8 Things to Know if You’re Lucky Enough to Stay at Al Maha
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Many thanks to the guest post from Denise of Magical Mystery Tours who kindly shared her tips with me and I’m passing along for anyone else who is going.
Al Maha is an incredible Starwood Property in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve about 45 minutes from Dubai and 1.5 hours from Abu Dhabi. In short, you get to experience the amazing desert landscape and wildlife while staying in a very nice all-suites property which includes meals and two activities per day.
It’s definitely not cheap with prices regularly being around $1,300 or 60,000 Starpoints, though if you’re ever going to go, now’s a great time given the points discount with Starwood’s Paradise is Closer promotion making it only 39,000 points a night.
I was beside myself with excitement when I found out Keri was visiting Al Maha soon. My husband and I were there in April and couldn’t have loved it more. Prior to our stay this spring, I was able to find surprisingly little info about the resort ahead of time. If I was spending that many points, I wanted to be prepared and make the most of our stay! In no particular order, here’s some things that might be helpful to know before embarking on what will surely be an AMAZING vacation.
1. The resort isn’t quite “all inclusive.” What you do have is breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.
We arrived mid-afternoon and hadn’t eaten, so we ordered room service for lunch. They seemed a little confused when we ordered lunch at 3:00, but brought us a great three-course great lunch and set it up on our pool deck. We had late checkout the next day and went to get lunch and were told we’d already had all our meals.
Whoops…. We were able to order off the room service menu and pay for lunch (we ordered pretty light and paid maybe $40 or $50?), but would have planned differently had we understood this. Also note that you can purchase alcohol, though none is included with meals.
2. You can do more than 2 activities per day!
My husband was set on doing the dune bashing (you go off-roading over the dunes in a Land Rover in the neighboring Emirate of Sharjah).
I wasn’t too keen on it to begin with, but when they gave us a warning about skipping breakfast to avoid puking, I was certain I didn’t need to go. I initially figured that I would find a different activity to do by myself, but we were able to add that as an extra activity for him for about $40 (well worth it, he says!) and then saw the falconry demonstration and checked out the desert at sunset via camels, which were also both great.
3. It’s not cheap to get there, but they make it pretty easy.
If you email firstname.lastname@example.org, they’ll quickly respond. We were quoted a private car service for $75.00 per car each way between Dubai and $175 to or from Abu Dhabi. There’s also a luxury 4×4 option that was about a third more. I was eager to have transportation sorted out before we left home, though we were Uber-ed everywhere else we went in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. If we were going again, I’d be curious to know if we could Uber there.
4. This is NOT the kind of food you expect with inclusive resorts.
My only other experience with food being included as part of a stay was on a Carnival Cruise, so let’s just say this could NOT have been more different.
At both lunch and dinner you can order multiple courses. At breakfast they had a buffet spread and you can order an entree, too. The food was really good! When I asked my husband what he’d tell Keri before going to Al Maha his first response was, “Get the steak!” I generally dislike the idea of free food since I don’t want to eat everything in sight, and though it was a lot of food there were healthy options and portion sizes that weren’t ridiculous.
A lousy picture, but at least you can get a sense of the dinner menu.
5. Expect to wake up early!
Given the heat, morning activities are EARLY. We booked ourselves to see the falcon demonstration, though I was not a happy camper at the thought of waking up before 7:00 to see birds. “Falcon demonstration” might sound like an activity you’d see at a zoo for the under-10 crowd, though you won’t be disappointed!
We were with just two other couples while three fantastic South African guides that work at the resort and train the birds showed us both falcons and owls, explaining how falcons are an integral part of the Emirati culture (and apparently sometimes even get to fly in Emirates first class when traveling to falcon competitions with the sheikhs!)
Get up early, do something fun that you’d never do at home, and then have a afternoon nap by the pool or in the super comfy bed when it’s hot during the afternoon!
6. You might find yourself with a new “pet” or some unusual road blocks.
“How interesting are oryx and gazelles?” was my thought prior to going. Sure we were on a wilderness preserve, but I wondered if hoofed critters would be all that exciting.
All the rooms have a private view of the reserve, so we witnessed a gazelle fight over our morning coffee, and then both oryx and gazelles wandered by while we were in the plunge pool.
The main restaurant also is situated with a fantastic view of a lighted oasis so you can see the animals while you eat. My favorite animal experience was when this little guy wandered over to check out our lunch!
7. Bring a variety of clothing options.
I spent a lot of time worrying about what attire would be appropriate for me in UAE. How do you dress for desert heat while keeping yourself covered? While I certainly wouldn’t recommend strolling around Abu Dhabi in shorts, there was a very international client base wearing the usual sort of attire you’d see at a hot-weather resort elsewhere in the world.
I hadn’t expected that and had only longer skirts and my work-out shorts and wished I some nicer, cooler options with me! See what feels right when you get there, though don’t rule out packing a sundress or some shorts.
8. IT WILL BE AMAZING.
Sure, you can get spoiled traveling with points and miles and get pickier and pickier about travel, though I would be shocked to find someone who doesn’t leave in awe of Al Maha.
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