DUBAI – a destination where fantasy becomes reality. A magical place where dreams come alive.

That had always been my impression of the United Arab Emirates. But was it true?

My interest in Dubai stems from a passion for horse racing with the Godolphin operation, masterminded by the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a leading player on the world scene.

And so when an invitation came from his Government’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing to take part in a ‘sports and acitivities’ trip I jumped at the chance.

Dubai also prides itself on being full of surprises.

And as our Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340 landed at Dubai International Airport following a six and a half-hour flight there was one we weren’t expecting. Torrential rain!

By mid-afternoon the downpour had turned into a tropical storm as we look outside while enjoying lunch at the luxurious five-star Palm Tree Court & Spa, one of two hotels at the Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa and our base for three nights.

With the planned watersports waterlogged, we test our aim at the nearby Jebel Ali International Shooting Club.

With the range reminiscent of a scene from Clint Eastwood’s Magnum Force, the target whistles back seven metres on a cable.

I fire three rounds of five bullets from a Walther pistol, and hit three bullseyes.

But with the best five shots to count, I’m out of the medals. Clearly I’m no Dirty Harry.

It’s then back to base and an excellent dinner at Signatures, one of several classy restaurants at the Palm Tree Court.

Dawn breaks the next day and it’s a sunny morning with temperatures in the mid 20s.

The resort can now be seen in all its glory.

Located on the waterfront – a 40-minute drive from the airport – the Palm Tree Court and the newly-refurbished Jebel Ali Hotel are situated within idyllic tropical gardens, which are also home to peacocks and other exotic birds.

As well as a nine-hole par 36 championship-standard golf course, there is an 800m private beach, three outdoor swimming pools, 14 restaurants and bars, horse riding stables, diving centre and an 80-berth marina.

But our first appointment is at Ski Dubai.

Yes, this is Dubai at its most surreal – a ski slope with snow in the middle of the desert.

Having togged up in boots and a thick coat, we enter a winter wonderland with the temperature -4.

As a non-skier, I’m not required to zip down the slopes – there are five runs including the world’s first indoor black run, which stretches 400m with a drop of 60m. Instead, I have great fun whizzing down the bobsled run and tubing – which involves sitting in a huge tyre before being hurled down an icy slope.

Next stop is Atlantis, a mindblowing creation which really has the wow factor.

A fantasyland 1,539-room hotel, it was opened in September 2008 at the tip of Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island created using land reclamation.

As we stroll into the magnificent Royal Towers Grand Lobby, model Nell McAndrew glides over the marble floor and across our path.

It seems this truly is a glitzy playground for the rich and famous.

A private lift then takes us up 22 floors to the Bridge Suite, which spans the archway between the East and West Towers.

A one-night stay in this suite costs a jawdropping £22,000 – but you do get your own chef and two butlers!

With the stunning views from the balcony looking back across the Palm to the city’s skyscrapers, this is the ultimate in splendour.

It’s then down to the Poseidon Suite, which in relative terms comes at a knockdown £6,000 a night.

Here the curtains are drawn to unveil floor-to-ceiling window walls looking into the Ambassador Lagoon, with many of Atlantis’ 65,000 marine animals – including whale sharks and giant rays – swimming around. It’s breathtaking.

The tour continues with a visit to The Lost Chambers, which tell the story of the submerged ‘City of Atlantis’ with an exotic array of sea creatures.

A superb lunch follows in Atlantis’ Italian restaurant, Ronda Locatelli’s.

So, with a full stomach, it’s off to Aquaventure – Atlantis’s waterpark with a thrilling variety of rides.

These include the Leap Of Faith, which consists of a 27.5m near-vertical drop into a transparent tunnel and through a shark-filled lagoon.

I’m soon propelled down the shoot at around 50mph before being submerged in the tunnel.

What an adrenalin rush – it’s so good I do it again.

There is also an 11-acre Dolphin Bay where guests can mingle with these fascinating mammals.

Rates at Atlantis start at about £280 per night – with Aquaventure, The Lost Chambers and Dolphin Bay included – making it the sort of place to celebrate an extra-special occasion on a short break.

A memorable day is rounded off by a relaxing three-hour trip along Dubai Creek – the river which runs through the city – on Bateaux Dubai, a vessel with a glass-enclosed restaurant, which offers marvellous views of the city by night.

The food, once again, is first-class.

I skip the water-skiing, which opens day three at Palm Tree Court, and then it’s all aboard Seawings, the Cessna 208 Caravan seaplane, which operates from the resort.

Taking off and landing on water seems if anything smoother than on land.

And in between we enjoy a 40-minute flight with spectacular birdseye views of the Palm Islands, including Atlantis, and the World Islands, a collection of islands built out into the sea which represent the countries of the world – Dubai at its most outrageous.

We fly close to the iconic Burj Al Arab – the seven-star hotel built in the shape of a dhow sail – and the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building at 818m, which opened on Monday, January 4.

We also see Meydan, Dubai’s £1bn racecourse, which was due to open on Thursday.

Dubai may well have its financial problems, but clearly there is still plenty of opulence.

It’s then time to go on desert safari in a Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4 with specialist company Travco. We experience the thrill of bombing up and down some nursery dunes on quad bikes.

And then it’s back aboard our 4x4.

Now in the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah, we embark on a roller-coaster of a ride up and down the huge dunes.

After a while, we stop and get out. With my newly-purchased gatca – Arabian headdress – in place I traipse up one of the dunes.

I’m not so much Lawrence of Arabia – more Sheikh Smith of Sharjah.

Eventually we descend on a campsite, where I accept a short ride aboard a camel called Akram.

We enjoy a barbecue, followed by entertainment provided by Donya the bellydancer, and the ‘skirt’ dancer, who spins round at an amazing rate of knots before suddenly becoming illuminated like a Christmas tree. The evening ends sitting around a camp fire under the stars, smoking from the shisha water pipe.

So after a whirlwind three days I’ve got the answer to my Dubai dilemma. Fantasy has become reality.

And would I fly Dubai again? Definitely. So should you . . .