Dubai doesn't do much of anything on a small scale.
When the Burj al Arab, a dramatic sail-shaped building set on a man-made island, opened in December 1999, it was designed to be one of the world's most luxurious hotels. All 202 of its rooms are two-level suites, complete with butler service. Guests can be chauffeured in by a Rolls-Royce or land on its 28th-floor helipad. And although its rooms go for $1,600 a night during the off-season, it was full on a recent visit.
The next generation of developments in Dubai is even more ambitious. There are dozens and dozens of major residential, business, and leisure projects currently under construction. Here's a sampling of what's being built:
Dubai is partway through building a series of three intricate clusters of man-made islands designed to resemble palm trees. On Palm Jumeirah, some 2,000 families already occupy many of the exclusive homes and condominiums that line the fronds of the palm tree. "Seventy-five different nationalities bought on the Palm," says Chris O'Donnell, the CEO of Nakheel, the government-owned company that is developing the islands. He says that 30 hotels with about 15,000 rooms are under construction. The "trunk" of the island will be anchored by the Trump International Hotel and Tower, a dramatic 60-story luxury hotel and residence with a "sky lobby" suspended high above the ground. A monorail is being built out to the tip, where an Atlantis resort is nearly complete, with dunes, waterfalls, and marine exhibits. The Cirque du Soleil will have its own theater under a 15-year deal, and the QE2 ocean liner will be berthed nearby.
The other two Palm islands are still being built. When it's finished, the tip of the Palm Jebel Ali complex will be shaped like an orca and will house four theme parks, including SeaWorld. The U.S.-based Busch Entertainment Corp. (a division of Anheuser-Busch Cos.) is building a complex called Worlds of Discovery that will contain SeaWorld, along with a Busch Gardens theme park, a water park called Aquatica, and Discovery Cove, an all-inclusive resort park.
The World and the Universe
Just off the coast of Dubai sit about 300 new man-made islands formed in the shape of a map of the world. Nakheel, the government-owned developer in charge of the project, has already sold 170 of the islands on the World and is releasing the remaining ones for sale over time. The islands are purchased empty. Some will most likely remain private, while others could house hotels or other attractions. Billionaire businessman Richard Branson reportedly purchased Britain, and resort hotels will reportedly be built on the islands shaped like Ireland and Thailand.
Next will be the Universe, another set of man-made islands in the shape of the sun, the planets, and their moons. It will very likely take up to two decades to complete.
It's almost easier to list what won't be in this entertainment colossus. Dubailand will have about a dozen theme parks, including ones from Six Flags, Universal Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Legoland, and Marvel Comics. Several Arab-themed parks are planned, including one based on the tales of 1001 Nights. Another will be stocked with 100 animatronic dinosaurs. (There have even been conversations between Dubai and director George Lucas about a Star Wars park.)
Dubailand also features a half-dozen golf courses, including the first one in the world designed by Tiger Woods; full-scale replicas of landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids at Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Taj Mahal; a Formula One racing theme park due in 2009; and the world's largest shopping mall. A related development called Bawadi will be a 6-mile-long Las Vegas-like strip (minus the casinos), jammed with shops and a staggering 51 hotels. In all, there will be some 60,000 rooms (including, predictably, a hotel billed as the world's largest). Total price tag: an estimated $165 billion. Completion date: at least a decade away.