Today’s reader review for our competition is about Al Maha Dubai from Ian. If you enjoyed it, let us know in the comments below. We do not encourage criticism of reader reviews. They are not professional writers and everyone has a different style that won’t suit everyone’s taste.
For our first visit to Dubai, we decided to split our stay across three locations – the city (Waldorf Astoria DIFC); the Desert (Al Maha – a luxury collection Desert Resort & Spa); and the Beach (WA The Palm Jumeriah TLFL review here), we’re clearly Hilton loyalists but willing to try Marriott for a good location. We travelled as a couple in early May ’22.
We booked three nights at Al Maha for 255,000 Bonvoy points in May 2021, using some points already earnt, buying 150,000 points for ~£900 (during a 50% bonus offer) and topping up with a small number of MR points transferred from Amex. At the time of booking the cash rate totalled around £4,785 – so fabulous value!
There’s a small local tax which came to £13 for the three nights – the only other costs were drinks and the transfers the hotel arranged for us. With the removal of the Bonvoy reward chart the number of points required may increase, but the unique nature of the resort should mean that it remains great value.
All the information and reviews of the resort mention that no upgrades are offered to ‘elite’ members, but one review did say that you could ask for an open view of the desert, which we did in pre-arrival emails. We also asked about the activities and requested a quote for a transfer.
The hotel team were quick to reply, providing details of the activities, acknowledging our room location request, and providing four options for a transfer from the city, ranging in both luxury and price. We chose a GMC/Suburban SUV at 425 AED each way, about £180 in total for the return journey – a standard car would have been about £150. The driver was extremely efficient and friendly, picking us up on time both ways and keeping us informed on the way to the resort, and back into the city.
After about forty-five minutes’ drive from Dubai, we turned off the main road into the desert, driving for another twenty minutes through a checkpoint (where our booking was confirmed) before we spotted the distinctive tented roofs of the hotel ahead of us.
Pulling up at the reception building, our luggage was swiftly gathered up, and we were ushered inside to meet Maria, our Guest Service Agent. She guided us to a large alcove with cushioned benches to complete the formalities and introduce Kester, our Field Guide, who confirmed the arrangements for our activities and booked a couple of early buggy pick-ups.
There were some other couples checking in at the same time, but the alcoves meant we all had our private space to relax with cooling towels and a drink. Maria warmly acknowledged our (Gold) Bonvoy Status and announced that we had been allocated a suite in a great location.
She also surprised us by directing us to the QR code for the dining menu and inviting us to choose some lunch to be delivered to our suite. As we’d arrived at 14.45 this wasn’t something we were expecting – but along with the excellent comms and warm and friendly welcome, it certainly confirmed our high expectations of the resort.
The concept at Al Maha is ‘Bedouin hospitality’. The 42 suites may be brick built but are all detached from each other and covered with a tented roof (inside and out). So they feel very much like a tent in the desert – albeit one with an excellent bathroom and private pool – our kind of camping.
Formalities completed and lunch ordered, we were guided to a buggy for the short drive to our suite, with our luggage following behind a little later. The friendly buggy driver showed us around our suite, and explained the facilities, even mentioning that we could have the pool temperature increased if it wasn’t hot enough – something we did take advantage of. He also pointed out the complimentary decanter of Sherry and bottles of water – which we never managed to exhaust.
Our luggage soon arrived, quickly followed by lunch. As with all room service meals, the food was delivered in a temperature-controlled buggy, with two friendly staff who asked if we wanted to eat in or outside, and then proceeded to lay out lunch on the coffee table, complete with white linens and a complimentary bottle of water (more on meals later).
The suite was large, comfortable, and well equipped, although a little lacking in power outlets, with a huge bed, and well-equipped bathroom with large bath and separate shower. The furniture was large and quite dark, but completely in keeping with the setting we felt.
One other feature of the room, which might not suit everyone – in keeping with the Bedouin tent theme the only table inside was a low coffee table, with divans next to it, we found it fine – but others may prefer a more traditional dining arrangement, but of course, all meals can be taken in the restaurant (or at the table outside).
The setting of the suite, on a ridge with a view of open desert ahead and to the right, and only a few tent roofs visible to the left was incredible – from the pool it was truly awe-inspiring to look out over the desert towards the watering hole.
Floating in the warm water, we really felt we had the desert to ourselves, apart from some visiting wildlife, mainly small birds enjoying a drink from the pool and gazelles (which come up to the rooms), and a few Oryx in the distance. The decking was equipped with two large and comfortable loungers, and a dining table. Separate pool towels were also provided.
As reward stays are booked on a full board basis, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner were included – with room service or the Al Diwan restaurant available. We ended up having Breakfast in the restaurant and all other meals in the room. Menus were available via a QR code, with ordering for room service carried out by ‘phone.
In all cases the phone was quickly answered and our order accurately transcribed, with the food arriving piping hot within the promised one-hour delivery time. All the food and drinks were excellent, well presented, tasty and plentiful – indeed we found we were happy to limit ourselves to ‘lounge’ food at the WA when we moved to the beach!
Breakfast in the restaurant was also superb, especially the Banana and Oats pancakes, with a good selection of cold dishes on the buffet and a number of hot dishes available on to order, along with tea coffee and juices (the only drinks, apart from water, included with meals). As a number of activities took place early in the morning it made sense to head for the restaurant for breakfast afterwards, though it could have started a little earlier to coincide with our return from the Falconry display.
Resort and Activities
We enjoyed walking around the resort, and even took the opportunity to stroll round the outside of the (unoccupied) Presidential Suite, with its manicured lawn beside the pool. Even though the temperature was pushing 45 degrees C, the paths were fairly shady and well-kept which made exploring easy.
There was a large outdoor pool at the spa, along with a reasonably well-equipped gym, which my wife used (the equipment was older but well maintained) and steam and sauna area, we did see a few couples at the pool, but we were happy to confine ourselves to our own pool. All the areas of the resort were attractively laid out and well maintained. It was also clear to us that all the suites were well separated and very private.
Our stay included two activities per day each, sadly dune bashing isn’t currently provided but the desert drive did include a little light driving in the dunes – these activities were well organised and provided a nice way to spend our time. Despite a little trepidation about the sunset camel ride, we enjoyed it so much we arranged to go again (in place of the sunset drive).
Our Field Guide accompanied us for most of the activities, coaching us at Archery and providing some background information on the resort, which helped confirm its sustainability (water was discovered whilst looking for oil) – which along with the use of solar power makes the site almost self-sufficient.
The nature drive provided an opportunity to see the conservation work up close and learn more about the flora and fauna of the desert – which was surprisingly green following unusually heavy rains earlier in the year. We thoroughly enjoyed the early morning falconry display, which gave us a close-up view of the falcons and Hannibal the mischievous eagle.
A key feature of the resort is its location and the way the suites are situated; they are well apart and fit into the landscape just like a desert camp, leading to a truly relaxing and special stay.
Overall, this was both a superb redemption and a wonderful experience, it divided our city and beach stays nicely and provided a totally different, but equally luxurious break from the two WA’s. The unique location was completely relaxing, with the activities placed either early or later in the day providing ample time for relaxing in or around the pool – with wonderful food no more than a phone call away – what more could you ask for?
You can check prices and book on the hotel’s Marriott website here. It is also available to book through our partners GTC with extra benefits (but you still get your Bonvoy points and perks):
- Hotel credit value at $100 USD
- Complimentary or continental breakfast daily, for 2
- Early check in/late check out, based on availability
- Priority complimentary room upgrade, based on availability