This Palm Is Gonna Grow: A Review of The W Dubai Palm Jumeirah
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W Hotels is one of my favorite brands in the sprawling Marriott portfolio, so I shed a tear when the W Dubai Al Habtoor City (along with a Westin and two St. Regis hotels) left Marriott last year. I quickly got over it, though, when I found out that a new W was under construction, and on the man-made Palm Jumeirah islands, no less!
So I tracked the progress of this hotel for months and watched the opening date get delayed and delayed again. As luck would have it, the W finally began accepting reservations about three months before a trip I had already planned to Dubai. What I didn't realize, however, was that the hotel only opened its doors to guests 10 days before I arrived. The result was a property that is going to be one of the best in the brand — once it finishes minor ongoing construction and gets its occupancy up to speed.
I booked my three-night stay using a mix of points and cash. I redeemed 60,000 Marriott points (worth $540, based on TPG's valuations) for the first night at this Category 7 hotel, and booked two nights for 1,568 dirhams ($420) each. I paid with my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express Card to earn 6x points per dollar (since this is a property within the Marriott Bonvoy program), in addition to the 17.5x I earned as a Marriott Bonvoy Titanium elite (yeah, that still doesn't sound right).
I wanted to apply some of my Suite Night Awards to this reservation but hit a roadblock. Marriott Platinum elites can select five Suite Night Awards as their choice benefit after reaching 50 elite nights a year, and Titanium elites can choose another five at the 75-night threshold. But when I went to use mine, I got an error message.
Given that this hotel was brand-new, every single category of suite was on sale for the nights I was going to be there. I was worried that I might have stumbled on one of the hotels playing games with the new Marriott loyalty program, but given how new they were, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.
A few days before my arrival, I got an email from my W Insider asking how she could help make my stay unforgettable, and she promised to look into it. I ended up getting upgraded to a W Suite and getting to save my Suite Night Awards for a future stay, so I'd call that a win-win.
The Palm Jumeirah was finished in 2011, but it's already covered in hotels, apartments and beachfront villas. The W is near the end of the west crescent, which means it takes a good 15 minutes just to get from the hotel back to the mainland. (It was a little over half an hour to get to and from the airport.) Make sure to budget that into your travel time, and remember that you'll be dependent on Ubers and taxis, as there isn't much in the way of public transit on the Palm yet. The hotel was great about calling us taxis and helping us find ones that took credit cards, and we never had to wait more than five minutes.
One thing I like about W Hotels is that if you're visiting a new one, it's physically impossible to drive by it on the street and not know which building you're going to.
The email I got from my W Insider told me to be ready to "see and be seen," and it's clear that people were taking that advice seriously.
The lobby was stunning and continued the hotels' cruise-ship design with square and rectangular portholes up and down the wall.
I could tell right away that this space was going to look just as good at night as it did by day.
I got a huge kick out of the skyline chess set.
We were quickly approached by no fewer than a half dozen bellhops, receptionists, the assistant manager and more, all of whom asked if they could take our bags for us. I generally don't use bellhops, especially when I'm not carrying any local currency to tip with, but these people would not take no for an answer.
Our check-in was smooth, and you could tell that every employee in the building was so eager to have guests to actually serve. While one agent checked us in, another approached my girlfriend with two bottles of water and asked her what plans we had for out stay in Dubai. Yet another (who turned out to be the assistant manager) came up to me with a Dubai city guide and told me they'd been looking forward to our arrival. I was also offered a small card to select my welcome amenity, and since I'd booked two reservations, I was allowed to select two, which was surprising, since most hotels only count that as one stay.
The agent confirmed our upgrade to the W suite and escorted us to our room on the third floor.
Attention to the most minuscule of details is central to the W ethos, and I was reminded of that when we stepped off the elevator to what was either a rainbow or an alarming Doppler radar floor print, as well as decorative logs (chairs?).
Of course, the main hallway had an equally ... vibrant ... floor pattern.
This is also where we saw the first of many security guards roaming the halls. I don't know if this is standard practice or because there were still contractors working all over the hotel, but they really blended into the shadows in the dark hallways, and there were a few times I looked up and was surprised that I wasn't the only one there.
Our suite was divided into two long, parallel rooms, one living room and one bedroom. The doors between them were rather heavy and would not stay open, which might be nice if you plan on hosting parties in your suite but made it inconvenient to talk to someone in the other room.
There was a good amount of open space near the main door where we ended up storing our suitcases, as well as the door to the half bathroom and the door to the bedroom (which I ended up confusing repeatedly).
Next to that was a table and the first of many couches.
Across from that was the first half of the minibar, as well as the coffee machine.
There was a long couch that stretched along the wall, with enough space to easily fit 10 or so people.
There was also a freestanding minibar near the back door to the bedroom, though it was missing a good number of items listed on the menu.
The first thing you noticed when you turned into the bedroom, other than the continuation of the fish-scale tiling, was the giant bathtub right by the foot of the bed.
There was another large couch in the bedroom.
Toward the back was the bathroom, which featured two sinks.
There was a separate vanity across from it.
The shower was push-start and included a decently sized bench
The room came with a full set of W's signature Bliss toiletries, but the bottles were double the size you find at normal hotels.
Our room had a connecting balcony that could be accessed from both the bedroom and living room. Somehow, we missed out on both the ocean and city views and got stuck facing the construction zone in the neighboring W residences.
Thankfully, the construction noise was never a problem, though there was a small layer of dust on our balcony from the ongoing work. The saving grace here was the sunset view we got from our room, which rivaled some of the ones we'd seen earlier that week in the Maldives.
Food and Beverage
The breakfast buffet was free for Platinum and Titanium elites and included a diverse selection.
My favorite was the motivational egg station.
I found that many of the dishes were similar to what I'd had at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi earlier in the week, but the quality was much better. And mac 'n' cheese for breakfast? That's a winner in my book.
On our first night, we checked out the SoBe bar on the rooftop.
The bar featured a Miami-inspired cocktail menu, and in the 10 days since it had opened, they'd managed to perfectly import the South Beach club vibe. We sat out on the terrace instead, but were disappointed to see that the bar offered no city views whatsoever. The hotel was angled toward Dubai's towering marina skyline, but the bar just looked out on the hotel pool.
Dubai is witnessing an explosion of celebrity chef restaurants, as accomplished cooks try to make it in this new frontier. The W is home to two such restaurants, Torno Subito and Akira Back. Torno Subito is run by chef Massimo Bottura, whose restaurant in Italy has three Michelin stars and has been voted a top restaurant in the world several years running.
But we went to Akira Back, named for its professional snowboarder-turned-chef founder. The restaurant was a dark, loud enclave at the end of a brightly lit tunnel (in classic W style), so it was hard to photograph, but the food here spoke for itself.
I naively assumed that since the restaurant had only been open for 10 days we didn't need a reservation. But they were all booked up. After a five-minute wait at the bar, the hostess found us a table with skyline views.
We started with wagyu bulgogi tacos, a great fusion of three different cuisines.
Next we had scallops on the half shell, gochujang butter, kimchi and toro with caviar. We also sampled a few drinks off the menu — all were delicious, but at about $17 each, I don't want to be served a glass that's more than 50% ice. I tried to order one cocktail, a Japanese twist on the Bloody Mary, and was told they hadn't stocked any tomato juice yet.
Last up for our feast was the Pop Rocks roll, a standard-looking roll packed full of actual Pop Rocks. You could hear it sizzling from a foot away as the waiter brought it over. We were both hesitant, but the sizzling sensation was really fun and didn't overpower the flavor of the fish. It's rare to eat food that's actually fun as opposed to just tasty, and I really enjoyed this roll.
Service throughout dinner was great, as we actually had three or four different people taking care of us. One, a younger guy from Bulgaria, was incredibly friendly and gave us a full background on chef Akira Back while we had our Pop Rocks. Another waitress was so casual and personable that she actually sat down at our oversized booth while taking our order. I really like how staff members at W Hotels are weird and friendly and don't get too caught up in formalities. This same lady was the one helping us pick our drinks, and once we'd made our way through the menu, she actually brought the bartender over to our table to prepare another round for us. He asked which drinks we'd liked and what we were in the mood for, and he returned a few minutes later with chili mango and passionfruit martinis. The food here was one of the best meals of our trip, but it was the odd and fun service that made this an event, not just a meal.
Both during breakfast and at Akira Back, the bathrooms were decked out in even more fluorescent metallic trim. This was cool at first but got even more fun with every drink. There was a separate elevator just for SoBe and Akira Back decked out in full-on funhouse mirrors to help get you in the mood, W style.
In addition to the never-ending rotation of sports cars waiting in the driveway, the hotel also had a Tesla X for guests, though we didn't get a chance to take it for a spin.
The hotel also featured the brand standard FIT gym, with a funky towel rack at the entrance.
The gym was equipped with plenty of machines and equipment, and looked out on the pool and beach.
Speaking of pools, the WET deck featured a couple dozen egg chairs, each big enough to seat several people.
There wasn't just one pool but a series of connected infinity pools.
There was also a small beach, which had some of the best views in the entire property.
Standing by the pools, it was much easier to pick up on the cruise-ship design of the hotel.
One thing that disappointed me was that the pool and beach were closed at night. This might be the first time in history that a W has ever put a curfew on the party.
Though the hotel was open and fully functional (as far as I could tell), they were putting finishing touches on the building itself.
Sometimes the work was a little more visible, but it never once interfered with our stay. Given how new the hotel was, it could have been a whole lot worse.
Some of the problems were a little more annoying, though. For example, there was a smoke detector in our room that seemed to be set off by long showers. It went off twice during our stay, and both times I had to quickly get dressed and answer a frantic knock at the door to assure them that everything was OK. We also had trouble maintaining Wi-Fi connectivity (it would drop and then come back on later), but I passed that message on to the manager, who assured me they're working on it.
Best I could tell, there were no more than 50 guests at the hotel during our stay. That's certainly part of why the service was so warm and personable, but after the fourth staff member said, "We've been eagerly awaiting your arrival." I honestly thought my cover was blown and they knew I was reviewing the property. In addition to the assistant manager, we met the general manager and reservations director while at Akira Back. All three of them gave me business cards and said if there was anything I needed at all to just let them know.
Relatively speaking, building a building is easy. It's training staff to provide this level of service that's the hard part, and the W already has that down. Once they put the finishing touches on the space itself and achieve a normal occupancy rate, this is going to be one of the best hotels in the entire W brand. I loved my W Suite, despite the annoying doors and lack of views, and I'd come back to this hotel just to try Torno Subito for myself. In terms of design and service, this property should serve as a role model for what a W can offer.