News & Reviews Rest of the World United Arab Emirates Review: Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai

Dubai, the only place in the Middle East where we all get along.  Yes, even the Russians, who presently account for every single person that isn’t a waiter or taxi driver.  Dubai has so many luxury hotels that it’s only a matter of time before Aman comes to town, probably sandwiched between a Singita and Wilderness Safari safari camp.  Mandarin Oriental decided to enter the city in 2019, which was perfect timing, as absolutely nothing bad would happen to the tourist industry in 2020.

Let’s jump to it: the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira is absolutely gorgeous.   Mandarin Oriental know how to make a great looking hotel, the problem is they have yet to figure out how to make a great hotel.

Rules, rules, rules

Whoever runs this property needs a big, warm hug from their dad.  They must have had the kinda childhood where they were shipped to boarding school as they couldn’t name all the different species of birds by their second birthday.  Every time someone approached me, I was not there expecting to get service, but to be told off.  They seemed to forget that luxury is about freedom and flexibility, not having people needlessly bother you.  That’s what massive corporations like Hilton are for.

Let me start with the controversial one: masks.  I wouldn’t have such an issue with the extreme enforcement of it, were it not for the Burj al Arab specifically outlining that guests did not have to wear them.  So we came from the most conservative hotel of all time, where they didn’t care, to here, where it was the only thing they seemed to care about.  If only their service standards were this high in any other area.   I think this means I was told off for breathing wrong.

Rule #1: the customer is not always right

Once the heavies let us in, we were left to deal with a painfully slow check-in process.  As suite bookers, we were sent to a separate area, but based on the speed it must have been the staff training area.  When we finally got to our suite, the welcome amenities were nice, but it was clear they were completely impersonalised, particularly due to the alcohol included – I do not drink and my wife is pregnant and they had this information beforehand.

Rule #2: ask and ye shall not receive

Our Sea View Suite, maybe crossed some libel laws by calling it a sea view, but it is absolutely gorgeous.  Extremely modern, exquisitely decorated, with every element looking like no expense was spared by the building owners.  The balcony and the view are the only true negatives of the room – it’s too small and based on where we are you don’t get sunset, don’t get sunrise and, well, don’t get any sun at all.  At least it’s the one place you can see the sea from, but it’s also where everyone can see you.  A building with hundreds of rooms, most with occupied balconies, facing each other, at least made me know how it’d feel to be a Big Brother contestant.  

There is a Premium Sea View, but I hedged my bets and it didn’t play out.  I was just left imagining what a good ocean looks like, but in fairness, I’d be doing that in the higher room categories too, as the beach was pretty awful.

Inside the room, you have some nice elements, like wireless charging besides the bed, full size fridge, two bathrooms, as well as a bathrobe and slippers for our 1-year-old.  I will not do the parenting thing and throw in a picture, but just imagine the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life.  Then double it.

But this is the Mandarin Oriental, a chain that seems to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory. All they had to do was manage it well and not be cheap, yet instead, they have shower gel that’s stuck to the wall, and chargeable internet unless you sign-up to their MO Fan account and that shiver that runs down your spine where you go “oh yeah, I’m in a Mandarin Oriental”.

Rule #3: ask for nothing, get nothing

The service was good, without being great, with the exception of the managers at Club Lounge and Tasca, who were awesome.  The beach looked like a plastic dumping ground at certain parts of the day, as it seemed the staff were happy to just wait until the cleaning teams arrived, as opposed to taking any responsibility.

As has become the trend, WhatsApp was available for requests, but there were so many T&Cs to agree to that whatever the request was, you’re going to wish you didn’t bother, even if the request is “help, I’m in the pool and drowning!”.

There’s so many pools to pick from

This is the Mandarin Oriental, so unlike everywhere else we stayed, the kid’s menu wasn’t free and they even wanted to charge extra for adding vegetables to a dish.  This is on top of them charging us £7 for a glass of milk for our toddler.  It’s not the cost, it’s the principle. There is absolutely no sense of generosity here – nothing is included, not even nappies.  Even if they eventually offered it, they tried to sell it to us first.

The food, however, is a highlight.  Breakfast can either be taken downstairs in The Bay or in the Club Lounge (if you booked a club room or suite), with the former offering one of the most impressive buffets I’ve seen in a long time.  The Bay is more extensive and even includes breakfast delicacies like ice cream, which has my seal of approval, whilst the Club Lounge is more tranquil and makes you think you’re a better person.  There’s also an excellent cake shop in the lobby, which you can be sure I tried out, and Netsu, a Japanese restaurant, which was good, but the wagyu wasn’t anything close to spectacular.  Tasca, their Portuguese restaurant, was a good addition too, albeit it didn’t feel great value for money.

Elsewhere, there’s an indoor kids club and some great kids’ outdoor water experiences, like a mini-water park for children, as well as covered swimming pools so shallow they can walk in.  But it was so crowded we could never get a good seat anywhere that didn’t give me skin cancer.

There’s a hair salon and spa, although I’m left wondering if it was a drug lord’s hideout, as when I asked to see it the receptionist told me that I can just look at pictures on their iPad.  Sure, cos if all we ever wanted in life was to see a picture and not experience it, I could have just looked at the Mandarin Oriental website and saved myself time, money and brain cells.

I can imagine this is the direction they’re going in; you’ll check-in, they’ll hand you a picture of your room “enjoy” and that’s all you get.  First, they have a Club Lounge, so the peasants can’t get near you, then they introduce some secret Illuminate-esq level of membership to get into the spa.  When I finally managed to get in, the next day by talking to someone that has spoken to another human before, I once again admired the design.  The hydrotherapy pool was broken, but in working condition is a sauna, steam room and heated, marble beds.  There’s also an incredibly impressive gym and fitness studio.  Overall, the facilities are to a very high standard, but the size of the resort manages to erode it feeling luxurious.

On the final day, I woke up early to take pictures whilst no one was around, but surprise surprise, there’s a rule in place that I’m not allowed to use “professional camera equipment” without the marketing department’s permission.

Rule #4: guests should be neither seen nor heard.

It didn’t surprise me at this point.  I’d already been asked my room number more than prisoners would be asked what cell block they’re in.  I already knew that by leaving the room I had done something wrong.  So when the key stopped working bang on 12 on the final day, despite our extended checkout, I knew I was in one of those kinds of hotels.

Rule #5: all rules must strictly be obeyed

The Good

  • Impressive food selection

The Bad

  • It’s Mandarin Oriental – a chain that just can’t ever get it right
  • Has no stand-out quality that will make you think you’re anywhere unique. Excluding the stunning design, the only element of the property that stood out was the Club Lounge.  But I don’t want to be in a hotel with a Club Lounge.  That just says “this hotel is so large, yet we don’t want half the guests here”.

The Luxurious

  • Beautiful to look at
  • Stunning rooms

Conclusion

I’m not a fan of Mandarin Oriental.  They have all the ingredients to compete with Four Seasons.  They go as far as making the perfect dish, but then dessert comes along and instead they throw acid in the guest’s faces.  In the case of Jumeirah, the hard product looks amazing, but there are elements where even that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, particularly the beach.

Luxury evaporates when the property cannot handle high occupancy.  It stops having a purpose when it has the feel of anywhere.  We talk of things having souls – Porsche’s entire marketing campaign for their electric cars focuses on this above all else – and Jumeirah lacks one.  I look at everything and admire it but it doesn’t make me feel anything.

Even so, it’s one of the best hotels in Dubai.  So if you’re in Dubai, consider it, but don’t come to Dubai for the sake of trying it.  Were I allowed, I could spend a week walking around the hotel just taking pictures, as even the hallways are beautiful to look at. Yet that’s all the good I’ve got to say, as the elements of what makes a great hotel are absent.  It looks like they were right when they tried to get me to just look at pictures.

If you focused on the hard product, cut the room count in half and removed Mandarin Oriental then you’d have an amazing hotel.  And luckily for you, someone’s already done it.  It’s called the Bulgari and it’s 5 minutes away.

Room type: Sea View Suite Duration: 5 May > 7th May, 2022

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 29th May '22

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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