Dubai (CNN) — What strikes home as the shuttle boat approaches the $5 billion megaresort being constructed off the coast of Dubai is its sheer audacity.
Nearly two decades in the making, the Heart of Europe forms just one section of The World — a vast collection of man-made islands roughly in the shape of an atlas — but when completed it will be the opulent centerpiece.
In the middle of a pandemic, it could yet prove to be a work of genius in its efforts to recreate the continent of Europe for upscale vacationers unwilling to make the trek.
Amid a global travel downturn caused by Covid, it also represents a major leap of faith in Dubai’s long-term allure.
After a four-kilometer boat ride from the mainland, the World’s 300 artificial islands rise up out of the Arabian Gulf like inverted golf bunkers.
Most of these have stood empty since the project began in 2003, with subsequent global financial downturns doing little to encourage developers.
And then the Heart of Europe (HoE) comes into view.
No fewer than 15 luxury hotels, vacation homes and billionaire mansions now stand or are beginning to appear on these aquatic plots. Most are still unfinished, awaiting the final touches needed to meet the first completion deadlines at the end of 2020.
Six themed islands form the Heart of Europe, with travelers able to choose between locations designed to replicate Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Venice, the Cote d’Azure and others.
The concept is that, once they’ve arrived, guests should be able to convince themselves they’ve been transported from often sweltering Arabian heat to less arid climes.
Snowballs in the heat