Was Al Maha Worth Redeeming All My Starwood Points?
The Al Maha desert resort outside of Dubai is not cheap, rates typically start around $1400 USD or 60,000 points a night for award redemption, but many consider it one of the best luxury hotels in the world. So when my flight to the UAE fell within Starwood’s Paradise is Closer promotion I decided to go for it.
The promotion (which runs through March 8, 2016) offers 35% off award redemptions at some of Starwood’s fanciest properties, including Al Maha. So 60,000 points dropped to 39,000 points a night and I cashed in all my points for a 2 night stay.
Despite the glowing reviews I was a little nervous if it would be worth it, but I needen’t have worried!
We had the hotel car come pick us up from the Burj Al Arab for the bargain price of 280 AED. And I was captivated by the desert landscape as we left Dubai.
It got even better — we soon passed through the guard gates of the game reserve and still had another 10-15 minute drive to actually reach the hotel. Along the way we saw gazelles and white oryx gleaming in the setting sun.
Alvin was there to greet us as we arrived, offering us refreshing fruity drinks and going over the many amenities available at Al Maha.
Then it was into the golf cart to see our room. I had been hoping, knowing it wasn’t likely, that my Platinum status would get us one of the larger villas, but alas it was only recognized verbally at check in and with the standard 500 points. A girl can hope!
That said, I was quite pleased with the room. We were in Villa 8 which is on the farther edges of the 42 room property, so quieter and more private.
The foyer doubles as the refreshment center with unlimited complimentary water, coffee, and tea (as well as fresh cream). The minibar has a decent selection of soda and alcohol, and not badly priced as far as minibars go.
They also had a decanter of complimentary sherry that would be refilled daily. Don’t drink it unless you’re desperate!
The bathroom was enormous with a giant soaking tub, shower, and doors that led outside to the patio.
The bedroom was great — the ceiling mimicking the feel of a tent and bedoin water jars (for which the villas are named) everywhere.
The seating was great, but the power outlet options aren’t. There was only one even remotely near seating and the other we found required wedging in by the wardrobe. It’s not a place you should be going with the intent of working, but if you are, better bring powerstrips and extension cords!
And then of course, there’s the patio, the horizon pool, and the view. It just never got old! And I loved that they thoughtfully provided pastels and an easel in case you were inspired to be artistic. I was, but sadly my skills didn’t rise to the occasion.
Each room comes with 3 meals a day which you can take in the restaurant or via room service. And if you don’t use them, the meal credit can be applied even after you check out. We were too late for lunch when we first arrived so we were able to lunch on our last day.
The room service breakfast menu is extensive and the restaurant breakfast buffet not exciting, so I definitely recommend ordering room service breakfast where you can dine outside and have little gazelles come up and beg for bread 🙂
The all dining room service menu is the same as the 3 course lunch menu, so you’re not missing much if you again choose to dine by your pool. The lunch menu is good, but fairly straightforward, offering a variety of western, asian, and middle eastern dishes.
Dinner is where you definitely want to go to the restaurant. Room service is the same all day dining, but the restaurant features daily specials and much more elaborate options. Note that other than the specials, the menu does not change day to day and has seafood in about half the dishes. And no matter how early you go or how quickly you order, it’s going to take a minimum of 2 1/2 hours.
They have an impressive wine list — many expensive options but also some very decent bottles for $40-60 USD. The service is outstanding, just leisurely, and I really liked the food. Good flavors and large portions. The only downside is the darkness. Whether you dine indoors or not, you really need the little reading lights they attach to you menu. The upside to that is it makes it easier to see the animals at the watering hole in the distance.
You can also enjoy the nighttime views from the tiny bar one floor up which offers an outdoor porch.
The two dessert activities per person per day is probably the real highlight/value of staying there. They have a wide variety of options that include nature walks, horseback riding (real arabians on real sand dunes!), dune bashing, falconry, wildlife drives, and sunset camel treks. Note that all the morning activities, with the exception of archery or dune bashing (8AM) start at 6:30AM.
That was actually the one drawback to having those free options, you definitely lose sleep! We’d get to bed late because dinner ran long, and then were up before dawn to take advantage of all the opportunities. One nice thing is your activity credits are based on how many days you’re staying, so if you don’t use them on one day, you can apply them to additional activities on other days.
Between trying to work, relax, and enjoy all the meals and desert activities I didn’t have time to check out the spa which is located by the main pool. I did glance at the prices though and was glad to see they were fairly affordable to be at such a ritzy place. A few hour massages started at $100, with most $150-$200.
Our villa pool got sun for most of the day so we didn’t actually spend time at the main pool until our last day. We had to check out at noon but our car wasn’t coming until 5:30 so we enjoyed lounging in the beautiful scenery until it was time for our last afternoon activity.
It was not a perfect stay, but it was an amazing one. When I’ve replenished my Starwood points I will definitely go back as I agree it’s probably one of the best luxury hotels in the world.
More from this trip
Etihad First Class Checkin & the New Etihad Lounge at JFK
Flying in the First Apartment on the Inaugural Etihad A380 JFK to Abu Dhabi
Thanksgiving Dinner 40,000 Feet Above the Atlantic
First Impressions of Dubai in Pictures
Sunset Camel Treks & Champagne Toasts
Riding Arabians and Dune Bashing in the Desert
Not the Usual Etihad First Class Check In & Lounge Experience
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