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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 dessert on a quintessentially Middle Eastern desert safari.

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.

Accommodation Destinations Middle East United Arab Emirates

Win a Nights Accommodation at Danat Jebel Dhanna, UAE!

February 22, 2017
danat jebel dhanna resort Abu Dhabi review beach

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Accommodation Luxury Middle East Oman Reviews

Living It Up in Muscat, Oman – Pure Luxury at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa

February 19, 2017

The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, sitting just 20 minutes out of Muscat, represents pure luxury in the Sultanate of Oman.  So much more than just a resort, there is no delaying denying where you are – this hotel offers world-class hospitality, the most incredible Omani backdrop and a range of services to ensure your holiday is one you’ll never forget.

Arabian perfection at its finest.  

Don’t take our word for it though – read on to find out exactly why we fell in love with Muscat’s Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.

A First Impression to Remember

Occasionally a sight takes your breath away.  Our first visit to Barr Al Jissah, Oman, in September of 2015 did exactly that.

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review

From our perch atop sheer cliffs, azure blue waves washing gently upon the shore, we couldn’t help but wonder  – why don’t more people know about the beauty of Oman and its people?

Unsurprisingly, word is spreading!  This year it was recognised as one of the top 10 countries to visit in 2017 (by Lonely Planet, no less).

As we stood, then and there, we agreed that not only would we return to Muscat, but that the Shangri-La was precisely where we had to stay.

On our second visit back to this gorgeous part of North-Eastern Oman, we made good on our promise to return and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Shangri-La exceeded all of our already-high expectations.

Arriving at The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa

As you would expect, check-in was a pleasure thanks to friendly and efficient staff who graciously showed us around this touch of paradise (even if it was ours only for a weekend).

The unmistakable smell of oud floating through the air, glistening marble and intricate, ornate archways and ceilings; it was clear we had arrived somewhere special.

Perfectly situated in between the Sea of Oman and a dramatic mountainous backdrop, the five-star Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa spans an impressive 124 acres of prime Arabian real estate, providing guests with three unique but cohesive accommodation experiences.

640 beautifully appointed rooms and suites are spread between the exclusive Al Husn Hotel (The Castle), Al Bandar Hotel (The Town) and the family-oriented hotel, Al Waha (The Oasis), ensuring that all guests, whether visiting for business or pleasure, are perfectly catered for.

Every element of each hotel has been carefully considered; from the perfect beachfront setting to the Omani architecture, the incredible hospitality to the well matched outlets on site – it’s all designed for maximum enjoyment.

“When combining our delivery of Shangri-La’s legendary hospitality from the heart together with the warm welcome and hospitality of the Omani people, it is an unbeatable combination.” – Juergen Doerr, General Manager, Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, Sultanate of Oman

Dining Options

A range of world-class restaurants, cafes and bars are spread between the three hotels, providing 21 different food and beverage experiences, each one unique.

Over the course of our stay, we visited three different restaurants and were delighted by all of them.  With pricing much more affordable than expected, we were able to treat ourselves to delicious food without ever thinking about our wallets which is always appreciated.

Sultanah

Each morning we enjoyed breakfast out on the deck of the Sultanah restaurant.  Included alongside the expansive buffet was an à la carte menu far exceeding anything we’ve come across at another included hotel breakfast – freshly poached snapper and steak cooked to perfection – nothing was too much trouble.

Circles

Looking for a casual late lunch we made ourselves at home outside by one of the Shangri-La’s beautiful pools.  As we’d hoped, lunch was tasty and filling – we were pleasantly surprised by just how large the portions and how reasonable the prices were.  A clear winner if you’re looking for a relaxed bite to eat during the day whilst enjoying beautiful views.

Asia

With options abound we settled on a visit to Asia for dinner – the collection of Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Chinese dishes were too good to resist.  Each plate was delicious, perfectly cooked and seasoned and again, served in generous portions.  The satay skewers were amongst the best I’ve ever tasted and Nathan couldn’t stop raving about the crab salad he had as an entree.  Warm and comforting, the food at Asia was exactly what we were after.

Unwinding at the Shangri-La

Once you’ve enjoyed a tasty bite to eat, there are plenty of options to help you relax including

  • two private beaches
  • six freshwater swimming pools (literally some of the nicest we’ve ever seen!)
  • mini golf
  • four tennis courts
  • a health club and spa
  • a well appointed kids zone (let them go to town whilst you unwind)
  • a marina and dive centre
  • water sports including kayaking, snorkelling and sailing
  • an Omani heritage village and
  • a library.

With so much to do, the relatively isolated location of the resort is not a problem in the slightest.  Both Nathan and I are generally active holiday-seekers and there was more than enough for us to do without stepping foot out of the resort.  We had in fact planned to head into town but opted to stay within the complex instead, making the most of the options on offer there.

How many resorts have you been to where you can ride a camel and Arabian horse along the beach or drift from one gorgeous hotel to another along a lazy river?

Al Husn – An Exclusive, Adults-Only Haven

Though we explored all three of the Shangri-La hotels during the course of our stay, we loved returning to Al Husn, the most exclusive part of the resort.

As guests at Al Husn, everyone is treated like absolute royalty – to be frank, it’s been hard adjusting back to the real world again.

All guests of the hotel enjoy a complimentary minibar (with an assortment of soft drinks, juices and imported beers), snacks, fresh fruit and flowers in their room, all replenished daily.  In addition, Al Husn visitors receive adults-only access to the resort’s private beach and the most incredible infinity pool, perched high above the clifftop.  After a day spent (as busy or relaxed as you please), invitations to high tea and and pre-dinner drinks & canapés are extended, all at no additional cost.

Absolutely everything is thought of at Al Husn.

Need a ride somewhere? Golf carts are on hand to help out (though we chose to walk and take in our gorgeous setting in a more leisurely way).

Relaxing by the pool?  Pick up an individually packed chilly-bin, filled with cool water, juice and Evian facial spray.

Heaven on earth!

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review

Our Room a Al Husn Deluxe Seaview Room

Our room was as spacious as it was gorgeous – everything you would expect from a five-star resort like the Shangri-La.

With a generous dressing room, bathroom (which included a powerful rain-shower and a full bathtub and a selection of amazing L’Occitane products) and lounge area there was more than enough space to relax inside our room.  Combine that with a fully equipped desk, complimentary wi-fi, Bose sound system, wide-screen TV with a wide selection of international channels, a comfortable king-size bed and fresh fruit and flowers topped up daily (oh and remember that complimentary mini-bar?), it would have been hard to find a reason to actually leave the room in a lesser resort!

Would we Return to the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa?

Without hesitation!

There’s something about Oman that just steals your heart away – if you’ve not considered visiting, add this beautiful country to your bucket-list now.  While you’re at it, book yourself a room at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa – hotels just don’t get better.

When all was said and done, we left for the second time with a promise to return and no doubt, we will.


If you’re headed to Oman, be sure to pin this post for future reference.  This is a resort that you don’t want to miss out on!

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review

Thank you to the Shangri-La for so generously hosting the majority of our stay.  As always, all thoughts expressed are our own.  

Supplementary photographs have been supplied by the Shangri-La – unfortunately the weekend that we visited, the GCC experienced one of the few storms of the season.  The grey skies didn’t represent the gorgeous weather that’s typical of the region year-round and we wanted to show you exactly how it looked on our first visit.

Abu Dhabi Accommodation Expat Life Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

A 2.5 Hour Drive from Abu Dhabi but a World Away: Jebel Dhanna’s Beachfront Paradise

February 9, 2017
danat jebel dhanna resort Abu Dhabi review

Only two and a half hours from the buzz of Abu Dhabi City, you’ll find Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort, a welcome reprise from the rush of everyday life.

Located on the shore of the mainland, opposite Sir Bani Yas Island, guests benefit from many of the perks of being near this natural reserve without the often-hefty price tag of the resorts on the island.

We spent a weekend at the Danat Jebel Dhanna and wanted to share our honest thoughts with those of you living in the UAE or planning a visit to Abu Dhabi.  Read on to find out what we thought…

Arriving at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort

After a comfortable 2.5 hour drive from Abu Dhabi, following the coast West past the sand dunes, we arrived at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort to begin our weekend of relaxation (and fun!)

As you would expect from a hotel of this calibre, check-in was a breeze and from the moment we arrived until the moment we left the staff greeted us with wide smiles and open arms.  This resort perfectly combines luxury with an unpretentious ease – if you want to dress up, you won’t be out of place but if you’re there to unwind after a busy week, you’ll also feel comfortable walking around in your trackies.

The grounds of the resort are fairly extensive and there’s lots of grass to relax on (a surprisingly significant treat when you live in the desert) along with beautifully maintained gardens.  The star of the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort is, without doubt, the gorgeous seafront location though – the water was absolutely stunning and calm, both day and night.  It’s there’s an oil refinery that sits out on the horizon but it doesn’t impact the view badly – in fact, seeing it lit up at night, it was surprisinly beautiful out on the water.

Our own Private Oasis

The rooms at Danat Jebel Dhanna are generously sized and all benefit from fantastic views out over the gardens and opposing beach (which genuinely has the clearest, most gorgeous water we’ve seen in the Middle East!)

With plenty of room to lounge, a desk to work from and a beautiful deck, spending time in our room as a pleasure, though I must admit, it was hard dragging ourselves out of the incredibly plush bed each morning – it was definitely up there with some of the best we’ve slept in.

The bathroom was also well-sized and included all of the amenities a guest could need – a shave kit, loofah and moisturiser along with all of the standard inclusions you would expect of a five-star hotel.

danat jebel dhanna resort Abu Dhabi review room

Dining Options at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort

Zaitoun

Serving contemporary Italian fare in an intimate and homely setting we were delighted to find a restaurant serving such delicious food so far out of Abu Dhabi.  We decided on the three course set menu and with complimentary bread and nibbles and large portion sizes, came away very full and very happy!

L’Attitude

If you’re looking for a relaxed adults-only spot to enjoy your evening, you’ll want to head to L’Attitude.  Delicious food served pub-style,  a live band (that featured three amazing singers and lots of classic tunes!) and tropical cocktails, we had a great night in there.

Tides

Tides is the main restaurant servicing the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort and it’s open right through the day to ensure nobody goes hungry.

Every morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast which included a wide selection of options at the buffet along with freshly made plates (waffles, pancakes and omelettes anyone?) and for lunch we were pleased to see a range of options including curries, Arabic barbecue, meat cooked to order, salads, soups and much more.

Restaurants in other parts of the world could really learn a thing or two from buffets in the United Arab Emirates – they do them incredibly well!

C-View

The best option if you’re looking for a treat in between meals or need a coffee hit.  When the sun goes down, they also serve a full selection of alcoholic drinks – all with views out over the garden – what a spot to relax.

Who is Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort Best Suited For?

Familes with Children

The resort is especially well set up to cater to the needs of families.  With a playground, kids club and a wading pool, there’s plenty to keep the little ones engaged and happy.

Though there’s plenty for kids to do at the hotel we were never once disturbed by them – all of the children there were well-behaved, respectful and well-occupied, making it not only good for families but for anyone planning a getaway.

Those Looking to be Pampered

Nathan loves a good massage and when he comes out saying he’s just had the best massage of his life, you know you’re onto a seriously good thing!  We settled on a Swedish and aromatherapy massage respectively and for an hour let all of our worries melt away (though let’s face it, when your weekends look like this, you don’t have too much to worry about!)

Active Relaxers

If your idea of relaxing involves expelling a little more energy, you’ll have plenty of options at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort!

Over the course of our visit we jumped onboard their boat to go snorkelling out above their local reef and zipped around on the banana boat (which was really much more of a giant hotdog – fun!).  There’s also a basketball court, tennis and squash courts, volleyball, a swimming pool, kayaks, a full gym and the option of additional motorized watersports (wakeboarding or waterskiing, anyone?)

Would we Recommend Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort?

If we could be there right now, we would be, so yes, we definitely recommend you check this beautiful seaside spot out.  It’s not the newest of hotels but set out of the city, on a stunning beach, with fantastic activity options, tasty food and staff that go above and beyond to make you feel at home, it ticks all of the boxes for us!


Only 2.5 hours drive from Abu Dhabi, we found paradise!

We were guests of Danat Hotels and spent the weekend at the resort for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own and 100% honest.

Middle East Oman

5 Reasons You Need to Visit Oman Right Now!

February 5, 2017
5 reasons you need to visit Oman right now

For many, Oman is an unknown quantity.  Located in the Middle East – bordering the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – with gorgeous shorelines provided thanks to the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea, it’s not a destination that often registers on travellers’ bucket-lists.

Oman should, however, be top of your list!

This diverse country is quietly unassuming – its people humble and open. Oman offers travellers so much and though some are starting to cotton on, it’s not too late to visit before mass tourism discovers this fantastic part of the Middle East.


1. The Omanis

Sometimes you visit a country where the people just blow you away.  Oman is one of them! The Omanis are warm, hospitable and friendly – they really do an amazing job of representing their country.

From the second you cross into Oman, you’ll be struck by just how welcoming the locals are.  The country itself is stunning but even if it wasn’t, Oman would be worth visiting for the people alone.


2. Beautiful Mosques and Cultural Treasures

Regardless of your beliefs, there is no denying that the mosques found in Omani are absolutely gorgeous.  As long as you’re respectfully dressed and there outside of the main days/times of worship, you’ll be welcomed into their mosques with open arms… and if you think they’re beautiful on the outside, wait until you see them inside!

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and Mohammed Al Ameen Mosque are our top picks in Muscat and Sultan Qaboos Mosque Sohar is well worth a visit if you’re further up North.

Whilst you’re in Muscat, Oman’s capital city, make time to stop in at the traditional souq to pick up some local trinkets.  Even if you’re not one for souvenirs, it’s well worth a visit.


3. Diverse Landscapes

Striking Beaches

With over 1,700 kilometres of coastline, it’s unsurprising that Oman has so many memorable beaches.

Our favourite stretch of coastline is found on the East coast from Dibab to Tiwi.  With white sand and pebbles as far as the eye can see, sheltered bays and azure water, you could almost be forgiven for thinking you’ve arrived on a tropical island somewhere in the Caribbean.

Alternatively, from Muscat, hire a car and drive around to the Shangri-La – only 20 minutes from the city, you’ll find yourself in Barr Al Jissah looking down at the most gorgeous beaches, nestled in between sheer rock-faces, looking out to the Al Hajar Mountains.  The resort itself, made up of three hotels, is the pinnacle of luxury and a destination in itself!

Towering Mountains

Oman’s landscape is dominated by rugged mountains, the most impressive of which is Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun).  At 3009m, this area is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Arabia thanks to the steep canyons formed by Wadi Ghul – some are over 1000m deep.

Jebel Shams Oman itineraryWild Wadis

Wadi’s are found throughout Oman.  The word has it’s origins in the Arabic and Hebrew languages and means ‘valley’ in English.  Wadis vary from dry riverbeds to those with gorgeous green-tinged water flowing through them.  Regardless, they are well worth your time.

Wadi Shab is our favourite – after hopping on a small boat to cross the widest part of the river, you’ll walk for approximately 45 minutes up the riverbed before wading into the river and swimming the last 15 minutes to a little waterfall inside the cave found at the end of the wadi.  Amazing!

Wadi Shab Oman Itinerary


4. Wildlife

Turtles

Oman is home to five of the seven different species of turtles, many of which frequently migrate across hundreds of kilometres to Oman’s beaches to lay their eggs.  These waters provide sanctuary to the common Green Turtle along with the Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtles.  Though there are multiple spots throughout the country where you might spot them, your best chances are at the Ras Al Hadd Turtle Reserve.

Whale Sharks

The gentle giant of the seas, whale sharks pass through Omani waters in greatest numbers in September and October.  As the largest fish in the ocean, they are filter feeders harmless to people.  At up to 10 metres long, they can be of similar length to a bus!

Camels

Is there an animal more synonymous with the Middle East than the camel?  Oman has them in droves so you’ll have no problem snapping a camel selfie should you feel that way inclined.  Without doubt, they’re my favourite of all the local animals.


5. Beautiful Weather

Depending on where you live in the world, you’re unlikely to experience weather as consistent as Oman receives.  Though it does cool down in winter and they experience some rain, showers are relatively limited and for much of the year the weather is fairly predictable.

Of course, summer in the Middle East does get remarkably hot so for this reason, we’d recommend visiting outside of the hottest months of May to October.


Oman is absolutely fabulous and I feel a little like we’re letting the cat out of the bag with this one.  A country as unique as this, with people as fantastic as this, doesn’t deserve to be hidden away though.

It was hard limiting this post to five reasons too – food, safety, great driving – this country offers so much.  If there’s one Middle Eastern country you add to your travel plans (and you should), make it Oman and make it soon.

Love Oman or thinking about going?  Pin one of the following interests so other people catch on too!

Thank you to the fabulous bloggers and photographers for the use of their photos.  Please support them by clicking through to their sites on their photos above.

Dubai Food Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Catch 22 – Dubai’s Newest Addition to JBR

December 21, 2016
Catch 22 JRB Dubai

Located in JBR (Jumeriah Beach Residence), one of our favourite parts of Dubai, Catch 22, a newly opened casual-dining restaurant has opened its doors.  Eclectically decorated, with a beautiful, big teared deck that faces that ocean, it’s a fantastic place to sit and enjoy the comings and goings of the area.  

With a focus on seafood and quality meet and with menu items that take inspiration from Asia and Mexico, you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes at Catch 22.

As we were invited to sample the Catch22’s new menu, we were given the choice of three set options – seafood, meat lovers or vegetarian.  Nathan loves seafood, but I’m not such a fan so it was an easy choice to go with the meat-based menu and a lot of it really impressed us.

We started with the most delicious drinks – a virgin pina colada and a berry and mango smoothie.  Both were a treat, but the pina colada was especially tasty.  In the UAE most restaurants serve a great assortment of non-alcoholic cocktails which is great news for us as we’re not big drinkers.

When it came to our food, the plates were brought out to us on the deck as they were ready and were perfectly presented for sharing.

We started the night off well with their filet minion sticks; these were tender and cooked beautifully and best of all, came with the most delicious, soy based sauce (which we kept aside to enjoy on some of our other dishes – it was that good).

From there we moved onto the cheeseburger quesadillas.  Cut in three, they were exactly what you’d imagine – burger patties sandwiched between wraps and toasted, served with plenty of cheese, sour cream and guacamole.

The largest dish of the night was the double stack angus club sandwich, which, served with wedges, was also our favourite.  Delicious slithers of steak came cooked in a subtle BBQ sauce with capsicums and onions (which I promptly removed – anyone that knows me, knows that I’m not a fan).  The bread was nicely toasted and slathered in a tasty sauce, served with melted cheese.  Sometimes the simple options really are the best – this dish was delicious and not at all sickly as dishes that contain BBQ sauce can sometimes be.  One to return for, for sure!

Nathan finished his meal with the C22 short rib roll – an enjoyable fusion of sushi and deboned short rib steak.  It was a nice, light ending to the savoury part of our meal.

Almost undoubtedly though, the highlight of any meal for me is dessert and checking out the menu, they sure did look delicious!  We were tossing up between an amazing sounding fruit crumble and the popcorn chocolate ganache which we eventually decided on.

It looked fantastic when it arrived but, as with any restaurant, the odd teething problem might be expected.  Though we ordered it with vanilla ice cream it came out with pistachio ice cream (which it turns out, we’re not fans of) and though the idea of the dessert was good, it didn’t quite stand up to our expectations.  The filling was too chocolatey (I would have questioned whether there was such a thing prior to this – turns out there is) and the cookie undercooked and floury tasting.  On the bright side though, the raspberries were fresh and juicy and the dessert did look impressive (plus, we’ve since read awesome reviews of it so maybe it just wasn’t out night).

We’ve heard fantastic things about the lotus french toast and it comes in a generous portion so that would definitely be our first pick next time around!

Would we return to Catch 22?  Absolutely!  We really enjoyed our entrees and mains and the location can’t be beaten.  We liked the casual, quirky feel of the restaurant and the prices were very reasonable for the food on offer.  We’d certainly recommend it as a relaxed place to meet friends for a bite to eat!


JBR Review Catch 22 Dubai

Thank you to Azur Blue and Catch 22 for welcoming us as their guests.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Dubai Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Roving Around Dubai – The City’s Funkiest Hotel

December 17, 2016
Rove City Centre Dubai review

Sometimes you stay somewhere that is the perfect fit for you – the newly opened Rove City Centre Dubai was exactly that for us.  If I had a hotel soul mate, it might just be it!

From the moment we drove into the massive basement carpark to the last minute when we begrudgingly checked-out, we only have positive things to say.

The staff throughout our entire stay were friendly, attentive and approachable, without being even a little over-bearing – it was clear that all guests to Rove are welcomed in as friends first and foremost, which, for us, is what it’s all about.

Someone with a real eye for detail was obviously put in charge of the interior design and they hit it out of the park.  The little details in the communal spaces were spot on making them a pleasure to spend time in.  We’re not normally ones to sit in a lobby but with the amazing aromatherapy smells drifting about (honestly, a hotel has never smelt so good!), the gorgeous decorations and the comfortable seating, it was impossible not to.

Rove City Centre is perfectly positioned near the main Dubai airport (DXB), making it a fantastic choice for stopovers and people looking for a place to stay before/after their flights.  

As a base, the whole city is easily accessible by car or one of Dubai’s affordable taxis.  Dubai itself is incredibly spread out along Sheikh Zayed Road so wherever you find yourself in the city, you’ll cover a fair few kilometres as you work your way between the airport, Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab (though if you’d prefer, Rove also have a Downtown property right beside the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, famous for its dancing fountains).

Everything about Rove City Centre has been thoughtfully considered.  

Looking to unwind in the city?  The rooftop pool and sundeck will see you right.  Alternatively, challenge your travel partner to a game of table tennis, get in some putting practice on the mini-golf green or see how quickly you can solve a rubies cube.

Keen to work off all of the glorious food on offer in Dubai?  See you in the gym, where you’ll find a full range of machinery, weights, the biggest TV you’ve ever seen and plenty of workout towels on hand (we told you they’ve thought of everything).

In town for work?  They’ve got a range of funky and functional conference rooms and facilities ready to take care of your business needs.

Need to touch base with home or keep up with what’s happening in the world?  You’ll find complimentary (and fast!) wifi in all of the rooms and hotel spaces and iMacs on hand should you forego travelling with your laptop.

Hungry?  Potentially the only place we’ve ever stayed that has a fully-stocked mini-mart open 24/7 (with affordable pricing to boot).

Coming from another holiday destination?  They’ve got both self-wash and serviced laundry facilities so you can be ready for your next stop.

Do you have a late departure?  Rove will give you a 2pm checkout without even needing to ask.

The rooms themselves are of a good size – more than enough for us to relax in and spread ourselves out.  With a comfy king-sized bed and good quality linen getting a good nights sleep was easy, and thanks to the incredible black-out curtains, we both slept in longer than we’d planned – not that we were complaining!

After freshening up (in our powerful rain shower) we made our way down to The Daily for breakfast – make sure you set your alarm as I promise, you don’t want to miss it!

Freshly baked croissants and chocolate pastries, banana bread, assorted toasts, fresh fruit, yoghurt, hot dishes and a selection of more exotic breakfast fare (labneh, bircher musli, soft cheese, nuts, seeds and more) was just the start. In addition, a range of cooked-to-order meals, including omelettes, shakshuka, a full farmers breakfast and paneer bhaji, were available.  

Sometimes when we travel we find breakfasts largely catering for locals – that wasn’t the case here though with plenty on offer to cater to all palettes.  For the two mornings that we were in Dubai, breakfast literally became one of the highlights of each day!

In addition to their delicious food, breakfast included barista coffees, an assortment or fresh juice and, our personal favourite, strawberry and mango smoothies (if you visit Rove, go for the mango – it’s out of this world!)

Regardless of whether you’re passing through Dubai briefly or are spending more time in the city, Rove offers great value for money, a warm and welcoming environment, all the facilities you could need and a funky, modern style.  We couldn’t have asked for more from our first Rove experience and are pleased to say, we’re definitely Rovers now!


Rooms at Rove City Centre will generally set you back a very reasonable AED250 (room only – AED340 if you want to include breakfast, and we recommend you do).  We’ve stayed in three other Dubai hotels around this price-point and can say without doubt, that we believe Rove offers the best value in the city.

Dubai's Best Value Hotel The Rove City Centre

Thank you to Rove for so generously hosting us for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts are our own.  Rove really is as good as it sounds!

Abu Dhabi Food Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

The Sweet Taste of Caramel – Abu Dhabi Restaurant Review

December 17, 2016
Caramel Abu Dhabi review

Abu Dhabi has a plethora of world-class restaurants, offering practically any cuisine one could desire.

American food may not traditionally stir up thoughts of fine dining but Caramel, on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, will challenge your perceptions of what American-inspired dining can offer.

Set in a moody but welcoming lounge-style restaurant, the restaurant will welcome you in whilst the food will have you coming back for more.

Here, traditional favourites are served with a flavourful twist.  Mac and cheese (with truffle oil and three cheese dipping sauce – you didn’t think this would be your standard mac and cheese did you?) and kobe BBQ beef sliders can be found on the menu, sitting alongside ingredients and inspiration taken from the UK and Asia as well.  At Caramel, the focus is less on one particular cuisine and more on delivering meals of the highest standard – the benefit of this is that everyone will find something they’ll enjoy eating.

Entrees

After much debate, Nathan decided on the marinated kobe beef tacos whilst I ordered Caramel’s signature ‘buffalo style’ chicken lollipops.

The kobe beef tacos were fresh and tasty, served with aubergine ra and stuffed with Wagyu beef – Nathan devoured them in no time (a sure sign of their quality).  Straight away, we knew we were onto a good thing!

Together we worked through my serve of chicken lollipops.  Neither of us had tried this style of chicken before but we’re both absolutely converted.  In essence, they were buffalo wings, but thanks to the chef’s handy knife work, all of the hassle of eating chicken wings was removed.  We were left with tasty morsels of chicken, with crispy skin and a tasty, spicy buffalo sauce, that were easy to cut apart.  Served with a mild blue cheese sauce which was appreciated to help put out the fire (though they were the perfect level of spice).

Mains

Next up were the mains and upon our servers recommendation we leapt at the chance to try two of the most popular dished on the menu – steak and frittes along with the seared Chilean sea bass.  We found out first-hand that they’re popular for a reason!

Fries.  Fries served with parmesan and garlic.  Seriously, this is absolutely the best way to eat fries, so I found out.  Everything about my main was spot on – from the delicious pommes frites to the beautifully cooked medium-rare tenderloin and accompanying steak and peppercorn sauces.  On the surface, the meal was relatively simple but all of the flavours shone through, creating a main that we both seriously enjoyed.

Nathan’s a real lover of seafood (me, not so much) and he was very pleased with his choice to order the seared sea bass.  The fish itself was served on a bed of rock shrimp risotto and lobster broth, topped with tomato, basil tapenade.  It was literally the best risotto he’s ever eaten and an option he highly recommends for seafood lovers.

Desserts

Dessert was a real toss-up with four options catching our eye.  The choice between a butterscotch bomb, baked Alaska, dark chocolate fondant and vanilla bean creme brûlée wasn’t easy but in the end we decided on the later two.  Thought I don’t doubt that all of the desserts would have been amazing, I can vouch for how special the two we had were.  

My chocolate fondant was cooked to perfection – rich cake on the outside with a gooey centre that somehow avoided being too sweet.  Normally served with cappuccino ice-cream, I requested vanilla bean instead and found it to offset the dark chocolate fondant beautifully.

Nathan’s creme brûlée (made with fresh cream, vanilla beans and caramelised bananas) was amongst the smoothest creme brûlées we’ve ever had and a real highlight.

Our Thoughts on Caramel, Abu Dhabi

Though Caramel isn’t exactly priced at the budget end of the spectrum, the servings are very generous, the food delicious, the setting very special and the staff professional.  It would make a perfect choice for a date night, special occasion or evening when you just want to treat yourself.

What a treat it was for us!


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Caramel Review, Abu Dhabi

Thank you to Caramel for inviting us along to review them.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

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