Review: At The Top, Burj Khalifa in Dubai — and Why You Should Avoid the Premium Experience

At The Top, Burj Khalifa observation deck

Until the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia surpasses it prior to its expected completion in 2018 and grand opening in 2019, Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world; and as I was in the United Arab Emirates, I thought I would give it a try and explore the observation deck…

Two Ways to Experience Burj Khalifa — and Neither are Inexpensive

At The Top, Burj Khalifa observation deck
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…but there are two experiences from which to choose:

I decided to go against my better judgement and splurge the 500 United Arab Emirates dirhams for the “premium” experience. I should have listened to my better judgment.

Easy Free Parking

The good news is that because I was driving a rental car, it was nice to know that parking is completely free of charge; and I had no problem finding a parking spot at Section M of Level 1 inside of the Cinema car parking garage at the lower ground level of Dubai Mall — which at approximately 12,100,000 square feet is supposedly the largest shopping mall in the world based on total area; and was refreshingly air conditioned on what was a hazy, hot and humid day in Dubai.

In fact, the worst part about driving a car to Dubai Mail is negotiating the traffic around the complex; but that really was not a major issue at all. Plenty of signage directing cars to the Cinema car park will ensure that you do not get lost.

Dubai Mall did not seem to be larger than Mall of America in Minnesota, which I visited some years ago — but then again, I was not exactly armed with a tape measure with the interest of finding out for certain for myself.

For the record, the high temperature that day was 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Break out the parkas and the mittens in preparation for that snowball fight, for that was considerably colder than the sweltering 118 degrees Fahrenheit — or 48 degrees Celsius — which Dubai was to eventually suffer through within the next couple of weeks.

The walk from the car park through the mall to the area where you can purchase your tickets can take approximately ten minutes; and there is a special desk for At The Top, Burj Khalifa SKY customers across from the main ticket counter for At The Top, Burj Khalifa.

Ticket Purchase and Private Waiting Area

I reluctantly purchased my ticket and requested 5:00 in the afternoon as the time I wanted to ascend to the observation deck, as my plan was to view Dubai and its surroundings in full daylight — despite the brownish haze — and stay through sunset into the nighttime.

Although you can only spend up to 30 minutes at the observation deck on Level 148, visitors then descend to Level 125 — one level above Level 124, where the observation deck is located for those who did not pay for a premium experience — for what is supposed to be a unique experience; and you can stay on that level for as long as you like until it officially closes for the evening.

When the time arrived, I showed my ticket at the entrance, where I was escorted to a private waiting area — which resembled a lounge — where dates and Arabic coffee were served.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa observation deck
The private lounge is reserved only for customers of the At The Top, Burj Khalifa SKY premium experience. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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Elevators — The First Clue of Possible Deception?

After spending some time in the private waiting area — perhaps 15 minutes or so — we were escorted to an elevator, skipping ahead of those who were waiting in line. There was nothing special about the inside of the elevator — despite the official description of the experience stating that I should “watch in amazement as specially designed projections give you the feeling of flying over global landmarks as you ascend to Level 125.”

That should have been my first clue that the experience was not going to be as advertised; but perhaps I remembered incorrectly. Regardless, we were not “personally escorted to a dedicated elevator.”

Once we were whisked up to Level 124 — not Level 125 — we were then escorted to another bank of elevators which took us up to Level 148.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa observation deck
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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Private Lounge At the Top

A stylishly chic lounge area — complete with waitpeople awaiting us with trays of drinks and small pastries — awaited us when we exited the elevator.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa observation deck
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

As for the claim of the highest observation deck in the world, the official declaration is proudly framed for all to see.

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There were plenty of couches on which to relax at any time; and there were also coffee tables on which to rest your drinks.

Although the three different drinks — each comprised of orange juice, pineapple juice, and a limeade flavored with mint — were plentiful and deliciously refreshing, the pastries were few and far between.

The pastries tasted very good when I was able to sample them. More often than not, the tray would already be empty by the time I was able to get to one.

Observation Deck

At The Top, Burj Khalifa observation deck
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

There was an outdoor part of the observation deck on which visitors were invited to enjoy.

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There were more people on Level 148 than I expected; but it was still quiet and relatively uncrowded.

The views were nice but unremarkable. They are certainly not breathtaking by any stretch of the imagination — especially if the weather is hazy or humid. I have not included any photographs of the views in this review simply because I have not finished sorting through them yet — and there are many photographs.

Wrong Floor

When it was time for me to leave Level 148, I awaited the elevator, which escorted me to Level 124 instead of Level 125; and Level 124 was indeed crowded.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa observation deck
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

What a contrast to the experience on Level 148.

I approached an employee and asked about Level 125, as navigating through the crowds on Level 124 was not supposed to be part of my experience.

“Level 125 is closed, sir. That is why you are on Level 124.”

“Well, can I then please return to Level 148? I paid for a premium experience.”

“I am sorry, sir; but that is not possible.”

Here is the official description of Level 125:

At 456 meters above the ground, and one level above the At the Top observatory, Level 125 offers you a spacious deck to enjoy the stunning 360-degree view of the city. This level also houses one of our newest attractions, Dubai – A Falcon’s Eye View that allows you to explore the city from a unique perspective. Enjoy personalised attention from Guest Ambassadors Learn fun trivia about Burj Khalifa and the Dubai skyline Capture your Burj Khalifa moments forever and integrate reality and special effects with green screen photography See prominent destinations in Dubai through Dubai – A Falcon’s Eye View experience.

I did not get to experience any of that at all despite having paid a premium for that. Instead of a spacious deck, I got to “enjoy” the crowds on Level 124, which had very few places where a person can sit. I made the most of it — but I should not have had to do that. If I wanted to do that, I could have paid significantly less money in the first place.

My Response From At The Top, Burj Khalifa

I submitted a note summarizing my disappointing experience at At The Top, Burj Khalifa; and I received the following e-mail message on Sunday, June 21, 2015 in response to my note:

Dear Brian,

Thank you for your valued feedback.

The highlight of a visit to At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY is the access to level 148, featuring the world’s highest observation deck, complete with complimentary refreshments and guided tours.

The journey does offer a stop-over at level 125 for degree views of the city. Unfortunately, on the day of your visit, the level was undergoing maintenance. To avoid an incomplete experience at this level, your journey was directed to level 124. Level 124 offers the same breathtaking panoramic views in addition to a spectacular outdoor terrace unlike 125. Hence the experience is ideally chargeable at an additional AED 125.

At the Top is a key tourist attraction and guest experience is of the highest priority. However should you be keen on exploring level 125 on a future visit, we will be happy to extend a reschedule of your visit for a duration of six months (on or before December 21st, 2015). You are also welcome to endorse these tickets to family or friends visiting Dubai during the time.

Thanks once again for writing to us. We wish you a great day ahead.

With kind regards,

At the Top, Burj Khalifa

Well, a lot of good that was going to do for me. It is not like Dubai is convenient to where I am based nor do I travel there every week; and I certainly was not going to go out of my way with costs related to airfare, lodging, food, ground transportation and other expenditures just to experience level 125.

Summary

At no time was I informed that there were any “irregular operations” with the premium SKY experience, for which I paid an extra $102.00 at the time. As a result, I felt like I was cheated and deceived, which left a sour taste in my mouth of what otherwise could have been a pleasant and positively memorable experience at At The Top, Burj Khalifa.

Treating customers with deception even once — never mind on a regular basis — will cause customers such as I to be “one-timers”, as I certainly do not intend to return there. They should be ashamed of themselves for not giving customers who are paying premium fees important information which significantly affects the experience as advertised — or, at least, give the customers some sort of a discount as compensation. They chose to do neither. That is simply wrong and inexcusable.

To ensure that my paying an extra $102.00 was worth it, all I ask of you is to avoid SKY and not pay that premium when you visit.

Needless to say, I did not take advantage of their offer. Although I was not expecting it, I felt that a partial refund would have been more appropriate towards good will for me, the customer. Regardless, the response soured me even more.

The lesson here is that spending extra money does not always mean a guarantee of better customer service.

Photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.


Information

At The Top, Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
1 Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard
Downtown Dubai
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
800 ATTHETOP within the United Arab Emirates
+9714 8888124 International

Getting There

Parking is available free of charge at Section M of Level 1 inside of the Cinema car parking garage at the lower ground level of the Dubai Mall.

The Roads and Travel Authority — or RTA — of Dubai offers bus service from the Deira Gold Souk on route number 27. The buses arrive and depart from P2 Cinema Car Park on the lower ground level of Dubai Mall every 15 minutes.

Burj Khalifa can be reached via Dubai Metro at Burj Khalifa Metro Station.

There is a check room to store baggage at At The Top, Burj Khalifa.

Ticket Prices

All ticket prices are in United Arab Emirates dirhams.

Admission for adults and children 13 years of age and older is as follows:

  • 125 at all times; except
  • 200 between the hours of 5:30 in the afternoon through 7:00 in the evening
  • 300 for a Fast Track Ticket with no waiting in line
  • 300 between the hours of 7:00 in the evening through 9:30 in the evening for SKY
  • 500 all other times for SKY starting at noon; except starting at 9:00 in the morning on Fridays

Admission for children four years of age through 12 years of age is as follows:

  • 95 at all times; except
  • 160 between the hours of 5:30 in the afternoon through 7:00 in the evening
  • 300 for a Fast Track Ticket with no waiting in line
  • 300 between the hours of 7:00 in the evening through 9:30 in the evening for SKY
  • 500 all other times for SKY starting at noon; except starting at 9:00 in the morning on Fridays

Admission is always complimentary for children younger than four years of age.

Tickets may be purchased here up to 30 days in advance but with no discount — although you can reserve a time slot in advance before it sells out. Alternatively, tickets may be purchased at the ticket office near the entrance to At the Top on the lower ground of Dubai Mall.

To enquire about school groups and education packages, click here, or contact the school of At The Top at Schools@atthetop.ae.

Hours of Operation

At The Top, Burj Khalifa

  • 8:30 in the morning until midnight; with the last ticket being sold at 11:15 in the evening
  • Open seven days per week

At The Top, Burj Khalifa SKY

  • Noon until 11:00 in the evening Saturday through Thursday; with the last ticket being sold at 10:15 in the evening
  • 9:00 in the morning until 11:00 in the evening on Fridays; with the last ticket being sold at 10:15 in the evening

Overview

Release Date

August 7, 2016

Pros

The highest observation deck in the world if splurging for the premium experience
Cool refreshing juices if splurging for the premium experience
Clean

Cons

Very expensive
Views are not breathtaking and not amongst the best in the world
Not enough pastries if splurging for the premium experience

Service

Location

Features

Value

Overall Rating

Conclusion

If you must experience an observation deck at Burj Khalifa, I recommend that you do not waste your money on SKY. For one, there is little value of what you get in return for your money with the minimally better view; not having to wait in line; and the ten dollars — I am being generous here — worth of pastries, juices, dates and Arabic coffee. Go for the standard At The Top, Burj Khalifa experience instead if the line is not too long. Give yourself a minimum of one hour to enjoy the experience; and you can stay as long as you like until the official closing time that evening.

2.1

Comments

  1. Paul Davis says

    Are you going to be reviewing other tourist items of interest in Dubai?
    Or, did I miss other posts
    We’re going there in February and want to see as much as we can in 3 days

    • Brian Cohen says

      I actually stayed in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Fujairah, Paul Davis. I was only in Dubai for the day because much of what is there did not interest me; so I spent the day at Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall.

      Dubai can be quite expensive. What are you hoping to do while you are there?

      • Paul Davis says

        We’re staying 3 nights in Dubai just to experience it. See the worlds tallest building, highest fountain, largest mall, have dinner at the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. We expect to spend a fair amount other than the accommodations. Staying at the Conrad Dubai on award certificates and upgrade to corner room. We have not researched everything we want to do there yet and are open to suggestions. Will likely engage services of a guide to drive us around and show us around.

        Flying Emirates a380 1st class LAX to Dubai. Then onto Maldives in Emirates 1st class. Hyatt or St. Regis for 4 nights (we’ve got reservations at both, and now trying to decide which). Then onto Singapore on silk air (were booked on Singapore air, but they replaced our flight with silk air–business class) Taking a Princess cruise for 9days and flying home on Singapore maybe in suites class (waitlisted Singapore to JFK, we were one of those who experienced an equipment change from a380 to 777 Singapore to LAX).

  2. Vistaro says

    That’s how it all works in the UAE! It’s hardly at the top either, just over half way, a con all the way in my view

  3. Carl Dombek says

    I recently visited Dubai and wrote several articles about facets of my experience., including a comprehensive “Making the Most of Dubai” at http://www.thetravelpro.us/2016/05/making-most-of-dubai.html and a review of the Nassima Royal hotel at which I stayed, at http://www.thetravelpro.us/2016/05/dubai-uae-nassima-royal-hotel.html.

    I also hit a bit of a snafu regarding the Burj Khalifa. I endeavored to work through the observation deck’s PR firm, which punted to “the teams,” but never specified which “teams” they meant. No one got back to me before I left my home for Dubai and, by the time I arrived, there were no reservations available during daylight hours, so I missed out completely. However, based on Brian’s description, I didn’t miss all that much.

    When I returned home, I reached out to the observation deck — again — and got a similar, “Gee, we’re sorry” response and “Next time you’re in Dubai,” give us another try. Nonetheless, the building is fascinating, even if viewed from the ground.

    • Brian Cohen says

      Thank you for the links to your articles, Carl Dombek — and I am sorry to learn that your experience at Burj Khalifa was similar to mine.

      I still have many photographs of the view from the observation deck to sort through; and I intend to post them one day — if only to show you that you really are not missing all that much…

  4. Matthewsf says

    I would dispute the charge with your credit card company for failing to deliver on the promised and expected product/service.

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