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Travel: The must-do in the desert just outside Dubai

The Red Sand Desert Safari is just one of the highlights of our five-day trip to Dubai – the skyscraper-crowded city where the desert meets the Arabian Gulf.

Red sand sprays off the SUV’s front grill and tires as we accelerate.

We pitch forward, pop back up and gain some air before hitting the sand again, slightly askew.

All the while, the five of us in the SUV squeal in delight.

After all, it’s our first time dune bashing – the exhilarating sport of careening through the desert in a 4x4.

There are no roads in the red-sand Lahbab Desert just outside of the United Arab Emirates megatropolis of Dubai.

The wind daily reforms the fine sand into endless rippled dunes, fresh for the twilight smashing and bashing of tour groups in hundreds of SUVs.

Of course, my wife, Kerry, and I, another couple from Florida and a young woman from Calgary, aka, the tourists, aren’t allowed to actually drive.

That’s left up to expert guide, Mohammad, from Dubai Travel & Tourism’s Red Sand Desert Safari.

He slightly deflated the tires of the Toyota Sequoia so it can plow through the powdery sand without getting bogged down.

At the crest of a dune we abruptly stop.

The sun is about to set and we pile out of the SUV to trudge to the best vantage point to ooh and ahh as the fiery orange sphere dips below the sandy horizon.

Tires reinflated and back on the road we head to the Rayna Desert Camp, one of 40 such installations in the desert outside Dubai for a full-on Arabian evening of camel riding, lamb-and-chicken skewer barbecue, belly dancing and fire-eating live entertainment and dressing up in kandoras and hijabs.

The Red Sand Desert Safari is just one of the highlights of our five-day trip to Dubai – the skyscraper-crowded city where the desert meets the Arabian Gulf.

The highlights kicked off right away with us deciding to mirror Dubai’s reputation for opulence by flying business class on Air Canada’s new Vancouver-to-Dubai route. We indulge in pods with lie-flat seats in order to get a full night’s sleep on the ultra-long-haul, 15-hour flight.

Air Canada's Vancouver-to-Dubai flights are four times a week on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays on the fast, fuel-efficient and comfortable Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

Dubai’s history as a fishing village turned glitzy, go-go tourism-and-international-finance destination means we can experience both in the same day  – just as the transformational vision the emirate's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum intended.

On a Grayline city tour, we ride a traditional wooden abra boat across Dubai Creek to the Old Town to barter at the spice and gold souks before heading to Dubai Mall (the world’s largest with 1,200 stores) to buy camel milk chocolate and browse Tiffany’s.

Then we stroll around the fountained perimeter of Burj Khalifa before taking an elevator up to the 124th and 125th floor observation decks of the world’s tallest building (828 meters).

Leaning even more into Dubai’s bougieness, the next day we board Stardom, the vessel used for Xclusive Yachts’ ‘Super Yacht Expeirence’ to motor from Dubai Harbour into the Arabian Gulf to marvel at the skyline, swim, sip wine and dance on the top deck as the DJ spins the tunes.

As foreign as the Middle East is at times, it’s astounding to find comfort and luxury there that’s familiar.

In this case it’s five-star Four Seasons, the hotel chain that was founded and is still headquartered in Canada.

We’re lucky enough to split our stay between Four Seasons Hotel Dubai International Finance Centre for downtown vibes and the Four Seasons Resort at Jumeirah Beach for seaside rest and relaxation.

Downtown we bunk in a sumptuous junior suite, swim in the see-through glass rooftop pool, eat red snapper at Mina, the brassiere named after celebrity chef Michael Mina, and drink Ruinart Champagne at rooftop bar Luna as the night skyline twinkles.

At Jumeirah Beach our seaview suite means we’re never more than steps away from two infinity pools, the sand and sea, dinner of signature-dish black cod at Mediterranean-meets-Asia waterfront restaurant Sea Fu or drinks at Mercury rooftop bar, again with views of the night skyline, including Burj Khalifa.

“That’s the dichotomy of Four Seasons in Dubai,” says Ghaith Adnan, the marketing director for both properties.

“International Finance Centre for business and city explorers and Jumeirah for beach vacations. Of course, if you’re staying at International Finance you can come anytime to enjoy the facilities at Jumeirah.”

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