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.
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.
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:
The Tented Pool Villa was, easily, one of the top five places I have ever stayed in. It is 2,700 square feet.
The bathroom takes up 50% of the space – that means that the bathroom is bigger than the average London 3-bed apartment!
with an amazing shower ….
….. and of course a private pool:
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.
… and interior:
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.
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):
- biking (free bikes are provided with your villa and a trail is laid out)
- nature and bird-watching walks
- nature drive
- horse riding
- camel caravan
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.
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.
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.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards (January 2021)
There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points by converting American Express Membership Rewards points at the rate of 2:3.
Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status for as long as they hold the card? It also comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Radisson Rewards Gold, Shangri-La Golden Circle Jade and MeliaRewards Gold status. We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.
You can also earn American Express Membership Rewards points with American Express Gold (20,000 bonus points), the American Express Rewards Credit Card (5,000 bonus points) and – for small business owners – American Express Business Gold (20,000 bonus points) and Business Platinum (40,000 bonus points).
(Want to earn more hotel points? Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)