Apr 28, 2022
IT’S 6 A.M. AND I’M standing on the southernmost tip of South America, waiting for the sun to rise behind the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. To my right, the Burj Al Arab emerges from the morning mists, and I can hear the piercing shriek of a peacock telling its companions that it’s time to get up. Behind me lies the rest of the South American continent spread over separate islands, the Falklands being the same size as the island of Argentina. Beyond are Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and the Lesser Antilles, in a loose approximation of the Mercator projection.
While it may sound like a vision of a post-apocalyptic world, it’s not. I’m on the beach at the new Anantara resort in the World Islands, one of the many ambitious projects that continue to put Dubai—literally—on the world map. A manmade archipelago that sits four kilometers offshore, the project was first announced in 2003. There were rumors that it would never see the light of day and that it was washing away, but the sand beneath my feet and the blue waters lapping at my toes are enough to prove the detractors wrong.
Anantara World Islands Resort Dubai quietly opened its doors in mid-December 2021, the first hotel to debut in the development. These are still early days for the World Islands. The vast majority of the neighboring atolls are completely undeveloped, with the exception of The Heart of Europe, a conglomeration of under-construction islands which, when it opens, will reportedly be home to 15 hotels, a street where it rains, a coral nursery, and floating villas.
But for now, Anantara has the archipelago to itself. Arrival is by speedboat, the swooping curves of which look like a dolphin diving into the waves. Setting off to the World Islands from sister hotel Anantara The Palm, the Dubai skyline streaks past as the boat bounces over the waters. Ten minutes later I’m standing on what was, until a few years ago, the middle of the sea, fresh coconut in hand, surrounded by bougainvillea in bloom.
As the first property on previously uncharted territory, the resort is having to learn how this new world functions, working out tidal patterns and currents and how Dubai’s rare squalls will affect everything. Many of the island’s palm trees are still wrapped up tight to protect their fronds until they settle into their new home—a peculiarity of palms is that they’re prone to shock when replanted and need time to acclimatize. Once they do, their grey-green fronds will provide picturesque shade for lazing in.
Spread around the island, the 70 rooms, suites and villas either have views back to the city skyline or out over the World Islands and the blue horizons beyond. And there’s a dizzying number of room types to choose from, from the smallest Ocean View Rooms to the Four Bedroom Beach Pool Villa. Most have direct beach access, and many have private plunge pools.
Décor is, on the whole, simple, but with all that sea and sand on the doorstep, most guests aren’t likely to be spending much time indoors. It’s a barefoot chic kind of place – the island isn’t huge and if you don’t require being driven around in a buggy, the sandy pathways are easy to navigate, with all restaurants and facilities being no more than a few minutes away by foot.
The waters that surround the island are irresistible, pale and shallow at first, then suddenly dropping to extraordinary depths of up to 25 meters. There are influencer-friendly overwater swings for photo ops, and SUPs and kayaks for splashing about on. And more unusually, there’s the HamacLand, a part-boat, part-sundeck contraption with recliners and two hammocks strung beneath a canopy that’s towed out to sea, away from the disturbance of other people. You’re not completely marooned, though. A call button and a direct WhatsApp number are on hand for replenishing drinks or ordering an extra helping of eggs Benedict. You see, the HamacLand is available for morning and midday meals for those who find a regular restaurant too dull—or who want to actually enjoy a floating breakfast for once.
Once out here on the World Islands, you can’t easily pop back to the mainland for a bite to eat, but that’s the point. It’s unlike anywhere else in Dubai, and that sense of isolation is for the embracing. Sea and skyline views provide the backdrop to relaxed breakfasts at Mediterranean-themed Helios, where curious peacocks watch guests nibbling their morning pastries. The deck at Qamar, with its sunset views out to sea, is the spot for sundowners, followed by a long lazy dinner from a menu that wanders between Arabic and Indian favorites.
While it’s not the Maldives—the sand isn’t as powdery, the vegetation has yet to mature, there isn’t the variety of marine life—there is a pioneering feeling about the place, and for a few days relaxing, lounging and floating in the warm waters, it hits the spot. And when you look back at that unmistakable Dubai skyline, it’s a reminder that, even though you’re on a ‘remote’ island that’s not actually that remote at all, you’re among the first in the world to be here. And that, in itself, is quite special.
anantara.com/en/world-islands-dubai; doubles from AED1,980 per night including breakfast and taxes.
All photos courtesy of Anantara Hotels & Resorts.