Browsing Category

Dubai

Accommodation Dubai Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

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!


Considering the accommodation for your next holiday?  Pin this post!

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! 

Activities Adventure Dubai Middle East United Arab Emirates

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.

Looking for something different to do in Dubai?  Pin this post!

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.

Accommodation Activities Dubai Expat Life Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

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.

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.


If you’re on Pinterest, why not save this so others can find this post?

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.

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!

Dubai Expat Life Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

How is this my Life? Relaxing at the Waldorf Astoria on the Palm, Dubai

December 14, 2016
waldorf astoria dubai palm jumeirah Privilee review

It’s funny, when we envisaged our lives in Abu Dhabi, we certainly never imagined we’d be rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous out on Dubai’s Palm.  A year on though, we frequently find ourselves enjoying the best pools and beach clubs in the UAE (thanks to Privilee – the best membership around!) and though we haven’t met anyone of mention yet, there’s no doubt it feels like we could!

The Waldorf Astoria is located out on the East Crescent, with views out to the Atlantis, and is home to four pools and a variety of leisure activities.

If you’re there to take a dip (as we were) then you can choose from the large family pool, a slightly smaller but peacefully quiet adults only pool and or one of two jacuzzis.  Tennis is also on offer, as are a range of water-sports (including standup paddle boarding and fishing) out on the private beach.

When you’re ready for a bite to eat, you can indulge in plenty of tasty snacks and meals poolside, or head into the restaurants to relax.

We had a fantastic day at the Waldorf Astoria and will certainly be back.  The pools are beautiful, the food tasty and the service great (complimentary bottles of water, fresh, snuggly towels and magazines to read?  Yes please!)

There’s not much they’ve not thought of and we’d highly recommend popping along to the Waldorf Astoria with your Privilee card.

PS: The hotel is currently kitted out in Christmas decorations and wandering into the main lobby instantly perked me up – there’s nothing like a touch of Christmas spirit to get you excited for the coming season!


In the UAE?  Save this post to Pinterest…

Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah Privilee review

Abu Dhabi Activities Dubai Expat Life Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

The Membership Card You’ll Want to Use: Privilee Review, Abu Dhabi + Dubai

December 10, 2016
The Palace Downtown Dubai Privilee review Burj

Over the years both Nathan and I have signed up to our fair share of memberships – mostly to various gyms, all of which are eventually relinquished due to lack of use.  Privilee is different though… we’ve finally found a membership card that we love using!

What makes this membership so different?  Read on for our Privilee review…

These magic little cards open all sorts of five-star doors for you, granting access to the hottest spots in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.  Simply put, it’s an absolute pleasure to use.

A membership with Privilee lets you enjoy unlimited access to beach clubs, spas, gyms and sports facilities at some of Abu Dhabi’s and Dubai’s leading hotels and resorts, along with special deals and discounts at a wide selection of award-winning restaurants and bars.

With our leisure membership cards in hand, we can enjoy dozens of five-star hotel pools and beaches whilst receiving discounts at their hotels and bars.  At the end of a busy week, we really look forward to getting comfy on a sun lounger and swapping between a good book and refreshing dips in the pool.

For those of you who are looking to burn off a few more calories, there are plenty of gyms and exercise classes that are included in the membership, along with the use of tennis and squash courts.

If you’re wanting to relax even more, discounts for spa treatments are included in the card and I don’t doubt for a second that they would be glorious!

When you factor in what it would cost to visit one of these hotels or beach clubs on a Friday or Saturday (for those of you not in the UAE, those are our weekend days), the monthly membership more than pays for itself.  We love that having it gives us a little push to head out for a day of relaxation in the sun and with three visits under our belt, it’s already helped us to see more of the UAE.

The service at each of the hotels/clubs that we have visited has been top-notch, with staff being professional but approachable – exactly what we’re after on a day out.

The team at Privilee are on top of their game too, ready to help you with all the information you’ll need to make the most of your membership without any downtime.

The best part of the membership though?  Undoubtedly the amazing spots we’ve had the pleasure of spending time at and the knowledge that there are more to come.

Do your weekends look as good as ours?

Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah

The Palace Downtown Dubai

Saadiyat Beach Club, Abu Dhabi

Turn every weekend into a five-star beach getaway. Fill your days with family fun in the sun, water sports and poolside lounging, energising workouts, pampering spa breaks and award-winning dining experiences. Do whatever you want, when you want.

We love watching emails pop up, sharing with us the newest hotels and beach clubs to come onboard with Privilee!  If you’re an expat living in the UAE, we’d definitely suggest signing up – those little emails will come to be the amongst the highlights of your week.  That is, until you get to the weekend and can head out to the pool!


Abu Dhabi Dubai Beach Pool Club Privilee review membership

Privilee currently have the following properties on their books, with more being added each week:

Fairmont The Palm • Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa • The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina • Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina • Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club • RIVA Beach Club • Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights • Media One Hotel • DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dubai Jumeirah Beach • Shangri-La Hotel • Conrad Dubai • The Address Dubai Marina • InterContinental Dubai Marina • Kempinski Hotel & Residences Palm Jumeirah • Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah • Sofitel The Palm Beach Resort & Spa • The Palace Downtown Dubai • The St. Regis Abu Dhabi • Saadiyat Beach Club • The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal

Our Privilee review was made possible thanks to their generous support. We highly recommend their membership programme to beach and pool bunnies and anyone looking to unwind in the UAE (which is everyone, surely?)  As always, all thoughts are our own.

If you do decide to join the Privilee family, we’d love it if you’d use the links above.  Doing so will let us enjoy another month of pool-side fun at no extra cost to you.

%d bloggers like this: