Desert luxury: a burgeoning oasis, Dubai is the new "in" place for the vacationing CEO

New York City entrepreneur Grace Gallo is three years away from turning 50, but she's already emailing friends and family to save the date for a big birthday bash abroad. The location? A place unthinkable just five years ago: Dubai.

She briefly considered Egypt but selected the bustling Middle Eastern outpost with its over-the-top hotels, restaurants and nightclubs for her early September celebration--even though she knows Dubai will be blaringly hot then. She's planning to blow out her birthday candles at the $666-per-night Burj Al Arab Hotel, a sail-shaped landmark on the Arabian coast. It gets seven stars for its all-duplex suites, 24-hour butler service, rooftop helicopter pad, underwater bar and Rolls-Royce fleet.

"I managed to get 50 people to come to Vienna and stay at the Danieli [Hotel] for a Venetian ball on my 40th birthday, so I think I can do this," says Gallo, an Italian-born, Australian native who runs export marketing consultancy Gallaco from an office in Rockefeller Center.

Dubai is inspiring more global-minded execs like Gallo, who has worked in China and traveled worldwide, to sample Arabia in this safe cosmopolitan oasis of more than 1.2 million people.

Business-class passengers arriving in Dubai after an overnight flight on Emirates Airways feel fairly refreshed, thanks to such comforts as self-adjusting, vibrating seats that recline to become bed hideaways, wireless in-flight email, personalized video on demand and French champagne. Met by a representative of Emirates, they are whisked through immigration courtesy of a no-fee visa instantly granted at the airport and escorted to a curbside Mercedes for a 10-minute ride into the city. Along the wide Sheikh Zayed Boulevard cutting north-south through the city, neon signs and gleaming skyscrapers set against a desert landscape remind one of Las Vegas.

Though Arabic is the official language here, English is widely spoken and one could almost forget that one is in the Middle East if not for the large number of mosques in the city, the occasional palace and the traditional Arab clothing of the locals. First-time visitors quickly discover that Dubai's shops and museums are closed on Thursdays and Fridays but reopen on Saturday morning, and that alcohol is not served in hotels during Islamic religious holidays and not in restaurants outside the hotels at any time.

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