Travel Unpacked: Supersonic flights and Saudi Arabia's record-breaking swimming pool

The National rounds up the most interesting tourism news you might have missed

The jet is designed to fly on 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel.
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It's all go in Saudi Arabia this week as the first excavation takes places at AlUla's Sharaan Resort and Nujuma, a new hotel within the Red Sea project, opens for (eye-watering) bookings.

In the US, Boom Supersonic has completed its first successful test flight and a Dubai beach has been named the eighth best in the world.

Here's a round-up of recent travel and tourism news – in case you missed it.

Nujuma, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve open for bookings in Saudi Arabia

With a little over a month to go until it welcomes guests for the first time in May, the ultra-luxury resort is now open for bookings.

Nujuma is one of only six Ritz-Carlton reserves in the world, and the first in the Middle East. Part of the kingdom's Red Sea Project on the west coast of the country, it will offer Maldivian-style overwater villas and will be one of the most expensive hotels in Saudi Arabia.

Located on its own private island and accessible only via charter boat or seaplane from the recently-opened Red Sea International Airport, the hotel commands overnight rates starting at 9,250SAR ($2,466) in low season.

For that price, travellers can enjoy accommodation in 63 one- to four-bedroom water and beach villas, complemented by a Neyrah spa, swimming pools, multiple culinary venues, a retail area and a range of other leisure facilities.

The Red Sea project is surrounded by the world's fourth-largest barrier reef system and spans over 28,000 square kilometres with an archipelago of more than 90 untouched islands. Experts at Galaxea Diving Centre in Nujuma will help travellers make the most of this natural wonder on excursions. Conservation House will be a place for travellers to connect with the culture of Saudi Arabia and learn more about the destinations' community and environments via hands-on activities.

The reserve is the second Marriott International hotel to open as part of the Red Sea Project this year, following the launch of The St Regis Red Sea Resort on Ummahat Island in January.

Supersonic Boom's Overture takes flight in California

The world’s fastest passenger aircraft took flight for the first time on Friday.

Two decades on from the retirement of Concorde, the first test flight of Boom Supersonics' Overture – a streamlined jet that will whisk passengers from New York to London in 3.5 hours – has taken to the skies.

Departing from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California, from where the Bell X-1 first broke the sound barrier in 1947, flight XB-1 flew for 12 minutes, reaching an altitude of 7,120 feet at speeds of up to 238 knots (440 kph).

It is a step forward for the US-based company's mission to launch Overture, the first supersonic commercial aircraft since Concorde ended operations 20 years ago.

The demonstration jet is about a third of the size of what the final aircraft will be, but uses the same technology. Advanced avionics, digitally optimised aerodynamics and a supersonic propulsion system will allow Overture, which can accommodate up to 80 passengers, to fly almost twice as fast as today’s subsonic airlines.

Boom said the jet’s test flight “paves the way for a revival of mainstream supersonic travel”. The US company has already received 130 pre-orders for the aircraft, with American Airlines, United Airlines and Japan Airlines among them.

While Overture is designed to be less harmful to the environment than today's commercial aircraft, and can operate on up to 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel, there is currently a global shortage of that fuel, which could pose problems.

Emirates celebrates Holi with a paint-splattered A380

Emirates is getting in on the act of celebrating the Hindu festival of colour with a paint-covered plane.

Wishing travellers a Happy Holi, the Dubai airline posted a picture of one of its A380 superjumbos covered in pink, red, yellow, green and blue powder. “We’re adding a splash of colour to the skies,” read the caption under the Instagram post which has amassed nearly 80,000 likes.

Holi is celebrated around the world, typically marked by raucous parties where people throw and smear coloured powder on each other. The festival, the celebrations for which begin on March 25 in many parts of India, signifies the arrival of spring and, for many Hindus, the triumph of good over evil. Held in March on the full moon night known as Phalgun Purnima in the Hindu calendar, the date changes slightly every year.

JBR Beach in Dubai named one of the world's best

A beach in Dubai has been ranked as one of the best in the world in a new survey.

Beach Atlas, a UK-based company known for its guides around the world, has unveiled its Golden Beach Awards for 2024. It ranks the top 100 shorelines and includes JBR Beach at number eight.

The Dubai tourist attraction is lauded for its golden sands and clear waters, plus the range of leisure activities, shops and eateries available alongside its bustling promenade.

Topping the list as the best in the world is Bora Bora beach in French Polynesia. The pristine shoreline was lauded for its beauty, natural diversity and cultural significance. Second-placed Boulder Beach in South Africa is noted for its thriving penguin community, while Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach ranks third with importance given to its indigenous heritage.

The world’s fourth best beach is Brazil’s renowned Copacabana and Maya Bay in Thailand, made famous in Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach and recently reopened after a beautification project, is fifth.

Iceland’s Black Sand Beach – the only dark grained shore in the list – is ranked sixth and Glass Beach in California, lauded for its jewel-like pebbles, is seventh.

Rounding up the top ten are Skeleton Coast in Namibia and the historic Omaha Beach in France. Despite stunning shorelines across the UAE – from Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island with its golden sands and marine life to Fujairah’s sparkling coastlines – no other beaches in the UAE made the list.

World’s longest infinity pool to open in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s futuristic mega city, Neom, has announced a mammoth new lagoon resort.

Treyam will open across a lagoon at the southern end of the Gulf of Aqaba and will be home to the world’s longest infinity pool. With desert and coastal landscapes, the sprawling resort will have a high performance sports hub and luxury spa.

A futuristic bridge will connect the southern and northern shores of the resort, on the roof of which will be a 450-metre sky pool lined with sand and palm trees. Hovering 36 metres above sea level, it will be the best place to take in views of the district, its turquoise lagoons and uninterrupted waters.

The resort is expected to be a hit with adventure travellers thanks to sailing, diving, watersports and land-based activities on offer, including hiking and trekking. Technology-enhanced wellness offerings are also on the menu alongside fine dining restaurants.

Treyam is located less than an hour east of The Line, Saudi Arabia’s linear smart city, making it the closest destination to the urban city.

UK passport fees to rise in April

Travellers from the UK with passports close to expiry are being encouraged to apply early for replacements. That's because the current fees will rise by seven per cent in April. Adult passports will cost £88.50 when the new fees are applied on April 11. That's an increase of £6 from the current price. Children will also pay more, with new applications costing £57.50, up from £53.50.

Premium services that allow UK travellers to obtain a new passport on the same day as they apply in person will cost more than £200 when the new fees come into force. Travellers applying for UK passports from the UAE will pay the same fees as those applying in the UK, with an additional £19.86 courier fee.

It's the second year in a row that UK passport fees have risen and the changes apply to renewals and new applications. A rule change introduced in 2018 means that validity left on existing passports is no longer added to the expiry date of new passports.

Saudi Arabia’s mountain hotel in AlUla takes shape

The first rock excavations at AlUla’s Sharaan Resort and Nature Reserve have taken place in Saudi Arabia.

Set inside an ancient rock face, the hotel's inaugural excavation on Monday marks a step forward in the destination's objective to become the region's premier destination for sustainable luxury tourism.

Set in the mountains, Sharaan Resort is being designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, who was responsible for Louvre Abu Dhabi. Its design is inspired by the nearby Nabataean wonders of Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, and pays tribute to a 2,000-year-old architectural heritage.

“The Sharaan Resort is our most ambitious project yet,” said chief development and construction officer Ben Hudson. “This initial excavation is tangible evidence of our continued efforts to develop AlUla into a premier destination that harmonises luxury tourism with the preservation of unique cultural and natural heritage.”

Set inside the 925-square kilometre Sharaan Nature Reserve, the resort comprises 38 suites, a spa and wellness centre, kids club, sport studio, all-day dining restaurant and business hub. In addition, a signature fine-dining restaurant will sit on top of the mountain with panoramic views of Sharaan, while a glass lift will connect the rest of the resort.

The resort is being constructed using the ancient Nabataean practice of creating spaces within rock and part of the project’s uniqueness lies in having excavated areas one on top of the other. A completion date for the resort has not yet been revealed.

Updated: March 25, 2024, 12:53 PM