Inside Dubai’s new ‘vertical resort’, with £25,000 suites and a three-storey spa

The hotel features two swimming pools, 11 restaurants and 229 accommodations
The hotel features two swimming pools, 11 restaurants and 229 accommodations

The check-in desks were on the 25th floor. My room was on the 51st floor. The spa was on the 28th floor. And to navigate from bed to poolside (on the fourth floor), I’d need to take three different lifts, including one going in the opposite direction from my intended downward trajectory.

“Would you like me to escort you?” asked Jibek gently, recognising the despair in my eyes as she delivered this dizzying explanation. “Yes,” I replied, resisting the urge to clutch the sleeve of my suite’s Host – a “butler” in wider parlance – and beg her never to leave my side.

I have a decent sense of direction, but holidays send it haywire: I ricochet predictably from breakfast mimosas to sun loungers, yet still have to ask for directions. But that is nothing compared with the yo-yo challenge of navigating One&Only One Za’abeel, Dubai’s new “vertical resort”.

A 100m-high 'skybridge' connects the towers' mirror-smooth flanks
A 100m-high 'skybridge' connects the towers' mirror-smooth flanks - Rupert Peace

This is a holiday retreat for the modern urban environment, essentially taking the linear resort concept and stacking each element on top of one another. Instead of riding a golf buggy around, you ride the lift: there are 29 in total. Its footprint on the land is no bigger than that of your average skyscraper, yet the hotel features two swimming pools, 11 restaurants, a three-storey spa and 229 accommodations. The closest beach is a 20-minute drive away, but guests can take day trips to the sandy shores of One&Only’s two more “traditional” Dubai resorts.

On the 53rd floor, a security team is positioned outside a discreet entranceway: the door to Villa One, the two-bedroom penthouse, which at almost £25,000 a night is one of Dubai’s most expensive addresses. As well as a private pool, cinema and gym, it has a dining room with personal chefs on call, and a “mancave” – the hotel’s term – featuring games consoles and a cabinet of “collectibles”. Who has stayed? “I can tell you only three names,” said Jibek enigmatically. “The Crown Princes of Dubai and Saudi Arabia, and Jennifer Lopez.” They visited separately, I hasten to add: J-Lo was the star of the hotel’s opening party in February, scooping a reported £3.9 million for her private concert, with Naomi Campbell and David Gandy on the guest list.

Arrazuna restaurant
The hotel has 11 restaurants, including Arrazuna Grill (pictured)

It may be tempting to dismiss One&Only’s new launch as “just another” fancy Dubai high-rise, but the brand is renowned for fly-and-flop bliss – with a finesse that has earned it a near-evangelical fan base. Infinity pools, indulgent dining and glorious spas are its calling cards, with 14 resorts throughout the Maldives, Mauritius and beyond. This is its first fully urban outpost, but can holiday heaven really be found in a skyscraper?

With city-centre property at a premium, and a famously insatiable appetite for altitude, Dubai was the obvious destination for the concept. The hotel is located in the new One Za’abeel development, whose two jet-black glass towers are imposing even by United Arab Emirates’ standards, dwarfing the skyline between Dubai Creek (the city’s oldest part) and the spires of Downtown. One block is entirely for private homes; the other features offices, residences and SIRO One Za’abeel – a fitness-themed hotel. But One&Only dominates the floor-plan, occupying 22 of its 60 storeys.

Even the hotel's entry-level rooms feature large en suite bathrooms
Even the entry-level rooms feature large en suite bathrooms

Connecting the towers’ mirror-smooth flanks is the Link, a 100m-high “skybridge”, which features fine-dining restaurants, the Sphere wine bar and a glitzy souk-inspired food court. But it extends beyond the towers, leading to a 67.5m cantilever – the world’s longest. A cantilever, of course, is a linear structure that’s unsupported at one end: One Za’abeel’s 900-ton marvel is the length of seven double-decker buses, jutting out like a Tetris game gone wrong.

“I wouldn’t say it’s relaxing – more exhilarating,” mused Carine, a businesswoman from “all over Europe”, as we made small talk in the lift. She has stayed at every One&Only property in the world, including its Maldives haven, Reethi Rah, 16 times – but One Za’abeel is “the most extraordinary so far”. I’ll say this for the hotel’s baffling layout: it’s a real conversation starter. While navigating the lobbies (there are several, with lifts on each side going to selected floors), I met witty well-heeled retirees, New York socialites, an Emirati entrepreneur – our chit-chat sparkling brighter than the buffed marble décor.

Take in some of the best views of Dubai
Take in some of the best views of Dubai

On the Link’s “rooftop” is a vast infinity pool, from which you can gaze out at the city far below and the towers looming high above. The view wows even the most discerning guests: Sheikh Hamdan, Dubai’s Crown Prince, was impressed enough to post Instagram videos from the poolside when he visited, as well as a snap of the cakes at afternoon tea. Whisper it, but I preferred the quieter fourth-floor Garden Pool, surrounded by palm trees and frangipani blossoms.

Alas, I didn’t snooze in J-Lo’s penthouse: I stayed in a Za’abeel Suite, the most basic category of suite, yet its city-view bathtub is bigger than most plunge pools. From around £1,280 a night, it is excruciatingly expensive – and unlike in most resorts, no inclusive dining packages are available. Thankfully, its palatial size and furnishings surpassed everywhere else I’ve experienced in Dubai – with the exception of the Burj Al Arab. Other suites come with increasingly lavish perks, from free cocktail parties for up to eight guests, to treatments in the resort’s Longevity Hub spa by Clinique La Prairie, which offers Botox and laser facials.

One&Only One Za'abeel
An en suite bathroom at One&Only One Za'abeel - Rupert Peace

Even the hotel’s entry-level Za’abeel rooms, from £480, feature gigantic en suite bathrooms, walk-in wardrobes and beds overlooking the city – and as the hotel is new, there are some very good-value package deals available.

I never did find my way around. Even after three nights, I was still asking for directions: indeed, the staff would approach me first, anticipating the inevitable. But as I whizzed between head-spinning views, ears popping harder than the champagne corks at Sphere, I couldn’t help but be buoyed by the only-in-Dubai novelty of it all. It may not have the laid-back loveliness of a regular resort, but a change, as they say, is as good as a rest. And my goodness, this hotel is like no other on Earth, on so many – many! – levels.

Hazel Plush was a guest of One&Only One Za’abeel (00 971 4 666 1616). Destinology (01204 269010) offers seven nights in a Za’abeel Room from £2,117 per person, based on two sharing. Includes breakfast, return flights from Gatwick and private transfers, for departures between Sept 20 and Oct 5 2024.