The ostentatious entranceway to this new hotel is busy when we pull in on a Saturday evening, but our car is unloaded and valeted without any fuss. After presenting ourselves at reception we're taken through to a pleasant majlis-type room just off the busy and pleasingly over-the-top foyer (marble floors, thick gold pillars, Moroccan-style arches, a domed ceiling, fountains with jumping water, elaborate chandelier-type lamps and repro period furniture). Here I give my name to a member of staff and we're offered coffee and dates. After about 10 minutes, the assistant front office manager comes and welcomes us - though he addresses himself mainly to our male friend, who isn't even staying at the hotel. We're taken upstairs to what we think is our room, but it's the wrong one - a Mr Al Bihery's name is on the welcome screen. Finally, we're taken to our twin room on the third floor. There, the welcome letter addresses me as "Mr".
The Jumeirah Zabeel Saray is on the west crescent of the Palm Jumeirah, and is one of only a handful of hotels which are open. Yet the hotel and its grounds are so large that the unfinished projects and vacant plots of land barely affect one's experience.
We aren't very impressed by the check-in process, but the restaurant and lobby staff seem well-trained, genuine and charming. The mostly Chinese staff in Imperium, the all-day dining restaurant, are very cheerful, helpful and intuitive; in Lalezar, the Turkish restaurant, they are slick, knowledgeable and professional; in the Talise Ottoman Spa, Kial from Uzbekistan gives me such a brilliant Turkish bath that I'd happily go back. Overall, we are greeted with efficiency, tact and a level of polish not seen in many hotels.
Our room has a sea view and a lovely bathroom, but is nothing special otherwise. It does, however, do everything well - from the powerful air conditioning to the sublimely comfy beds and pillows. Its dark wood floors, furniture and lighting make it rather gloomy, though. At around 5.30am, I am woken by a phone ringing in a nearby room followed by a man shouting. It doesn't last long, but it is enough to spoil an otherwise deep sleep.
The public areas of the hotel have a lively buzz, mostly due to the fact that the place is fun and has 10 food and beverage outlets and several high-end shops. From the ostentatious lobby to the lavish Imperium, which is filled with crystal chandeliers, gilded columns and huge mirrors, to Lalezar, which is a hand-crafted copy of the Orange room at Istanbul's Topkapi Palace, to the unexpectedly space-age Voda bar, where one can sit in designer chairs and look up at paintings of cherubs, there's an element of exploration and adventure to this hotel that rivals many theme parks. The hotel's outside terraces, however, lack the level of detail lavished on the interiors, and are rather bland. The infinity pool is impressive, the beach pleasant, but the best thing about this hotel is that you don't have to go out in the heat and the decor is enough to keep you entertained.
The buffet breakfast in Imperium offered a good and thoughtful spread and everything looked fresh, even at the end of the sitting, but the presence of flies hovering around the breakfast tables was disappointing. Tea, coffee and everything else we asked for was brought quickly. We found the food in Lalezar as sublime as the beautifully intricate decor - of particular note were the spiced tomato, cucumber and spring onion salad with pomegranate sauce (Dh50), the selection of hot and cold Turkish mezze (Dh140), the lamb tenderloin with rice (Dh145) and the dessert selection (Dh65). At the Indian restaurant, Amala, we were initially less than impressed with the news that we had no option but to opt for a Dh225-a-head feast, and nonplussed when we were told that we could order unlimited amounts of everything. Luckily we were hungry, and the food was surprisingly good. We tried scallops and tandoori tiger prawns to start (we preferred the prawns) and lamb shank, paneer makhani, vegetable jalfrezi and Malabar fish curry as mains - along with rice and a selection of breads.
The palatial Talise Ottoman Spa, with its spectacular hammams, indoor swimming pool and atmospheric spa majlis where you can sip tea and snacks in complete privacy (there are separate male and female hammam areas) while admiring the paintings, marble pools and elaborate domed ceilings. There are some 40 private treatment rooms and outdoor Thai massage pavilions. My 40-minute "traditional Turkish" bath consisted of me donning a traditional pestemal and lying on a central heated marble slab before being gently rinsed with warm water and thoroughly, but not too harshly, scrubbed with a mitt, followed by a massage under foam, then a final rinse and hairwash. Currently priced at Dh300, it's well worth the money.
The rather lengthy wait for check-in and being woken early by noise from a nearby room.
A lively and fun hotel with genuine and efficient staff and some excellent restaurants.
The bottom line
Double rooms at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Cresent Road, Dubai (www.jumeirah.com; 04 453 0000) cost from Dh960 per night, including breakfast and taxes.
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