My review of Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, The Palm, Dubai (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of my review of the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray beach resort on The Palm in Dubai.

Part 1 of my Zabeel Saray review can be found here.  In this concluding part, I run through the kids club, the food and drink offerings, the beach and the pool, before deciding whether it really is better than its high-profile big sister Madinat Jumeirah.

Kids Club

There have been two major changes at the hotel in the last five years, and the biggest is the new kids club.  When it opened, the kids club was run from a villa adjacent to the hotel, part of a complex of 20 built by Jumeirah.  As this was a residential villa, it was a bit odd to put it mildly.

That has now gone and there is now a purpose built Sinbad’s Kids Club.  They obviously weren’t keen for a single guy to wander in and start taking pictures, but it looked decent with its own pool – although not as good as the pool at the Madinat equivalent.  The Kids Club is free to all guests.

Jumeirah Zabeel Saray review

You also get free access to the Wild Wadi Water Park whilst staying at Zabeel or any other Jumeirah property in Dubai.  As it would cost around £200 for a family of four to get in, this is an excellent extra benefit.  Again, though, this benefit makes Madinat or Jumeirah Beach Hotel look even more attractive as Wild Wadi is built in the middle of these two resorts and you can get a free golf buggy back and forth.  From Zabeel it is a bit of trot.

Food and drink

Jumeirah takes food incredibly seriously.  The breakfast buffet at Zabeel was exceptionally good – the only place I’ve ever had a better one is, ahem, their sister resort …..

Once you’ve seen the list of restaurants available, the idea of not leaving the hotel during your stay suddenly becomes more appealing!  Options include Imperium (themed buffets every evening), The Rib Room (an offshoot of the London restaurant of the same name), Plaj (Italian), Lalezar (Turkish), Muscihall (a theatre-cum-restaurant with live shows whilst you eat), Amala (Indian), Al Nafoorah (Lebanese), Sultan’s Lounge (international cuisine in the main lobby) and the Voda Bar (tapas).

Here, for example, is part of the very impressive cake offering in the lobby lounge:

Jumeirah Zabeel Saray review

My schedule, which involved trying to stay on UK time, and the fact that I try to avoid restaurants when travelling on my own meant that I didn’t get to try even a fraction of what was available.  My vast experience of Jumeirah in Dubai allows me to say, unhesitatingly, that they will do an excellent job whatever you choose.

As usual with Dubai, food and drink is not cheap.  Jumeirah tends to offer good ‘meal inclusive’ package deals and these are usually good value.

The evening buffet at Imperium, for example, is Dhs 250 (£53) + 20% tax and service per person, or a whopping Dhs 375 (£80) + 20% with house drinks.  Friday Brunch – which admittedly is more aimed at local expats – is a whopping Dhs 575 (£120) + 20% per person if you want champagne included.  Those sort of costs add up after a few days.

The indoor breakfast room – with some terrace seating – offers by far the best selection.  The choice of food is genuinely exceptional.  If you want to eat down by the beach, there is a smaller buffet in the beach restaurant:

Jumeirah Zabeel Saray review

I had this on one of my three mornings but I found I preferred the wider choice in the main restaurant.  Breakfast is Dhs 160 (£34) + 20% tax and service per person, so factor this in when comparing ‘room only’ and ‘meal inclusive’ options.

Cinema and shops

Yes, Zabeel Saray has its own cinema.  As you do.  Kids films are shown at 11am and 2pm with a family movie at 8pm.

As with most Jumeirah hotels, there is also a substantial luxury shopping offering of 15 stores with a focus on clothes and jewellery.

Keeping active

Should you be more active than I am whilst travelling, you will be well suited here.  All guests can book a tennis court for free for 1 hour per day and lessons are also available.  Swimming classes are also available.  The gym has personal trainers if required who can be hired.

There are also a range of sea events, including kayaks and hobie cats as well as fishing trips.  These all carry a fee.

Boat transfers to Dubai Marina

Since my last visit, the hotel has introduced a boat service to and from Dubai Marina Yacht Club.  This allows you to get on and off The Palm with ease and avoid the chronic traffic problems at peak times.

The snag is that it only runs four times per day and is also expensive.  A family of four would pay Dhs 540 return (£115) + 20% tax and service.

There is also a free shuttle bus running between the hotel, Wild Wadi and Mall of the Emirates.  This runs seven times a day.

This underscores a common theme of this hotel and indeed the other Jumeirah properties.  A lot of stuff is free which you may not expect, eg unlimited Kids Club access, the shuttle bus, free access to Wild Wadi.  When they do charge, as with the shuttle boat, it isn’t cheap.

The beach

Back in 2012 I wrote “Excellent beach service, perhaps the best I’ve ever experienced.”  I wouldn’t say that now.

The first problem, as I mentioned above, was the noise during the day from preparation for major evening functions.  The second problem was that, because of the position of the sun, everyone had set up their sun loungers to face the hotel and not the water.  I am used to seeing this on the Baltic coast in Germany but I still found it odd.  You can see it in action in this picture:

Jumeirah Zabeel Saray review

And, thirdly, I simply didn’t find the staff as slick as before.  Compared to other resorts, it is still a great set up.  You can order food from your lounger and free fruit, water and lollies are handed out at regular intervals throughout the day.  If you’re lucky someone may come along to clean your sunglasses.  When we were at Zabeel in 2012 a camel turned up one afternoon and gave rides up and down the beach for free.

The beach is relatively narrow compared to the huge expanse of sand at Madinat Jumeirah.  The sea there is also more ‘lively’ with quite large waves at times which are good for splashing in.  The water at Zabeel is very calm as you would expect, given the geography of The Palm.

Jumeirah Zabeel Saray review

The wi-fi signal on the beach was also patchy.  (Don’t groan, it’s the nature of my job.)

Private cabanas are available for Dhs 500 per day, although you don’t get much extra except a free fruit platter and unlimited bottled water – which is given out for free to everyone on the beach anyway.

The pool

The most successful part of Zabeel is probably the main pool.  Without wishing to sound like a broken record, it still isn’t anywhere near as big or as good as the one at Madinat Jumeirah.  It is too shallow and, being smaller, doesn’t give kids any space to really mess around.

Jumeirah Zabeel Saray review

One upside is that some of it is covered (the Madinat pool is not covered) which allows you to bathe out of the sun.  You can see the shaded area in the image above.

Jumeirah Zabeel Saray review

Conclusion

Jumeirah Zabeel Saray is, in many ways, an astonishing hotel.  The amount of money spent on its construction must have been mindblowing.  The quality of the food, drink, room interiors and service is very high.  The Deluxe Family rooms are a unique accommodation option for a family of four.

And yet, and yet …..

You can’t get around the fact that the location is not ideal, that the hotel holds too many intrusive functions (this was also an issue for us back in 2012) and that the beach is narrow and requires you to face away from the water.

Madinat Jumeirah is, by far, the superior resort.  There is nothing better about Jumeirah Zabeel Saray.  Madinat has (slightly) better pools, a far better beach, substantially more places to eat, better views, is better located and of course has the abra’s to cruise around in!  Back in 2013, only the small childrens playground was a unique Zabeel Saray selling point.  My view has not changed.

Since both resorts are equally opulent, let price be your guide.  If Zabeel Saray works out 40% cheaper than Madinat (a Zabeel Saray Family Room vs 2 connecting rooms at Madinat, for example) then the downsides I mentioned would be worth the trade off. Certainly do not choose Zabeel Saray if Madinat is the same price, or indeed if you plan to be leaving the hotel every day – those drives on and off The Palm will drive you crazy!

For clarity, though, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray is a stunning place to visit.  If its big sister did not exist, it would be among the most opulent hotels in Dubai.   If I had never visited Madinat, I would have raved more about Zabeel.  As Jumeirah owns both properties, I hope they don’t mind too much that I prefer the other one.  If you can get a good deal at Zabeel that beats anything on offer elsewhere, I still strongly recommend you go.

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My review of Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, The Palm, Dubai (Part 1)
£50 UK Novotel rooms at 5.50pm - and how to stack them
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Comments

  1. Part 2 (before part 1) ? The premature(?) early post might explain it!

    • Yes, Part 2 goes live before Part 1 so, when both parts are up, Part 1 shows first on the home page 🙂

      It rarely matters as it went live at 2.45am and 3.05am respectively so only insomniacs or non-UK readers would have spotted it anyway.

  2. Why does the hotel oblige you (when sat on the beach) to face away from the water??

    • I think guests position their loungers to follow the sun

      • Tanned chest and pasty back?

        My personal method is the rotisserie – 10 mins on each quarter, then a 180 lateral rotation before a further 4×10 mins on each quarter.

        Baywatch tan 🙂

  3. Useless fact of the day – The Zabeel Saray lobby was also the filming location of the Indian Embassy cocktail party scenes in Mission Impossible 3.

    I have to say I love this property although as you mention that getting too/from anything on the mainland takes far too long. The Jumeirah flavours board package offers exceptional value and flexibility. You can also use your carnet of dining vouchers for either lunch or dinner as well as use them at most of the Madinat F&B outlets.

  4. John B says:

    Rob – which hotel in the Madinat would you recommend for a family of 3 with a toddler, I really like the sound of the family rooms here but, having expereinced it, the drive on and off the Palm is annoying. I actually like JBR as a location because of The Beach (complex) but the hotels just don’t do it for me (Hilton is very old, new DoubleTree blighted by construction of the The Address next door) so we are looking for an alternative.

    • I looked at staying at the Madinat and the Al Naseem , but as a family of 4, we needed a room with at least 2 double beds and the Zabeel is the only hotel that has that without having to get a suite which during school hols is £2k a night 🙁
      However we also wanted a water park and we weren’t going to want to get on and off the palm every day, so decided to stay put at the Atlantis as they have 2 double beds in standard rooms.
      If the Jumeirah hotels, had that configuration, we would definitely have tried the Madinat or al Naseem.

    • Mina A Salam Madinat now have their version of the “family” rooms too which comprise 2 adjacent rooms with connecting foyer which they now guarantee at time of booking (they never used to do this despite 90% of the rooms having the connection).

      I think the Dar Al Massyaf Arabian summer houses (lead category deluxe rooms) are very well proportioned and are similar to a junior suite layout with a big open space, so long as you don’t mind your toddler being in the same bedroom space as you. These will either be ground floor or first floor and give you green outside space too if your toddler wants to run around. Also there are smaller shallow pools dotted between the summer houses if you wanted to set up camp somewhere more intimate and close by to your room.

  5. Patrick says:

    If you avoid restaurants when traveling by yourself, where do you? Surely room service is more expensive?

    • In this case, it was a monster buffet breakfast, no lunch, afternoon tea in the lounge, no dinner. The 2nd day I had a Club Sandwich at midnight in the lobby lounge! My book on club sandwiches around the world is due for publication next year 😉

      I never have room service, because that’s sad! The lobby lounge, or a meal in the bar, is where I usually end up.

      • Patrick says:

        I participate in what a colleague referred to as ‘breakfast banditry.’ I normally manage two sandwiches… Free afternoon tea 🙂 My partner is substantially better at it than me….

  6. Just an observation about these HfP reviews.

    Why do both Rob and Anika avoid participating in facilities or activities that potential guests might do? Regardless of whether Rob or Anika desire to use such facilities, I always feel that the review is missing something when they are left out.

    An example for this review is the point about the bath. I’d have filled the bath, and used it (even for 2 minutes) to enable readers to know more (without pics though!). I’ve seen other reviews where Rob or Anika state they didn’t try something for some reason or other.

    Just sometimes feels like the reviews are the stories of someone passing through the hotel/plane and posting in their spare time.

    • Richard says:

      i found the same with the review of the Premier Inn at Heathrow – no mention of how quiet the rooms were inside. Whether you’re disturbed by planes or people in the corridors/next room would seem to be very important but no mention of it in the review. But we did learn about the quality of the shampoo provided in the bathroom (even as a man I travel with a small bottle of my own shampoo).
      On the other hand it’s good that some of the prices are mentioned (the boat transfer and restaurants). Often hotels mention the facilities but forget to mention in advance the cost of them. I get the feeling that somebody that stays in a hotel like this doesn’t really care about prices though – and the hotel no doubt knows that and prices things accordingly. Personally i would choose something like the Sheraton attached to Mall of the Emirates. Immediate access to the shopping mall and attached to the metro station also.

    • I’m not entirely sure what else you could wish to learn about a bath 🙂 In any event, I doubt the speed with which a bath fills would drive your decision on whether to stay.

      Some people will look at that and think of a romantic evening in with their partner, some people will look at that and think it is a death trap, given its depth, for their small kids.

      Having stayed at luxury hotels as a single, in a couple, for business, for leisure, with new born babies and now with slightly older kids, I am fully aware that your idea of what is important changes depending on where in your life you are, and trying to cover everything in a review is a hiding to nothing. My view (I don’t speak for Anika) is that I focus on what stands out for me above (or below) what you would generally expect from a luxury hotel.

  7. Dubai has gotten so expensive over the years. I first first visited back in 2003 and it was so cheap. Been back many times and most recently in March for work. Thinking of taking the kids there next Easter as it won’t be too hot but am thinking of more north in Ras Al Khaimah where it might be better value if you are not leaving the property.

    • Rashad says:

      I tend to agree with your statement, Dubai is really overpriced and sea in not as clear as used to be which is not surprising with all the building going on there and natural pollution. Ajman on the other hand was a great discovery last year when I stayed in Ajman Palace Hotel by SPG, amazing property, sea is fantastic and much cooler and cleaner than in Dubai. There is also fantastic fish restaurant literally across the road, with fresh selection of fish and prawns and lobsters. We have had a feast there for £80-90 for 4 of us.

      • I would recommend my review of the Waldorf Astoria in Ras Al Khaimah which is an amazing hotel and about 60% cheaper than an equivalent Dubai property. Only about 1 hour drive from Dubai.

        • Rashad says:

          thanks Rob, I enjoyed your review of WA and planning to stay there this September

  8. Agree on the review regarding the location (way to far from the mainland). The beach is poor – no waves, small and no soft sand like at Madinat.

    Lived in Dubai for many years until 2014 and we still go back every year for a couple weeks (family of 5 with 3 teenagers). After looking at The Westin or Fairmont Palm or Waldorf, we always end up choosing Madinat. Easy access to Mall of Emirates and the rest of Dubai without that insanely long drive from the Palm. Staying at Dar al Masyaf this time. Wanted to try Al Naseem but can’t justify how much more expensive it is!

    • Yes, it is odd. When Zabeel opened it was discounted heavily, which is why we went back in 2012. Al Naseem opened at a price premium, which is odd because it is VERY close to main road (a lot of rooms seem to overlook it) which looks like a major downer compared to the Al Qasr / Mina.

      We have had a DAM villa 5-6 times and rate them highly. Do not go for a sea-facing one, in my view, because they don’t have their own private pools. You’re better paying less and getting one of the others further back with a private pool. You’ll realise after a while that the private pool is actually the best bit. And the kids get to ride the golf buggies all day back and forth, although yours might be too old to get any fun out of that. It is the highlight of the holiday for my 6-year old, he always sits in the front with the driver!

      • Adam Wing says:

        I had a site visit of Al Naseem earlier in the year – none of the rooms overlook the main road, they are all beach facing with corridors overlooking the main road. Fantastic property – highly recommend!

  9. I am 70 years old I will be 71 come June 22nd I have terminal liver cancer. I am dreaming I am wondering if there is such a thing as someone out there wishing to help and old man fulfill his bucket list?
    Yes,I am a dreamer and Dubai has been perhaps a last fling hoping my cancer doesn’t take me before then. I am poor but rich in spirit……. Thank you

  10. I stayed here a few years ago and agree the distance required to travel on/off the palm was a major disadvantage. Stunning property though.

    One thing your review failed to mention was the spa, which was probably the grandest most opulent one I have ever been to. I’m not usually a fan of spas but we visited this daily during our stay – it truly has to be seen to be believed.