British Airways Terraces Lounge Seattle
British Airways First Class Seattle to London Heathrow
Emirates Lounge London Heathrow (after a surprise!)
Emirates First Class London Heathrow to Dubai
Grosvenor House Dubai
Afternoon tea in the Skyview Bar at Burj Al Arab
Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island
St. Regis Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island
Qasr Al Sarab
Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airways First Class Abu Dhabi to New York JFK
British Airways Galleries Lounge New York JFK
Cathay Pacific First Class New York JFK to Vancouver
Last time I was in the UAE I didn’t have the chance to visit the desert, and I decided I couldn’t make yet another trip to the UAE without riding some camels and doing some dune bashing.
The issue is that desert resorts in the UAE are outrageously expensive. The good news is that I had quite a bit of leftover credit with Jetsetter.com thanks to one of their promotions a while back (despite the fact that I had to fight for it), and one of their hotels was the Qasr Al Sarab, located in the UAE desert.
The hotel was about $500 per night, not something I could reasonably afford, though given that I could use Jetsetter credit I was more than happy to “pay” for it for a two night stay at the end of our trip.
One of the most fascinating parts of the experience had to be actually getting there. It’s located about two hours from Abu Dhabi along a single, long road. It’s actually only a few miles from the Saudi Arabian border.
We decided to hire the hotel’s car to get there since it wasn’t that much more expensive than a cab, and I’ve found UAE cabbies to royally suck with directions.
Anyway, the long road seems to lead nowhere with virtually no exits, and it’s filled almost exclusively with massive trucks. You don’t see anything on either side for over an hour other than sand, until you arrive at the entrance to Qasr Al Sarab, which is located off the main road.
What’s funny is that while the entrance to the hotel is located off of the main road, the hotel must have the longest driveway in the world, as we drove on the hotel’s road for about 15 kilometers before making it to the resort. I literally felt like we were driving on the moon.
After the long drive we arrived at the very “Arabian” looking entrance, where we were promptly assisted by bellmen.
We were escorted to the lobby seating area, where we were offered cold drinks and a date yogurt drink. We were asked for our passports and a credit card as check-in was processed, which took about 15 minutes.
Once check-in was complete the agent escorted us to our room, a Deluxe Terrace Room. The rooms are all in two-story clusters, with the terrace rooms being on the upper level and garden rooms being on the lower level.
Our room was 407, which was just a few steps from the lobby.
The room itself was beautifully decorated. It wasn’t especially modern as I usually like, but I thought it was decorated perfectly given the location.
The room featured one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in, a desk, and a lounge chair with ottoman.
The bathroom was also massive, with double sinks, a walk-in shower, toilet, and the biggest bathtub I’ve ever seen. The lady checking us in told us to allow at least 45 minutes for the bathtub to fill up.
It’s worth noting that there’s free wifi in the guestroom, and it was actually the fastest during my entire trip to the UAE.
The highlight of the room was the massive terrace, large enough to host a party for all Honey Boo Boo fans reading this blog.
While the room overlooked just the desert, the terrace overlooked both the desert and pool.
There are simply no words that can do justice to how stunning the setting of the resort is. I’ve never been in a “real” desert before, and literally being in the middle of nowhere with nothing but desert in every direction was surreal.
The resort also featured several nice pools. The resort was only 30% full when we were there, so the pool area was quite empty.
The hotel also has the most impressive gym I’ve ever seen in a hotel located in the middle of nowhere. Interestingly they sell gym memberships. I’m not sure who they’re targeted at, given that there’s nothing within an hour of the hotel. Maybe camels?
We only had one full day at Qasr Al Sarab given that we arrived in the afternoon and were leaving at 6AM two days later. Therefore after touring the resort we headed to the activities desk to book a couple of excursions for our stay. Qasr Al Sarab does all activities “in house,” so the selection is somewhat limited. There were activities such as camel treks, dune bashing, archery, desert walks, etc. We decided to book a sunrise camel trek and sunset dune bashing excursion. They’re pricey at about $100 per person per excursion (including the service charge and tourism tax), though that was mitigated somewhat by the fact that I wasn’t having to pay cash for the room.
After a good night of sleep we got up early for the 6AM camel trek. While I don’t enjoy getting up early it seemed worthwhile if camels were involved, which I consider to be the cutest mean animals. Unfortunately our guide showed up 20 minutes late with no apology or expression on his face. He drove us over to the “camel ranch” in silence, where the trek would begin.
Apparently not a lot of people like the morning trek given how early it is, so it was just us and one girl from Hong Kong on the trek (who loved talking).
The camel trek lasted for maybe 30 minutes.
We stopped at a lookout to watch the sunrise, which was spectacular (though pictures really can’t do it justice).
While a “local” had guided us on the camels, the guide met us at the lookout. He was a real douche, and it became apparent why. He had only five days left at the resort and hated it. He couldn’t have been more disinterested, and voiced how damn bored he was living in the desert.
After the sunrise we made the camel trek back towards the resort, which took about 25 minutes. There we had the chance to photograph some of the other camels, including the cutie below. How could you say now to those eyelashes?
We made it back to the resort by around 8AM, at which point we had breakfast. Breakfast is included for all hotel guests at Al Waha, the hotel’s Middle Eastern/International restaurant. There were options to dine both outside and inside, and we chose to dine outside given that it was still fairly cool in the morning.
The spread was impressive, especially considering that the resort is in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t quite to the level of the St. Regis Abu Dhabi, but it was still great. The spread was a good mix between Middle Eastern options and western options.
I took the opportunity to get caught up on a bit of work in the afternoon, and at 4PM it was time for some dune bashing, which was quite possibly the highlight of my life, along with showering on a plane.
Our guide was an older Pakistani guy, who unlike the tour guide in the morning, was awesome. He loved what he did and it showed. There were four of us in the car in addition to the driver, and we drove out into the desert. Once there the driver got out to lower the tire pressure in preparation for dune bashing. It’s worth noting that they do dune bashing in sets of two cars in case one breaks down.
Words can’t do justice to how fun dune bashing is. You literally drive straight up 300 foot dunes and then straight down. And sometimes you drive off them sideways, so that so much sand is being displaced that you can’t see anything. It was simply awesome. Sadly I was too busy nearly soiling myself to take any decent videos/pictures.
After about 45 minutes of dune bashing we arrived at the same lookout as in morning for the sunset. This is the same place the evening camel ride meets, and unlike in the morning, there was now an army of camels.
The sunset was a beautiful ending to an amazing stay.
After the sunset we made the 10 minute drive back to the hotel, though only after restoring the tire pressure first.
We headed to bed fairly early, as we had a 6AM pick-up to Abu Dhabi Airport via Etihad’s complimentary chauffeur service.
Lastly I should mention that the hotel has a few dining venues. Prices are high given the location and that guests don’t have many options, but at least they have a handful of dining options and the food was fairly good. One night we had the Middle Eastern/international buffet at Al Maha, which was quite good, though pricey at $55+ per person.
On the whole this was a beautiful resort and physically reminded me very much of an Aman (I stayed at Aman New Delhi, Aman-i-Khas, and Amanbagh while in India). In terms of service it definitely wasn’t in the same league as Aman, though. Most of the employees were friendly enough, though I still found service to be pretty in line with everything else I’ve seen in the UAE.
If going to the UAE a trip to the desert is a must. I don’t think it’s worth spending more than a couple of days there, though, since there’s only so much to do. I’d definitely return either here or to a similar desert resort at some point.