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UAE Mini Tour trip report

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  • bruinbrown

    I thought I’d write up briefly my experiences at a few different hotels we stayed in across the UAE. I’m Marriott platinum and wanted to cover what we got in terms of status recognition as well as some thoughts on each hotel.

    JW Marriott Marquis
    Our flight landed at 6AM and so we wanted to book a hotel for our first night where we were most likely to get an early check in. We booked through Emyr to get the free breakfast in the restaurant. We ended up visiting a few places on the way from the airport to the hotel so it was around 9:30 by the time we arrived. We were checked in straight away (we chose to check in downstairs in the lobby but you can check in in the lounge if you have lounge access). We were upgraded from the base room to an executive room on the 62nd floor with views of the Burj Khalifa. It was a great room, lots of space. You get given a card to choose your welcome gifts where you can choose one of several drinks (soda water, beer, half bottles of wine etc) and a selection of Arabic sweets and dates or the usual points. We chose the drinks and sweets but in hindsight should have gone for points. The stars welcome gift was a huge plate of the same deserts and dates as well as a presentation box of assorted dates. The lounge was fantastic, huge with modest views of the Burj Khalifa, plenty of drinks and a big enough selection of food in the afternoon and evening. Afternoon tea had a few small sandwiches, cakes and scones. It was enough to get you through until dinner. There was a happy hour in the lounge from 6 until 8 where the lounge gets very full. There’s a great selection of free drinks. And the food options ended up being really good, there were a lot of Middle Eastern or south Asian dishes available and then things like chicken tenders, Oreos etc.

    We booked a rate through Emyr to get the breakfast in the restaurant, this ended up being significantly better than the lounge offering and there were plenty of hot options including Middle Eastern, lots of Indian dishes, Chinese as well as a few western dishes. There was a huge variety and was worth the difference between the flexible rate and the prepaid rate we were considering.

    Grosvenor House

    Next up we moved south down to Dubai harbour and stayed in Grosvenor House. We got an upgrade to a suite on the 31st floor with views over the left side of the palm and the skydiving runway out of the living room and then views of the marina from the bedroom. The platinum welcome gift was either a box of dates or the points. We ended up choosing the points so I can’t comment on the quality of the dates. Again we booked this one through Emyr to get us breakfast in the restaurant and a $100 food and drink credit. We were told that we had 3 options for breakfast, the lounge for a smaller buffet, the main buffet restaurant and an a la carte breakfast option. We ended up choosing the buffet in the restaurant option. The buffet at Grosvenor House was definitely less international, although, there was a bigger selection of western breakfast dishes as well as a selection of pork based foods. The quality of the food was higher than the marquis but overall the selection was worse with only a few stations compared to the selection at the marquis. We spent the $100 credit in Bellavista, the Italian restaurant in the hotel, since it was the only restaurant open at noon when we wanted to eat. We had a lobster squid ink pasta and a pappardelle seafood pasta along with a bottle of sparkling water which used up the credit. It was pricey but the lobster pasta included a whole lobster so it wasn’t actually too bad. We had originally planned to use the credit at Indeego but encountered a problem that the food in the lounge was much better than the marquis and so ended up eating and drinking far too much in the lounge in the evening. The afternoon tea from 2-4pm had a good selection of cakes and they were very generous with their portions. Then from 6-8pm they offer happy hour with a selection of hot dishes (mainly English inspired) and cheeses etc. There’s also an extensive drinks menu with a good selection of wines, beers and soft drinks as well as plenty of cocktail options. They weren’t stingy with the drinks and came round several times as well as shortly before 8pm to allow you to get in more drinks orders before the happy hour finished. I’d definitely recommend the spa here but make sure you use the one in tower 2 which features a Hammam. Tower 1 and 2 have the same layout of spa – separate mens and womens steam room, dry sauna and jacuzzi but tower 2 also includes a Hammam with 5 different temperature pools.

    Al-Maha

    Next up we had 2 nights at Al-Maha. The first thing to note about Al Maha is how you actually get to it, once you get off the main highway there’s a short drive along a good quality road then about 4 km of driving along a road filled with potholes and then another 5km of driving through literal desert on a gravel track. Their welcome email says not to do it in a sports car and I’m inclined to agree. But when you do make it to the hotel it’s a stunning welcome. The main reception building is fantastic and at check in we were welcomed with a cold Bedouin punch and cold towels etc. You’ll be guided through the activities and you need to choose what you want to do at check in. We chose the camel trekking in the desert and the nature walk into the desert for the first night and the wildlife and sundowners – same as the camel trekking but in a 4×4 rather than on a camel. You get 3 meals per night of accommodation included for 2 guests where you get a 3 course selection of dishes from their menu. Water is complimentary as well, including sparkling water I think. We were in one of the villas furthest from reception and you definitely needed to rely on a buggy to travel around the resort. But they arrived quickly and the staff were very helpful. In addition to the 3 main meals the hotel offers a grab and go breakfast in the morning before the activities start. Since most morning activities start around 6-7am and the breakfast restaurant doesn’t open until 7:30am there’s a selection of pastries and takeaway coffee available in the bar. In the same space from 3-6pm they offer a selection of cakes and small savouries as afternoon tea. In the room there’s plenty of bottles of water provided as well as a decanter of (strong) sherry. The private pools were more for lounging in than swimming but they weren’t the cleanest I’ve encountered. There was also a large communal pool which looked a lot cleaner but we didn’t use it in the end. In terms of wildlife that you’ll see around the resort, there were quite a lot of gazelles around the resort but we didn’t see many oryx up close. On the wildlife drive you do see plenty out in the desert. The rooms were huge as you’d expect from a private villa and were furnished in a more traditional Bedouin style, it was overall nice but certain parts could feel a little Disney-esque in places.

    Ritz Carlton Ras Al Khaimah Al Hamra beach

    Next up in our UAE tour we went up to Ras Al Khaimah and spent 2 nights in the Ritz Carlton Al Hamra beach. First impressions are amazing as they take you on a boat over to your villa – completely pointless though since it’s much quicker to walk or take the buggy to the drop off point but it’s still a great view of the “island” from the water. No upgrade at all as expected and very strict on check in and check out time. The platinum welcome gift was 1000 points. The room was amazing though, incredibly spacious and private whilst also giving direct beach access. Each day from 4-6 there’s a happy hour which does cocktails for about 20-25 AED in the main restaurant. The dining options around the resort weren’t amazing though, the food quality at the shore house restaurant was definitely lower than other hotels on this trip and there was a much smaller selection of dishes which were overall pricey. There’s the Waldorf Astoria about 2 minutes walk away and there’s also the golf club which has a casual place called Belgian Beer Cafe with happy hour from 3-8pm where you can get a pint of Stella/Hoegaarden/Leffe for about 20 AED. There’s also a few dishes with happy hour pricing. We also used the Al Hamra shopping mall once for lunch, it’s about a 3 minute drive or 20 minute walk. It’s got a Starbucks, Caffè Nero, pizza express, Burger King etc for food. There’s also a boots pharmacy, supermarket, etc etc.

    Breakfast was 170AED per person but platinum and above get a 50% discount. You choose an egg dish like eggs Benedict, omelette, add some hot sides like sausage, hash brown and then get a hot sweet like pancakes or waffles, there’s also a small buffet of fruit, cold cuts, bread and pastries. Juice and coffee is included. The breakfast wasn’t amazing and staff didn’t really pay attention to requests. Eg ensuring that an order doesn’t include coriander and the chef adding extra coriander instead. The pancakes weren’t great at all but the French toast with date syrup was the best option at breakfast. We only had breakfast one morning though, it wasn’t good enough to make us go back the next day.

    Bikes were available to just grab and use at several points around the resort but everywhere was walkable, it was maybe 5 minutes walk from the restaurant to the reception building, you’ll get a lot of staff in buggies asking why you’re walking though and the security staff are quick to stop you and ask for proof that you’re staying in the resort. The hotel has a kids club which is apparently currently closed but the hotel also offers quite a few free beach games that you can hire, things like frisbees, footballs etc.

    If you’re staying here it’s worth being aware of how different the weather is to any of the desert resorts. By 6pm at the start of October the humidity was making it feel more like 46 compared to 37 at Al Maha and Al Wadi.

    Al Wadi

    We then stayed 1 night at the Ritz Carlton Al Wadi desert. Platinum recognition here was amazing, we were told they don’t offer upgrades but we were upgraded from an Al Rimal villa to an Al Khaimah tented villa. We were offered early check in at 12:30, and chose late checkout until 2pm but were offered until 4. Then we also got the usual 1000 points, a box of chocolates and bag of beetroot crisps in the room. We also got given a voucher to select a welcome gift which was a choice of the rainforest spa, 2 cocktails, 20% discount at the shop, discount on spa treatments and a couple of other options.

    The villa here was incredible, it was a huge “tent” split into 2 wings with the bathroom taking up 1 wing and the bedroom and living areas taking the other wing. Then there was a huge outdoor terrace and 12 metre private pool. This was significantly more private than Al Hamra was and opened up to the desert.

    Again, buggy service was offered everywhere to get around the resort but it was much more walkable than Al Maha, our villa in both resorts was furthest from reception but that was a 10 minute walk at Al Wadi compared to a 25 minute walk at Al Maha.

    On arrival we had lunch at the Kaheela restaurant, it was incredibly quiet, we were the only people eating there at 12:30. The food was great and reasonably priced. I’d definitely recommend the butter chicken here. This was one of only 2 places where Al Wadi was a little disappointing though – it was about 50 minutes between our starter arriving and the main arriving and that required us to ask where the food was. But it was excellent.

    We also ate dinner that night at the Farmhouse restaurant and again the quality of the food was excellent. We had the brisket and short rib, both of which were soft and just fell apart.

    Breakfast was served in the Kaheela restaurant again and was a buffet with eggs to order. I ordered an eggs royale and it was by far the best I had on the trip. The eggs were cooked to perfection and the smoked salmon was excellent. The buffet selection was huge for the size of the resort and was 155 AED per person, also it was then 50% off for platinum and above.

    I mentioned that there were only 2 problems, the other problem was the water quality in the bath. I’m not sure if it was just a plumbing issue with the bath but water came out a brownish colour, we didn’t seem to have a problem in the shower or sinks.

    St Regis Downtown Dubai

    Our final night we stayed at the St Regis Downtown, we booked through FHR and got the $100 credit, free breakfast etc. This hotel was a strange one and I wouldn’t stay here again. It’s not that it’s a bad hotel, I’m just not sure whether it’s actually better than Grosvenor House or the Marquis we stayed at earlier in the trip. The hotel apparently started out as a renaissance and then reflagged to a St Regis but it leaves it feeling like a very strange hotel. The overall feel I got from the hotel was a mix between the Conrad New York downtown and an edition hotel. The rooms were huge and there weren’t many per floor with most facing towards the canal and away from the Burj Khalifa. The location is good though and it’s around 5-10 minutes drive to the mall. The street it’s on has a few other hotels and some residential buildings, there’s also a carrefour supermarket about 2 minutes walk away. There’s also a new Crowne Plaza being built directly next door to the hotel. The location on the canal walk is nice though and the hotel has access directly out to the canal walk. Valet parking is free but they were quick to make assumptions. We left the hotel and returned back around 8pm on a Thursday night, we pulled up to the front in our lowest rental category Nissan that had been down the Al Maha dirt road a couple of times and valet parking were quick to tell us that this was a hotel and ask us where would we like directions to. When I looked surprised he asked if I was going to one of the restaurants and then when I said I was actually he staying at the hotel, he didn’t believe me until I gave a room number.

    Other staff in the hotel were great though, the butler service was quick to bring things like ice to the room. And staff around reception seemed to recognise you.

    The rooms were very clean and well maintained and were a good size. They were quite echoey though and the air con seemed to be very effective at keeping the room freezing cold. The bathrooms were excellent though, a really good size and they felt like a really good finish. Some rooms had a winter garden like space attached to the room which gave you somewhere to sit and watch the canal.

    The hotel has a couple of restaurants – Basta (Italian), Tabu (modern Japanese), the library (coffee and cakes), there were signs up saying a new Turkish restaurant would also be opening soon. The credit was only valid at Basta and the library so we had dinner at Basta. A large bottle of sparkling water, a pizza, pasta and 2 cocktails ended up using up the credit. The food was decent but quite pricey. It seems like the restaurant is quite popular with locals though and was reasonably full when we visited around 8pm on Thursday night. Although I should note that the hotel itself seemed to be popular with locals as lots of people were milling around the common areas drinking coffee and meeting others it seemed. Breakfast the next day was again in the Basta restaurant, it was reasonably small compared to other hotels. Then there were egg dishes available to order. Again, the food was good but not amazing.

    Overall I wouldn’t stay here again and I won’t be recommending it to others. It’s not a bad hotel but it’s Dubai, there’s tons of hotels which are amazing. Maybe it’s the lack of amenities or maybe it’s the hotels relative lack of generosity compared to others that makes the hotel at the price point not worth it. In hindsight we both agreed that we would have probably preferred to stay at the Marquis again for another night. The 2 hotels are pretty close to each other but the price difference between the 2 hotels (~£130) makes it difficult to recommend the St Regis.

    As I said I booked through FHR and have platinum with bonvoy. We were given a one category room upgrade from a base room to the next category up and were told that was all we were entitled to. We did get the guaranteed late check out from FHR so I don’t know how they’d handle the platinum late checkout. In the room there was a small box of 4 chocolates. When we returned to the room house keeping had left another box of the same chocolates and 3 macarons.

    Final thoughts

    The main thing that is likely to be of interest to others is which is best out of Al Hamra, Al Wadi and Al Maha. If I could do this trip for the first time again then I would probably do 1 night at Al Maha, 2 nights at Al Hamra and 2 nights at Al Wadi. Al Hamra is a great beach resort and it felt like a place that I could keep going back to. The villa itself was great, the sea is great, the beach is huge, the food there is so-so but the other options nearby make up for it. Comparing Al Wadi and Al Maha though, Al Wadi was fantastic, driving up to the hotel you could get a real sense of the difference between the 2, Al Wadi really feels more like a desert oasis than a desert camp. After having driven along the gravel road to Al Maha, the tarmac of the Al Wadi access road was amazing. Pulling up to the entrance of Al Wadi was just stunning. All of the staff were fantastic at Al Wadi and made us feel welcomed and were great to talk to.

    In terms of city hotels, the overall quality of the hotels at the price point is great and whilst the JW Marriott and Grosvenor House were starting to show their age in places, overall the hotels are fantastic, personally I’d choose to return to Grosvenor House.

    Guernsey Globetrotter

    Great write-up @bruinbrown – thanks so for much detail and useful comparisons between the options. I think you’ve covered a lot of the Dubai / UAE resorts that often get mentioned on here, so it makes for a very handy summary for some planning that I (and lots of others) will likely be doing at some stage. You seem quite taken with the RC Al Hamra in spite of the food but I wondered if you’d had a look at the beach etc. at the Waldorf and whether that might be an option (not Marriott of course)? I get the impression it is better value than the RC but perhaps suffers from having too many large groups/ kids etc so may not be as peaceful as the RC for a couple. It looks like you packed a lot in and made the most of your Platinum status and hopefully you two had a great trip!

    bruinbrown

    Great write-up @bruinbrown – thanks so for much detail and useful comparisons between the options. I think you’ve covered a lot of the Dubai / UAE resorts that often get mentioned on here, so it makes for a very handy summary for some planning that I (and lots of others) will likely be doing at some stage. You seem quite taken with the RC Al Hamra in spite of the food but I wondered if you’d had a look at the beach etc. at the Waldorf and whether that might be an option (not Marriott of course)? I get the impression it is better value than the RC but perhaps suffers from having too many large groups/ kids etc so may not be as peaceful as the RC for a couple. It looks like you packed a lot in and made the most of your Platinum status and hopefully you two had a great trip!

    We drove past the WA on the way to the RC and the building looked stunning – to the extent that we actually planned to have lunch in the WA on the last day until we realised the Lexington Grill was only open in the evening. It’s definitely a much bigger hotel than the RC and I’m sure that gives it a very different feel.

    I can’t comment on the WA beach but if it’s similar to the beach at the RC then the sand is quite sharp due to the amount of crushed shells. Whilst you could walk barefoot down to the sea, there were a few places where it was more noticeable and was uncomfortable to walk.

    S

    What a brilliant detailed write-up. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

    If you have other trip reviews would be great to hear about them too.

    duggie1982

    Yes this is great, i am returning in May for a month after spending a week in Dubai in September, might be traveling around but still have the base hotel.

    Great write up, well done

    Chas

    Really useful – thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed and comprehensive review. I’m sure that it will be a great reference resource for loads of people in the future.

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