Sometime in the next four years, Dubai International Airport will become the world's busiest airport, surpassing Heathrow with nearly 80 million international passengers a year. Airport officials predict as many as 98.5 million international passengers will pass through by 2020, more than twice as many as the 47.2 million that passed through in 2010.
Sometime in the not too distant future, the Al Maktoum International airport, the city's second international hub -- now under construction just 25 miles from Dubai International -- will open to passengers. With five runways, including at least one purpose-built to accommodate the double-decker A380, it will have enough capacity to handle 120 million international passengers a year, officials say.
Combined, that's more than half a million passengers a day, arriving and departing by air. In 2011, New York's JFK had an average of just 66,200 a day.
Of course not all of those hundreds of millions of people will leave the airports to brave the dry heat and nightmarish traffic of Dubai. But here are 10 reasons they should.
Layover in Dubai
Soon to become the world capital of international layovers, Dubai promises a collection of exceedingly outlandish experiences found nowhere else on the planet.
You've taken the metro in Paris and the subway in New York, but only a trip to the space station in "2001: A Space Odessey" could prepare you for Dubai's futuristic metro, opened by Sheikh Mohammed in September 2009. It's not always the most convenient way to get around, but it sure does sparkle.
Palatial hotel rooms are a Dubai specialty, but the bathrooms at the Radisson Royal are worth seeking out. They sport nearly floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city, and on the southern side of the building you can watch traffic flow down Sheikh Zayed Road while you shampoo. In a conservative city like Dubai, splashing around the huge hammam-inspired bathrooms in plain view would be frowned upon -- but when you're on the 40th-something floor, nobody can tsk-tsk you into lowering the shades.
Eat Like A Local
Going to a McDonald's abroad is seen in some circles as the Original Sin of international travel. But when pork simply isn't served in public, a taste of an Egg McMuffin (and its Canadian bacon) rates as adventuresome eating. Spoiler: It tastes just the same as it does at home.
Ham It Up
Speaking of pork, you <em>can</em> buy it. At the Waitrose grocery store in the Dubai Mall, a pack of fancy bacon will cost you about $10, and you'll only find it in a semi-private back room.
Dubai on Ice
By now, everyone's heard that you can go skiing indoors at the Mall of the Emirates. But the newest attraction at Ski Dubai is a hands-on penguin program that's unique in the world. While you can hug a critter -- or just watch trainers play with the birds -- you aren't allowed to take a camera inside. (Could that prohibition on photography have to do with the $27 souvenir shots available afterwards?)
If you're short on time, don't bother paying the admission at the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo and simply enjoy the view of the spectacle from outside: <a href="http://www.thedubaiaquarium.com/aboutus/guiness.aspx" target="_hplink">The world's largest acrylic panel</a> separates shoppers from this 10-million-liter tank.
Down By the Waterfront
Dubai may now be a global trade hub, but much of the import-export business gets done the old fashioned way: stevedores along the Creek loading and unloading cargo ships called dhows that ply routes to Indian, Iran and other regional markets. A walk along the waterfront puts you in the heart of a global network that could care less about the vagaries of Wall Street.
Cash For Gold
No taxes, tight government regulation and a long tradition of brisk business make Dubai one of the best places in the world to buy gold jewelry. The atmospheric Gold Souk is still a great starting point; many malls around town have just as much that glitters, too.
Dubai may be the world capital of schlocky souvenirs, and you can take care of buying trinkets for friends in one swoop at oversized outlets like this one, in Deira. If it can be made in the shape of the Burj Khalifa, you'll find it here, tall, pointy and probably pretty darn cheap.