxing about it either. The place is overrun with people taking pictures. Hundreds of them. All over.

You literally can’t even really walk around the hotel, because you’re constantly having to dart people taking pictures. It’s such an impressive building, but at the same time there’s nothing relaxing about staying somewhere when you literally have hundreds of people standing around taking pictures. Of course I was one of them. ;)

After walking around for about 30 minutes I went to Sahn Eddar to get a table, since they were just opening. I was given a table at the far end of the lounge by the window.

The two waiters handling my table promptly introduced themselves, asking me if I had any dietary restrictions. They confirmed I was having the seven course afternoon tea with champagne, and then presented me with the menu.

They first served me a glass of Louis Roederer Champagne, which was poured at the table.

They have a selection of over 20 teas, so I was then asked which tea I wanted and when I wanted it served. I ordered the English Breakfast tea, and asked for it to be served with the scones.

The first course was fresh berries with cream, which was spectacular.

The next course was finger sandwiches. While I was dining alone, it seems as if they serve the same portions regardless of whether there are one or two people at the table, so it turned out to be way too much food. Then again, Dubai is all about excess.

The next course was beef wellington, prepared by the chef at a carving station in the middle of the lounge.

The next “course” was sorbet.

Per my request I was then offered tea and scones with three kinds of jam and clotted cream.

At this point I made a quick pit stop at the restroom. I asked the waitress where the restroom was, and she said “through the gold-plated doors.” I gave her a puzzled look, since that doesn’t really narrow it down, given that all doors are gold-plated.

Next the waiter came around with a plate full of pastries, explaining each one in great detail. I went with a chocolate pastry.

Then the other waiter came around with another tray of pastries, and I went with a custard pastry.

Lastly I was offered some chocolates.

It’s worth noting that as far as I know, the whole selection is “all you can eat,” so you can have more of just about anything you want, and can even try as many different teas as you want. I was beyond stuffed to begin with, so wasn’t about to order seconds on anything.

The Burj has no substance, is a tourist trap, and has more gold than Lil John’s mouth. Afternoon tea was excessive, over the top, and entirely unnecessary. But both were absolutely awesome. My only regret is not making a reservation earlier so I could secure a table at the Skyview Bar.

If you go to Dubai, you have to go to the Burj Al Arab.

  1. November 5th, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Moodz said,

    Over the top, gaudy and so very Arab! As a Persian, I DEFINATELY need to visit this place and look down upon everyone. Ha! Ha!

    Great report, by the way.

  2. November 5th, 2011 at 8:49 am

    studio253 said,

    Great report. I tried looking it up in your previous reports but couldn’t find the info, what camera are you using?

  3. November 5th, 2011 at 8:52 am

    lucky said,

    @ studio253 — I use a Canon S95, which is a great compact camera.

  4. November 5th, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Xandrios said,

    When your’e flying all the time, getting served these ‘fancy’ foods in the air and lounges…are you really in the mood for more of that during some off-time?

    When getting off an airplanne / airport the only thing i’m usually looking for is some hearty food…preferably simple, tasty and without fuss ;P Kinda like the opposite of what I see on your pics :)

  5. November 5th, 2011 at 9:06 am

    lucky said,

    @ Xandrios — I went to Dubai. There’s no such thing as “simple and without fuss” there. ;)

  6. November 5th, 2011 at 9:48 am

    chitownflyer said,

    On my next DXB trip, I’ll have to check this out. I love doing the high teas in London, and this appears to be on the same level. On a different note, most 4 & 5 star UAE hotels have an onsite docotor or medical assistant, so make use of it if needed. You can also purchase many medicines without a prescription, so medical care should be easy.

  7. November 5th, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Phil said,

    This brought back some great memories. My wife and I did our fifth anniversary at the Burj al Arab. This was before we were “big time” into points and it cost us around $1,200 a night but it was a lot of fun (though we did fly there from LHR using BA points and the UK 2-4-1 so IIRC 75k BA miles for two of us round trip in first). We really enjoyed the Burj, the rooms were truly outrageous (forget mini-bar – you have a real bar!)

    If you have time though try the Al Maha Desert lodge. This is now an SPG property (earning only though no redemptions). But it’s an another amazing experience. We did this too and in many ways it was better than Burj. The four wheel drive tours in the desert are very cool!

    Enjoy Dubai, I hope your return trip is better it’s giving me second thoughts on the F redemption we made given it used up so many points. Sounds like an F class product with a poor J class service

  8. November 5th, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Sean M. said,

    @Lucky – There is plenty in Dubai that is “simple and without fuss” if you look beneath the surface of the 5-star hotels and glitzy shopping malls that form the touristy face of the city.

    I’ve been visiting Dubai for close to 30 years now and there is still a fair bit of the old city that existed back in the days when Jumeirah was the most distant suburb, the airport was basically a bus station with Duty Free stores and a mention of Sheikh Zayed was about the President rather than the road!

    Try and visit Dubai sometime with a “local” guide and see the real city. Take a stroll down the Deira Corniche on a Thursday evening, go shopping in Karama and take a drive out to Sharjah (which is similar today to what Dubai used to be in the 1990s). Heck, just take a Metro ride somewhere other than the airport line. It’s a different world.

  9. November 5th, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Ralph said,

    I’ve visited the BAA 2 times for an afternoon tea. The first time there were virtually no tourists taking pictures but the second time (’10) the came with bus loads full of. :(
    The afternoon tea is cheaper without champagne and indeed all you can eat (or drink, didn’t know that the first time) except the champagne. I’m not allowed to drink alcohol so I took ‘sparkling apple juice’. When the waitress asked if I wanted another glass, she added it would come with a 90 AED surcharge. NO THANKS LOL!
    BTW there is also an Asian High Tea but I never got to try that one as it was closed on our visit.

  10. November 5th, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Andy Bluebear said,

    “Over the top, gaudy and so very Arab! As a Persian, I DEFINATELY need to visit this place and look down upon everyone. Ha! Ha!”

    What a silly, stupid, and almost borderline racist thing to say.

    Lucky, Sean M. is right. There are places that are less opulent and more grounded in Dubai, you just have to seek them out and avoid the tourist trap areas. Then again, it seems like the Dubai government doesn’t really want to promote it, they just want to promote Dubai as a land of glitz and bling to appeal to foreigners with $$$…

  11. November 5th, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Barry said,

    Great report. Don’t know why some folks keep criticizing your style, maybe there’s an undercurrent of Occupy Boarding Area. For those folks, I say “read the Frugal Travel Guy”

    I want to hear these details. Just curious, how much was the cost in $$

  12. November 5th, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Barry said,

    Whoops, the price is right there in the report. Seems like a fair price.

  13. November 5th, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Larry said,

    Great report as usual. When I was in Dubai I had wanted to check it out but never pulled the trigger.

  14. November 5th, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Carl said,

    @Phil – I am staying 2 nights at the Al Maha in March and can’t wait. Really looking forward to it.

  15. November 5th, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Pat+ said,

    Cool report Lucky, but I just wanted to react to “I went to Dubai. There’s no such thing as “simple and without fuss” there.”

    This is simply not true. For the most part, the old Dubai is without fuss. In fact, some of the older areas look like most traditional middle eastern cities (except that the locals don’t seem surprised to see foreigners.)

    You can eat for pennies in old Dubai. I remember this Indian buffet dive on the second floor of a run down building where I ate like a king on plasticware for something like $3. And for the record, I did survive–it was cheap, but totally safe.

    Walk along the river and you’ll see plenty of traditional sights, too. You can also cross the river on these little boats for a nominal fee that hasn’t caught up with what Dubai pretends to be these days.

    Dubai is a fascinating city in my book. I understand why so many despise it — the glitz, the heat, the lack of history, the wide, inhuman arterials, the canned entertainment, the over-the-top hotels that cost a fortune. But it’s full of gems if you look around, especially in the old city. And even some of the canned entertainment is actually really worth taking a look at — the indoor ski slopes, the amazing waterparks, the Dubai Mall fountains that are bigger than the Bellagio’s, the tallest tower in the world…

    I know you had a cold, but I hope you got to see more than the BAA which is the epitome of pretention. I also hope you took time to wanter around Abu Dhabi to see a much more traditional side of the UAE. There’s not much to see in terms of “tourist sights” over there but it’s great for people watching and the waterfront is lovely.

  16. November 5th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Fredd said,

    Thanks for the enjoyable read, complete with the photos and your persnickety attention to detail. An over-the-top kind of occasion for sure.

  17. November 5th, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Ozaer N. said,

    Right down the beach from the Burj al Arab (on Jumeriah Beach Rd), theres a cool highly low key place to eat–Buqtair Restaurant. They got some really great food at very cheap prices. I recommended to lucky and that will defly take care of his cold hehe..

  18. November 6th, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Bruce said,

    Thanks for the informative post. Although I would have to say that the hotel doesn’t look super luxurious. I mean its nice, but to me, just an upgraded version of the old school vegas hotels like Aladdin, Sahara, or Circus Circus.

  19. November 6th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Dan said,

    Coins,

    Was the tip included in the price?

  20. November 6th, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Julianne said,

    Thanks for this info Ben. It comes in handy for me since I am leaving for DXB on Tuesday. I will be doing afternoon tea at the BAA but also want to experience a more local experience. Can anyone recommend a GREAT shawarma restaurant (preferably in Deira and preferably not too far from the Park Hyatt)?

  21. November 6th, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    cook said,

    Excellent hotel service is a much appreciated grace, but ‘excessive’ can be annoying. That afternoon tea is ofbously in the excessive class and – at >$108US, more than a bit silly. All of that said, OF COURSE you had to do it. I would too, but once would be enough. I must say that the Wellington looks good. The sammies also look nice, but those on rolls *might* have have needed some additional fluid to get down. Excess can be be fun and a nice report, Ben. -C.

  22. November 6th, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Glenn said,

    I think I might be willing to pay $108 for that. Would definitely be nicer way upstairs…

    How do you stay so slim eating like this?

  23. November 6th, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    afternoon tea fan said,

    Great report and for 7 courses, including the glass of Louis Reoderer Champagne, $108 does not sound too out-of-line.

  24. November 6th, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Dan — There was a separate line for tip, so I left a ~10% tip, which I’m told is standard for the UAE.

  25. November 7th, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Fred said,

    Very cute champagne waiter!

  26. November 8th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    eric mueller said,

    “more gold than Lil John’s mouth” — heh :-) great report, L.

  27. November 9th, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Lisa said,

    Great report, thanks. I wonder if they would be so accomodating to you if you were Jewish and mentioned it to someone. I have never been to the UAE but my passport has an Israel stamp and I heard they would not let me in.

  28. December 20th, 2011 at 7:20 am

    R.A.W. said,

    @Lisa

    The Israeli stamp in the passport thing is not much of an issue as people make it out to be. I also don’t see any need to mention that you’re Jewish anywhere, either when passing through the immigration or when in Dubai. No one would know you’re Jewish unless if you choose to tell them. If you’re also worried because your (family) name is Jewish, I have met plenty of westerners with Jewish names in Dubai.

    It really is a non-issue. For more information, you may want to check this:

    http://www.dubaifaqs.com/israeli-stamp-passport-dubai.php

    @Lucky, great blog, by the way :-)

  29. January 5th, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Michael W said,

    -I visited the Burj a few years ago. I did a similar visit but it cost me around $50! I believe my visit included 2 snacks and 2 drinks. The bartender also showed me around some other areas in the hotel.my pictures came out pretty crappy… I actually ordered the S95 & it should be arriving tomorrow. Do u have issues with the battery not lasting long?

    -Did you get to do a wadi bashing trip?

    -Lisa- when I went to Dubai I also had an Israeli passport stamp which was not an issue. On the same trip I also visited Egypr & Jordan.

  30. January 5th, 2012 at 2:34 am

    lucky said,

    @ Michael W — The battery life on the S95 has been spectacular for me.

  31. November 3rd, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Shaz said,

    Hi Lucky

    Thanks for the indepth report and pics. I am going to Dubai in December and was thinking about doing this but thought the price was excessive. No question why not to do it it will be once in a lifetime experience. Going to book now.

  32. November 3rd, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Shaz — Enjoy!

  33. January 7th, 2013 at 5:49 am

    Robbie said,

    First class report. Very well done. You have convinced me to do it!

  34. April 1st, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Steve wilmot said,

    Ben thanks, great blog! I’m going to visit before I leave and hope my concierge here in the westin can secure me a reservation in the sky bar, that afternoon tea was so over the top it was hilarious has to be done I put weight on just looking at it!!

    Cheers!

  35. August 30th, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Matt said,

    My wife and I are going to Dubai next summer and I remembered reading this report. I want to do this as well. I went to the Burj Al Arab site and was not sure which tea you did. I want the champagne (as I much more of a champagne guy than tea), and seem to remember you saying you wanted to do this in the sky bar. so was this the “Sky Tea” or “Ultimate Afternoon Tea”? The Ultimate says it has champagne but is not located at the top of the hotel. Recommendations on which to pick? Did you get champagne at the sky tea?

  36. August 30th, 2013 at 11:44 am

    lucky said,

    @ Matt — You’ll definitely want to do “Sky Tea,” which is basically the same service except at the bar at the top of the restaurant. You also get champagne.

    I wrote about my experience doing that here:
    http://boardingarea.com/onemileatatime/2012/12/28/bling-it-on-afternoon-tea-in-the-skyview-bar-at-burj-al-arab/

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