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LUXURY TRAVEL | ABUDHABI

A home to the Etihad Formula One Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit draws 50,000 tourists for three days of high-octane partying.

ABU DHABI RACINGTOBUILDTHENEXTSUPERLATIVE BYJOHNARUNDEL

With 9 percent of the world’s oil and 95 percent of the United Arab Emirates’ known reserves, Abu Dhabi is fabulously flush and is reportedly in the process of investing $1 trillion both at home and abroad. CNN has called it the world’s wealthiest city. Abu Dhabi began exporting oil in the early 1960s, and in 1971 declared its independence from the British Commonwealth, forming the U.A.E. from the seven trucial states. The late Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi and U.A.E.’s president from inception, helped transform the petro-centric economy into one heavily invested in health care, education and the national infrastructure, striving to make it a model of stability and a new magnet for global tourism in the Persian Gulf. With a finite supply of oil, Sheikh Zayed’s

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successors began reducing the U.A.E.’s dependency on oil exports with a 20-year plan of diversifying the economy into business, banking and tourism, first with Dubai, and in the past five years with Abu Dhabi. Dubai long ago succeeded in becoming what some fondly call “Disneyland in the Desert,” but with many of its own ambitions put on hold by overbuilding and a bruising recession, Abu Dhabi is now making big moves of its own to bring tourists to its gleaming new hotels and cultural attractions set along the white-sand beaches of the Arabian Peninsula. At night, the inky black Arabian skies are punctured by shards of light from the construction cranes swaying back and forth as they race to build the city’s next superlative, complementing the global phenomenon of

neighboring Dubai. In 2009, Abu Dhabi built the world’s “richest racetrack” Yas Marina Circuit, a home to the Etihad Formula One Grand Prix, and followed up a year later with Ferrari World, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster. Emirates Palace is a superlative unto itself. Costing $3 billion, it is reportedly the most expensive hotel ever built, taking three years and 20,000 workers to fully complete in 2006. Everything is over the top, from the gold bullion machine in the lobby to the 1,000 chandeliers, 114 gold-encrusted domes and marble sourced from 13 countries. Even the fine sand on its beach is imported from Tunisia. Over the past three years, four other ultra-luxe hotels have opened their doors in Abu Dhabi. Ritz Carlton, Hyatt, St. Regis and Marriott have

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P H OTOS CO U RT E SY A B U D H A B I TO U R I S M & CU LT U R E AU T H O R I T Y

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At a cost of $3 billion, Emirates Palace is the most expensive hotel ever built. all planted their flags with the unmistakable goal of becoming the acme of luxury experience. With their dramatic sculptural forms and spectacular design elements, the new hotels were largely financed by the government and built with the vacation stay in mind: comfortable and cosmopolitan with unsurpassed amenities. Still, Abu Dhabi can be surprisingly affordable, with room rates at five-star properties ranging from $100 to $300 per night online. “My country’s on the move in lots of very interesting ways,” said U.A.E.’s dynamic ambassador to the U.S.,Yousef Al-Otaiba. “This month, Etihad Airways, the country’s national airline based in Abu Dhabi, begins nonstop service from Washington Dulles to Abu Dhabi, bringing our two capital cities closer than ever.” bu Dhabi’s investments also extend deeply into the arts and culture. At Saadiyat Island, a low-lying 10-square-mile island off the coast, the shovels are in the ground building a sprawling, upscale district costing $27 billion. Focused on education and culture, the project aims to attract a potential 8 million tourists annually. A satellite of Paris’ Louvre museum, designed by Jean Nouvel, is set to open by 2015. Like its Parisian counterpart, it will have a 590-foot geometric dome that refracts patterns of light. Abu Dhabi reportedly paid an additional $520 million to the French for naming rights. The Zayed National Museum is expected to be open a year later, and then by 2017 the world’s largest Guggenheim Museum, a 450,000-squarefoot shrine to modern and contemporary art designed by Frank Gehry, is set to open as well. “The U.A.E. has done what few countries have been able to accomplish,” said Washington philanthropist Adrienne Arsht, after a recent tour of Saadiyat. “They have combined museums such as the Guggenheim and the Louvre for the visual arts with a center for the

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performing arts in proximity to each other with the finest hotels and resorts nearby for a global stream of visitors.” As a host of Formula One Grand Prix, the global spotlight falls on Abu Dhabi each November, drawing 50,000 tourists for three days of high-octane partying, including visits to the racing pits and up-close views of the practice sessions and qualifying rounds. The main race at Yas Marina Circuit adds a worldwide television audience of 500 million. During the week leading up to the most recent F1, the Corniche area of downtown Abu Dhabi came alive with free concerts, film nights and the F1 Fanzone. “It simply gets better and better each year and the 2012 race was once again a sell-out,” says James Hogan, the CEO of Etihad Airways, F1’s signature sponsor. The race drew top-notch performers, including Eminem, Kylie Minogue and Nickelback, who warmed up the crowd for the main event, a dramatic victory by the Lotus Team’s Kimi Raikkonen who held FI favorites Fernando Alonso of the Ferrari team and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel at bay for 46 laps to win in grand style. Guests from all over the world, many of whom came by private jet or mega-yacht, viewed the thrills from marina berths or luxury sky boxes serving lobster and Dom Perignon. Abu Dhabi’s gregarious and approachable Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, greeted fans and dignitaries. “You must tell everyone about Abu Dhabi,” he implored with a wide grin. “Be sure to bring your kids next time!” A staunch advocate for environmental protections, the rights of women and a leader in the fight against human trafficking, Sheikh Mohammed has appointed women to senior positions in his cabinet, pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to combat human trafficking and deliver vaccines to children in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He’s long been a proponent of investing big to attract tourists to the Emirates, including dropping visa requirements for tourists and pivoting activities toward the family-centric.

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LUXURY TRAVEL | ABUDHABI

Over-the-top, kid-friendly elements are nearly everywhere you look, from skating rinks and skiing at Yas Marina Mall, to giant water parks and Ferrari World, a magnet for Ferrari aficionados. There is no shortage of thrills in the desert, either. Falconry, camelriding, desert camping, sand-boarding, desert balloon expeditions, helicopter tours, dune bashing in SUVs and other high-octane fun may be found, like racing four-wheeled motorcycles up and down the giant sand dunes. More than 200 islands dot the Abu Dhabi coastline, with untouched beaches and wildlife sanctuaries, as well as championship-standard golf facilities played in competition by the likes of Tiger Woods.

In just a few years oil-rich Emirites has fast become a magnet for the world’s most exceptional talents, from race-car drivers and rock stars to restaurateurs and hoteliers. Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and Rihanna have performed at Yas Island, and Kanye West, Sting, Andrea Bocelli, Metallica and Guns n’ Roses are scheduled to perform at the all-seated du Arena this year. Washington’s own Franco Nuschese is scheduled to open a second Café Milano inside of Abu Dhabi’s Stock Exchange building in 2014. “The government has been great to work with,” he said after a recent visit. “This is the place to be right now.”

Biggest, Fastest, Most Expensive WHATTODISCOVERINTHEUNITEDARABEMIRATES Most Expensive Hotel Ever Built

EMIRATESPALACEHOTEL ordered by the Gulf on one side and the fashionable Corniche on the other, Emirates Palace is the newest grande dame of global hospitality, and at $3 billion reportedly the most expensive hotel ever built. Many of the 394 rooms and suites are decorated with gold and marble, leaving little doubt what British architect John Elliott had in mind when he conceptualized it. Modeled after the palaces of Abu Dhabi’s rulers, many of whom have built their own grand palaces farther up the Gulf, Emirates Palace keeps six Rulers’ Suites on the top floor on hold built to house the six Gulf Cooperation Council heads of state, who often arrive on the hotel’s private helipad or marina. The hotel occupies nearly a half mile of floor space, with seven distinct restaurants, its own 1,100-seat theater and 40,000-square-foot spa. If you

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World’s Leading Tourism Project

YASMARINAISLAND he $36 billion development project by Aldar Properties was hailed as the world’s leading tourism project at the World Travel Awards when it opened in 2009, and is now home to Yas Marina Circuit, host of the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Ferrari World, Yas Marina Hotel,Yas Mall (featuring skiing and skating) and Yas Island Waterworld. Once completed,Yas Marina Island will also feature attractions such as Warner Bros. Movie World, and a destination retail development of golf courses, lagoon hotels, marinas, polo clubs, restaurants and villas.

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TALLEST BUILDING IN THE WORLD

THEBURJKHALIFA t 2,722 feet piercing into the Arabian sky, Khalifa Tower is the tallest manmade structure in the world, and also holds distinctions of world’s tallest structure ever built, tallest skyscraper and building with most floors, trumping the previous record holder, Chicago’s Sears Tower. The $1.5 billion skyscraper took six years to construct before it was opened in 2010 and was designed as part of a development that includes nine hotels, 30,000 homes, parkland, 19 residential towers and the Dubai Mall.

a bring children, there’s tennis and cricket, two swimming pools, a lazy river water park, miles of gardens and beachfront, and Bedouins with camels on standby for pick-up rides down a white beach of fine, granular sand. Emirates Palace also boasted the world’s most dramatic Christmas tree in the U.A.E. The hotel also has a specially tailored $1 million package during the holidays. Room rates range from $284 per night, to the Palace Grand Suite (7,319 sq. ft.), the most expensive at $11,500 per night. www. kempinskihotels.com/emiratespalace.

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World’s Fastest-Growing Airline

ETIHADAIRWAYS ince its launch in 2003, U.A.E.’s flag carrier Etihad Airways (“union” in Arabic) has quickly become the fastest-growing airline in the history of commercial aviation, with 1,300 flights per week delivering 8 million passengers to 55 countries. It stands to reason that with all that passenger growth and new destinations, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad placed the largest aircraft order in commercial aviation history in 2008, for up to 205 aircraft — 100 firm orders, 55 options and 50 purchase rights. Etihad launches new direct service to and from Washington Dulles International Airport and Abu Dhabi in late March.

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World’s Largest Waterslide and Sheet Wave

YASISLANDWATERPARK panning an area of 15 football stadiums with 43 rides, slides and attractions, the new Yas Island Waterpark opened to the public in January. Visitors can try out the hydromagnetic-powered, six-person tornado waterslide, reportedly the first and largest in the world. Bubble’s Barrel, touted as the world’s largest surfable sheet wave for flowboards and bodyboards, provides a challenge for speed-seekers. The Bandit Bomber offers onboard water and laser effects, allowing riders to shoot jets of water at targets, drop water bombs and trigger special effects. The park draws on Abu Dhabi’s heritage with “The Lost Pearl” as its theme. Visitors follow the story of a young Emirati girl on a quest to find a legendary pearl as they make their way around the attractions, which include a souk and pearl-diving exhibits.

World’s Fastest Roller Coaster

FERRARIWORLD ith 20 attractions and two roller coasters, Ferrari World at Yas Island is the ultimate destination for the serious Ferrari aficionado. The coasters at Ferrari World are pure G-force thrill.The hydraulically launched “Formula Rossa” roller coaster reaches a top speed of 149 mph, while the “G-Force” spaceshot tower launches riders 200 feet up and out of the building. For those more comfortable on terra firma, Ferrari World offers an interactive 3-D show following the life of a Ferrari engineer, a Ferrari carousel and driving school and “Bell’Italia,” an exhibit that recreates famous Italian cityscapes and racing venues in miniature through which you can drive a Ferrari 250 California Spyder.

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World’s Largest Carpet and Chandelier

SHEIKHZAYEDMOSQUE ords do little to express the raw beauty of one of the world’s largest mosques, built for Abu Dhabi’s founder and ruler for 33 years, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan. The facts and figures are astounding: space for 41,000 worshipers, 82 domes, 1,000 columns, 24-karat-gold gilded chandeliers. It’s also the home of the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet and the world’s largest chandelier, weighing in at 12 tons.

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World’s Only ‘Seven-Star’ Hotel World’s Tallest Sand Dune

TELMOREEB he Liwa International Festival in late December brings together the region’s most powerful four-wheel drivers and bikers to tackle the 984-foothigh, 50-degree incline at Tel Moreeb, considered to be the world’s tallest sand dune. The six-day festival features a variety of races for cars, SUVs, bikes, falcons, camels and horses.

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THEBURJALARAB ften referred to as the world’s only “seven-star” hotel, the Burj Al Arab (“The Tower of the Arabs”) in Dubai is designed to imitate a sail, sitting on an artificial island across from Jumeirah beach and connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. Managed by the Jumeirah Group and opened in 1999, it’s the world’s fourth-tallest hotel but holds only 28 two-story floors with 202 bedroom suites, most priced at $1,000 per night. The Royal Suite, at $18,718 per night, is one of the world’s most expensive hotel suites.

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Profile for Washington Life Magazine

Abu Dhabi Feature - Washington Life - March 2013  

RACING TO BUILD THE NEXT SUPERLATIVE: Once a sleepy backwater dependent on fishing and pearl diving, the discovery of oil 50 years ago...

Abu Dhabi Feature - Washington Life - March 2013  

RACING TO BUILD THE NEXT SUPERLATIVE: Once a sleepy backwater dependent on fishing and pearl diving, the discovery of oil 50 years ago...