It’s nearly the end of the year and suddenly you realise you have a few days holiday left over, which you can’t carry into 2017. For the Times recently I came up with a few ideas on where to use those few precious days of freedom… (click on each page to enlarge).

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Dubai seems to be rather marmite – you love it or hate it – but I must admit as a a five-time visitor who initially couldn’t see the point (Vegas with the fun sucked out?) it has definitely grown on me.  Wouldn’t say it’s my favourite place on the planet, but I definitely don’t dislike it. If you just want some guaranteed sun, great service, good food and shopping, it’s hard to beat, especially bearing in mind it’s only six and a half hours away with 14 flights a day from London alone, not to mention nonstops from Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester and Birmingham too. In summer Brits love it, when temperatures are nudging 45c – just look out for the bright pink lobsters by the pool.

Dubai in summer - it ain't half hot Mum

Dubai in summer – it ain’t half hot Mum

Last week I had quite a blitz on hotels.

View from the One & Only Royal Mirage

View from the One & Only Royal Mirage

I stayed at the One and Only Royal Mirage, which I can thoroughly recommend both for service, ambience and location. It puts itself out there as a leisure not business hotel and it has an expansive pool and long beach if you just want to work on the tan and Fifty Shades of Whatever.

Had a look round the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray – plus points are the amazing spa (its hammam is as impressive as anything you’d find in Istanbul) and its large range of dining options. (Really tasty Lebanese mezze lunch at Al Nafoorah)

All Burj al Arab guests get a shiny gold iPad to use in the hotel - or you can buy one to take away for £6,800

All Burj al Arab guests get a shiny gold iPad to use in the hotel – or you can buy one to take away for £6,800

Went for a quick nose poke round the Burj al Arab. Hmmmm, not my cup of tea despite the shiny gold ipads given to guests, and a quick look round inside the $23,000 a night Royal Suite. Just way too gaudy for me. (I think the hotel would rather have Chinese and Russian guests anyway – they spend more than austerity Brits). Having said that, the afternoon tea on the top floor was something special and if you want an anniversary or birthday treat when you’re on holiday, this is definitely worth splashing out the, gulp, £80 a person for. (You do get a glass of champagne! And wouldn’t need dinner afterwards) And it’s one of the few ways you can have a look around if you’re not a guest.

Afternoon tea at the top of the Burj al Arab.

Afternoon tea at the top of the Burj al Arab.

Onwards to the spanking new – opened just last week – Oberoi in Business Bay, near the Dubai Mall. Clean, crisp, sleek. Aimed at business travellers rather than leisure although I can see a certain “Monocle / Wallpaper” type of the latter group thoroughly enjoying it anyway. It has Dubai’s first 24 hour spa, so if your plane arrives in at 3am and you need a jetlag-busting massage, no problem. All bedrooms have floor to ceiling windows too which give impressive views.

Pool deck at the Oberoi

Pool deck at the Oberoi

View of the Burj Khalifa from the Oberoi hotel

View of the Burj Khalifa from the Oberoi hotel

There’s a new Sofitel on the Palm which opens next month. Its theme is Polynesian. Sounds tacky? It’s not – it works. Lots of greenery inside (“living walls”), calm colours and plenty of wood. The designers have done a good job, accompanied with French flair. All in all it certainly looks nice.

There's more than 950 square metres of "living walls" at the new Sofitel on the Palm

There’s more than 950 square metres of “living walls” at the new Sofitel on the Palm

I had a look at the new’ish JW Marriott Marquis too – the world’s tallest hotel with great views of the Burj Khalifa. Squarely aimed at the business crowd, specifically meetings and conference groups, but like the Oberoi I can see it attracting a certain kind of business/leisure – can I say bleisure? – guest. In fact it’s near the Oberoi, and in a few years it will be joined nearby by a W and other Starwood properties that will have 1600 beds.  Its top floor steak house and bar alone are worth checking out.

JW Marriott Marquis

JW Marriott Marquis

I travelled with Qantas  (booked through Trailfnders) who now flies to Sydney and Melbourne from Heathrow via Dubai rather than via Singapore – nice to have some Aussie friendliness en route.

Plenty of familiar high-street names in the malls to keep Brits happy

Plenty of familiar high-street names in the malls to keep Brits happy

Looking out over the Palm from the balcony of the Royal Suite at Atlantis hotel.

Looking out over the Palm from the balcony of the Royal Suite at Atlantis hotel.

One of Dubai's female taxi drivers - for women and families only

One of Dubai’s female taxi drivers – for women and families only

Would really recommend breakfast at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding - a very different side to the glitz you associate with Dubai

Would really recommend breakfast at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding – a very different side to the glitz you associate with Dubai