This will be the second festive season that I have had in the UAE, having previously spent all other Christmas holidays in London.
But times change, family ties loosen, and a new life opens up. This year in particular is a great privilege for me, as I experience the real treat of having all my offspring together with me, under one roof in Dubai, for most of the season.
My 20-year-old daughter is flying into Dubai for the New Year on her way from New York to Cape Town; my 17-year-old son is here for the next few days; and my five-year-old, of course, is enjoying school holidays and preparing for a profitable visit from Santa. Happy days.
I also think I’m now in a position to rate the festive experience in London versus Dubai for the first time. And it’s a pretty close-run thing.
That “festive” word of course needs some clarification. You might think, given cultural histories, that London would outscore Dubai in the festivities, but I don’t think that’s so clear-cut any more.
Dubai is such a multicultural, liberal city that festivities here can be just as enjoyable as in London. Certainly, those hardy souls who braved the “hacks and flacks” (journalists and public relations executives) annual gathering last week could have no reason to complain of lack of festive spirit.
What goes on hacks and flacks night stays on hacks and flacks night, but you would really be surprised how many of the solid pillars of the media and financial establishment in Dubai turn out to be real party people at heart.
No names, but those who ended up in the karaoke bar at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Deira know who I mean.
For the shopping experience (ordeal?) Dubai has to win hands down. I’ve satisfied all my gift requirements this year with a couple of trips to Mall of the Emirates and The Dubai Mall, and I can tell you it beats the Oxford Street torture by a mile.
London has its fair share of malls now,too, of course, but people there (myself included until a couple of years ago) always felt the need to trudge the tatty street of London’s main shopping thoroughfare, whose best days are behind it.
Nipping from one cut-price outlet to another in freezing rain and cold is an experience I can probably do without for the rest of my days. I will miss Harrods, I suppose, but that’s about all.
As for Christmas Day itself, if last year’s occasion is anything to go by, this will be a good one. I went in 2012 with wife and child to the One&Only Royal Mirage hotel in Jumeirah, and it was magical.
Walking out of the restaurant stuffed full of festive goodies to a barefoot walk on the beach was a real treat.
This year, we’re being more adventurous. Reservations are made at the Jumeirah Zabel Saray hotel on the Palm, and it promises to be a great occasion. Those friendly people at Jumeirah certainly know how to throw a party.
I must also thank Emirates Airline, for doing the donkey work by flying children from all parts of the world to be with me in Dubai.
The service so far has been good, but if I can be allowed one Scrooge-like moment: I’ve spent a lot of money on air fares, yet have not flown on any of the flights myself. So I do not get any benefit from the Skywards airmiles programme. Please Emirates, rethink this rule in 2014.