(CNN) — Stepping off the speedboat onto the soft white sand dotted with lush tropical greenery, it might be easy to mistake this resort for Bali or the Maldives.
The resort is the first to open on the World Islands, an archipelago of 300 islands in the shape of, as its name suggests, the world. Think Dubai’s very own Hamptons on the Persian Gulf.
Unlike Palm Jumeirah, the resort on the “South American” Coronation Island is totally secluded, with access by a James Bond-style speedboat trip.
Nobody can get onto the island without registering their passport, making sure that those who come, including royalty, are guaranteed the utmost privacy and security. A helipad will also soon open on the island.
Blending the chain’s Thai roots with the essence of Emirati tradition, the resort, now the new ultra private playground for the rich and famous, is elegant and stylish. Natural finishings are contoured with elements of nature and landscaping came at no expense spared.
Eight hundred and fifty coconut trees have been brought from Oman, as well as 500 palms and another 4,000 or more other tropical and desert native flora. A greenhouse is also growing a variety of tropical fruit trees while a giant bird cage is now home to around 200 tropical birds to breed the island’s own native colony, in addition to the 12 feisty peacocks strutting around the site.
Dubai’s hottest new address
A giant chandelier made from hundreds of oyster shells hangs majestically within the pergola structure in which new guests are welcomed, twinkling in the wind and paying tribute to the UAE’s pearl-diving history.
The resort has 70 keys, with 40 of those being pool villas. In spite of there being much to do here — from tennis to spa treatments, a state-of-the-art gym, cinema under the stars and water sports — our guide, Dev Panjala, tells us most people come to eat, rest, relax. It is, he says, an urban escape for those who can.
“People are happy to come here and enjoy the room, the pool, the beach,” he says. “It’s all about the relaxation.”
The World project has been almost two decades in the making. First announced by Nakheel in 2003 with construction completed in 2008, it was beset by a series of hiccups including the global recession and practical challenges such as getting water and electricity to the islands.
The multi-billion dollar mega-project was the brainchild of Dubai businessman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, chairman and CEO of DP World, who also has a home on the island, but it’s not only the rich and famous who can enjoy Dubai’s hottest new address.
With rates starting from $440+ for the ocean view rooms with balconies, the new Anantara resort is on a par with many of the higher-end properties in the city, only every room is just steps away from the sand.
For a taste of ultra-luxury, guests can snap up one of the 424-square-meter four-bedroom Beach Pool Villas that go for up to $9,800 a night. The secluded beachfront properties feel more like guests are on a private island than at a resort.
Serenity and simplicity
On the night we visit, the stars shine brightly over the resort, which has a serenity and simplicity unlike the city’s other island destinations, which still push opulence over ambiance. Instead, bamboo and palm frond-hatched villas dot the shoreline and sandy walkways wind through the resort.
As the dramatic Dubai skyline fades away into the distance, the air is filled with birdsong rather than car horns in this other-worldly natural wonderland, its lights just visible from the Dubai shoreline.
“For Dubai, this is what makes this place unique,” says resort manager Giacomo Puntel, who says it’s a “sophisticated” take on island life. “Here, the only sounds you hear are the sea and the birds. You can’t find that anywhere else in Dubai.”
Offering an island escape away from the hustle and bustle of city life is what will attract guests who can find a taste of the tropics on their doorstep.
“There are no cars, the air is clean, it’s peaceful, and that’s why people come here. It’s a little bit of the Maldives without even leaving home. We want to replicate the same experience, the same feel and same sense of relaxation you’d get in the Maldives.”
He says the much smaller capacity makes it a welcome change from the UAE’s plethora of mega hotels; here, each guest is welcomed by name and serviced with an individual room host.
Celebrities and VIPs
Created from sand dredged from the Gulf, each of the islands, which are supported by several millions of tons of rocks, ranges from 250,000 to 900,000 square feet and the entire collection covers some 5.4 miles across.
Properties around the development and even whole islands have been snapped up by the rich and famous from around the globe and no doubt now that it’s officially open, it will be the latest destination for Dubai’s long line of celebrity and VIP visitors.
The Black Eyed Peas recently came to dine at the resort after performing at Dubai Expo 2020.
As the resort is still only newly opened, there is much more yet to come, including glamping experiences, “bubble dining” out on the ocean in floating plexiglass orbs and new dining outlets.
Currently the main dining destinations are Qamar, an Arabic-Indian restaurant, the spot for fine dining and shisha, while Helios is a casual Mediterranean beachside restaurant with views across to the city’s glittering skyline including Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab.
There is also a South American bar and lounge, Luna, and a cafe, Grand House, in the lobby with views overlooking the resort’s main swimming pool and deck.
In a bid to offset the construction damage to the area, the islands are now home to one of the world’s largest coral nurseries as marine experts cultivate a brand new marine ecosystem.
At the resort, efforts to be more sustainable include limiting plastic, the introduction of recycling project as well as solar powered pool cooling systems.
“We are really doing what we can to make sure we keep everything as sustainable as possible,” says Puntel.