Karl Cushing enjoys the thrills and spills of the emirate on a ‘lads-themed’ short break

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Clinging on to a lurching camel for dear life as it negotiates a slalom course like an ungainly Crufts contestant isn’t quite what I’d envisioned when I’d been invited to ‘see Dubai from a different angle’.

But here I was – and this was just the warm-up for the main event, camel polo.

This was to be a ‘lads-themed’ tour and, if proof were needed that there’s more to the emirate than shopping, spas and luxury hotels, then a few chukkas of camel polo at Dubai Polo Club, courtesy of destination management company Gulf Ventures, was a good start.

Sitting pillion behind my remonstrating camel driver, bones rattling and mallet swinging wildly as the ball pinged improbably off 32 camel shins, I could certainly see the appeal. My steed Jamila and I even managed to score a goal in the confusion. Great fun.

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Dubai

CLASSIC CAPERS




My itinerary also included a few Dubai staples such as Wild Wadi waterpark, home to the Jumeirah Sceirah water ride and free for Jumeirah hotel guests.

Being more of a lazy-river kind of guy, I was pleased to discover I wasn’t the only one having kittens at the prospect of being hurtled backwards and sideways on the rubber raft slide rides such as Tantrum Alley and Thunder Rapids.

An afternoon courtesy of Jebel Ali Resort’s watersports centre offered another great excuse to make a splash. If the resort’s all-inclusive deals and myriad land based sporting activities, from golf to archery and shooting, don’t entice your clients, I can heartily recommend getting royally bounced about on its multi-person Donut Ride – the perfect aperitif to the resort’s other adrenaline activities such as kite surfing, wakeboarding and powerboating.

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Another Dubai classic I sampled was a wadi-bashing dune safari in a four-wheel-drive jeep, capped off with an evening in a Bedouin-style desert camp, complete with buffet, shisha pipe puffing and a belly dancer with a knack for balancing swords on unexpected places.

However, ‘soggy’ sand conditions put the dampeners on my heroic sandboarding attempts (at least, that was my excuse).To catch glimpses of wildlife such as gazelle and oryx, local firm Arabian Adventures features safari tours in a conservation park. Or to catch the wildlife literally, Attraction World offers a four-hour skippered Private Deep Sea Fishing Trip from Dubai Marina (£645 for a group of up to six).

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BIRD’S-EYE VIEWS




Dubai cries out to be viewed from the air: this is when iconic developments such as The World and Palm Jumeirah start to make sense, and vertiginous marvels such as the Burj Khalifa shine.

SeaWings’ 40-minute ‘silver’ seaplane tour from Jebel Ali Resort really helped me put the cityscape into perspective, while sunrise balloon tours and helicopter trips are also available. Do Something Different, for example, has a 15-minute helicopter tour from Palm Jumeirah from £142.

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For those on a smaller budget, recommend the Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building has an observation terrace on the 124th floor. Tickets cost £21 – riding the lift is an experience in itself – plus there’s a restaurant, At.mosphere.

Alternatively, marvel at the Khalifa’s majesty, along with other sights such as the impressive Dubai Fountains, over a nightcap at Neos, the bar on floor 63 of the neighbouring Address Downtown Dubai – pricey but worth it.

Too tame? Well there’s always Gravity Zone’s bungee plunge, or freefalling towards the desert or Palm Jumeirah with Skydive Dubai.

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ODD-SHAPED BALLS




From the Food Festival in February to the Summer Surprises shopping sale (June-July), Dubai offers a host of events around which agents can build packages.

Keeping with the lads theme, our group took in the final day of the annual Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament, held in November. It was a top day out, with many expats and tourists in fancy dress, adding to the carnival atmosphere as Fiji ran out winners.

There are plenty of other annual fixtures to consider selling holidays around, as well as one-off sporting events such as international Twenty20 cricket matches.

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MAN-SIZED PORTIONS




The quality and diversity of Dubai’s restaurants is another selling point.

Personal highlights included the manly meat feast at Frevo, the Brazilian-themed restaurant at Fairmont The Palm.

Another was the bountiful spread whipped up by a former chef to the Thai royal family at Benjarong, Dusit Thani Dubai’s flagship restaurant, whose tranquil ambience was in contrast to that of lively beachfront joint Barasti.

Lunches were equally lavish affairs, with standouts including the sushi and Middle Eastern cuisine at the arabesque Mövenpick Ibn Battuta Gate and the excellent lunchtime buffet at Jebel Ali Resort.

And no trip to Dubai would be complete without a Friday brunch blowout. Top marks go to the sumptuous fare at Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s Latitude, where my eyes proved bigger than my belly.

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BUILDING MUSCLE




On my late-November visit, the sense of optimism in the air was palpable, and moving cranes had regained their place on the skyline.

The JW Marriott Marquis will begin a staggered opening of its 804-room second tower in late February; IMG Worlds of Adventure, whose four zones include Marvel and Cartoon Network-themed parks, is slated for a 2014 opening; and a major hotel collaboration between movie firm Paramount and developers Damac should open in 2015-16.

With Dubai having won the right to host Expo 2020 just before my visit, locals were abuzz with expectation that even long-dormant projects, such as Universal Studios Dubai, Mall of the World and hotels by Versace and Donald Trump, would be realised.Be in no doubt: Dubai’s tourism appeal is stronger than ever, whether the target market is man, woman or child.