Bling it on: Qasr Al Sarab

Introduction
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.


Resort location

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.


Hotel driveway

After the long drive we arrived at the very “Arabian” looking entrance, where we were promptly assisted by bellmen.


Hotel entrance

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.


Lobby


Lobby seating area


Welcome drink


Hotel hallway

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.


Walkway to room

Our room was 407, which was just a few steps from the lobby.


Entrance to our room

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.


Deluxe terrace room

The room featured one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in, a desk, and a lounge chair with ottoman.


Deluxe terrace room


Deluxe terrace room


Deluxe terrace room


Deluxe terrace room


Deluxe terrace room

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.


Bathroom


Largest bathtub ever?


Toilet


Shower

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.


Terrace


Terrace

While the room overlooked just the desert, the terrace overlooked both the desert and pool.


Resort 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.


Sunset view of the desert from our room


Sunset view of the desert from our room

The resort also featured several nice pools. The resort was only 30% full when we were there, so the pool area was quite empty.


Pool area


Pool area


Pool area

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?


Gym


Gym


Gym

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.


Our camels


Camel ride

We stopped at a lookout to watch the sunrise, which was spectacular (though pictures really can’t do it justice).


View at sunrise


View at sunrise


View at sunrise

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?


Awwww


Camel


Camel

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.


Indoor seating


Outdoor seating

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.


Breakfast spread


Breakfast spread


Breakfast spread


Breakfast spread


Breakfast spread


Breakfast spread


Breakfast spread


Breakfast spread


Breakfast spread


Breakfast spread

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.


Camels


Dune bashing SUV

The sunset was a beautiful ending to an amazing stay.


Sunset


Sunset


Sunset


Sunset

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.


Buffet


Buffet


Buffet


Buffet


Buffet

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.

Comments

  1. Santastico says

    Fantastic!!! Really interesting experience. Just wondering since the hotel sits in the “middle of nowhere” how they manage to have all those people working in the hotel. Do they commute everyday or they live nearby?

  2. lucky says

    @ Santastico — Thanks! The employees all live on site. They have housing right by the resort.

  3. AC says

    I’m surprised Etihad’s complimentary chauffeur service will pick you guys up since it’s 2 hours away from the airport. Is there a limitation of how far they can pick you up or as long as you are anywhere in UAE?

  4. Chris says

    All those pics of the desert look surreal! That one with the “sunset view of the desert from [your] room” looked like it came from another planet! Amazing!

  5. BravoNovember says

    Wow. Is there anything that you haven’t seen or experienced when it comes to top-of-the-line hotel luxury? Seriously, how do you manage to pay for these things? It can’t just be credit card sign-on bonuses and referrals, etc. You must be minting money in your day job, if at all there is one :)

  6. lucky says

    @ BravoNovember — Hah, thanks. Sadly I don’t have any fancy trust fund or anything, but rather just try to be creative when I can. In this case I was just using credit from Jetsetter, so aside from the excursions the stay didn’t really cost me anything.

  7. says

    Just got back from here. It proved to be a wonderful end to our family trip. Service was excellent; we encountered none of the uninterested staff that you did (I suspect they had quit by the time we arrived). Highly recommended.

  8. Rich ( arizona) says

    Did you see any interesting critters in the desert? Scorpions, spiders, snakes, etc.?

  9. worldtraveller73 says

    I was fortunate enough to stay here on my honeymoon, also in a Deluxe Terrace Room on the paid “Desert Discovery” package which included two activities in the room rate.

    This hotel was one of the highlights of my travelling career. It was an ultimately fabulous experience and definitely a treasure to be experienced at least once if you are through the UAE.

    Highly Recommended.

  10. Ken says

    If it is in the middle of nowhere, what are the structures that we can see in the distance in your photograph from the room’s terrace. Is the hotel that big or is it employee housing or a village?

  11. Despina says

    @Ben, just wondering whether you have been able to experience a similar sunrise from your terrace as riding a camel really doesn’t appeal to me.

    Great TR. Thanks for posting.

  12. Given says

    Given the given which just has to be the most given, a simple suggestion. Now, this just must be the most obvious thing in the world, but I’ll go ahead with it given the evidence. Now, please remember the given. Lastly, given the obvious, this just has to be the most simple idea in the world.

    Great content, but for heaven’s sake, take a writing class or find an editor!

  13. snic says

    So, does it feel more luxurious to take a bath in a giant bath tub (or go swimming in a pool) in a desert miles away from any water, than in Seattle?

    Speaking of which, where does all that water come from? Is it piped-in desalinated water from the coast?

  14. says

    We went to Al Maha which was beautiful but service a bit iffy. Next on the list is the Banyan Tree in RAK which is cheap in comparison – will be interesting to see how that is – decor is more modern and all pool villas

  15. Dan says

    Currently here now. Amazing place. Jaw-dropping location. Almost had a panic attack on the cost per person for the buffet dinner ($70 incl all taxes). Glad we’re staying two nights. Otherwise not much else to do.

    Now, off to find Aladdin’s lamp and my three wishes…

  16. Dan says

    Wow. Just did the dune-bashing ride. What a thrilling experience. Most of the drive was pushing the limits of physics. Best money spent by far at this resort. The end was spectacular…drove to a flat spot where tea/coffee/sandwiches were waiting. Watched the sun as it set. Bonus was that the camel trek was finishing there too, so got to have photos taken with lovely camels.

    Beware…motion sickness likely to occur even for the most hardened. Just let the staff know beforehand and they can provide something to take.

  17. Tan says

    Would it make sense to go for only one night here if we reach early in the day and do a late checkout the next day?

  18. says

    @ Tan — It might be a bit rushed, but ultimately if that’s all you can do then I think it’s still worth it. I doubt weather will be an issue, so you should be able to still do all the most interesting activities in that timeframe.

  19. Kim says

    Thanks so much for your scribings. Assisted greatly in my making decision to stay at Qasr al Sarab vs Al Maha and Bab Al Shams (want a 1 night desert experience amidst a say either side in Abu Dhabi and Dubai – 1 week total. Your info provided everything I needed to know actually
    Best
    Kim, Sydney Australia

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