It’s been four years since The World was finished – but now the birth of a new beach club means the public can finally pay a visit. In a world print exclusive, Time Out stepped ashore at Lebanon Island. Words: Rob Garratt
Time Out print exclusive
Cruising towards The World is the first time you can really get your head around what it actually is. It’s fine to talk flippantly about a conglomeration of 300 artificial islands a few kilometres off the Jumeirah coast, but it’s not until you are in a speedboat rattling towards them that you realise they are just that – lumps of naked sand jutting from the blue ocean; in short, deserted islands. Deserted because despite being finished by state-owned developers Nakheel back in 2008, The World’s completion fell in the midst of the largest global recession for decades. Since then the baited-breath wait for the first opening slowly descended into mild indifference.
Nakheel are understandably private about how many islands have been sold, but cruising in between the sandy shallows the situation becomes clear; aside from one hulking, tree-lined, privately-owned regal development somewhere towards the North Pole, nothing has been done. Until now.
Described quaintly as a ‘boutique island’, the tiny island named Lebanon has been transformed into a fashionable beach club, which is set to open in the first weeks of February. Stepping ashore at The Royal Island Beach Club, one is immediately struck by a sense of rock star exclusivity, picture postcard palm trees looming over golden sands and crystalline blue waters. It feels rather like the end of a Bond film where 007 finally tracks down the villain to his luxury retreat.
‘We’re looking for the ultimate relaxed, chill-out vibe,’ says Reza Sinnen, the softly-spoken, smartly-dressed operations manager who greats me from the boat.
‘Sit here and within five minutes you will be asleep – I guarantee it,’ he adds, starring out at the 5km out back to land. The sprawling outline of Burj Khalifa and downtown Dubai just reinforces how far you are, mentally if not physically, from the hustle of city life.
Wandering between the lazy beach loungers you notice music piped through the rocks. To the north of the island stands a row of eight private beach cabins, complete with private washing and lounging facilities but no beds (it’s not a licensed hotel). Further back is a glittering blue pool and the large restaurant room.
The development represents a brave stab in the dark by Indian entrepreneur Wakil Ahmed Azmi, who has invested more than Dhs200 million in realising his dream when no one else has been prepared to a chance on The World.
‘He was the first buyer of an island – he was standing at the door saying take my money,’ laughs Reza, 46.
‘He’s completely developed it on his own – he’s very brave to do this, it looks very risky to most people.’
Reza’s story is unique in itself. Having moved to Dubai from his native Sri Lanka 20 years ago to work as a dishwasher in Jumeriah Beach Hotel, he slowly he raised the ranks to became an operations manager 15 years ago, a role he only gave up six months ago to manager the Lebanon club.
‘I said “I like a challenge, I’d like to take this – to make it the first to open, the first to make it work, and run it in the way that it needs to be run,’ he said.
A club this exclusive of course comes with high costs, but prices are nowhere near as prohibitively expensive as would-be revellers may have feared. Meals in the restaurant will cost around Dhs80-100, while drinks prices will be comparable to a lounge bar on the mainland.
‘A lot of people say you’re going to make a killing,’ says Reza, ‘but we’re not pricing anything above the five star hotels. Obviously we can make a killing if we want to.’
Throughout the week visitors will pay a set fee of around Dhs200 to step ashore, while Saturdays will cost around Dhs700 with an all inclusive brunch in the middle of the day.
For many Dubians, the most likely introduction to The World will be the Friday club night Stranded (see what they did there…), which will be priced at around Dhs250 for entry and transport. Run by local soulful house promoters MustHaveSoul and Alex Bracken – the man behind 360º and, more recently, gastropub The Stables – it’s likely to be a classy house night to rival the best in town (see our Music & Nightlife section in future weeks for more). But there are practical considerations to a night out on The World; fall out with your mates and it’s a bit harder to jump into a cab home (see panel).
However the greatest fear for this club is that it risks being the victim of its own success. Right now the Royal is an idyll precisely because it is the only inhabited spot for miles. But neighbouring islands are just a stone’s throw away, and if the Royal Island Beach Club is any good, more ventures will surely follow suit. It may not be long until the club’s exclusive vibe could is marooned for good.
What’s The World all about again?
The World is a collection of 300 artificial islands created off the Dubai coastland, arranged the shape of the globe’s continents. Unveiled by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on May 6, 2003, developers Nakheel completed construction in January 2008 – but there have been no islands open to the public until now.
‘Lebanon is a very important structure for us,’ said Saeed Harib, Nakheel’s director of marine and leisure.
‘This puts a new destination on the map and paves the way for more developments on The World – and more reasons for people to visit Dubai.’
The World in numbers
9km long and
Adding 232km of extra coastland
And 10m sqm of development area
4.5km from Dubai’s coast
Made out of 320m cm² of sand.
While 34m tonnes of rock used to create
The 27km breakwater
42,000sqm – size of largest island
$50m – highest reported cost per island
Throughout the week the 25-minute journey to The Royal Island Beach Club will only be accessible by private yacht or RTA water taxi (www.rta.ae). For special events, including the weekly Friday club night Stranded, there will be RTA will run 100-capacity river taxis from Jumeirah Beach Park at set times on Friday nights, at a cost of around Dhs150 a head.