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The Most Luxurious Desert Hotel in the World: Qasr Al Sarab

June 23, 2017

Located on the edge of the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert, Rub Al Khali, Qasr Al Sarab delivers absolute luxury in a bucket-list location.  We visited to find out if it really could live up to the high praise it receives and we left every bit amazed.  Read on for our review of this spectacular Anantara property…

Since moving to Abu Dhabi almost two years ago, Qasr Al Sarab (“the Mirage Palace”) has been top of our wish-list.  This incredible property really is the incarnation of an Arabian dreamscape.

Can anywhere really live up to that level of hype though?  Though it’s hard to believe, yes!

Luxury in the Desert

Located approximately two hours from Abu Dhabi City (or three from Dubai), Qasr Al Sarab has been providing the very best in luxury (and the UAE sure knows how to do that right!) since it opened in 2009.

With a design that clearly mirrors its surrounding and gives a nod to the desert fortresses that once would have been prevalent in the area, there’s no denying where you are when you approach Qasr Al Sarab for the first time.

Everything about this hotel is beautifully considered – from the genuine Arabian antiques generously scattered throughout the property to the locally hand-crafted furnishings, this resort oozes warmth and romance.

Every room and common space offers expansive views out over the ever-changing sand dunes and let’s face it, it’s precisely those views that will spur your desire to visit Qasr Al Sarab.

As you would expect of any five star property, Qasr Al Sarab has a superb range of leisure facilities including a 24-hour gym, tennis, basketball, yoga, volleyball, spa services and of course, that bucket-list-worthy swimming pool.  When the sun goes down at night and the pool starts to glow, you’ll pinch yourself – it’s hard to believe that a place as beautiful as Qasr really exists!

If you’ve got a family to entertain there is both a kids and teens club and a wide range of organised activities that are designed to engage every single member of the crew.  Archery, nature walks, dune bashing, horse riding, fat biking, sand boarding and more – the resort is perfectly equipped, allowing you to be as active (or relaxed) as you like.

The resort offers a range of room types, from the beautifully appointed Deluxe Garden Rooms to the Royal Pavilion Villas, each serviced by private butler.  Should you opt for a villa, you’ll be treated to your own private pool, taking your bucket-list accommodation to the next level again – is that even possible?!

Why not take it a step further?  The team at Qasr Al Sarab can can even arrange a private helicopter offering a door-to-door service.  It’s all in a day’s work when you live in the lap of luxury!

Don’t worry though, if your budget won’t quite extend to private swimming pools, butlers and tailor-made chef tastings, they can also arrange a private chauffeur to transfer you from the city to the resort, or do as we did and drive yourself out in a rental car.

However you get there and whichever room you settle on, you’ll enjoy the facilities, service and views that make this undoubtedly the best desert hotel in the world.

Eat Like a King (actually, make that a Sheikh) 

With a number of restaurants and bars onsite, there’s an option to suit every occasion.

From the sumptuous but casual breakfast buffet, served each morning in Al Waha (including live cooking stations and donuts!) to the gorgeous fine-dining restaurant, Suhail, guests are able to treat themselves throughout the day.  We also enjoyed a lunch and casual dinner pool-side at Ghadeer – it’s a great place to unwind whilst making the most of the beautiful outdoor area.

Everything we ate during our stay was delicious and, as expected, the service was second-to-none.  You wouldn’t expect anything less at a resort like this.

Sunset Camel Trekking

Though we’ve rode camels on a number of occasions now, our experience in the Liwa Desert was by far the best.

Never ones to turn down an adventure, I must admit, we went in without particularly high exceptions – we are after all, a little bit spoilt by now when it comes to camels!

Not only have we ridden camels along the base of the pyramids in Cairo and through the towering valleys of Petra, but there was something special about this trek.  It felt more authentic than the rides that we’d been on in the past – almost as if we were trekking through the desert with our newfound bedouin friends.

Surrounded by massive dunes (literally, the biggest we’ve ever seen), we wove our way around and up through this sandy paradise, reaching for one of the highest peaks.  As we did so, we relaxed, soaking in the sights all around us, whilst listening to our guide impart his knowledge of the area to us.  He knew the desert inside out and was more than happy to explain the history of the area and share what he knew about the indigenous animals and plants.  Most of all, we enjoyed learning more about Islam through him – never in a forced manner, only ever sharing what we asked of him.  

It was such a pleasure connecting on a personal level and really did sum up our entire experience at Qasr Al Sarab; the team there care deeply about their guests and it shows in all of their interactions.

Back to the whole reason we were there though – to catch the unset in the most authentically Arabian of ways.

As we slipped over the crest of the huge dune, we were greeted with tea, coffee, fresh juices, dates and fruit kebabs along with cushions and stools from which we could perch and enjoy the slowly setting sun.

The more energetic amongst us decided to climb higher still, summiting the very top of the sand dune to catch the sun drifting below the horizon.

If you’re ever visited the Middle East, you’ll appreciate that there’s nothing quite like a sunset here.  The sun feels just that little closer here than it does elsewhere, glowing the most gorgeous shade of crimson – it has to be seen to be believed and where better than in the depths of the desert whilst being treated to the most luxurious of adventures?

With the last of the daylight fading away, we all pulled off our shoes and raced directly down the steepest bank to the awaiting 4WDs for the trip back to our Arabian oasis.

Why Do the Dunes Look So Different?

You’ll notice that the dunes look significantly different in each photograph.  In person, the colours change frequently, with the only real consistency amongst dunes being their inconsistent colouration!  This is due to the varying mineral compounds and the way in which they interact with the environment – iron-oxide, for example, gives much of the desert it’s obvious red/orange colour – it is quite literally, rust.

With the different colours of the dunes, the stunning Arabian sunshine and the winds constantly repositioning the sand, you’ll be sure to see a different desert-scape at each different time of the day, so don’t hide yourself away in your room – get out there!

Save Your Pennies – Qasr Al Sarab deserves to be on the top of your bucket list

Qasr Al Sarab is special, there’s no two ways about it.  Without doubt, this remote hotel will remain one of the most unique and memorable places we’ll ever stay.

Sure, you’ll need to reach into your pockets to book a room but we assure you the experience will stay with you long after the pain of looking at your bank account is gone.

If you have the opportunity to visit Qasr Al Sarab, snap it up!


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Qasr Al Sarab is the best luxury desert hotel in the world. Located in the Liwa Desert it offers world class restaurants, activities, relaxation and the ultimate in luxury. Don't visit Abu Dhabi or Dubai without heading out into the desert!Qasr Al Sarab is the best luxury desert hotel in the world. Located in the Liwa Desert it offers world class restaurants, activities, relaxation and the ultimate in luxury. Don't visit Abu Dhabi or Dubai without heading out into the desert!

Thank you to Anantara for inviting us for the purpose of this review.  As always all thoughts are our own.  We had the most amazing stay at Qasr Al Sarab and every single person we know that has visited has absolutely sung their praises.  A word of warning though – you’ll probably be ruined for all future accommodation – it’ll have a hard time living up to this!

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Dear Leisure Travellers: Why a business hotel might be your best move yet

June 12, 2017

Though a beautiful resort might be at the top of the wish-list for most leisure travellers, we urge you not to rule out a stay at a business hotel just yet.  Why?  Read on to find out…

Business hotels aren’t typically on the forefront of a leisure travellers mind but if you’re looking to save some money whilst packing in the facilities, we’d encourage you to consider one.  They tend to prioritise the most essential services, forgoing the ones that travellers can happily live without and cutting down your bill in the process.

These hotels are targeted as business travellers (not exactly surprising, right?) who expect the basics to be done perfectly and who doesn’t want that?

Comfort and Class without the Cost

Each business hotel will vary slightly in the facilities that it offers but they all operate with a similar premise – to cut down on unnecessary expense whilst providing a quiet and comfortable place to unwind (and obviously get some work done, should you choose).

We’ve stayed at a number of business hotels now but the our favourite would easily be the Centro Barsha in Dubai.  It’s perfectly located, comfortable and best of all, it ticks all of the boxes without costing the earth.

Dubai can be an expensive place to find a room so when you find one that treats you well, you return time and time again.

What Makes the Centro Barsha Special?

We had a fantastic weekend away at the Centro Barsha for a number of reasons – food, rest, welcoming smiles – considering the price of the rooms, they really punch above their weight!

Whilst there isn’t room service on offer, there is an in-house restaurant that consistently makes delicious food (seriously, it’s that good!) and should you choose, you’re welcome to take it up to your room.

If you’re looking to save even more money in Dubai, some of their rooms include a fully-equipped kitchenette which makes the preparation of a tasty home-cooked meal a breeze (assuming you can actually cook of course – no hotel can work miracles!)

Whilst you’re in the UAE you really have to check out their brunch culture at least once though and the Centro Barsha is the place to do so if you’re keeping an eye on your spending.

Each Friday from midday, the hotel runs an orange themed brunch (aptly named the BubbleOrange Brunch) and, without doubt, it would be the best value brunch we’ve been to in our two years in the United Arab Emirates.  Though the selection was smaller than many of the brunches we’ve attended, every dish we tried there was tasty and with the choice of premium a la carte options (at no additional charge), our tummies couldn’t have been happier.

If you’re new to Dubai, be sure to try their um-ali, a delicious Middle Eastern bread and butter pudding – easily the best version of this I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

When you’re ready to sleep off all that food, you’ll find that the rooms are nicely sound-proofed and because of the clientele they attract, you’re practically guaranteed a good nights sleep – say goodbye to noisey neighbours and hello to sweet dreams.

Fast WiFi?  You bet.

A great selection of TV channels?  Of course.

So what if you won’t be able to book an in-hotel massage?  Pop down the road and you’ll find a local spa offering them at a significant discount to most resorts.

And whilst you’re there, check out The Mall of the Emirates – what used to be the biggest mall in Dubai (now only surpassed by The Dubai Mall) – and hit the slopes at the largest indoor ski-field in the world (in the desert, no less).

If you’re looking for ways to relax on-site, there’s a roof-top pool, a lively bar and a well-equipped gym – after all, business people like to take a bit of time out too.

Dubai has so much to offer and though there’s plenty of free/low cost sightseeing to be had, the paid activities soon add up – whatever you do, don’t blow your entire budget on a resort and leave yourself saying no to those once in a lifetime activities on offer.

What to Consider When Booking a Business Hotel

Though business hotels tick lots of boxes, regardless of your travel style, there are a few things to consider.

Is the location close to the tourist activities you want to see?

Is local transport easily accessible from the hotel location?

Do you require services that will likely be found at a full-service hotel?

As long as you’re happy with the answers to those questions then a business hotel really could be a serious contender for your next vacation.  Consider what really matters to you and think about the alternative accommodation options on offer to you – you may find yourself having the trip of a lifetime with the money you save!


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Business hotels can be a great option for leisure travellers. Save money, sleep comfortably and maximise your travel budget. Find out why we love business hotels when we're on vacation!

Thank you to Centro Barsha for inviting us along to review their brunch and learn more about what makes their business hotel special.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  Since returning, I’ve spoken to a number of friends in the UAE that have returned to the Centro time and time again for weekend Dubai trips so it’s clearly a local favourite! 

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Take a Break from Reality in Dubai – The Void

June 8, 2017

Dubai‘s known for pushing boundaries so where better to introduce a new form of hyper-reality.  Combining digital and physical worlds, guests are transported into Ghostbusters: Dimension – the question is though, is it worth your time?

Located on the shore of The Beach at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), The Void is hard to miss – brightly lit, perched on the edge of the sand, it doesn’t give many clues away as to what’s hidden inside.

The Void – What’s it all about?

THE VOID uses Hyper-Reality — a combination of physical sets, real-time interactive effects and virtual reality — and its RAPTURETM hardware to create sensory and emotional immersion. The RAPTURE series includes a head mounted display, a vest with 22 points of haptic feedback, a BACKTOPTM gaming computer, and the multifunctional Mark IV gun. Each stage is modular and built for experiences that are mapped digitally over the physical space.

In layman’s terms, guests get geared up in digitally-connected vests and helmets (that incorporate both headphones and digital virtual-reality goggles and make their way into a world that merges the physical with the digital.

As soon as the headsets are dropped, your friend standing beside you takes on a new form.  Each player pops up on the display as their chosen avatar, moving in time to their real actions.

When you reach for a door handle, you’ll feel yourself really touching one – only you’ll see a digital version of it (and a digital version of your own arm).  It takes a few minutes to adjust to the sensation, but once you do, you’re in for a great time!

With a vibrating proton blaster in hand, players make their way through this bizarre new world completing challenges as they go.

We weren’t certain of what to expect going into The Void.  It was our first experience of fully-immersive virtual reality and due to the secretive nature of the experience, there’s not a great deal of information available online.  Cameras aren’t allowed in the game itself and even if they were, it would be impossible to photograph the imagery you’d see through your headset.

We were pleasantly surprised by just how easy it was to move around through the experience – the gear itself was light-weight and the VR experience was well matched to the physical elements around us.  We were warned that some people feel a little disoriented or dizzy at the start but nobody in our group of four experienced this so I think it’s fair to say that most people will be unaffected by this.

 The challenges themselves were entertaining and though I won’t give too much away, there’s a part of the experience where the (digital) wall of a skyscraper falls away, leaving players afraid of heights clinging onto the handrail for dear life.  The scene felt incredibly realistic and was a real highlight of the game for me.

Hyper-Reality – The way forward?

Our experience at The Void was unlike anything we’d tried before and for that reason alone, it was absolutely worth doing.  The technology they employ is beyond belief and to step into the future for fifteen minutes was a real treat.

As we left, Nathan commented that he’d have loved for the experience to have run a little longer, which I think says it all.

The Void is a great addition to The Beach and a must-see stop on your visit to Dubai, the city of the future.


Should you want to visit The Void in Dubai, tickets are available online for AED110 per person.  Advance booking is suggested.  Guests must be 12 years of age or older and 120cm tall to participate.

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Virtual reality steps it up with hyper-reality in Dubai. An exciting tourist activity, make sure to plan a stop at The Void as you sight-see in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.Virtual reality steps it up with hyper-reality in Dubai. An exciting tourist activity, make sure to plan a stop at The Void as you sight-see in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The Void had us along to review their hyper-reality experience.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

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Stopping Over in Dubai – A Newbie’s Guide

June 4, 2017

Dubai truly is the epitome of luxury, the cars, the buildings, the hotels and the attractions.  It has so much to offer! If you haven’t visited or you are planning to visit read more to find out how to spend a weekend in Dubai.

Living as an expat in a different country is exciting but just like any other country, you get caught up in daily routines and life in general.  In the end, a lot of things are the same as they would be if I was still living in my home country.  I still spend the last day of the weekend frantically trying to get my lessons planned (only the day has changed from a Sunday to a Saturday), I still spend every day after school battling myself to get to the gym (only now the gym is in my building and I don’t really have any excuse – regardless though, I’m the queen of making them), I still spend the evenings cooking dinner and getting lunch ready for the next day and I still binge watch My Kitchen Rules.

Even though I live in an exciting and exotic location, life still goes on.

Every now and again though, I’m reminded of what an amazing place I do live in.  These moments are sporadic but they energise me and remind me to count my blessings.  In those moments, it strikes me just how lucky I am to be living this awesome life!

Dubai is one of places for me.

Every time we start to approach the Marina area and the high-rises emerge from the plains of sand I think how cool is it that I live in the UAE?!  It’s amazing that in around an hour and half I can drive to Dubai and experience all that this amazing city has to offer – people from all around the world dream of visiting and I’m lucky enough to have it on my doorstep.

Regardless of what brings you to Dubai, whether you live locally or are stopping off on the way somewhere else, this guide is for you.

Have fun, soak it all in and, when you’re done, waive the city goodbye, knowing that in a few years it will look substantially different – there’s nothing quite like it.

What to do in Dubai

Dubai is not short of fantastic things to do.  To some, this city is a shopping paradise but look beneath the surface and you’ll find it’s so much more than that.

The following are just some of my favourite ways to while away the time in this incredible city.

Sightseeing on the Water – Splash Tours

Splash Tours is a fairly new company based out of Dubai Marina that offer jet boat tours around the Palm and Dubai Marina – and man is it fun!  Before embarking on our journey we had imagined a tame, leisurely round-trip sightseeing tour.  The only thing we managed to get right was the round-trip part!

It was a thrilling adventure that had some of our fellow passengers white-knuckling the seats in front of them.  With the boat traveling up to 30 knots (around 55km/h), at times we felt like we were flying through the water.  If this doesn’t sound exhilarating enough, the twists, turns and 360’s definitely got the blood pumping!

The best part?  Not only were we jetting around The Palm but we were soaking up all of the iconic Dubai sights too.  With stops in front of JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), Atlantis the Palm, and the Burj Al Arab (the first seven star hotel in the world), a speedboat tour from the marina is the perfect way to tick all of your touristy boxes.

Not sure what all the buildings are or have questions along the way?  Don’t worry, they’ll have you covered with their knowledgeable onboard tour guide.  Ours was more than happy to provide us with facts and interesting information along the way – we’ve never had so much fun learning before!

Most importantly, we didn’t feel in danger at any time.  The crew were professional and we felt safe and secure every step of the way.

My only advice, apart from booking this tour immediately, would be apply sunscreen before setting out as the Middle Eastern sun is strong and there isn’t a lot of shade on the boats.

Dubai Museum

Dubai hasn’t always been 100% glitz and glamour – far from it in fact.  To gain an insight into life before the Emirates discovered oil, head to Dubai Museum.  There you’ll develop a surprising understanding of the emirate all housed inside the oldest building in Dubai, Al Fahidi Fort.

The displays recreate the way in which people would have traditionally lived and worked in Dubai and also explore the previous uses of the fort.

It’s informative and interesting to see how Dubai looked before all the high rises – it certainly didn’t always look as it does now!

Souks

Dubai is known for its luxurious hotels and expansive shopping malls but to your average person, not so much for its traditional souks.  If you’re visiting this amazing metropolis, you’ll no doubt want a taste of Arabic culture though and there’s no better place to get it than at one of their traditional markets.

Located across from Dubai Museum, you will find the textile souk which is a little like stepping back in time.  This is a great place to pick up presents and souvenirs for your family or just to peruse the colourful and vibrant displays.  The textile souk is still full of fabric shops and tailors ready to create a masterpiece, along with stalls selling beautiful pashminas, bright glass lamps and your typical tourist souvenirs.

Friendly bartering is expected and the way to ensure you get the best bargain.

From the textile souk you can catch a long boat across Dubai Creek (they are frequent, inexpensive and leave once the boat is full).  Once on the other side of the creek, you will find yourself in Deria, the oldest residential area in Dubai.

The short walk from the docks had us questioning if we were still in Dubai!  This is a side to the city that is rarely seen – the buildings are run down, the markets sell various wares (trinkets, school bags, material, abayas and an assortment of goodies) and, unlike in the malls, the shoppers aren’t locals – chances are they’re either tourists or some of the many expats that you will find living and working in Dubai.

After passing the markets crammed with what feels like a thousand different ethnicities and being hounded by the shop assistants to snap up their best deals, you will find yourself at Al Souk Al Kabir.  Here there’s a perfume souk, spice souk and the infamous gold souk, so plenty of opportunities to test out your new-found bartering skills.

Pro tip – if you’re not interested in making a purchase, a friendly but firm la, shukran (no, thank you) will see you left in peace.

While I wasn’t in the market to purchase any jewellery (it was slightly out of my price range) it’s a great way to spend some time  If you are looking for something shiny to take home, you’ll want to note that each jewellery piece has their weight written on the tag – this will determine the price depending on the gold prices for that day.

Burj Khalifa Fountains

A trip to Dubai isn’t complete without a visit to the Dubai fountains!  They put on an incredible show every half hour from 6pm, at which time the fountains burst to life, dancing in time to the booming music.  The tunes normally alternate between English and Arabic.

The back drop of the Burj Kahlifa is nearly as mesmerising as the fountains themselves and it still astounds me how talented the technicians must be who create the sequence and how much time they must put into planning out these phenomenal shows.

The fountains get very busy and, at times, finding a good spot can be challenging, as everyone vies for the prime spot with the Burj Khalifa in the background.

Pro tip – Head into Dubai Mall where on the second floor you will find several restaurants that have fabulous views overlooking the fountains.

Brunch

This is one of the favourite past times of western expats living in the UAE and though you may think you know what brunch is, you may just find yourself surprised.  The term brunch is significantly different in the UAE.

Brunch here is an all-you-can-eat affair that lasts for around 4 hours and generally falls only on Friday afternoons (our weekend).  The hotels that host these events are often the epitome of luxury.  The food is  usually so incredible that it’s hard to hold yourself back and with an amazing selection of top-notch international cuisine, why would you?

If you find yourself in Dubai on a Friday I would recommend trying out this favourite past time for yourself.

More Time up your Sleeve?

If you have more time in Dubai there is a plethora of activities for you to explore, including but  by no means limited to the following:

  • No trip to the middle east would be complete without participating in a desert safari, you will find yourself absolutely enthralled or terrified while dune bashing in 4WDs, once at your desert camp you will have the opportunity to dress like the locals while eating Middle Eastern cuisine and participating in whole array of different activities.
  • For nature lovers, check out Green Planet or Miracle Garden – both might take you by surprise within the concrete jungle that Dubai is.
  • If shopping is more you thing (and let’s face it, this is Dubai) check out Dubai Mall (which has a huge aquarium in the middle of the mall), Mall of the Emirates (which also houses an indoor ski slope) and head to Outlet Village to try and get high quality brands at discounted prices.
  • Or for a dose of excitement, there are countless possibilities with Skydive Dubai, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Aquaventure, Wild Wadi Waterpark and Aventura just being the tip of the iceberg.

Getting Around

The fastest and most convenient way to get around Dubai is by taxi.  They are well priced but be sure to enquire if they know how to get to your location before departing – if not try another taxi.

In other parts of the world, it might be surprising to find taxi drivers unsure of their own routes but buildings shoot up so quickly here, roads change in a flash and many taxi drivers are new to the country, so allowances certainly have to be made in the UAE.

Uber is another option but this will be dependent on your internet access in order to book one.  I’ve found Uber to be just as fast and often cheaper so it certainly is a good option.

Whatever you do, try to avoid the unregistered taxis at the airport – jump in one that’s sign written as they’ll always use the meter and you’ll be sure to pay a fair fare.  That is, assuming you picked someone that knows where you’re going.

During peak traffic times, which can be hard work in Dubai, it may be quicker to take the metro.  Dubai Metro is made up of two lines and covers an extensive part of the city.  Make sure you purchase a ticket before boarding as these driverless trains don’t have ticket conductors onboard.

Where to Stay

For this weekend staycation we opted to stay at the Amwaj Rotana.

I have a soft spot for the Rotana brand as on moving to the UAE I was housed in the Park Rotana for just over a month.  It was my first taste of the luxury that you grow accustomed to in the UAE and the customer service blew me away.

I was very eager to find out if the Amwaj Rotana would live up to the exceptional customer service I’ve come to expect from the Rotana brand and they didn’t disappoint.

Location, Location, Location

The Amwaj Rotana is located in the heart of JBR (Jumeriah Beach Residence) which is a stone throw from The Walk – a beautiful part of Dubai.

The Walk is a stunning outdoor area with plenty of al fresco dinning, boutique shopping and a beautiful promenade that has plenty to offer with parks, carnival games, a free public beach and even an outside gym facility.  It’s a great place to spend a day or an evening, provided you don’t start to melt with the heat and humidity that Dubai is known for in the summer months.

Checking out the Amwaj Rotana

Amwaj Rotana was built in 2010 and is one of the largest hotels located in JBR.  It has 301 rooms and suites spread over 25 floors, with each of the modestly decorated rooms being bigger than your standard hotel room.  The enormous beds are so comfortable that you will find it hard to get up in the mornings and, incredibly, every room has a balcony with unobstructed views of the stunning Arabian Gulf and Palm Jumeirah.

The hotel facilities will ensure that you have a memorable stay.  Aside from the standard facilities offered by hotels, the Amwaj also offers a complimentary shuttle bus service to popular shopping malls in Dubai, a car rental service, an on call doctor and a hair and beauty salon.

Recreational activities include a fully equipped gym (with 24 hour access), a jacuzzi, sauna, spa, steam rooms and for the little ones, Flipper’s Kids Club.  My personal favourite was the pool which I was absolutely fell in love with.  Not only was the water perfectly refreshing but with its location on a bridge that spanned the road, you were literally swimming above Dubai’s traffic!

Without doubt though, the highlight of my stay was the level of customer service.  The staff were amazing, so friendly, professional and went above and beyond to make our stay a memorable one.  It was impressive how we were greeted by name everywhere we went in the hotel and in a city as big as Dubai, it’s a small touch like that that makes a hotel feel a little more like home.

How do you really judge a hotel though?  Everyone looks for something different in their perfect stay but I’m a real sucker for hotel slippers.  I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with them – I really need to stop collecting them as I have far too many knocking around home!

The first thing I usually do on arriving at a hotel is locate the complementary slippers, kick of my shoes and slide my tiny feet into them.  For this reason I’ve decided to accompany any accommodation reviews with Sarah’s slipper rating.

With that said, Amwaj Rotana slippers come in at 4 stars (out of 5).  The only factor letting them down is I have tiny feet (UK size 4) so the slippers were swimming on me.

Everything about this hotel hit the spot for us – from the comfortable rooms to the high-pressured showers and everything in between.

Did Someone Say ‘Food’?

Within the Amwaj Rotana, there are plenty of options for fine cuisine.

For our visit, we settled on Rosso, an authentic Italian restaurant.  Being a bit of a foodie, I was very impressed with the menu and the gorgeous outdoor setting, made all the better by a portable air conditioning unit.

Aircon outside – don’t we live in an amazing time?!

The wait staff were attentive, knowledgeable and eager to make sure our evening was one to remember. Their suggestions on what to order were spot on and the only disappointment we experienced all evening was not having enough room for dessert.

To start we shared a traditional antipasto which was absolutely gorgeous and included a selection of Italian pork cold cuts (hard to find in the UAE), mixed grilled vegetables, olives, melon, figs, and bocconcino cheese. This all came accompanied with parmesan, pesto and a scrumptious focaccia.

After our generous starter I was feeling full but with a mushroom and truffle risotto truffle I found it in me to push on through – someone’s got to do it, right?

I love truffles and can’t get enough of this tiny-but-expensive mushroom.  I usually find restaurants to be a bit stingy with the truffle but not in this case!  The risotto was full of rich flavour; it was creamy and cheesy and had truffle mixed throughout the whole dish – not just served on the top as many places do. I would wholeheartedly recommend this dish to anyone dining at Rosso’s.

I can’t wait to head back again to experience their scrumptious food, outstanding service and relaxed setting.

Dubai – Stop Over or Fly Through?

Is Dubai somewhere you should consider visiting?

Absolutely!  Whether you live locally, are on holiday or are making a quick stopover, Dubai has something to offer for everyone. It has glitz and glam that will wow you, inviting beaches, high end shopping and theme parks that rival some of the best in the world.

Above all where else can you experience a modern city with a traditional twist?

It’s a truly vibrant city that knows how to put on a good show!

The best time to visit is in the winter months where you can really experience everything the city has to offer without those hot rays beating you down.

So, next time you are flying through this international hub, think about making a stop to explore fascinating Dubai!  You might just surprise yourself.


Planning a trip to Dubai?  Pin this post!

Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!

Thank you to the Amwaj Rotana and Splash Tours for hosting Sarah for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Dubai Hatta Middle East United Arab Emirates

Exploring Hatta: Dubai, but not as you know it!

May 26, 2017

What do you think of when you think of Dubai?

Towering skyscrapers, architecture that defies engineering, larger than life lifestyles and infinite glitz and glamour?

You’d be right but, as with many places, there’s much more to Dubai than meets the eye.

For a start, Dubai itself is just a small part of a much larger emirate, home to people to a much more down-to-earth way of life.  As you approach the Omani border, you’ll find Hatta, a quiet mountain town where warm welcomes are abound and the bright lights of Dubai feel like they’re a lifetime away.

What to do in Hatta

Abuzz about Hatta

If there’s one thing we love about travelling, it’s trying out new things.  So when we were given the chance to suit up and check out Hatta’s hives up close, of course we were the first ones to put up our hands!

Feeling quietly-confident under our protective gear we enjoyed learning about the bees and the process the beekeepers go through to breed new queens, all whilst they buzzed around us.

As any good bee-visit should, we finished by tasting some of the locally produced honey (delicious) and their royal jelly too (not so tasty, but with plenty of health benefits we were assured) and bee pollen (pretty dreadful if I’m honest but again, healthy).

It was surprisingly relaxing listening to the drone of the bees – the sound filling the air whilst we stayed safe under our suits – and altogether a great experience that we’d have missed out on had we stayed tucked up at home!

If you too would like to get up close and personal with Hatta’s bees, drop the JA Hatta Fort Hotel a line and they’ll help organise a trip out.

Hatta Dam

Located just past the old town of Hatta, you’ll find Hatta Dam.  This reservoir serves not only to service the area with fresh water but so also a great spot for getting active.

You can rent a kayak or paddle boat from Hatta Kayak and enjoy a dose of fresh, cool air out on the water and soon hiking trails will be open, allowing visitors to check out the nearby mountains by foot.

Hatta Heritage Village

If you’re new to the United Arab Emirates or are just stopping by on a visit, you’ll want to learn more about the more traditional life of yesteryear.  Though Dubai city is a buzzing metropolis now, it hasn’t always been that way.

The Hatta Heritage Village is built around the original Hatta fort and its accompanying turrets and the village itself provides an interesting history of the area.  Here, visitors learn about how Emiratis lived, work and survived in such challenging environments.  Entrance is free and all tours are self-guided so you can take your time and explore at your own pace.

If you’ve explored other Emirati heritage villages, this one probably won’t add a lot in the way of new understanding but the fort is gorgeous and well worth a visit, even if only in passing.

Mountain Biking

Although we didn’t have a chance to take to the tracks, Hatta is becoming known for its unique trails that cater for all levels of riding ability in the lower Hajar Mountains.  Bikes are available to rent and there are toilets and basic camping/picnic facilities available at the start of the trails.

Where to Stay

Though Hatta is a comfortable drive from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, there’s enough to do out there that you’ll want to book in an overnight stay.  Plus, with the JA Hatta Fort Hotel offering so much in the way of attractions, a trip to Hatta wouldn’t be complete without paying them a visit!

JA Hatta Fort Hotel – Mountain Views in Dubai

The resort itself is a bit of a Dubai institution, known by some as ‘the Peacock Hotel’.  This is the type of place that families return to year after year, looking to reconnect and take a break from everyday life.

The recent renovations bring a beautiful breath of fresh air to the property whilst the hotel manages to retain its old-school charm.  Having visited ourselves, I can absolutely appreciate why return time and time again.  The staff treat you more like family than guests and the moment you pull into the front gate, all your worries get left behind.  In a place like Dubai where it sometimes feels like places are out to one-up each other, there’s something comforting about a place like the JA Hatta Fort Hotel.

As you would expect from a property that is finishing off their renovations, there are still nods to how the resort used it be.  The JA Hatta Fort Hotel being what it is, nobody really minds though – if anything, it almost adds to the charm of the place.

Set on 80 acres of manicured garden and lawn, this hotel is like an oasis rising amongst the mountains.  When we first arrived we couldn’t help but kick our shoes off and take a little walk along the lawn.  It’s fair to say that fresh grass is one of the things we really miss from back home so soaking up their expansive lawns was a real treat for the senses!

The chalets themselves have been tastefully redecorated and provide ample space to make yourself at home.  With complimentary tea/coffee facilities, bottled water, WiFi and satellite TV, along with a mini bar for those times you can’t bare to leave the comfort of your bed, there’s not much the rooms don’t take care of.

You’ll need access to refreshments in your room too – the bed was amongst the biggest we’ve had in the UAE and a haven of comfort that was hard to leave!

Plenty to Keep Everyone Busy

For some, a holiday is an opportunity to kick back, relax and do very little but eat, sleep and swim and whilst we can appreciate why some would want to do that, it’s not for us.

We like to strike the balance between relaxing and finding plenty to do.  In reality, we’re normally pretty busy on holiday.

The JA Hatta Fort Hotel was a dream come true for us in this regard thanks to the wide range of activities they offer onsite.  With two pools, tennis courts, archery, target shooting, mini golf, a jogging track through the mountains and an array of animals, guests are spoilt for choice, no matter how they prefer to unwind.

Delicious Dining Options

A little unsure of what to expect of the food at JA Hatta Fort Hotel, we went in with open minds and very quickly had them made up for us – the food there is top-notch.

With two main options on site, there’s Cafe Gazebo, a relaxed pool-side restaurant where breakfast and lunch are served and the swanky (and newly renovated) Jeema where evening diners are really treated to incredible food.

Though we enjoyed all of our meals at the hotel, it was dinner that really stood out for us both.  Nathan opted for the buffet whilst I ordered from the al a carte menu – both options were superb.  My butter chicken was incredible and came with the most delicious parathas and Nathan commented that although the buffet was amongst the smaller ones he’s seen in the UAE, it was also one of the tastiest.  It was certainly a case of fewer dishes done incredibly well.

How to Get There

Hatta is located near the border that joins the UAE with Oman and because of its distance from the city, requires a car to get there.

The drive itself is easy, taking less than 1.5 hours from the heart of Dubai or approximately 3 hours from Abu Dhabi.  In the process you’ll pass through towering sand dunes and mountain ranges but be careful not to take the road from Dubai whilst you’re checking out the views around you!  Only GCC Nationals are granted permission to pass through Oman at this check point so pay careful attention to the map below.

Our visit to Hatta was refreshing and a little surpising.  So close to Dubai’s buzzing city, it feels like a world away.  A calm, humble town, ready to take visitors in and show them another side of the UAE.

What more could you ask for?


Looking for an awesome Dubai staycation? Pin this post!

Exploring the other side of Dubai - calm, relaxed and humble, Hatta is the perfect staycation in the UAE. Find out what we recommend doing there with this guide to activities, accommodation, food and transport. Exploring the other side of Dubai - calm, relaxed and humble, Hatta is the perfect staycation in the UAE. Find out what we recommend doing there with this guide to activities, accommodation, food and transport.

Thank you to JA Resorts & Hotels for hosting our weekend and for the use of some of their photos.  We had a fantastic stay!  As always, all thoughts are our own.  To find out what others think, check out Trip Advisor.

Abu Dhabi Food Luxury Middle East Reviews

Abu Dhabi Eats: Todd English’s Olives – A Taste of the Mediterranean

May 15, 2017

With our time in Abu Dhabi coming to an end, we’re on a mission to try out all of the amazing restaurants in Abu Dhabi.  Well, maybe not all of them but certainly the ones that have been waiting patiently on our list.

First up?

Todd English’s Olives – a gorgeous restaurant that absolutely shone, keeping both Nathan’s adventurous palette and my significantly-plainer tastes perfectly happy.  With service that rivals any in Abu Dhabi, Olives may just become your new favourite restaurant.

Just Like Home – Only Better!

Once you’ve had your car complimentary valet parked (this is, after all, Abu Dhabi), you’ll find Olives within stumbling distance.

The restaurant itself is stylishly decorated with big comfortable seats and generously sized tables (which you’ll need for all of the food they’ll bring out to you!).  Alternatively, guests are welcome to sit outside in the open courtyard, only metres from the canal.  Even with the weather warming up, we enjoyed sitting outside with a light breeze so that would be our recommendation before we hit the peak of summer.

The staff are friendly and the atmosphere inviting so we instantly felt at ease.  Yes, this is a fine-dining restaurant but the team do a superb job of welcoming everyone in and making them feel at home.

If only we had food like theirs on tap each night!

A Thirst for the Finer Things in Life

The right drink can start a night off perfectly and our night out was to be one of the best we’ve had in a long time, so I suppose, the writing was on the wall.

Throughout the evening we enjoyed a range of drinks and each and every one blew us away.  At most we normally have one mocktail and then move onto soft drinks but drinks menu at Olives was too tempting to resist!

With options like the lemon cloud (Bacardi White, Limoncino, white chocolate, cream and sour mix), slingback (raspberry vodka, passion fruit puree and nectar, raspberries and mint), bubbly scarlet (my personal favourite – fresh raspberries, raspberry and almond syrup, ginger ale and lemon juice) and passion mangolada (passion fruit nectar, mango juice and coconut syrup), how on earth could we settle for a Coke?!

Let’s Get Started!

As all our meals out are, the dishes served to us are a tale of two opposing tastes – my more down-to-earth preferences and Nathan’s love of the finer things in life.  With that in mind, let’s get down to business…

The Basics

Let’s start by saying that my starter really was anything but basic – it was literally up there as one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten.

The Bronx Bomber flatbread (which I ordered in starter size) came loaded with a garlic tomato sauce, the most tender beef pepperoni, caramelised onions, mozzarella, parmesan and fresh basil.  It was so delicious that I genuinely had to hold myself back from eating it all before my main arrived!

The flatbread teamed perfectly with the homemade wedges and their accompanying sauces and though I shouldn’t have eaten quite so much of the bread starter, the rolls were impossible to put down.  The garlic scrolls were amazing.  Honestly, those alone made it worth visiting Olives.

Fine Dining

Though my food was delicious, most of you will be here for the fine dining review and I don’t blame you for a second.  Stick around as it didn’t disappoint.

In a bid to try as many things as possible, Nathan was presented with the chef’s tasting menu that was chock-full of all sorts of incredible dishes.  Not only was each presented beautifully but the produce was clearly top-notch and a lot of skill had gone into cooking each item perfectly.  Though most of Nathan’s dishes were beyond my limited (alright, fussy) palette, I couldn’t help but admire the creativity and eye for detail that went into each of them.

First up was the beef and tuna carpaccio – a beautifully balanced plate, both figuratively and literally.  Served as two dishes in one, the beef carpaccio peeked our from under a cocktail glass whilst the tuna sat on top.  Both components hit the spot with the beef nosing just slightly ahead thanks to its perfect combination of ingredients.

Following on, Nathan tried the chef’s variation on scallops vol-au-vent.  His version was a treat for the eyes with perfectly browned scallops sitting atop beds of squid-ink risotto and cauliflower puree.  The seafood was the standout of this dish so would be high on Nathan’s list of recommendations when paired with the puff pastry cups and lemon butter emulsion of the standard menu.

To be fair, his recommendation list would run off the page.

Finally, the veal agnolotti al plin arrived at our table and though it didn’t present as well as Nathan’s other starters, it bowled us both over with its perfectly balanced flavours.  Braised veal ossobucco, fontina fondue stuffed pasta and black truffle essence combined to form what became both of our favourites for the evening.

If you enjoy hearty and delicious food, this is the one for you.  Don’t be surprised if you see us at Olives alongside you, both munching away on the veal pasta!

Time for the Main Attraction

Just when we were sure we couldn’t possibly eat any more, our steaks arrived and we were proven wrong.

Steak in Abu Dhabi can be a bit hit or miss.  To get a good steak is often hideously expensive (which is to be expected when you live in the middle of the desert.)

That wasn’t the case here though with both cuts being perfectly selected and cooked to order.  Nathan’s lean prime beef tenderloin was paired with a delicious cracked pepper demi-glace (which I may just have stolen) whilst my rib eye was close to the size of a dinner plate and marbled to perfection.

Both dishes were served with a selection of tasty accompaniments but we were so full by this stage that we couldn’t do much more than have a little sample of each.  What we did try though, was delicious.

Just Desserts

With tummies full to the brim, it would have been easy to turn down dessert but who in their right mind does that?

Instead of opting for a full dessert, we were presented with a tasting plate each which offered a little sometime to suit everyone.  From the smooth, creamy and deliciously citrusy panna cotta, to the moist red velvet cake and the coffee infused homemade ice cream and tiramisu, these light desserts finished the night off beautifully.  Nathan loved the tiramisu and I devoured the panna cotta, both of which were clear favourites for us, but when we return, my eye is firmly on the apple pie.

Olives – Something to Suit Everyone

We had a fantastic evening at Olives with the food, drinks, location and amazing staff all playing an equally important role.  We loved that the menu was so diverse, featuring a range of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, making it a restaurant that truly caters to all tastes.

Their current menu is available online so you can salivate over your keyboard before you make it into the restaurant.

Don’t move too fast though!

It will be impossible not to see up some potential options before heading along to the Venetian Village but try not to mentally preplan your dinner in its entirety – our waitress was spot on with her favourite dishes so it’s well worth listening to the expertise of the Olives team.

With a little over a month left in Abu Dhabi, both Nathan and I have vowed to return to Olives which I think says everything we need to say on the subject!


Don’t forget to take your Entertainer too to receive ‘buy one, get one free’ on your mains.

Pin this post so you’ll remember where to go on your next special occasion in Abu Dhabi.  

Todd English's Olives serves up amazing fine dining plates alongside more homestyle dishes - a perfect combination in Abu Dhabi.  Check out why this is one of our new favourite restaurants in the UAE!

Thank you to Sociate for inviting us to put Olives through their paces – they well and truely passed!  As always, all thoughts on Exploring Kiwis are our own.

Adventure Dubai Middle East United Arab Emirates

Hanging on by a Thread: Reviewing Aventura – Dubai’s Nature Adventure Park

April 29, 2017

As summer’s oppressive heat descends upon the United Arab Emirates everyone starts heading inside, seeking refuge in air-conditioned havens… that generally means one of the Emirates’ mega-malls.

Not so fast though!

What if we told you that one of the best physical adventure activities in Dubai has adjusted their hours to allow adrenaline junkies to make the most of the cooler mornings and evenings?

Located not far from Dubai’s city centre, Aventura offers five rope courses amongst the natural Ghaff tree forest in Mushrif Park.

The variety of courses allow guests to push themselves regardless of their level of fitness or thirst for adventure.  From courses targeted at younger children and those not so keen on heights to ones that present a massive physical challenge high off the ground, there’s something for practically everyone.

Aventura High Ropes Dubai reviewSafety First

Having completed a number of high rope and climbing courses now (check out our review of Ras Al Khaimah’s via ferrata), we’re relatively handy with a carabiner but even if you’re not, you’ll have nothing to worry about at Aventura.  Thanks to the employment of CliC-iT smart carabiners it is impossible for any guest to be up on the course without being clipped in and though they take a little getting used to, the peace of mind is absolutely worth it.

The staff out on the course are well trained and with a comprehensive, hands-on training before you head out by yourself, chances are you’ll be feeling pretty confident.

It is also worth noting that the course is fairly exposed, being nested amongst the trees rather than sheltering beneath them – because of this we’d recommend taking plenty of sunscreen along with your glasses and a hat, especially if you’re visiting when the sun’s at its strongest (as we did – eeek!)

High Ropes for Everyone at Aventura!

Once your training starts you’ll have three hours to bounce around any of the routes that take your fancy.  Our group of four completed three courses in total (in addition to the initiation course), each with their own differences.

Explorador

With an average height of 3 metres, Explorador is the perfect starting point for your high ropes adventure.  The course isn’t particularly difficult but it’s a great way to find your feet and adjust to the carabiner system.  It also gives a good view out over the more difficult Aventura and Thriller routes, allowing you to plot your next course.

If you’re feeling a little nervous, this is definitely the place to start!

Aventura High Ropes Dubai reviewThriller

Running alongside Explorador, Thriller stands at an average height of 8 metres above the ground.  Described as having a low difficulty level but towering height, this is a course that will divide your group.  Physically it’s a walk in the park but if you’re afraid of heights it’s sure to challenge you.  Just remember, there’s no way you’ll ever come unhooked – this course is 100% mind over matter.

Once you’ve raced through Thriller you’ll be ready to test yourself in every sense of the word.  Aventura does a great job of that but if you’re short on time (or looking to escape the sun, as we were) then head straight over to the Extreme course.

Extreme

Aptly named, the most difficult course at Aventura is just as high as Thriller but also offers a massive physical challenge.

Seriously – this course is not messing around.

From wobbly rock-climbing walls to a 25 metre Tarzan jump.  Swinging cargo nets to pegs barely big enough to fit your feet on.  This is a course that will challenge every muscle in your body.  It’s hard work whilst still being tremendous fun – just make sure you skip arms at the gym the day before if you want any chance of making it through!

Though we came off the course with aching muscles and dripping from a number of hours under the hot sun, it was hard to wipe the smiles from our messy, wind-swept faces.

Next time you’re lining up a trip to the mall, why not opt for something different and head to Aventura to soak up a gorgeous Arabian sunset instead?

After all, the mall’s not going anywhere!

Aventura High Ropes Dubai review

Weekdays: Open from 2.30pm until 7.00pm

Weekends: From 8.30am until 10.00am (last briefing) + from 2.30pm until 7.00pm.

Summer timings are from April until end of June 2017.

Stay tuned to Aventura for their special evening sessions, running 7.00pm to 10.00pm.


Dubai's full of amazing tourist activities but here's one you won't have tried! Aventura Adventure park has something for everyone. Which course will you choose?

Thank you to Aventura and Tish Tash for inviting us along to review Aventura.  As always all thoughts are our own.

We suggest you take advantage of the new summer hours to keep out of Dubai’s crazy summer heat – we visited around midday and instantly wished we’d booked later in the day!

Activities Adventure Dubai Middle East

Dubai: Home to the Largest Inflatable Water Park in the World!

March 16, 2017
Aqua Fun Dubai - largest inflatable water park in the world JBR

Dubai is a city that pushes boundaries; if they can build it bigger, better, taller or more complex then you can be certain that this city will! This attitude extends to all facets of life, so it’s no wonder that when the idea of building the world’s largest water obstacle course was hatched, that it was destined for Dubai.

Located a short swim off JBR beach, you’ll find exactly that – the world’s biggest inflatable park, which just happens to form the Dubai logo when seen from above.  Would you expect anything less from a city that markets itself so proudly?

After kitting up on the beach, we began the short swim over to the course itself. The first obstacle? Getting on!

Nathan and I had a go at a smaller course whilst we were in Cozumel, Mexico and I found it next to impossible to actually get up on the inflatable from the water. These courses are serious-exercise-business!

Thankfully though, Aqua Fun have installed entry mats and ladders to help those of us who are less athletically inclined. Even with the mats, getting up on the course is a bit of a challenge but it is manageable and as they say, nothing worth having comes easy.

As we climbed aboard, we watched other others brave souls having a crack at the course – the lady closest to use scooting along the track just to slip and fall on the bouncy surface. Surprised, we couldn’t help but wonder if she was a little lacking in co-ordination! As it turns out though, even walking on the flat entrance part of the course is a challenge as we promptly found it, slipping and sliding all over the place.

We spent the next hour climbing, jumping, balancing and swinging our way through a variety of obstacles. Some were physically very demanding whereas others were more about technique than strength. Regardless, they were all great fun!

If we were to have one critique, it would be that the course is little repetitive with the same obstacles repeated at either side of the ‘track’. The advantage of this is that you can have a go on your obstacle of choice without having to wait on other people to clear it – if it’s busy on one side, work your way over to the other. It does feel a little like a missed opportunity to add more variety to the course though (and to actually make it feel bigger) – had there been more options, we would have stayed out on the water longer still. To be fair though, our aching muscles probably couldn’t have taken much more!

We came off the course with a few new scratches and bruises to add to the collection but huge smiles that showed it was all clearly worth it! If you have an adventurous spirit, we’d definitely suggest checking out Aqua Fun. Though you’ll find it easier if you have a good level of fitness and balance, it is within reach of most people, a heck of a lot of fun and a fun dose of adventure in the city.


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Duabi is now home to the largest inflatable water park in the world.  Located in one of Dubai's nicest areas, find out what we thought about it.  Is it worth stopping by Aqua Fun on your stopover to the city of the future?

Thank you to Aqua Fun for hosting us for the afternoon.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Destinations Doha Luxury Middle East Qatar Stop Overs & Quick Trips

A Weekend Itinerary in Doha – Why You Shouldn’t Just Fly Through Qatar!

March 14, 2017

With a weekend to spare, Nathan and I decided to hop over to Doha, Qatar.  Though I work with a number of teachers that have lived in Doha in the past, I’d heard mixed things about just how worthwhile the city was.  Is it work a stopover if you’re flying through?  Should you book a flight if you’re living in the Middle East and want a weekend away?

Despite having the highest GDP per capita in the world, we found the people of Qatar to be welcoming and approachable.  The wealth of the country is evident in its gorgeous buildings that are shooting up like wildfire.

Though the city doesn’t rival Dubai in terms of scale or grandeur or compete with Muscat’s stunning mountain ranges, it does have an energy that is uniquely Qatari and, in our opinion, certainly worth seeing.

If you’re planning a visit to Doha or stopping over on your way elsewhere (which you definitely should do), this guide is for you.

Tourist Activities in Doha, Qatar

Admire the Museum of Islamic Arts

Home to a variety world-class exhibits, the Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) contains beautiful and intriguing artworks from three continents, spanning 1,400 years.

Though we’ve lived in Abu Dhabi for the last year and a half and have travelled fairly extensively throughout the region, we’ve not seen an art collection that comes even close to rivalling this one.

Soak Up Traditional Middle Eastern Vibes at Souq Waqif

With the smell of shisha and oud drifting through the air and the buzz of goods changing hands as if in a scene from Aladdin, Souq Waqif has an old-world charm that is sometimes lacking in other Middle Eastern markets.

Souq Waqif was one of our favourite parts of Doha and we could have very happily stayed there people-watching all night.  The souq alone is reason to visit Qatar!

Take a Walk Along the Corniche and Check Out the City Lights

Winding 7 kilometres along Doha Bay is the corniche, providing visitors with perfect views back over the city.  Doha’s skyline is gorgeous and instantly recognisable with such iconic buildings – things will only get more exciting too as the city ramps up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.  Construction is already well under way – we can’t wait to see how the skyline continues to evolve.

If parks, restaurants and statues are more your style, there are plenty of other options along the corniche including pop-up markets,  traditional arts and crafts and playgrounds.  If you’re after a cheap momento to take home, you might get lucky and find a local lady offering henna – if you do (and you’re a lady), jump at the chance – henna smells amazing thanks to the addition of essential oils and it’s a great opportunity to chat with a Qatari.

Did you know?  Qatari’s make up only 12% of the entire population in this small Middle Eastern country.

Relax with a Massage

After a busy week at work or when you’re straight off a long flight, there’s not much better than a luxurious massage or spa treatment.  Upon arriving into the city we checked into Chi, the beautiful spa at the Shangri-La – we booked in for a wellness massage (the ku nye to be specific) and it hit the spot perfectly!

If massages aren’t your thing, Chi also has a hydrotherapy pool and a full range of health and beauty therapies to help make you look and feel like a million dollars.

Enjoy World-Class Cuisine

When we talked to our friends that have lived in Qatar they all had the same advice – go to Doha and eat up a storm.  Food is an important part of life there and it’s done well because of it.  I’m not sure if people eat out lots because the food is good or if the food’s good because lots of people head out but either way, make the most of it!

Our favourite was the Shanghai Club where we enjoyed world-class Chinese food with breath-taking views (162.3m above ground to be exact) – just go in with empty tummies as the amount of food was absolutely incredible.  Duck pancakes and sweet and sour fish were the standout dishes of the night for me – I’m getting hungry just thinking about them again!

Have More Time Up Your Sleeve?

There’s a surprisingly diverse range of things to do in Qatar considering the size of the country.  Why not pay a visit to the Singing Sand Dunes, the Katara Cultural Village or the Pearl (Doha’s take on the Dubai’s Palm)?  Alternatively, head into the warm Arabian waters and enjoy a scuba dive or head out into the dunes on a quintessentially Middle Eastern desert safari (where you can even camp overnight amongst the stars!)

Getting There – Flights and Visa Requirements

Qatar shares a land border with only one country, Saudi Arabia, and due to visa limitations, the vast majority of people are not able to use this point of entry to the country.

If you’re visiting Qatar, chances are it will be on a stopover or a quick getaway from another Middle Eastern country and your point of arrival will be Hamad International Airport.  This stunning airport sits approximately 25 minutes out of the city centre making it easily accessible.

Residents of thirty-three countries are entitled to a visa on arrival (for QAR100 per person) and though this can be purchased online, doing so at the airport is quick and easy making it a viable option.

Alternatively, if you’ve booked a stopover through Qatar Airways (for between 5 and 96 hours), you’re entitled to a complimentary transit visa – just be sure to allow at least 7 days to process the visa.  Once it’s up and running, you’ll have a 30 day window with which to use it.

If you book a through-ticket with Qatar Airways, you’ll also be eligible for a free city tour (on a first come, first served basis) but it is a real whistle-stop tour so should you have the time to explore on your own accord, we’d definitely recommend doing so.

To find the lowest priced fairs and compare value between different airlines, we recommend using Skyscanner.

Hamad International Airport teddy bear Urs FischerRegardless of how you get to Doha, you’ll want to head into the city.  To do so, you can choose between taxis (which you’ll find waiting just outside of the terminal) or have the Shangri-La organise a private car for you.  Check out our ride!

Getting Around

Doha is well serviced by taxis, which are the easiest way to get around.  They’re well priced and the drivers we had all knew their through the city (which is more than we can sometimes say for drivers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai!) – just remember to ask them to put the meter on and round your payment up for the driver.

Though it’s possible to hire a car, we did see some fairly erratic driving and taxis are cheap and comfortable so we’d be hard pressed to recommend driving yourself for a short stay.

Where to Stay in Qatar

Shangri-La Hotel Doha

Opened in 2015, the Shangri-La Hotel Doha is synonymous with warmth and luxury – the perfect balance, ensuring guests are spoilt whilst still feeling at home.  It’s a spectacular option in Doha.  With 272 rooms, this striking city hotel is located in the central business district of West Bay which makes it a convenient base for a weekend away.

With a fully appointed gym (and personal trainers on hand throughout the day), four restaurants, three bars, a falcon and its handler in the lobby (I’m not joking!) and a direct connection to one of the biggest malls in Doha, there’s plenty to keep guests busy.

Most impressive of all though is the incredible pool and the spectacular city views.

The pool, built on the 7th floor of the hotel, is surrounded by towering hotels and office blocks.  It’s a genuine oasis in the hustle and bustle of downtown and with its sheer size and the number of palm trees (2,000 square metres and over 70 palms!), it’s surprisingly easy to forget there you are.  In all our travels, we’ve never seen anything quite like it.

When you’re finished relaxing pool-side, we suggest heading up to the Horizon Club Lounge on the 42nd floor.  Here breakfast is served to guests in the largest lounge in all of Doha, with stunning 360-degree views.  Regardless of the time of day, refreshments are available at no additional charge and come early evening, a lavish spread is put on making the Horizon Club Lounge the perfect spot to relax before dinner and watch life in the city go by beneath you.

We’re not normally ones to sit around in a communal space, preferring instead to be out exploring or relaxing in our room but with snacks, relaxing music, books galore and incredible views, we found ourselves slipping quietly onto a comfy sofa more than once.

If you’re looking to treat yourselves (and why wouldn’t you?), the booking a Horizon Club room is the perfect way to do so.  By the time you account for all of the additional benefits, it’s an easy decision.

As you would expect, the rooms in the Shangri-La Hotel are exceptional, each with their own floor-to-ceiling windows allowing guests to make the most of views out over the ever-expanding city.

All rooms offer complimentary WiFi, TVs with a wide range of channels (and a sound system that even lets you listen to your favourite shows whilst in the bath!) and spacious floor plans.  The bathrooms are also generously sized with moulded bathtubs, rain showers and high-quality toiletries.

It’s the finishing touches in a five-star hotel that set it above the rest and the addition of a simple hair-tie to our amenity collection is surprisingly telling.  As silly as it is, I hate it when my hair tie breaks and the fact that the Shangri-La go to that level of detail to look after their guests tells you just how invested they are in giving their guests the very best experience, each and every time.

Beautiful pools and views aside, it’s those personal touches that take a gorgeous hotel to the next level and the Shangri-La Hotel Doha sits very comfortably in the that echelon – what I would call personalised-luxury.

As we found in when staying at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Oman, service is the core focus of these beautiful hotels.  When we walked around the Horizon Club Lounge we couldn’t help but notice that our hosts knew all of the guests by name – no small feat considering the number of people they must see through their doors.  Though the building and facilities are obviously top-notch, in our opinion, it’s the service and finishing touches that makes Shangri-La memorable as a brand.

When all is said and done, was the trip to Qatar worth our time and would we recommend others visit?

Absolutely.

Though it’s not a glitzy as as Dubai or steeped in history like Cairo, Doha has its own down-to-earth charm whilst still wowing with its obvious wealth (a difficult balance but one that it somehow manages).

Having visited, I can now understand why so many of my friends that have lived in the region consider Doha to be such a liveable city – it seems to strike the right balance in so many regards.

So, next time you’re looking for a weekend away from your adopted GCC homeland or are considering stopping off in the Middle East, don’t overlook Qatar.  Too many people pass through the airport without ever really setting foot on Qatari soil and take it from us, they’re missing out.


If you’re headed to Doha, Qatar, why not pin this post for future reference?

Doha is growing into a buzzing Middle Eastern city but too many people make the mistake of passing straight through. Don't be one of them! Find out why we recommend exploring Qatar. What to do, where to stay and how to get around - our guide will help you make the most of this charming city. Doha is growing into a buzzing Middle Eastern city but too many people make the mistake of passing straight through. Don't be one of them! Find out why we recommend exploring Qatar. What to do, where to stay and how to get around - our guide will help you make the most of this charming city. The best pool in all of Qatar! Check out why you have to stay at the Shangri-La Hotel in Doha (plus your guide to the city).

Thank you to the Shangri-La Hotel, Doha for inviting us to join them to experience a snippet into life in Qatar.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Adventure Destinations Middle East United Arab Emirates

Jebel Jais Via Ferrata – The UAE’s Newest and Best Adventure Activity!

February 24, 2017

Ras Al Khaimah, with its towering canyons and cloud-peircing mountain peeks feels a little out of place compared to the stereotypical view of the United Arab Emirates.  Dazzling skyscrapers, mind-blowing super cars and endless sand dunes, are all expected, but visitors generally don’t generally associate the UAE with such a natural, rugged beauty.

Those that don’t know are missing out.

Opened at the end of 2016, the Middle East’s first commercial via ferrata offers adventure-seekers a chance to enjoy the crisp, fresh mountain air whilst testing out their nerve traversing Jebel Jais, the highest mountain in the UAE (and part of the Hajjar mountain range).

What is a Via Ferrata?

We’re far from mountaineering experts, so we’ll pass you over to the real pros to answer this question…

A via ferrata (Italian for “iron road”) is a protected climbing route found in the Alps and certain other locations. The essence of a modern via ferrata is a steel cable which runs along the route and is periodically (every 1 to 10 metres (3.3 to 32.8 ft) fixed to the rock. Using a via ferrata kit, climbers can secure themselves to the cable. The cable can also be used as aid to climbing, and additional climbing aids, such as iron rungs (stemples), pegs, carved steps and even ladders and zip lines are often provided.

Want our take on a via ferrata?  Boundless fun!

What Can I Expect from my Day on the Via?

Upon arriving at the meeting point we were greeted by three instructors, all with beaming smiles, and a group of equally adventurous travellers.  After a quick (but more than adequate) safety briefing, we were kitted up, had a practice and were on our way.

This particular via ferrata is made up of three key routes along with three ziplines.  All three ziplines are completed regardless of the course you select (on at 50m, another at 60m and the longest, a massive 300m) but the overall level of difficulty comes down to the track you undertake.

Jebel Jais Via Ferrata RAK route map

The ledge walk is the easiest of the routes (though still presents plenty of challenge and excitement) and what the vast majority of people start off on.  Once you’ve earned your stripes, you’re able to return and have a crack at the middle path (which includes a vertical overhang to pull yourself up over) or the far track, with its 120m vertical ladder line.

We were more than happy to start off on the ledge walk and found it the perfect balance between fun and adrenaline.  There were some pretty major rocks to climb up and over but physically it was definitely manageable which is more than I’d probably be able to say about the middle path (which is considered the most challenging).

We spent the next three hours snaking our way up and over boulders whilst hugging the cliff face.  Secured by a harness and two carabiners every step of the way, our safety was never in doubt but as with all heights, making your way over them (and jumping off on the ziplines) is a mind-over-matter challenge, more difficult for some than for others.

I’m not phased by heights but Nathan’s not such a fan (as you’d have known, had you seen him on the ledge before the final zipline!) but with the patience and support of our three fantastic guides, he saw everything through, having a great time in the process.

There’s no doubt that parts of this course will be challenging for some.  Even if it does push you out of your comfort zone, go with it – there’s no better feeling than proving to yourself that you’re capable of more than you first thought.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” – Ambrose Redmoon

We’d heard great things about Ras Al Khaimah before our visit to the region but with the addition of the via ferrata, it has become an absolute must-see in the UAE.  Adventure, gorgeous mountainous views and a blast of fresh air, the via has literally been the best thing we’ve done here in the UAE (and we’ve lived here for almost two years).

If you’re paying a visit to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, be sure to get out of the city and hit the mountains!


Love adventure?  Pin this for your next trip to the United Arab Emirates!

Jebel Jais Via Ferrata - RAK's newest adventure activity and the best in the UAE!

Thank you to the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority and Jebel Jais Via Ferrata for hosting us.  We had the most fantastic time out on the via and, as always, all thoughts are our own.

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