Update: See this post for a full, updated review of the recently renovated Concorde Room.
The driver was waiting for us at the Park Hyatt on-time in a 150,000km+ Mercedes stationwagon. I’m still a bit confused by why the first class Emirates chauffeur fleet isn’t any nicer than the business class fleet, not that I’m losing any sleep over it.
The driver was courteous and got us to the airport in under 15 minutes.
He dropped us off at the Emirates first and business class departures area, which I figured would be more blinged out, or at least have bellmen with golden with hotel style luggage carts. There was none of that, though it worked out just fine since we only had carry-ons.
First and business class departures area
The premium check-in area was massive, and actually felt awfully industrial and impersonal. There were separate counters for bag drop off, first class, business class, etc. I was surprised just how deep in the terminal the premium counters were buried, as it was quite a haul from the entrance.
Premium check-in entrance
Walkway to premium check-in
First class check-in
We already had our boarding passes so headed straight for the immigration and security checkpoint, where the queues were fairly short. At immigration the officer managed to text, eat candy, and sanitize his hands all while I stood at the counter, while at security they screened the bags without anyone actually looking at the x-ray screen. Go figure.
Once in the terminal we headed straight for the brand new Airbus A380 pier, where both the new first class lounge and our departure gate were located. This required taking a train to the “A” pier, which took a few minutes.
While a majority of the Dubai terminal is very average looking, the new “A” pier is stunning, with extremely high ceilings and lots of duty free shopping and dining options.
Duty free shopping
We followed the signs to the first class lounge, which is located on the fourth floor.
Let me stop here for a second and say that up until this point I was a bit underwhelmed by the Emirates ground experience. It’s not that there was anything bad about it, but it in no way compared to Lufthansa or Thai at their hub airports, where you’re escorted from the moment you arrive. Not only did the check-in area feel as sterile and as exclusive as a Walmart, but the area just seemed understaffed. And that’s puzzling to me, given the cost of labor in the UAE.
I think it’s worth making the distinction there, because this is the point at which my Emirates ground experience goes from mediocre to confusing to bad to amazingly good.
The Emirates first class lounge reception area is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen, with world clocks hanging above the welcome desk. Once inside the lounge our boarding passes were checked and we were invited to pass through the door and into the lounge. It was a bit like going through immigration in that you pass through a door behind the counter in order to enter the lounge.
At first I was confused as hell. Once we passed the entrance to the lounge and turned left we found ourselves in what looked like an under construction duty free shopping area. Hmmm, we must have made a wrong turn, because this sure as hell isn’t a lounge. We kept walking and got nothing but crazy looks from the construction workers building the shops. Eventually an Emirates agent came running behind us and told us that this wing of the lounge was still under construction, and to please use the other half of the lounge.
View past entrance
I was happy the agent told us we weren’t in fact in the right place, because it wasn’t adding up. Once she directed us the other way I asked her where the actual lounge is, though. She said “you’re in the lounge, sir.” I just didn’t get it. We were in a terminal with duty free shops, and not in a lounge.
But then I started to catch on. This entire floor, which spanned the entire terminal, was in fact the first class lounge. And up a level on the 5th floor was the business class lounge, which also spanned the whole floor.
Then I became frustrated. I kind of had the same reaction I did to the breakfast buffet at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi. It was so over the top and unnecessarily huge that I just couldn’t handle it.
And then I slowly began to love it for what it is — probably one of the best first class lounges in the world.
So basically the entire floor is an integrated first class lounge and departure gate area. Not only are there duty free shops inside the lounge, but you board the flights directly from the lounge. It’s impossible to describe just how massive this lounge is. Actually, I take that back, it’s not. There are 12 gates in the pier, so you can figure the lounge is about as long as the wingspan of six Airbus A380s — yes, it’s that massive. Figuring that there are 14 first class seats per Airbus A380 flight, that means there are at most 168 people in the lounge at a time. There’s probably seating for well over 1,000 in the lounge. Meanwhile there are 76 business class seats per flight, so if every flight were full that would be 912 people in the business class lounge which is the same size. Yes, this is quite possibly the biggest and most spacious first class lounge in the world.
Duty free shops
So the lounge has a handful of seating areas at each individual gate, each with their own buffet.
These buffets are well stocked with drinks and then have light appetizers as well.
They even offer the choice between VOSS and Evian water. Does life get any better than that?
Then at the end of the lounge is a larger general seating area which is a bit more elegant. This lounge is brand new and I’m guessing the furniture hasn’t been used a whole lot, because when I sat down the cushion made a loud farting noise. On the plus side there was almost no one else seated there, though on the down side the lounge was so empty that I suspect almost everyone heard it.
Main lounge area
Main lounge area
Main lounge area
This part of the lounge features an a la carte menu (the same one posted below) as well as a cold buffet.
Then there’s the “fine dining” area, where we decided to have lunch. This dining area was massive, with dozens of tables.
Fine dining area
Fine dining area
This area features both an extensive buffet and an a la carte menu. We were more or less the only people in the dining area, and as I took pictures of the buffet one of the servers lifted the lids to all the hot dishes, which I thought was a nice touch.
I stuck to the a la carte lunch/dinner menu, which read as follows:
And the drink list read as follows:
And while it wasn’t applicable in this case, the breakfast menu read as follows:
I have to say that the service in the restaurant (and lounge in general) was uncharacteristically polished for the UAE. While we decided what we wanted to eat we were offered some garlic bread, which was delicious. Garlic bread (or naan) is the way to my heart.
To start I decided to have the samosas.
Peas, corn and potato samosa
Then for the main course I had the signature club sandwich, which was also very good.
The Emirates classic club sandwich
Meanwhile my friend had the fillet, which he enjoyed.
Grilled prime beef fillet steak
As far as the rest of the lounge goes, I loved how many separate areas there were depending on what you wanted to do. There was a quiet room with both daybeds and lounge chairs with ottomans, all of which came with pillows.
There was also featured a very nice cigar lounge. While they didn’t have cigars yet, apparently they do plan on having a cigar case shortly.
One complaint I’ve heard about Emirates’ old first class lounge in Dubai is that the showers are horrible. This lounge featured spacious shower rooms, and there were lots of them.
While this particular lounge doesn’t have a spa yet, the Timeless Spa should open in the next couple of months, so that’s something to look forward to.
At about 4PM we decided to head to our departure gate, which, after the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, has to be one of the most painless boarding experiences in the world. The first class lounge has a gate for each flight exclusively for first class passengers. There are obviously no queues, and once our documents were checked we walked down the hallway towards the elevator to the jet bridge.
I’d say the one slight design flaw is that the elevator to the departure level for each individual flight is shared between first and business class passengers. Business class passengers board on the fifth level, while the elevator stops at the fourth level to pick up first class passengers. The problem is that by the time the elevator gets to the fourth level it’s already packed, so we had to wait for about five minutes before an elevator stopped that had any room in it. I think they should have the elevator stop just at one level or the other to avoid this problem in the future.
Our beast to London!
Once on the second level a short corridor led to the first class jet bridge, at which point we found ourselves aboard the most puzzling Emirates flight of all…
Walkway to jet bridge
Our plane to London
Airbus A380 at gate next to us
Triple jet bridge action!
Check out the wingage!
There are no two ways about it, this lounge is amazing, easily one of the top three in the world along with the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt and Thai First Class Lounge & Spa in Bangkok. There are a few things Emirates could do to make the ground experience in Dubai beyond spectacular, like escorts from check-in to the lounge and from the lounge to the plane (maybe like Lufthansa they could fetch you when the flight is ready to board), but this is a truly phenomenal lounge.
Not only is the concept of a first class “concourse” innovative, but it’s really practical too. This lounge isn’t cozy or intimate purely because of how huge it is, but I think it’ll never have the problem of over crowding. There were at most 20 passengers in the lounge when I was there, along with maybe 100 employees, and I suspect that ratio will remain pretty consistent.
A big kudos to Emirates on this one!