Perhaps the most recognized of the bunch, Palm Jumeirah is aptly shaped like a palm tree, consisting of a trunk and 17 fronds, and surrounded by an almost 7-mile-long crescent-shaped island which is home to Atlantis, The Palm (just one of many luxury hotels and resorts that dot the archipelago). The project was kicked off by Nakheel Properties in 2001, and ultimately added 40 miles of much-needed beaches.
Today, travelers can access Palm Jumeirah from mainland Dubai via a monorail, and an underwater tunnel connects the topmost frond to the crescent. Upcoming debuts for Palm Jumeirah include The Palm Tower, with floors occupied by St. Regis Dubai and Nakheel Mall, which are set to open in 2018 and late 2017, respectively. No need to settle for Google Earth views: admire the handiwork while free-falling over it at 120 mph via a skydiving excursion.
The idea of a third Palm Island, Palm Deira, set to dwarf the other two at eight times the size of Palm Jumeirah, was introduced in 2004. However, in 2013, Nakheel shifted gears, and renamed the project to Deira Islands, opting to create four smaller, man-made isles. Late 2018 will see the opening of Deira’s first large-scale debut, its Night Souk, the world’s largest (of course) night market with over 5,000 shops and almost 100 restaurants and cafes.If shopping indoors during a UAE summer is more your style, Deira Mall, with its retractable roof atrium and over 1,000 stores, might just be paradise. The mall will serve as the centerpiece of Deira Islands Boulevard, which will feature retail space and at least 16 residential towers. By 2020, two of the four islands will hopefully be developed and completed, with 250,000 people living on them, to boot.
The World (another Nakheel project) kicked off in 2003, and consists of 300 small islands constructed into a world map. Another victim of the 2008 financial crisis, the World’s progress halted. By 2013, only Greenland and Lebanon had been developed, and unfortunately, NASA images suggested that the islands were sinking back into the ocean.
Despite this erosion issue, developer Kleindienst Group is hoping to revive The World in a big way, with the launch of The Heart of Europe by 2020. Six Kleindienst-owned islands round out the project, each providing visitors a slice of (very high-end) European life, complete with underwater villas (aka “Floating Seahorses”), five-star hotels, and even streets lined with manufactured snow. The St. Petersburg island, which is shaped like a heart, promises to be the world’s premiere honeymoon destination.
Giving Nakheel a run for its money is Meraas Holdings, with its Bluewaters project that began in 2013. Opening by late 2018 or early 2019 with an observation wheel, Ain Dubai, that will put the London Eye to shame — you’ve guessed it, it will be the world’s largest — Bluewaters is aiming to become Dubai’s family-friendly tourism hotspot. The island will be broken into zones, featuring over 200 retail and dining options, apartment complexes and townhouses, and hotels with prime beach access.