Review of the beachside Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel, in Oman

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This is our review of Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel, in Oman.

This review is part of our series on my recent trip to Oman as a guest of Oman Air and the Al Bustan Palace in Muscat.  My flights and hotel were complimentary but HFP paid for its own incidental costs. If you are not familiar with Oman you can read our overview here to set the scene.

My review of the Gulf Air lounge in Heathrow Terminal 4 – which is the one used by Oman Air – is here.  More importantly, my review of Oman Air’s very impressive First Class Suite is here.

The official website for Al Bustan Palace is here.

Background

The Al Bustan Palace hotel recently re-opened after a 12 month refurbishment.  It was built in 1985 which, by Middle East standards, makes it positively ancient although it now looks as good as new.

One benefit of being the oldest, of course, is that it got the best spot.  It is nestled in a bay against the backdrop of the Al Hajar mountains, and the huge stretch of beach on which it sits is virtually private.  If you look at this photo you’ll see what I mean:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

The exterior is never going to win any awards.  However, there are so many palm trees in the grounds that it is impossible to see the outside of the hotel clearly!  Until I dug out this picture I didn’t fully realise how it looked, and I was there for three nights!

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

This is what really impresses, though.  One of the most astonishing hotel lobbies anywhere, featuring the biggest crystal chandelier in the world:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

The impact when you first walk in is breathtaking.  Confusingly, the lobby is actually four floors above sea level.  I never went any higher in the building than the lobby – my key card didn’t even get me access to the higher floors.

These photographs are all, clearly, library pictures!

Let’s talk about Ramadan

I was in the hotel over Ramadan.  This was deliberate, as it made it easier for Oman Air and the hotel to offer me a complimentary stay.  In my Oman Air First Class Suite flight review I pointed out that there seemed to be no change to the service, with food and alcohol freely available in the Heathrow lounge and on the plane.

When I arrived at the hotel, it was substantially different.  Occupancy was very low – I would guess around 20% – and for good reason, as many of the food and beverage outlets were closed.

China Mood, a Chinese restaurant off the lobby, and Beach Pavilion were totally closed.  The Blu Pool Bar was serving food but not alcoholic drinks.  The main restaurant was serving breakfast and lunch as usual, but switched to a buffet in the evenings to cater for iftar, the traditional fast breaking meal (many locals go to hotels for iftar).  The lobby lounge was only open from sunset to 10pm.  The only restaurant open in the evenings for an a la carte meal was Turkuaz, a Turkish restaurant.

Alcohol was only available from the Beach Pavilion Bar, and only from sunset to 11pm.  Non-residents were not allowed to purchase alcohol and ‘considerate consumption’ restrictions were in place.  Room service was operating as usual.

None of this impacted me greatly.  As I was trying to keep to UK hours anyway, I ate a late breakfast at around 10.30am and then ate at the pool bar around 3pm whilst skipping my evening meal.  Holidaymakers may find these rules more restrictive than I did.

My Bustan Lagoon room

I was given one of Bustan Lagoon rooms.  These are at ground level in the two wings of the hotel.

The rooms themselves look very nice indeed following the refurbishment.  A lot of money has been spent, but tastefully.  Here is a PR photo which is exactly what I got:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

Here is a PR bathroom shot, which I’m using because the lighting is far better than my own:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

The room renovation was a great job.  You can’t fault the quality of the finish.  The bathroom has a separate shower as well as a bath.  The glass wall between the bathroom and bedroom can be frosted over at the flick of a switch which was a clever touch.

The amenities were as you would expect for a hotel of this standard, including a Nespresso machine and Asprey toiletries.  There was a decent desk which I appreciated – it was 38 degrees for much of the day and staying in to work was a good idea:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

There is an English, or at least Yorkshire, phrase,which goes “you’re about as useful as a chocolate teapot”.  I finally got to check out what that might be like, with this fantastic freebie delivered to my room:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

You can’t avoid the fact that the rooms feel small.  In my experience of upmarket Middle Eastern resort hotels, rooms are huge.  The hotel website says that Bustan Lagoon rooms are 40 sq m, which is a decent size, but this may include the balcony.  The bathrooms are also oversized which eats into the sleeping area.

This doesn’t necessarily matter much if you are at the pool or beach all day, or on a short stay, but for a week I would be looking for more space.

You might not mind, however, when you look out of your window.  The lagoon rooms have a balcony which opens out directly into a large poolYou can literally open a latched gate on your balcony and jump into the water.  This is not, for clarity, a busy pool – the hotel has a main pool away from this and there are no loungers for guests in other rooms to sit here, so they don’t bother.  Take a look:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

This was very pleasant.  The pool is not deep and it would be great if you had kids – you could sit on your balcony with access to your room whilst they messed around in the water.  One rollaway bed is permitted in a Bustan Lagoon room to give a maximum occupancy of three.  Here is the lagoon from another angle:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

The Al Bustan Palace beach

Ah, the beach.  This is the first time that I have stayed at a hotel in the Middle East with a beach so quiet.  Look at the top picture at how big the beach is.  Imagine having virtually all of it to yourself.  Here is a shot from the beach itself:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

I went outside for a stroll one evening and I was totally alone.  Not a single person in the grounds, not a single person on the beach.  It is amazing.  It was so calm that I was struggling to adjust from my London pace of life, and by the time I had started relaxing properly it was time to fly home.

Behind the Beach Pavilion restaurant they have a few of these where you could hang out:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

It was the funkiest thing in the whole hotel and I recommend the hotel installs more than the current three.

The Al Bustan Palace main pool

For adults – although children are not banned, as far as I know – there is this lovely long pool:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

and:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

Here is a shot of the hotel grounds, which are filled with palm trees:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

Tucked away in the grounds is a Six Senses Spa.  I’m not really the spa type so I can’t really comment on this, but I have little doubt that it does the job.  The spa remained open for Ramadan.

The restaurant

Because of the restrictions on dining during Ramadan, and the small number of guests in the hotel, I don’t intend to focus on the main restaurant.  My meals consisted of a late breakfast – the buffet is not as big as I have seen in some other Middle Eastern hotels, but with low occupancy it may have been modified – and a snack by the Blu Pool Bar in the afternoon.  Plus my chocolate teapot, of course.

This is the outdoor terrace to the restaurant which is immediately in front of the pool:

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

The shopping arcade

If you are in a lagoon room, you will walk through the shopping arcade each time you walk to or from your room (unless you swim to breakfast!).  There are around 10 shops but virtually all of them were closed or on restricted hours due to Ramadan.  The shopping arcade is the only part of the interior which still looks like it was built in 1985.

Review Al Bustan Palace Hotel Oman, Ritz Carlton

Ritz Kids

Part of the recent renovation involved a major upgrade to the facilities for children.  There is a now a very large climbable model of a traditional Omani ship, a shaded area with water jets, a separate kids pool and an indoor kids club.  You can find out more on the hotel website.

Conclusion

I had a very pleasant two days / three nights at the Al Bustan Palace.  Due to Ramadan closures I can’t comment on the broader food and beverage scene.  What I DO rate is:

  • the high quality room refurbishment – the hotel has only been open again for 7 months
  • the Bustan Lagoon rooms, which are a genuine novelty and which make it very pleasant to sit out on your balcony before plunging directly into the water
  • the astonishing sandy bay, which is virtually all yours
  • the smart main pool and pool bar
  • the new kids facilities and, of course
  • the stunning lobby

My only major issue was the size of the Bustan Lagoon rooms.  The junior suites look far more spacious and, for cash, are not hugely more expensive, although they do not open out into the lagoon pools.

As I wrote in the introduction to my Oman series, I think the ideal Omani holiday is a two centre one.  Start with one of the luxury mountain resorts, such as Alila Jabar Akhdar and Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, or Desert Nights Camp which is the only luxury desert camp.  You can then move on for a few days at one of the beach resorts, of which the Al Bustan Palace should definitely be on your shortlist.

Redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points at Al Bustan Palace

As a Marriott Bonvoy redemption, Al Bustan Palace is 50,000 points per night.  Remember that you get five nights for the points of four, which would bring the average down to 40,000 points.

Cash prices vary sharply by season, but in late October rooms start at £500 including taxes per night.  I value a Marriott Bonvoy point at 0.5p, so you can get outsize value by redeeming here at peak season.  Remember that elite members do not get free breakfast at The Ritz-Carlton so you need to factor that into your plans.

Thank you to Melanie at the Al Bustan Palace for agreeing to host me and for her time whilst I was there.

You can find out more about the Al Bustan Palace on its website here.

How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points via UK credit cards

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Marriott Bonvoy points.  That page is regularly updated with the latest special offers and will still be accurate even if you are reading this article months after publication.

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Comments

  1. I stayed here in the 2000s when it was operated by IHG and was very well taken care of (I remember using my royal ambassador privilege to empty the minibar of the half bottle of Moët that was replaced daily!).

    At the time they did tours of various unoccupied room types on the upper floors, and somewhere I have photos of a suite that I was told Michael Jackson had lived in for several months.

  2. Nick Burch says:

    Looks more like a chocolate coffee pot to me!

  3. Sapiens says:

    As posted prior to Rob’s visit, I was at the Al Bustan a few months ago, very important caveat:
    *** Not all floors of the hotel are refurbished. I (cash paying, Gold status) was initially put into an unrefurbished room. The room was dated, clearly not 5* standard, and the whole floor smelt gently of goat (see tripadvisor reviews). So bad that I was ready to leave the hotel. I called reception and was given a refurbished room on a lower floor (same view).

    New room was very nice – the expected 5* standard, and is the same category and price as our first room.

    The facilities are excellent, but I would NOT stay on an old floor. Surprised Rob didn’t mention this.

    • Everything I have read implied it was a full refurb. The hotel was shut for a year! Other room types pictured online show refurbed rooms.

  4. Mikeact says:

    We stayed here years ago, when AirMiles were all the rage….it was pretty modern for what it was in those days and we had no problems at all, apart from picking up a dreadful cough/cold from our driver for the week, prior to me going walking in the Himalayas two weeks later….his car also left something to be desired as well, but maybe we didn’t worry so much back then.
    Perhapstoo modern for us now.

  5. We visited Oman a year ago – split our time between the absolutely stunning Alila Jabar Akhdar and the Shangri-La Al Husn (just a bit further up the road out of Muscat than the Al Bustan). Highly recommended for a 10 day holiday. Only bit of advice – avoid the IC in Muscat like the plague – extremely dated, tiny rooms, very noisy.

  6. What brand of toliletries were in the bathroom?

  7. TGLoyalty says:

    Few things

    – Don’t expect it to be this quiet outside of Ramadan it’s a popular hotel and the main pool gets busy but I never felt it was too busy
    – Can’t believe you slate the building I thought it was brilliant from the outside as well as inside and the grounds were lovely though the beach could have been kept cleaner.
    -The deluxe sea view I had in the main building was pretty big and in fact thought the bathroom could have been bigger
    – the main restaurant is always an all you can eat Buffett affair for breakfast/lunch/dinner so while it was doing iftar during ramadan it wouldn’t be much different on other days.
    – The Chinese is ok
    – The Turkish is a pop up for this year and not sure if it will be made permanent but hope it is.
    – The beach restaurant menu is far too similar to the room service one and they could do with some variation
    – breakfast is 15 OMR/£30 per person inclusive of taxes so worth considering when booking on points and room service might be better tbh at that cost. Talabat even better 😉

    • Thanks, appreciate the extra info.

      I think the architecture would be different if done today. Great landscaping – one benefit of having 30 years to grow stuff!

  8. Richard says:

    OT but RC. How’s the breakfast in the hotel arts lounge? As planning on a redemption there and as my wife can’t eat gluten I’m concerned it might just be pastries etc.

  9. Yazen Al gheithy says:

    Just thought I should say, there are many restaurants which are usually open 24/7, it’s just because of Ramadhan that they were closed. Plus alcohol is usually available all the time at all the bars but it was Ramadan. The beach is usually full of people swimming and families but— again because of Ramadan no one swims or goes out in 40°C weather since no one can eat food or drink water. The bustan palace is usually fully occupied or very busy but many residents stay at home for Ramadhan. I really think you should come back again (not in Ramadan) you’ll enjoy it way more. If you’re looking into other luxurious hotels try Shangri-la bar Al jissah or Kempenski at the wave. Thanks

  10. Toysue says:

    So just to be clear, a Bonvoy Platinum elite has NO benefits whatsoever at Ritz Carlton properties?

    Wouldnt I be entitled to the lounge / any sort of breakfast or vouchers or something? What about a room upgrade?

    This little nugget of info has now changed my preferences…might stay at the Sheraton or W instead…

    • That’s pretty much the case, yes. No lounge access, no possibility of a suite upgrade, no breakfast AFAIK. Titanium may get a suite upgrade.

      In reality, of course, upgrades can be driven by availability and a hotel which has oversold its basic rooms would probably move up a Platinum first.

  11. Simon says:

    The Al Bustan was built by the Sultan of Oman as a place for his guests to stay – hence why it has a grand lobby architectural.

    I stayed here 4 years ago.. back then the rooms were in much need of an refurbishment however I spent so little in the rooms and enjoyed the outdoors facilities and I took a day trip to Wadi Saab which is around 45 mins south from the hotel.

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