Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Two desert cities half a world away — Las Vegas and Dubai — have grown from dusty outposts into tourism empires.
Like Las Vegas, Dubai — an emirate located on the Arabian Peninsula — has experienced tremendous growth during the past two decades. Once solely dependent on oil reserves, the city now has the world’s largest concentration of five-star hotels.
A recent trip to the Middle East gave me a firsthand look at the similarities between the cities and the differences — Dubai has clearly surpassed Las Vegas in economic diversification and development as a travel destination.
Here’s a look at how Las Vegas’ attractions compared to Dubai’s offerings:
Stratosphere vs. Burj Khalifa
The Stratosphere, at 1,149 feet, is the tallest observation tower in the Western United States. The attractions on the 107th floor not only offer spectacular views but also amusement rides — SkyJump, the highest controlled free fall in the world from the 108th floor; Insanity, where you can experience the Strip view 900 feet below; Big Shot, a 160-foot launch up the tower needle; and X-Scream, a giant teeter-totter 866 feet above the ground. For dinner with a view, guests can dine at the Top of the World restaurant that rotates 360 degrees in one hour and 20 minutes. The casino is 55,784 square feet and contains 1,450 slot machines, 120 game tables and 2,444 hotel rooms.
Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is 2,716.5 feet tall, the tallest free-standing structure in the world. It took more than five years to build. Its observation deck, dubbed “At the Top,” is on the 124th floor. It also houses 900 high-rise residences; 37 floors of commercial office suites; Armani Hotel Dubai, with 160 guest rooms and suites; 144 private residences in the Armani Residences Dubai; The Park, with more than 20 acres of greenery and 6 water features; and At.mosphere, a restaurant on the 122 floor. The tower is featured in “Ghost Protocol,” the latest “Mission Impossible” sequel.
Photo by Leila Navidi
Fountains at Bellagio vs. Dubai Fountain
The fountains at Bellagio is one of the Las Vegas Strip’s best-known attractions. Choreographed to music from artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, the dancing waters from more than 1,200 fountains soars as high as 460 feet. Several of the Bellagio’s restaurants feature outdoor seating along the 8.5-acre lake.
Outside the Burk Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain was designed and completed by WET Design, the California company also responsible for the fountains at the Bellagio. The $200-million dollar project is 25 percent larger than the display at Bellagio and is illuminated by 6,600 lights, 50 color projectors. It shoots water 490 feet into the air and is accompanied by various genres of music, from classical to contemporary Arabic.
/Las Vegas Sun file photo
Fashion Show Mall vs. Dubai Mall
Located on the north end of the Strip, Fashion Show Mall, at 1.9 million square feet, is one of the largest enclosed malls in the nation. It has over 250 stores and restaurants, seven flagship department stores, a stage, fashion runway and a 480-foot-long “Cloud,” a disk-like structure 128 feet above the Strip entrance that provides shade during the day and functions as a video screen at night.
The Dubai Mall, part of the $20-billion dollar Burj Khalifa complex, is the world’s largest shopping mall based on total area, with over 12 million square feet. It has 1,200 shops, making it the sixth largest mall based on leasable retail space, with approximately 3.7 million square feet currently leased. The mall has the world’s largest Gold Souq, where businesses focus exclusively on jewelry; an 850,000-square-foot atrium with fashion catwalk; an indoor waterfall and water front atrium; an indoor theme park; an indoor ice-skating rink; a 22-screen Cineplex; The Grove, an indoor-outdoor streetscape with a fully retractable roof and the Dubai Aquarium and Under Water Zoo.
Photo by Christopher DeVargas
Monorial vs. Metro
The 3.9-mile Las Vegas Monorail system runs on an elevated track linking casinos and the Las Vegas Convention Center east of the Strip and is the only privately owned public transportation system in the United States. Developed at a cost of $650 million, it has been plagued with problems since its debut in 2004. In January 2010, the monorail company filed for bankruptcy and based on its meager ridership and revenue levels it’s now worth just $16 million to $20 million according to bankruptcy court records.
Dubai Metro is the world’s longest fully automated metro network. Last month, the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority announced ridership on its Red and Green lines had passed 100 million passengers since the service was launched in September 2009. The lines stretch a combined distance of 43 miles, run beneath the city center and on elevated guideways elsewhere. Two additional lines are proposed to complete a transit system spanning 192 miles of lines. The project has come with a large price tag costing nearly $8 billion dollars.
Photo by Leila Navidi
Built in the 1940s, the Flamingo Hotel & Casino is one of the oldest hotels on the Strip. The resort is home to a flock of Chilean Flamingos as well as swans, ducks, koi fish, and turtles for hotel guests and visitors to view at the Wildlife Habitat.
Flamingos are the most abundant water bird species in the United Arab Emirates. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is home to approximately 500 greater flamingos, which has become something of a mascot for Dubai’s wildlife protection program. Three birding hides are located on the perimeter of the sanctuary.
Photo by Steve Marcus
McCarran Airport vs. Dubai Airport
McCarran planned much better for growth and the volume of passengers. Its shopping and dining options are on par with Dubai’s and transit between gates and general areas are shorter with an option to take a tram from the C or D gates.
Dubai’s International Airport has become one of the world’s busiest stopovers, popular with travelers between Europe and Asia. The airport’s shopping areas range from a huge duty-free center to exotic bazaars like the gold souk. The layout and transit through the facility, however, is inefficient. My travel companion and I had never walked so far through an airport between the gate and baggage claim and passenger pickup.
Photo by Tiffany Brown
Las Vegas clearly wins if you want to consume alcohol during your travels. Casinos offer free drinks to gamblers. Liquor stores and bars rarely close. And football-shaped receptacles of beer are a Fremont Street staple.
The alcohol laws in Dubai and all of the UAE are strict. According to the U.S. Department of State, drinking or possession of alcohol without a Ministry of Interior liquor permit is illegal and can result in arrest and/or fines and imprisonment. Alcohol is served at bars in most major hotels but is intended for guests. People who are not guests are required to have a personal liquor license, which are issued only to non-Muslims with UAE residency permits. People arrested on alcohol-related offenses are often jailed for many days as they await a court hearing. Penalties can include jail sentences and fines and, for Muslims (even those holding U.S. citizenship), lashings.
Photo by Leila Navidi
Travelers looking to gamble in Dubai should look elsewhere. Gambling is illegal throughout the UAE as a result of their adherence to Muslim law. Even cruise ships that house casinos must cease operating while in port.