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In Ras Al Khaimah, did I find the most generous Marriott Bonvoy elite member welcome gift?

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Just before Christmas – we checked out on Christmas Eve – we were at The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert resort in Ras Al Khaimah, which is a 75 minute drive from Dubai.

I will do a full review in the next couple of days, because I was impressed by how much the resort has improved since I was there in 2017. Here is my 2017 review of The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert.

Today, I wanted to look at one aspect – the Platinum Elite welcome gift I received.

Elite welcome amenities are generally a bit rubbish

The ‘welcome amenity’ does not have a great reputation. I blame IHG Rewards Club, who think their 75-night Spire Elite members will be delighted with 500 points (worth £2) or a free drink and a Kit-Kat.

(Top tip – take the drink and the Kit-Kat. Not only are they worth more than the points, but it is very common for the points to post anyway.)

The bigger problem is that, because of their different brands, the hotel groups struggle with ‘one size fits all’ benefits. Marriott Bonvoy is particularly confusing, with some brands offering free breakfast to elite members as a right, whilst others require you to choose it as your ‘welcome amenity’.

Hilton – if you are Gold – is even more confusing, because at most brands you are expected to select your choice of amenity in the app before arrival. Diamond members get everything so no choice is required. The Hilton ‘gotcha’ is Hilton Garden Inn, which is the only brand where a Gold does NOT automatically get free breakfast and needs to choose it as their amenity.

The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert has raised the bar

Al Wadi does not upgrade elite members of Marriott Bonvoy. They only have two levels of accommodation – basically a house (top picture) or a tent (second picture) – with the tents being pricier. This is stated very clearly on the website before you book.

Possibly because of this, it goes out of its way to please elite members. At check-in you are given a card which offers you a choice from the following welcome gifts:

  • 1,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (worth £5 – this is the usual The Ritz Carlton default option but you’d be mad to select this)
  • two cocktails in any of the resort bars (worth around £30)
  • complimentary ‘Rainforest Experience’ for two (worth £60)
  • complimentary ‘Birds of Prey’ training session for two (yes, the resort has in-house birds of prey and a trainer)
  • 20% discount on The Ritz Carlton merchandise in the boutique
  • 30% saving on any 90 minute or longer spa treatment booking in the morning (worth quite a bit depending on what you take)

However you look at it, there is some good stuff here. I made a tactical error in not pushing for a second voucher, given that we had booked two rooms from my account …..

The Rainforest at The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert

This is what we chose. I’ve no idea if this existed when I visited in 2017, but as I was with my two young children and without my wife it isn’t something I would have done anyway.

It is, frankly, bonkers.

You can find out more on this part of the resort website here. This is how it is described:

“The Rainforest combines European hydrothermal culture with Middle Eastern bathing rituals, creating a rejuvenating sanctuary in the Arabian desert. The experience includes 16 different stations, each traveling one step farther in the journey to relaxation. Guests are encouraged to follow the mapped sequence and to allow time for the body to cool, whether naturally or with the Ice Igloo or showers, after completing a warm station. The entire experience should be completed with relaxation on a lounger.”

You get cold showers and hot showers. You get aromatic showers. You get ice rooms. You get streams. Here is the full list:

Affusion Showers
Summer Storm, Arctic Mist and Tropical Rainbow showers are designed to increase or decrease body temperature and are perfect stops between the other hydrothermal stations.

Aroma Steam
Each of the two steam chambers features a distinct scent and uses high temperature to induce heavy perspiration. The process detoxifies the body and boosts the immune system and circulation.

Brine Cavern
The combination of steam and salt is the ideal remedy for a blocked nasal passage. Gradually increasing body temperature strengthens the circulatory system and initiates the purifying process.

Bucket Drench Shower
This invigorating experience drenches the body in cold water to close pores and improve skin tone and clarity.

Grotto Steam
High humidity steam gently warms the body to stimulate blood circulation in an aroma-infused cabin.

Hammam
Inspired by the Middle Eastern tradition for body cleansing and purification, the Hammam features four individual cabins, a shower and a bubbling jet pool.

Herbal Sauna
The aromatic essence of dried herbs and flowers in a warm, comforting chamber is paired with soothing lights in this multi-sensory experience. 

Ice Igloo
This refreshing experience helps boost blood circulation through the rubbing of fresh ice on the body or a cold rain shower. Ideal for addressing cellulite-prone areas.

Rain Walk
The invigorating, warm water of the Rain Walk is the perfect cleansing experience before continuing to your next station.

Sauna
Heavy perspiration, induced by dry, high temperatures, detoxifies the body and boosts the immune system and circulation.

Sole Therapy
Two tingling foot spas – a pebbled pond alternating cold and hot water and a cross-current encouraging gentle exercise – help soothe aches in feet and calves.

Tropical Rain Shower
This state-of-art hydrotherapy facility combines scent, lighting and varying water temperatures for a heightened shower experience.

Once you have experienced all of the above, you are free to spend as long as you want in the huge vitality pool – see the two images above, not the one below – which offers:

  • Hydro massage lounger
  • Upper-body hydro massage jets
  • Lower-body hydro massage jets
  • Relaxing foot spa
  • Waterfalls for neck and shoulders
  • Body massager

How was it?

The water treatment areas at Chewton Glen in Hampshire are the nearest I have ever come to this in the UK, but Al Wadi ramps it up x10.

All the time, of course, you are also thinking “I’m here in the middle of the desert, it is 30 degrees outside, and I’m rubbing ice all over myself ……”

It was great. The best thing about it is that I cannot imagine, for a second, that we would have paid £60 between us to do this if it hadn’t been our welcome amenity.

In some ways this is definition of a great gift – something which you enjoy but which you are unlikely to have tried out otherwise.

If you go to Al Wadi – and my review may convince you when it appears – I recommend giving the Rainforest Experience a go, even if you’re not an elite Bonvoy member and need to pay.

The resort website is here.


How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards

How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards (October 2021)

There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

The official Marriott Bonvoy American Express card usually comes with 20,000 points for signing up, 2 points for every £1 you spend and 15 elite night credits per year.

You can apply here.

American Express Marriott Bonvoy credit card

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

20,000 points sign-up bonus and 15 elite night credits Read our full review

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 status for as long as they hold the card?  It also comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Radisson Rewards Gold and MeliaRewards Gold status.  We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.

Until 2nd November 2021, The Platinum Card comes with a sign-up bonus of 60,000 Amex points. This converts into 90,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

You can also earn American Express Membership Rewards points with American Express Gold (30,000 bonus points – special offer to 9th November 2021), 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).

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which can be used to earn Marriott Bonvoy 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.)

Comments (49)

  • MinR says:

    Rob – how does the RC Al Wadi compare to Al Maha? Apart from the fact that the latter is full-board even on redemption bookings.

    • Rob says:

      For me, it’s very simple – Al Maha doesn’t take kids under 10, Al Wadi does.

      Max is 10 in April so I may be able to tell you in a year. I would expect Al Maha to be better but they do not claim to be the same thing. Al Maha sells itself as a desert experience. Al Wadi is basically a resort which happens to be in the desert.

    • Olly says:

      Having just checked the prices of Al Maha for a spurious date in November as Christmas was unavailable and find the nightly rate of over £1,500 I would hope out to be full board. 😉

  • john says:

    I can highly recommend the Spa Path at NUN Assisi which is underground in an old monastery which was very much like this. Access was included if you booked a room. A very great place to wind down from our wedding!

  • Kevin says:

    Thanks Rob. Great review. We will consider this place for our next holiday…… whenever that may be!

  • Dave Winchester says:

    Centre Parks has similar at Woburn – it is also bonkers, surprising and amazing – all the more so as it’s Centre Parks!

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