To be welcomed somewhere, you have to get there first. This was the first hurdle that presented itself with the new Meydan Hotel. How difficult can it possibly be, you might reasonably wonder, to find a hotel that's part of a new and mammoth multi-billion dollar racecourse complex? Pretty challenging indeed, it turns out. Several of the new roads around Meydan are abruptly cut off with cones and the signage is feeble.
"There's one," shrieked my friend Cam, pointing at a sign as we reversed, pulled off an off-road area of sand we had traversed in desperation and got back on to the same road for the 43rd time. Finally, tucked just around the corner from this sign was the impressive, glassy hotel front tacked on to the main Meydan building. We were 20 minutes late, but this mattered not a jot to the staff who took our bags, told us we could check in later and ushered us towards brunch.
We're told to call this whole area Meydan City, as in Media City, DIFC and all the rest. It lies, easily enough, just 15 minutes or so off the Sheikh Zayed Road from exit 47. But having opened in March, there is clearly still much to do in the surrounding area before it feels complete. It should be great come the beginning of racing action (the season runs from November to March), but in the off months between, things will feel subdued.
Horsey. Carpets have little horseshoe patterns stamped in them and there are horse motifs outside every room. But then, what would you expect at the world's most advanced racecourse? No particularly equine feel to the crowd taking advantage of the new brunch in Farriers, though, as families in particular, along with couples and a few groups, mingled happily together. Few seemed to be staying, and later that evening things felt eerily abandoned. Imagine staying in a deserted boarding school during the summer holidays. There's a fabulous rooftop infinity pool though, from which you call wallow in the water with a bird's eye view of the course.
The Meydan has a total of 285 rooms and suites. On the sixth floor, like most other Meydan rooms, ours featured a balcony big enough to seat two from which you have a direct view of the finishing posts. Cam squealed on wandering into the bathroom ("the biggest bath, with a television screen"), I squealed having collapsed on the vast bed. The most comfortable hotel beds ever? Quite possibly.
Exhausting. We were on a girls' weekend; we wanted to go to the spa. Could reception send up a spa menu? Of course they could, but we had to ring back three times before being put through to the men's salon, who told us the salon worked only on an appointment basis and then, after much hassling, that the spa wasn't operating yet. Could they not just have told us that at the beginning? And while lying on our bed watching a movie (after the television was fixed), there were four or five separate knocks on the door offering tea, help with the air conditioning and general room service. The hotel needs more guests to mop up this kindly but over-eager attentiveness.
Brunch in Farriers (Dh495 inclusive of sparkling drinks) offers food from key racing nations around the world, so there is an Arabic station along with others from countries including Britain, Australia, Japan, France and Germany. "No horse on the menu I hope?" I joked to our waitress. She looked back at me blankly. Apparently not, but the general spread of sushi, cheese, salad, meat, breads and obligatory puddings in dinky little glasses was cracking. Better still was dinner that night in Prime, the hotel's slightly gothic steakhouse. Having swallowed brunch mere hours earlier, Cam and I could only manage a modest amount of red meat. Tartare for me (made next to the table), fillet for her. Still full at breakfast the next morning, we could only manage eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes chased down with large urns of coffee.
Gorging ourselves on the food. (Did I mention that the contents of the refrigerator in every room are complimentary?) And the practical checking-out policy, which is 24 hours after you check in.
The over-attentiveness, the fact that the spa wasn't open and the feeling that you were staying in a ghost town. But all of these should have been cleared up come racing season, which is when you really want to be there.
A vague disappointment after everything touted about Meydan, but it's early days yet. And if you don't live in Dubai, or possibly even if you do, then it might be worth booking a room for next year's World Cup now.
Double rooms currently cost from US$245 (Dh900) for GCC residents, $327 (Dh1,200) for everyone else. This includes breakfast and taxes. The Meydan Hotel, Meydan City, Dubai (www.themeydan.com; 04 381 3333).
* Sophia Money-Coutts