Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa has a reputation for being one of the UAE’s finest resorts. Claire Ferris-Lay passes her critical eye over the hotel to find out if its reputation is deserved.
Mention that you are going to stay at Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa and you can almost check off the signs of jealous rage as they appear. Eyes widen, cheeks turn a mottled red and lips purse. God help any husbands or boyfriends who are in the vicinity; following said signs of rage, other halves are usually forced to open their wallets, dig deep and promise, no really promise, that they will take their loved ones there soon.
This is pretty much the same reaction you’ll get from anyone familiar with the Emirates Airline’s desert resort. First opened ten years ago, Al Maha has garnered something of a reputation as one of the best hotels in the whole of the UAE.
Set in the middle of a 225 sq km conservation area, Al Maha’s property represents five percent of Dubai’s land area and is the largest piece of land ever to be dedicated to a single project in Dubai. Designed to resemble an upscale Bedouin camp, Al Maha is a far a cry from the likes of Emirates Palace and the Burj Al Arab; the only similarity being the hefty price tag.
So does Al Maha deserve its reputation? And is the AED5,000 ($1,360) per night charge worth it? CEO Middle East finds out.
We were supposed to be picked up in a swanky 4×4 on arrival at Al Maha, but typically we are late checking-in and the guides were all out on location so we had to make the journey to the main entrance – some ten minutes down the sandy track by ourselves – in my prized Mini Cooper.
It was at this point – when shouting at the driver as he tried his best to miss the potholes – that I had this awful feeling that everything would go wrong and I would be forced to write a bad review. But I needn’t have worried. Just five minutes later we drove past our first Arabian Oryx, a beautiful, white deer-like creature, wondering along across the sand dunes into the sunset. It was the stuff of films. We jumped out of the car and feverishly took pictures, unsure whether we would be lucky enough to stumble across such a beautiful scene again.
It wasn’t until we pulled up to the reception area and we were greeted by no less than fifteen Oryxs that we realised this type of scene is not uncommon at Al Maha.
We are met by our guest relations manager who explained that she would be looking after us during our stay. Our bags were whisked away and we were led into one of the small annexes just off the side of the main building where we are each handed a glass of freshly squeezed tropical juice. We are told that during our two-day stay we are entitled to two complimentary activities ranging from dune bashing to an early morning nature walk, archery and camel riding.
When we realise we are too late for the evening’s camel ride into the desert and unable to decide between dune bashing and archery, our guest relations manager reassures us that she’ll do her best to ensure we can do all three during our stay.
She leads us to our room on a motorised buggy. Past the herds of Oryxs and up and down the narrow pavements, we eventually make it to our room. I say room, but it’s probably best described as a giant tent. But I don’t mean any old tent. Each room is a freestanding wooden structure, shaped like a tent, complete with a fabric roof. It is luxurious Arabia at its best.
Inside we familiarise ourselves with our room. If the standard pillows are too soft, our guide tells us, we can choose other ones from the pillow menu which features a selection of five other pillow types. Then she opens the back door and shows us the piece de resistance; a private swimming pool overlooking the vast stretches of deep orange sand dunes. If the temperature isn’t to our liking, she adds, just call the reception and they can change it for us. Thinking there’s no time like the present, we jump in and test the water. It is, unsurprisingly perfect.
A night’s stay at Al Maha also includes three meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – so after our swim, I test out the bath – possibly the biggest I have ever been in – and we head down to dinner on the terrace. Here we are treated to a five course a la carte meal. It is possible to have your meal served in your room for an additional AED100 ($27). Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can have a picnic in the desert.
We wake up early to go dune bashing and are warned not to eat breakfast beforehand. It soon becomes clear why – the dune bashing is nothing like the one day exertions offered to tourists in Dubai – these 4×4’s are being driven by serious adrenalin junkies. Unfortunately for us we are partnered with a couple who aren’t quite so accustomed to being thrown around the desert so early in the morning and we are forced to spend the rest of the journey trailing the other cars.
We head to breakfast – an al fresco buffet style meal on the terrace – before we are whisked off for a spot of archery. I’d like to say I was an excellent shot, but that would be lying. Our guide, (all of the guides are extremely friendly and have excellent knowledge of the surrounding environment) patiently taught me the best firing technique and by the end of the session I am not nearly as bad.
All of that activity has left us in need of some R and R so we visit the spa where we spend the rest of the day relaxing and indulging in the infinity pool as we watch Oryxs pass us by.
For both of us the highlight of our two days at Al Maha was the sunset camel ride into the desert, where a waiter patiently awaits your arrival in the middle of the desert with a glass of chilled champagne and strawberries while you watch the sunset. On the bumpy camel ride back to Al Maha we both felt like we’d had been away for a week, not an evening.
Are the signs of rage warranted? It is one of the best hotels we have ever visited. The service, activities and food were all excellent but for us the icing on the cake was the setting, something you can never fully experience until you stay at Al Maha.
Source: Arabian Business