My great value reward stay at The Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert resort in Ras Al Khaimah

This is my review of The Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

I wrote earlier in the year about how The Ritz-Carlton, which is Marriott’s luxury arm, had taken over a Banyan Tree resort in Ras Al Khaimah, a short drive from Dubai.

Over the summer the resort has been upgraded to The Ritz-Carlton standards, and during that time it has been bookable for the very low price of 40,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.  To put this in context, I value a Marriott point at 0.5p usually, yet Al Wadi was selling for £600 per night last week including taxes.  Midweek stays in January are currently over £650 per night.  That implies a valuation of 1.5p per Marriott Rewards point or 4.5p per Starwood Preferred Guest point (they transfer at 1:3 into Marriott).

This is not a ‘proper’ review for two reasons.  Firstly, the resort was still finishing off its upgrading.  The lobby had temporarily moved into the conference centre and not everything was open.  Secondly, I was there with my two children but without my wife who was stuck at work in London, which meant I didn’t see the spa (which is meant to be very impressive) and various other parts of the resort.

I hope, however, these pictures give you a feel for it.

The Al Wadi Desert website is here.  I paid for my 3-night stay using 120,000 Marriott Rewards points.

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

Arrival

We arranged for a driver to meet us at Dubai International Airport.  The drive to the resort only took 55 minutes – this was at midnight – and was charged at around £90 one-way.

The standard ‘room’ at Al Wadi Desert is the 1,700 square foot Al Rimal villa.  If you live in London this is likely to be bigger than where you live!  All villas come with a private pool.

The Al Rimal villas (stock photo below) look like a mini housing estate from the outside but the interiors, fully renovated this summer, look very impressive.  There are two versions.  One has a walled-in pool and the other is open to the desert.

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

We were upgraded to an Al Khaimah Tented Pool Villa.  I am only Marriott Gold so this is more likely to be due to the fact that Maserati had taken over much of the resort to fly in journalists for a car launch.

They are hard to photo from the outside due to planting:

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

The Tented Pool Villa was, easily, one of the top five places I have ever stayed in.  It is 2,700 square feet.

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

The bathroom takes up 50% of the space – that means that the bathroom is bigger than the average London 3-bed apartment!

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

with an amazing shower ….

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

….. and of course a private pool:

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

I never asked if the hotel would be willing to guarantee an upgrade on a redemption stay to a Tented Villa on payment of a supplement.  The different in cash price between the two villa types is not huge – around £250 per night – and I think it would be worth it.

(I don’t know what the private pools are like in the Al Rimal villas. There is no communal pool in the resort.)

The resort is actually a nature reserve and presumably fully walled.  Whilst you are technically in the desert, there is no risk of anything unexpected (man or animal) turning up at your villa.  There isn’t that much wildlife walking around – when we were driving down to the villa on the first night, at 1am, a group of oryx ran across the path in front of us.  That was the nearest we got over the three days we were there.  There is actually a field of oryx near the equestrian centre.

We took all of our meals at the Farmhouse ‘all day dining’ restaurant.  This was impressive, both in terms of the quality of the food and the design.  Breakfast was relatively modest in scope but reflects the relatively small number of rooms here.

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

… and interior:

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

I have seen reports of excessive flies in the restaurant but we did not experience this.

Outside Farmhouse is the only major lake onsite, which is used for fishing.

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

In terms of things to do, the resort has laid on a variety of events.  Every day at 5pm there is an owl and falcony show in a purpose-built spot in the resort.  This is free.

Other activities include (chargeable):

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

  • archery
  • biking (free bikes are provided with your villa and a trail is laid out)
  • fishing
  • nature and bird-watching walks
  • nature drive
  • stargazing
  • horse riding
  • camel caravan
  • yoga

Review Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Ras Al Khaimah

What you don’t get, because you are in a 500 hectare nature reserve, are events such as four-wheel drive tours of the sand dunes.

The spa, which I didn’t see, has 10 treatment rooms, a vitality pool and beauty salon.  Some people I talked to back in Dubai afterwards had heard good things about the spa and, as an ex-Banyan Tree resort, there is no doubt that is will be equipped to a high standard.

There is a kids club but, to be honest, there were few other kids about and the club – aimed at 5 to 12 year olds – was not appealing for them.  The hotel does run a structured programme of 3 x half-day events where your children become a ‘Ritz Ranger’ and try a new activity around the resort each day.

It is a big site.  It is impossible to get anywhere without a golf buggy, but the service is very efficient and we never had to wait more than a few minutes.

Overall ….

I wouldn’t come to Al Wadi Desert for a holiday just on its own.  A lot of weekend business seems to come from UAE expats looking for a break, and I think 3-4 days is enough.

Whilst there is clearly stuff here for families, I actually think this resort may work better for couples who just want some peace and quiet.  There are very few people around because the site is so huge.  If you upgrade to a Tented Villa you could easily go all day, outside your meals, without seeing another person.  With a high quality spa and excellent food, you could have a relaxing few days here.

The impressive Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah is very close (see my review here) if you’re looking for somewhere to go afterwards.  Alternatively, it is a modest drive back into Dubai if you want to book into a beach resort there, which is what we did.  Ras Al Khaimah is in the other direction to Abu Dhabi, so the drive to an Abu Dhabi resort would be longer, perhaps 1.5 to 2 hours.

My kids loved having their own private pool.  It was the first time they had experienced this.  The pools are not huge but were big enough to keep them happy.  The depth is 1.4 metres and there is no shallow end, so very young children may struggle.

Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert, Ras Al Khaimah, review

Last chance to book at 40,000 Marriott Rewards points

I was told that the hotel would be increasing in points cost when it is fully operating as The Ritz-Carlton.

From 1st November, the hotel anticipated being priced at 50,000 points per night.  A further jump may happen when the hotel has bedded down.

If this sounds interesting, you might want to lock in a few nights today before the price goes up.  Remember that Marriott Rewards lets you book reward nights without having the points in your account.  You have until seven days before arrival to earn them before your booking gets cancelled.

I was hugely impressed by my Tented Villa and my kids loved the private pool.  They are very keen to come back.  I am not really one for being in the middle of nowhere, to be honest, but the food was good and – since the kids clearly have more sway than me in these things – we may well return for a couple of nights.

You can find out more – especially about areas like the spa which I didn’t see – on the Al Wadi Desert website here.

PS.  As this is a The Ritz-Carlton hotel, remember that you will not earn Marriott Rewards points on your incidental spending.  Only room rate spending earns points at this brand.  That is something I forgot until the points for my £575 of incidental spending failed to post.

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Comments

  1. We stayed there as a Banyan Tree. Small villas dark and private but small pools compared to Rob’s.

    Unsure if Thai restaurant is still there but there is a 20 min transfer available to the Al Hamra Beach club.

    Great place to pick up an ex BRU Qatar business class deal to RAK.

  2. “I actually think this resort may work better for couples who just want some peace and quiet.”

    This is Banyan Tree core customer to a tee and they couldn’t get it to work. I’m not sure what RC feel they can bring to it either except perhaps the cost of outgoings down to make a profit – they seem to apply that logic at Abama and do well from doing it.

    I don’t know though…. This seems such a niche resort, it almost feels as though it should be Full Board / All Inclusive as standard and celebrate everything Bedouin. A Sandals Desert Resort perhaps!

    • I agree. I feel they have to jump one way or the other, either with more higher octane activities or more ‘coupley’ stuff. Perhaps a BBQ out in the desert for all guests at a nominal price every couple of days, or some evening entertainment or …..?

    • Just got back from two nights at Al Maha (SPG), which is pretty much that exact concept – 4 course meal for lunch and 5 course meal for dinner, you can take it in the main restaurant or in your room with no additional fee I believe.

      • Yes, this isn’t Al Maha, which is effectively a ‘no kids’ lovers retreat out in the desert, and you shouldn’t think it is.

  3. What company do you use for your UAE transfers?

    • Hotel arranged this. I didn’t want to take the risk of a third party not being able to find the place at 1am!

      Uber operates perfectly well in the UAE, black cars only. We took a couple in Dubai.

  4. Stayed here on a groupon deal a few years back. Managed to smuggle in a couple of bottles of bubbly, which helped alleviate the prices (a friend got caught going there with a bag full of booze and got it confiscated!).

    Private pool in small villa was also 1.4m and smaller than yours. But highlight was the rainforest experience – really nice hot and cool baths/showers/saunas

  5. Re: Transfers….which airline did you fly to Dubai? Given that you paid for the transfer, do you believe that the chauffeur service that Emirates and Etihad provide are “worth it” (along with the rest of the hard / soft products)? Or would you consider the chauffeur service a nice-to-have-but-perhaps-marketing-gimmick?

    • I think one of the benefits of booking the chauffeur through the hotel is that the hotel may look more favourably in you for upgrades at check in. This has certainly worked well for me at the IC HK in the past.

  6. Do you get the breakfast when staying on points? If not, how much does that cost?

    • No, we paid. Can’t remember exactly how much – the bill is at home – but I remember that the kids were 50% off.

      Our total bill for 3 nights came to £575. That includes 2 x chauffeur trips to/from Dubai, 3 x breakfast for an adult and two kids, two lunches x 3 people, two dinners x 3 people (not three course slap up meals, as I was with two kids), two kids archery lessons and 1 kids horse riding lesson.

      • Would be really interested to know the breakfast costs if you could post it when you see your bill. I thought it was included with points stay… oh dear!

  7. Having had our own pool a few times, I find it never large enough unless you go massively off scale with huge cost or go to villa rental which often means giving up the luxury of 24/7 hotel amenities and service.

    A large pool relative to room numbers is the way we go these days. However, this can be destroyed as happened at La Residencia in Deia where a once overly large pool relative to a small number of rooms was swamped by overdevelopment post sale by remainer tax exile Branston.

  8. OT do you get charged for adding the return flight to 2:1 voucher? i.e i am booking the outbound before the return is released, also can i grad the return at 1 am and then add to the original booking within 24 hours

    thanks
    Jason

    • They should charge you BUT BA has decided to let people off and is not (at the moment) doing so which is – to be fair to BA – very good of them.

  9. We stayed in a tented villa in May last year for 6 days as it was our 10th anniversary. Firstly 6 days was way to long, 4 at most would have been fine. Our pool was usable because the temperature control would not work and the pool was freezing cold despite it being 42deg. After 5 min in we had to get out as we were shivering. Despite repeated requests this was never fixed. There was a communial pool down by the equestrian centre, but this had appeared to be abandoned at least a year or so earlier as it was empty and filling up with sand. Had swim up bar in the middle of it too. Based on our experience we had no intentions of returning. Maybe things are better now that RC has taken over. It certainly wasn’t up to banyan tree standards.

    • I saw that communal pool. R-C has no intention of bringing it back into use.

      I think it needs a communal pool for a few reasons – kids could meet other kids (which gives the parents a break if they make friends) and you’d be able to have some sort of pool service.

  10. Damn, looks like it’s increased to 50,000 already

  11. Thank you for the comprehensive review. Not sure it’s for us at the moment but bookmarked to come back to.