Qatar: The Next Great Place (Almost)

Written by  Lillian Africano

Until the current political crisis that has effectively isolated Qatar from most of its Mideast neighbors, the tiny oil- and gas-rich Gulf state was well positioned as an up-and-coming destination for the American market. With a world-class airline and outstanding hotels as well as an abundance of desert adventures, exotic shopping, dazzling architecture and a modern and welcoming atmosphere, Qatar is a fun place to visit, as well as a comfortable place to do business.

The emirate sits on the edge of the Arabian Gulf, bordering Saudi Arabia to the south, and is a natural crossroads of the economic, cultural and natural heritage of the Middle East, Europe and Africa. It has a population of almost 2.6 million. The weather is tropical, characterized by hot summers from May through October.
The capital city, Doha, located along the sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf, is a feast for the eyes and has a “brand new” vibe, as so many of its gorgeous buildings have gone up in the last 20 years or so. With a population of roughly 956,000, it accounts for almost 40% of the total population. There is a decided absence of “Disneyfication” among the new builds; so many are truly distinguished and worthy of placement in architectural magazines. Perhaps the outstanding example is the Museum of Islamic Art, which opened in 2008. It was I.M. Pei’s last project before his retirement at age 91- and is one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever seen.
Qatar’s hotels dazzle, with the top-tier brands well represented - the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Kempinski, St. Regis, etc.-along with mid-range properties. All are beautifully decorated with individual features to please both the tourist and the business visitor, featuring an abundance of marble, very comfortable rooms/suites, luxurious bathrooms, loads of amenities and fine service.
The 5-star St. Regis Doha has a gorgeous white sandy beach, an Olympic-size pool-and a vintage Rolls Royce in the lobby. The 5-star Kempinski Hotel & Residences is perfect for the business traveler. At 62 stories, it is the tallest building in Doha, with amazing views and is located in the prestigious central business district of West Bay, just steps away from major embassies, companies, government offices and the City Centre .
Although Qatar is officially “dry,” visitors staying in Doha’s hotels (as well as those in resort areas) will enjoy fine wines and top-shelf spirits, as well as world-class cuisine.

Getting There
Qatar Airways has consistently won a number of awards, including World’s Best Airline at the SKYTRAX 2017 World Airline Awards, World’s Best Business Class, World’s Best First Class Lounge (this is so luxurious, it looks more like a resort than a lounge) and Best Airline in the Middle East. The airline flies two non-stops from New York and one each from Houston, Washington D.C, Chicago and Dallas.
Passengers who fly from London to Doha can try out Qatar Airways’ new double beds in business class. Also new: the Qsuites on Boeing 777s that fly from Heathrow to Hamad International Airport. The QSuites come equipped with doors to offer greater privacy. Some of the seats in the middle sections also have the capability to convert into a double beds, a first for the industry. Middle seats have a screen that can open up to allow four passengers to eat or visit together.
Prior to the Gulf dispute, the airline offered an attractive free stopover option for passengers flying to the United Arab Emirates. This marketing strategy undoubtedly would have led more Americans to discover Qatar as a destination. Now, however, airports in the UAE are closed to the airline.
My experience with the airline convinced me that it, like Qatar itself, is something of a “sleeper” that deserves to be known for its excellent service. In Business Class, I was offered the usual complimentary drinks and given a pair of cozy pajamas, which I promptly donned in the larger-than-usual restroom. One of the really nice features is the dine-on-demand option, so when the flight attendant asked if I wished some dinner, I said that as I planned to sleep, all I wanted was a fresh fruit plate. I was truly surprised at what arrived, a work of art: chilled watermelon, strawberry, grapes and kiwi, beautifully arranged. Comfortable in my pajamas, I spread the duvet on my flatbed seat, covered myself with the fluffy quilt and relaxed for the overnight.
For breakfast, I ordered an omelet that was pretty good considering the limitations of a plane’s kitchen, fresh orange juice and-happy day-a really good latte.
Even near the end of the flight, the spacious business class restrooms are kept fresh and sparkling clean. And did I mention how cheerful and pleasant the service throughout the flight was?

What to Do
At the above-mentioned Museum of Islamic Art, visitors will find a complete experience, with works collected from three continents and dating back 1,400 years.
Travelers like to buy souvenirs, and in the Souk Waqif’s many shops, there is a variety of merchandise in every price range, from over-the-top 24 carat gold jewelry to exotic metalwork lamps to perfumes. For upscale conventional shopping, the Pearl features names like Hermes, Versace and David Morris.
For no cost at all, the Doha Corniche is a seven-kilometer waterfront promenade that offers a pleasant walking experience with dramatic city views.
The Katara Cultural Village is one of the top tourist attractions. Constructed on reclaimed coastal land, it reflects a fusion of oriental architectural and retro-romantic style and houses a spectacular opera house, a magnificent open-air amphitheater, a theater, art galleries, a handicrafts souk and a number of excellent restaurants serving international cuisine.
A popular active experience is the four-hour desert safari, which includes a camel ride and a heart-stopping dune-bashing ride in an air-conditioned 4X4 land cruiser. .
A relaxing option is a cruise on an authentic wooden dhow, which includes a barbecue lunch and opportunities to swim and snorkel in the crystal-clear sea.
And for those who’d like to go home and say they ice-skated in the desert, there are several rinks, as well as a full-blown theme park called Gondoliana that includes not only a skating rink, but also a Venetian-inspired gondola boat ride along a man-made waterway.

Cruise Qatar
Doha’s port, which is a short distance from the city center, can receive mega ships as well as smaller vessels. For 2018, I noted more than 30 cruises by MSC, Crystal, Seabourn, Azamara and others. In 2019, the number bumps up, with calls from Cunard.

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