As its name suggests, the Palm Jumeirah is designed in the shape of a palm tree, with a central “trunk” and a series of sixteen radiating “fronds”, the whole enclosed in an 11km-long breakwater, or “crescent”, lined with a string of huge resorts. The design has the merit of providing an elegantly stylized homage to the city’s desert environment while also maximizing the amount of oceanfront space in relation to the amount of land reclaimed (as Jim Krane puts it in Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City: “It was Dubai at its most cunning. Since seafront properties are the most valuable, why not build a development that has nothing but seafront?”).
Construction work began in 2001, with the first apartments opening in 2006, and the island’s landmark Atlantis resort opening to enormous fanfare in 2008, although as of early 2013 several of the landmark hotels ringing the Crescent were still either under construction or yet to open, including the vast Yemeni-style Kingdom of Sheba resort, modelled after the mud-brick skyscrapers of Sana’a, and the Mughal-style Taj Exotica.
Despite the size and ambition of the development, however, the Palm feels disappointingly botched (the “Eighth Blunder of the World”, as local wags put it). The palm-shaped layout remains largely invisible at ground level – although it looks terrific from a plane – and the architecture is deeply undistinguished, with a string of featureless high-rises lining the main trunk road and endless rows of densely packed Legoland villas strung out along the waterside “fronds”. The developer, Nakheel, was allegedly forced to almost double the number of villas on the island to cover spiralling construction costs, resulting in the overcrowded suburban crush you see today – much to the chagrin of those who had bought properties off-plan at launch, only to move in and discover that they were virtually living in their neighbours’ kitchens. Only towards the far end of the island does the Palm acquire a modest quotient of drama, as the main trunk road dips through a tunnel before emerging in front of the vast Atlantis resort – although by then, one feels, it’s probably too late.Read More
At the furthest end of the Palm, sitting in solitary splendour on the oceanfront Crescent, the vast Atlantis resort is the island’s major landmark and a focal point for the entire development. It’s a near carbon copy of its sister establishment, the Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas: a blowsy pink colossus, undeniably huge, vaguely outlandish, and just a little bit camp (“like the tomb of Liberace,” as the UK’s Sun newspaper aptly put it). In fact it’s probably the only one of Dubai’s recent extravagance and shameless bling – slightly ironic, given that it actually had nothing to do with the Dubai government, being the brainchild of Jewish South African billionaire Sol Kerzner. Like many of Dubai’s newer landmarks it’s best from a distance, especially after dark and from the mainland, when its vast illuminated outline looks like some kind of weird triumphal archway twinkling far out to sea.
Inside, the hotel itself is as satisfyingly over-the-top as one would hope, featuring all manner of gold columns, crystal chandeliers and random twinkly bits, not to mention Dale Chihuly’s extraordinary sculptural installation in the lobby – a 10m-high blown-glass creation resembling a waterfall of deep-frozen spaghetti – and the spectacular viewing window into the vast Ambassador Lagoon (see below).
The Palm Jumeirah Monorail
The Palm Jumeirah Monorail
The best way to see the Palm is from the Palm Jumeirah Monorail, whose driverless trains shuttle along an elevated track between Atlantis and Gateway station on the mainland, taking around ten minutes to complete the trip – a fine ride offering sweeping views over the Palm and the long chain of high-rises behind. Unfortunately, the monorail is a bit of a white elephant since it doesn’t connect with the Dubai metro or anywhere else useful, and Gateway station itself is in a hopeless location hemmed in by busy roads, and usually without a taxi in sight. In addition, the two intermediate stations between Atlantis and Gateway – Trump Tower and Palm Mall – are not yet open and show no signs of opening any time soon, which further reduces the trains’ usefulness.