With spring reluctant to make itself known in the UK, I was happy to accept an invitation to join selected guests on the inaugural Virgin Atlantic flight to Dubai.
The promise of a little sunshine and a lot of luxury had me hotfooting to Terminal 3 at Heathrow where the Virgin check-in desk was festooned with balloons and filled by cheerful staff. I was greeted by Naomi, whose smile was almost as large as her baby bump; with three weeks left before her due date, she told me she was unable to join us for the trip in case the excitement triggered an unplanned stop en route!
After check-in, I met up with Heather from InterContinental Hotels, and Laura Bennett, Kuoni’s product manager, and together we made our way to the unveiling of the new Virgin Lounge, a private members’ club for its Upper Class passengers.
Virgin have always led the way in pre-flight experiences but this is something else. Choices, choices. There is enough here to leave you wondering if you need to travel anywhere at all. From the fully equipped kitchen from which passengers can choose breakfast, lunch or dinner before their flight, to a library and office with every gadget and gizmo known to humanity, your every need is met. And if your needs extend to a little hairstyling, or maybe a St Tropez tan, perhaps even a sauna or a game of pool, then those too are catered for.
The fine detail is impressive, with quality providers; hair is by Bumble and Bumble and beauty from Cowshed, the vegetarian spa treatment people, whose ‘Dirty Cow Handwash’ and ‘Frisky Cow Bodywash’ I’ve been meaning to try for a long time.
I hadn’t realised I could pre-book a haircut, so was out of luck there, but I did manage to have my nails done by nail technician Michelle Hindmarsh, who told me she couldn’t imagine working anywhere nicer or more glamorous than the Virgin Lounge. Carlsberg don’t make airport clubhouses, but if they did…
Hotel check-in was as brilliant and convenient too, as the Emirates Towers Hotel representative was present in the lounge to do it before we boarded the aircraft.
Once on board, it was as if somebody had thrown the ‘party’ switch. After dinner, we were treated to delicious cocktails from the bar, rustled up by Giles Looker and Marc Plumridge, of Bombay Sapphire.
Goodness, I did my best to sample their wares, but I’ll admit to finding it difficult to recall them all, though the Peach Smash and Bramble cocktails were particularly memorable. Worn out by all the excitement, I retired for a snooze.Put my foot in it…
Arrival in Dubai was not many hours away and as soon as the steps were in place, the press pack descended to capture a shot of Sir Richard Branson dressed in white dishdash (very ‘this season’).
Thus welcomed, we were bused straight to our deluxe rooms at Emirates Towers Hotel.
A lunch at sister hotel, seven-star Burj al Arab was followed by some dune bashing by those who felt up to it, while the rest of us digested our food more sedately and made for Bab al Shams, where after taking a little sun, we found our presence requested at a drinks reception on the rooftop terrace.
Dinner in a traditional Arab setting in the desert had me feeling like an extra in Lawrence of Arabia– a truly spectacular affair with entertainment and diversion in the form of camel rides, belly dancing, desert horses and henna painting.
Ah, yes. The henna treatment. A ‘new age’ feeling came over me and I agreed to have my foot painted. Trouble is, I’ve no patience when it comes to watching paint dry and managed to smear the beautiful artwork in no time. So, instead of designed feet, I stepped out in something more akin to diseased feet.
Virgin added to the evening’s festivities with the first ‘Bellython’; four belly dancers competed for the prize of a trip to London, presented by Sir Richard Branson himself. What can I say. It was all belly good fun!
Lap of luxury
The following day we visited the Jumeirah mosque, which offered an interesting insight into Islamic culture. In these testing times it was very refreshing to ask questions on matters that so often seem shrouded in mystery or cloaked in suspicion.
Time for a visit to the gold souk before a transfer to board Bateaux Dubai for a memorable lunch, after which the energetic took to the slopes for a little skiing. Hard as it is to believe, Dubai is drawing visitors from around the globe keen to experience its ski facilities. For us non-skiers, the Mall of Emirates offered plenty of shopping!
The grand inaugural party proved the climax of the trip, at Burj al Arab, where food and wine to tantalise the senses abounded. I was positively dizzy with the loveliness of it all and somehow or other found myself dancing around my handbag with Richard Branson. You can take the girl out of Essex…
The following day saw us check out and head for the Park Hyatt Hotel for a final, fabulous lunch before we waved goodbye to Dubai and boarded the homeward bound aircraft where yet more Bombay Sapphire treats smoothed the flight path.
It was a wonderful few days for which I cannot thank those involved enough.
Mind you, it’s set my diet back like you wouldn’t believe.
Maureen Hill works at Wessex World Travel, Gillingham, Dorset
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