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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.

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.

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 (June 2023)

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 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.

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

20,000 points sign-up bonus and 15 elite night credits each year 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 Premium and MeliaRewards Gold status.  We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 13th June, the sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card is doubled to 60,000 Membership Rewards points (worth 90,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) – and you get £200 to spend at Amex Travel too! Apply here.

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points AND a £200 Amex Travel voucher until 13th June! Read our full review

You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points indirectly:

and for small business owners:

The conversion rate from American Express to Marriott Bonvoy points is 2:3.

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)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • johnny_c-l says:

    Don’t think I ever had a Kit Kat as a welcome gift, but did used to get a Club biscuit at Holiday Inn Wembley, and one time they also gave me a Tripadvisor branded football.

  • Andrew says:

    IHG points for Spire vary depending on the brand – most are 500, HIX are 300, Indigo are 600 etc. My experience too is that they usually give the welcome points and the drink of you request the drink. And in places like the Middle East where drinks are expensive then even if they don’t, it represents better value than the points.

  • TGLoyalty says:

    Do you use the entertainer app Rob?

    Some good savings to be had on long trips

    • Rob says:

      I don’t, but only because my brother in law has it and he always pulls up his version whenever we go out. We did get some substantial discounts with it – over £150 off a meal (for 8, admittedly) and about £50 off one of the small water parks. I’ve no idea what it costs but you would struggle not to make it pay over a 7-14 day holiday.

      • Blenz101 says:

        The Dubai only version is around £80 / AED 400, always a discount code knocking around so never pay full price.

        If you are meeting up with a resident or someone who has travelled previously they will likely have it. The paid version allows you to ‘ping’ codes to others. So you can download the app without paying the subscription and still be sent the 2-4-1 offers if they aren’t physically with you.

        HSBC have a version as well, not sure if this is restricted to HSBC ME cards but could be tried if you bank with them.

        Let’s DXB is also a free option which also offers substantial savings.

        • MinR says:


          I got the Dubai classic one for AED 295 (AED 100 off the regular price of AED 395). Made the fee back in savings after a couple of redemptions.

          The Gourmet one is slightly more expensive but is useful if fine dining is your thing.

        • Sandra says:

          HSBC used give it away free if you banked with them, not sure if it still is but you had to have a UAE account and be resident. We got it free with a National (newspaper) subscription once too.

          • Blenz101 says:

            HSBC still do give away a free version (as do many other local banks). It is far more limited than the paid version.

    • BP says:

      You can rent it for a week off eBay. I done that previously. The guy never changed the password after my week either so I gave it to a friend who lives out there!

  • Andrew Wells says:

    The rainforest featured, seems to be pretty similar set-up to that of the OneSpa at the Sheraton Edinburgh. Not sure if it is still free for Platinums, but it was in the SPG era at least and meant you saved the entry cost (circa £30 each) and it wasn’t even a welcome amenity, so you could still get something else separately.

    The Sheraton Edinburgh was one of the few properties where I would sometimes choose the local amenity, as you often got something worth circa £30 depending on what they had in stock at the time. Clothing, booze, wallets, they had a good rotating selection over the years!

    • Harry T says:

      I stayed there a couple of times in summer 2020. Only the pool and the partially outdoor rooftop whirlpool were allowed to be open, due to covid restrictions.

    • Chris says:

      Similar setup in Blythswood Square in Glasgow, which i was given free access to the last few times i’ve been there as a Spire

  • ChrisW says:

    Is that you in the cover photo Rob? ; P

  • Alan says:

    When I was previously Gold with Hilton (a few years ago now) I never had a problem with the front desk agents just changing my preference should it be required for the free breakfast.

  • Mike says:

    If you want a quality spa like this in south-east England then the spa at the David Lloyd in Farnham is well worth a shout.

  • Mark M says:

    The spa at Center Parcs (Elvedon) used to give a dozen or so different ‘zones’ and could be booked for a day / half day / evening session for non-residents.
    I don’t know if it is still the same, but worthwhile if so.

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