Emirates comes to Seattle, launches nonstop Dubai service

Living in Seattle has its trade offs, travel-wise. You’re closer to Alaska and Hawaii and Japan and places you’d never thought you’d visit, like the Yukon. But it takes an incredibly long time to get to the Caribbean, Europe or almost anywhere else, and there aren’t as many non-stop long-haul flights as you might wish.

Enter Emirates. By adding a non-stop flight from Seattle to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the airline instantly opens up easier travel to the Middle East, Africa and India – a boon for the Emerald City’s multicultural population. The flight to Dubai will take about 12 hours, with a 14 hour return.

The service launched March 1 with a press conference, appearances by flight attendants wearing the trademark Emirates pillbox hat and scarf and an arriving plane full of various dignitaries. As the headquarters of Boeing, Seattle has a rich aviation history and you could see the ground crews taking cell phone photos of the Emirates plane as it pulled through a water turret salute to unload at the gate.

Seattle isn’t the only West Coast beneficiary of recent Emirates expansion. The airline opened a 9,502 square foot lounge in San Francisco last month that boasts marble floors, Rolex watches and chauffeur service for Silicon Valley execs lucky enough to be in those highly regarded First Class private suites or Business Class.

Things aren’t that fancy up here in the Pacific Northwest. But one thing that will make Seattle frequent fliers happy: Emirates has partnered with Alaska Airlines for its mileage program. So maybe those lie flat beds aren’t as unattainable as you might think.

The continuing rise of Gulf state carriers

gulf state carriers

The rise of Gulf state carriers continues to impress. These airlines, which have defined themselves in part as hub-and-spoke carriers linking Europe (and the eastern coast of North America) to Asia, have developed exciting route maps over the last several years with a particularly strong reach into the Arabian Peninsula and India.

While other airlines have recently attempted to develop their hub airports for intercontinental hub-and-spoke connections as well – Finnair‘s recasting of Helsinki as a northern Europe-Asia hub is one example – the Gulf carriers really stand out in global terms.

Yet, awareness of their services remains far lower than it should be among Americans, despite the presence of Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways at a handful of major US airports.

The Gulf state carriers’ key consumer product is a luxury flight with premium class service and a truly over-the-top experience on all three airlines. On Emirates, first class passengers are treated to private suites. Etihad’s Diamond First Class features flatbeds, personal mini-bars, and anytime dining, while Qatar Airways’ First Class offers turndown service with an amenity kit including products by Prada. With perks like these, it is clear that these carriers are establishing new standards for premium class service.

Even in coach, however, these airlines are delivering a decent product. I experienced the Qatar Airways economy treatment on a recent mid-haul journey from London, via Doha, and back. There was more legroom than in standard coach and the ongoing parade of meals and snacks was, if not exactly delicious, then without question, a cut above average airplane food.

Route maps, however, provide the most interesting dimension of the rise of the Gulf state carriers. While there is quite a bit of overlap between airlines, each airline covers some original territory. Let’s look at where these airlines fly.Etihad flies from Chicago, New York, and (as of March 31) Washington, D.C., to Abu Dhabi. Etihad also flies direct routes between most major European hubs and Abu Dhabi, in addition to a few surprising ports of call (Minsk, anyone?). In addition to eight destinations in India, Etihad’s more popular Asian destinations from Abu Dhabi include Bangkok, Colombo, the Maldives, and Seychelles.

Qatar Airways links Houston, New York, and Washington, D.C., to Doha. The airline flies to 31 destinations in Europe (including 2012 launches), 12 destinations in India, four in Pakistan, and four in China. Other destinations of note include Zanzibar, Ho Chi Minh City, and Denpasar.

Emirates boasts the best links to the US of all with direct connections from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, and New York to Dubai. Of these, Seattle and Dallas are new routes. The former begins on March 1 and the latter route kicked off on February 2. Emirates’ reach is particularly remarkable. The airline flies to 28 destinations in Europe, 15 destinations in sub-Saharan Africa, 10 destinations in India, and four in Australia; all but a handful of these routes are direct.

With beefed up links to major US airports, premium services to lure business and moneyed travelers, and route maps that show no sign of contracting, the Gulf state carriers look set to be important long-haul standbys for some time to come.

[Image: Flickr | jmmcdgll]

10 St. Patrick’s Day alternatives to Dublin, Ireland

st. patricks day While travelers often think of Dublin, Ireland, as the must-visit place for St. Patrick’s Day, there are many other excellent destinations all over the world to celebrate the festivities. To help you decide where to spend March 17 this year, check out this list of ten excellent St. Patrick’s Day destinations.

New York

I’ve attended St. Patrick’s Day in New York many times and can honestly say it is something everyone should experience at least once in his or her life. Their annual parade down 5th Avenue (shown above), which will take place this year beginning at 11AM at 44th Street, has been happening since 1762 and is said to be the largest in the world. Although the parade does not allow floats, it is a festive event with over 150,000 marchers coming out to participate each year. For those who want a little culture and history, take a walking tour of the former “Little Ireland” in the Lower East Side, which in the 19th century had more Irish residents than Dublin. At night, choose what kind of atmosphere you’d like to enjoy. Whether in dive bars, Irish pubs, dance clubs, or upscale lounges, there are a myriad of specials and parties going on in every neighborhood of the city.

If you’d like to celebrate St. Patty’s in New York but want to stay away from the crowds and high prices, travel up to the state capital of Albany and partake in their annual “Kegs and Eggs” celebration. I’ve gone four years in a row and can vouch that it is definitely a festive time. Warning: This is only for those who are looking to get sloppy. The bars open at 7AM and before that you can find myriad parties happening from 3AM on. You can also enjoy their 62nd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, which will take place this year on March 17 at 2PM starting at Quail Street and Central Avenue.Holyoke, Massachusetts

While many people assume Boston is where the party’s at, Holyoke actually boasts having the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the entire United States. In fact, last year they had over 400,000 attendees as well as notable visitors like Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough and the Irish Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Collins. This year, the procession will take place on March 18 and is expected to be just as big, if not bigger. The city is also well-known for its annual St. Patrick’s Day Road Race (this year will be their 37th one), a 10K running event where participants dress up in green and show their Irish pride through sport.

st. patricks day New Orleans, Louisiana

As one of the sexier St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, New Orleans takes on the holiday with a bit of a Mardi Gras twist, with the throwing of beads and the re-use of Fat Tuesday floats. To give it a St. Patty’s spin, Irish stew ingredients like potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions are also tossed from the floats into the crowd. What many people may not know is New Orleans actually has a large Irish population and, in the southern United States, holds the largest entry port for Irish immigrants. In fact, St. Patrick’s Day festivities in this city date all the way back to the 19th century.

Newfoundland, Canada

This island off the coast of mainland Canada is one of only two places outside of Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a public holiday. Beginning in the 17th century, Irish people immigrated to Newfoundland and set up small villages and communities, which are now known as the Irish Loop. The area has a very strong Irish culture making St. Patrick’s Day celebrations span over 10-days. Visit the popular Irish pub O’Reilly’s for a pint of Guinness and tons of events, or wander to any of the other local bars, all of which are sure to be celebrating to their fullest extent.

st. patricks day Sydney, Australia

One of the best St. Patrick’s Days I’ve ever experienced was in Sydney, Australia, and I highly recommend that everyone find someway to at least enjoy one St. Patty’s Day in your life aboard a Sydney Harbour St. Patty’s Day booze-cruise. For about $75, you get three hours of unlimited drinks and food as well as a live DJ, festive games, and free admission to Cargo Bar in Darling Harbour. On March 18, you can also enjoy a giant St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is followed by a party in Hyde Park with Irish music, cultural dancing, and ethnic food stalls.

Dubai, Middle East

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in the Middle East may sound odd to some people, but Dubai actually really gets into the holiday, thanks to the Dubai Irish Society. This is also a great alternative to Dublin for people who would rather drink green beer on a beach than in the freezing cold. The Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers is a 5-star Irish owned and operated hotel that not only flies an enormous Irish flag from their 11th floor, but also serves green beer and cocktails while lighting up the venue in festive colors. They also feature Irish dancing and cultural events. For a more laid back St. Patty’s experience in Dubai, head over to the Irish Village for live Irish music, family activities, and a buffet of Irish food fare.

st. patricks day Birmingham, United Kingdom

Not only is Birmingham cheaper than London, it boasts a bigger celebration overall. Thought to be one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day festivals in the world, the holiday lasts for five days and is jam packed with cultural and festive fare. Be sure not to miss the official launch party on March 9, which features Irish music, dancing, and a delicious buffet as well as the parade on March 11, which will take place at 11AM from Camp Hill.

Montserrat, Caribbean

Who wouldn’t want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the Caribbean? Montserrat is one of the only two regions in the world outside of Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a public holiday and holds a rich Irish heritage. This, along with the coastline’s uncanny resemblance to Ireland’s, has given Montserrat its nickname, “the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean.” The territory boasts a full week of activities including festive parades, concerts, themed nightlife, and celebratory dinners.

green beerSeoul, South Korea

Thanks to the Irish Association of Korea, St. Patrick’s Day is a festive event in Seoul. There is usually a massive parade (2001-2010 had a parade, 2011 just had an enormous festival), as well as a festival that includes Irish dance, music, and sports. Open air concerts, Gaelic football matches, and Irish jigs will get you hyped up during the day, while at night, the bars and clubs take on a St. Patty’s ambiance with festive decor, drink specials, and theme parties.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

March is a great time to visit Buenos Aires, not only because the weather is perfect, but because the city is alive with St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Argentina is actually home to the fifth largest Irish community in the world; however, most do not take part in the wild parties thrown for the holiday. If you’re looking to wear green and stay up all night drinking beer, head downtown to Reconquista Street where the dancing doesn’t stop until 8AM. Moreover, if you want a more cultural experience, many of the city’s churches hold events for the occasion.


[photos via Kelly McCarthy, Allen Gathman, Jessieonajourney, bongo vongo, Eustaquio Santimano]

Video of the day: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque projections

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Projections from Obscura Digital on Vimeo.

Ready to see a beautiful video that will brighten your afternoon? Then check out this gorgeous video featuring the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Projectors, 44 to count, came together form a combined brightness of 840,000 lumens. The images from these projectors covered a 600 foot wide and 351 foot high surface on the building. Mostly floral patterns were projected alongside filigree-type designs, creating a stunning imagery any visitors undoubtedly enjoyed. Were you lucky enough to see this display first-hand? Please tell us about it in the comments if so.

Visit Sheikh Zayed Mosque

The malls of Dubai: Skiing, scuba diving, and shopping

Dubai Malls

Every country has its own culture of shopping. Italy has the pedigree, with worn estate leather goods from Tuscany and glittering catwalks fueling Milan’s couture. America boasts 5th Avenue, the biggest week in fashion, and the cookie-cutter malls of middle-America. Shopping in Paris is as elegant as it is expensive, where visiting the temples of Chanel, Dior, and Hermes is like a Hajj for fashionistas. Getting fitted for a suit on Savile Row in London is a gentlemanly apex, one that is best achieved while gently pulling on a cherry-wood pipe and commenting on cheeky matters from a pink-tinged page of the Financial Times.

In Dubai, The malls are king. Vast expanses of high end extravagance, these oases from the draping emirate heat are stocked with Gucci, Tom Ford, Louis Vuitton, and any other brand that peddles four-figure handbags to the jet set. Just as America brought the shopping mall to retail prominence, Dubai has perfected the art, blown it up, and put it all back together with megatons of glitter, pomp, and reckless luxury. But more so than brands and shine, the malls of Dubai also have other extraordinary features. A skating rink and a movie theater? That is so 20th century. How about scuba diving, snow skiing, and visiting the tallest building in the world? Welcome to the malls of Dubai.

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The Dubai Context
Dubai is a culture of shopping. From its historical role as a trading port, the city has grown out of the sand on the back of traders traveling from South Asia to the markets of Europe and beyond. With this came an understanding of the international ebb and flow of trade. It became a hub for the trading of gold, spices, and pearls. Many of Dubai’s souqs still operate as such, and wooden cargo ships from Bengal line Dubai Creek.

Dubai Malls

Still today, Dubai poses a dominating presence in international trade, and by 2013, little known Al Maktoum International Airport could become the busiest cargo airport in the world. With this sort of action, over time, any city will grow up. But a city like Dubai did so almost overnight. The malls are a symbol for this explosion of excess and success, however fleeting it may or may not someday be.

The Dubai Mall
At almost 12 million square feet (3.77 million square feet of retail space), Dubai Mall spreads out across downtown Dubai in the shadow of the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa. By total area, Dubai Mall is considered the largest mall in the world – a claim made all the more believable during long strolls through its massive never-ending corridors. With its size and elegant trappings, this is unmistakably THE mall of the Middle East and a temple to the newest religion of the region – shopping. This is where wealthy Emirati, Saudi, and Qatari women come to purchase the designer duds that remain cloaked under burqas. This is where the Middle-west meets the Middle-east.

dubai malls

The mall boasts twelve hundred shops, the tallest building in the world, and a massive aquarium filled with sharks, tropical fish, and corals. The Dubai Aquarium is great to look at, but why stop there? For scuba divers, a mall dive site may seem contrary to the spirit of exploration. But, after suiting up and hitting the tank, the unique experience will win over even the most pessimistic diving purists. Flanking a reef shark while, just meters away, robed shoppers grasp Fendi clutches is a surreal exercise in atypical diving. A dive in Dubai Mall costs roughly $170. For a much cheaper and dry option, check out the Aquarium tunnel and underwater zoo for $14.

“At the Top” is a spirited jaunt to the observation tour of the stratospheric Burj Khalifa. Access to the attraction is located on the lower ground level of the Dubai Mall, and it costs about $27. After checking in (making reservations is hypercritical during busy days), the world’s fastest elevator rockets patrons to the 124th floor at 30 feet per second. The observation deck is only 55% up the Burj, but it hardly feels that way as you glance out at the curvature of the earth. The view is second to none, and just moments later, you can be back in the mall, at the food court dining at Hot Dog on a Stick, Fatburger, or any other of the random western eateries seemingly plucked from Middle America.

dubai malls

Just outside the mall entrance is a daily impromptu car-show of Ferraris, Bugattis, Lambos, and Porsches, each representing offensive and loud corners of the rainbow. Of course, it is just a parking lot, but in a country where license plate numbers routinely fetch 7 figure payouts, the parking lots are more colorful than a Skittles commercial. Banana yellow, Qatari royal blue, and hellfire red are just some of the colors blasting eyes with candy hues. Indeed, Dubai is a place that appreciates fast Arab horses and faster Italian cars.

If you wish to stay near the Dubai Mall, the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa is a great though expensive option. The interiors are minimalist, the halls are spaceship chic, and the beds are cloud-like. Rooms start at a painful $454. For cheaper options, search aggregator sites like Kayak for a slew of sub $100 options in downtown Dubai. For an interesting and delicious dining option, check out At.mosphere on floor 122 of the Burj Khalifa.

Mall of the Emirates
The original Dubai super-mall is beginning to show her age, at least relative to the newer and larger Dubai Mall. Only in Dubai can a half a decade old mall look dated, but 5 years feels like 20 years in Dubai time. Fast change makes for faster obsolescence. But, the Mall of the Emirates has a weapon that even time cannot rob – a winter wonderland complete with ski slopes, tubing slides, and snowfall in a city that receives about 5 inches of rainfall per year. Here, Emirati children engage in snowball fights while their parents carve down man-made ski runs. This is Ski Dubai.

dubai malls

It is easy to forget you are in the middle of the desert as you don a down jacket and boot up to hit the slopes. Complete with a ski lift and a mountain chalet, Ski Dubai is as strange as it sounds. Whether you are hypersensitive about 21st century water shortages or you run sprinklers mid-day in August, gazing out at the indoor slope will incite a WTF moment. It is surreal, magnificent, and, perhaps most surprising to your desert adjusted body, very cold.

Beyond the wintery attraction, the Mall of the Emirates boasts a ridiculous amount of high end shops. From Audemars Piguet to Brioni, the shopping center is no slouch in the luxury department.

Connected to Dubai Metro on the red line, the Mall of the Emirates is very easy to visit.

The Future
Dubai seems built to embrace the impossible. The buildings soar above clouds, islands magically appear just offshore, and the malls are built to the exacting standards of this patented Emirati creative indulgence. It is Disney meets Arabia, with just a pinch of batshit insane. In the book Alice in Wonderland, the Queen muses on impossibility, telling Alice “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” A similar approach to the impossible has carved the skyline of Dubai out of the rolling desert dunes. It will be interesting to see if shifting sands and global economics will allow these impossibilities to stand the test of time.

dubai malls

All photography by Justin Delaney @justindelaney

Support for this program was partially provided by DTCM, with no limits on editorial or photographic content.