Bahrain – Short but Sweet

I’m slightly delayed with sharing this post but in September we had a lovely long weekend stay in Manama, Bahrain. We’ve lived in Dubai for almost eight years and Bahrain is only the second Gulf country we have visited outside of the UAE. It’s only a short 50 minute flight from Dubai, and so when we knew we had family staying in Bahrain from the UK, we thought this would be the perfect time to visit.

Hire Car

Travelling with a baby means there is a lot more to think about and one of our concerns was access to a taxi with an infant car seat. We contacted our hotel and they quoted us for a return journey to and from the airport with a private taxi and car seat, but this worked out to be more expensive than hiring our own car with an infant seat.

As we are used to driving the roads of the UAE, we didn’t mind driving in Bahrain and found it to be very similar. Bahrain International Airport has several well known car hire companies on site and we opted with SIXT as they were the cheapest option. We were lucky enough to also get a free upgrade on collection!

Hotels

My cousin was staying on Reef Island and so I searched for accommodation close by – although we soon found out that most places in Manama are only a short drive away. We decided on the Wyndham Grand Manama. The hotel had a rather corporate feel about it as it comprised of both business offices and also hotel rooms. The hotel was situated only a 15 minute drive from the airport, a 4 minute drive from the Four Seasons, and 10 minute drive from Reef Island. I also managed to make a great saving on our booking by reserving the hotel through my travel business, saving us 50% compared to Booking.com!

Upon arrival, we were given a complimentary upgrade to the Himalayan Salt Room which had an entire wall made from 800 million year old Himalayan salt! The room also had a lovely bath and waterfall shower; a desk (which was good for Ryan who ended up having to work a little bit) and a good sized wardrobe.

The Wyndham has an amazing spa facility which includes a snow therapy room! It also has a family pool and an adults only pool located on the 11th floor which provide great views of the bay. 

Things to Do 

Bahrain also has a Brunch Culture like Dubai so on Friday we headed over to the Four Seasons for their family brunch. It had an amazing selection of food and drinks as well as a kids area with activities.

We hadn’t really researched many things to do in Bahrain before traveling as mainly just wanted to spend time with our family. So we visited a few of the malls for a browse then spent the rest of the time around the pools at our hotels.

We really loved spending time with our family and it was a great excuse to visit Bahrain and see another country.

Family Time in England

Our 6 week holiday at home with Arlo required a lot of planning to ensure we were able to see as many family members as possible. Especially due to the fact that mine and Ryan’s home towns are several hours drive from one another.

We started our trip with a 10 night stay in Lowestoft with my family. My parents were still working so during the days we spent our time going for walks down to the park and walking round to see my Grandparents (and Arlo’s Great-Grandparents!) It was so lovely for us to just be able to spend some time outside with Arlo as we haven’t really had the chance to do that yet in Dubai as it has been too hot.

The second part of our trip was for seven nights in Kent. For this, we hired a little cottage called Sandhole Barn in Snodland which we chose as a base so we had a bit more space to spread out with all of Arlo’s things!

We had a lovely time in Kent with trips down to Herne Bay to see Ryan’s Grandparents (also Arlo’s Great-Grandparents – he’s such a lucky boy); a trip to Whitstable for Afternoon Tea in the castle; lovely walks around Leybourne Lakes and a BBQ with the Stansfield’s.

We then took the Eurostar over to Paris for a short city break which you can read all about here. When we returned to Kent we had another few nights staying with family. The evenings were very relaxing (I have to admit we got hooked on Love Island which was partnered with a take away most evenings). On the Sunday, my parents drove down to Kent and we went for a lovely meal with Ryan’s family before he had to fly back to Dubai for 2 weeks for work.

I was very apprehensive about how I would manage with just Arlo on my own during the night times, but at least I knew I had my Mum, Dad and Sister to help keep Arlo entertained in the day times.

The next two weeks in Lowestoft absolutely flew by. We missed Ryan so much but made sure to have lots of video calls. Arlo started to have disturbed sleep which wasn’t great for me. One morning at 6am I had to wake my Mum up and ask if she would sit down with Arlo as I had been up with him since 4am! Thankfully he seems to have moved out of that phase now. During this two weeks Arlo had lots of firsts. I took him swimming for the first time with his little cousin Maeve – he was so relaxed he fell asleep for a moment in his float!

We also took him to the zoo. He fell asleep within 15 minutes of arriving and woke up in the gift shop on the way out, I couldn’t believe it! So we had to quickly pop back through to show him the giraffes, zebras and flamingos!

We had family down to visit us in Lowestoft the weekend that Ryan was flying back to England and we went down to the local park for some games. I can’t actually believe it but I fell backwards when we were having a kick about and ended up having to head to A&E with Mum! I felt terrible, worrying that we were going to be sat there for hours. Thankfully, I was in and out within three hours but left with a fractured ankle and a support boot.

The final part of our trip was back in Kent and we had booked another lovely barn on the outskirts of Maidstone called Woolhouse Barn. Situated close by was a lovely country pub called the Horseshoes where we went for a Sunday Roast with Ryan’s family and, I have to say, it is one of the best roast dinners I think I’ve ever had – sorry Mum!

The following day, Arlo and I spent the day with Ryan’s Mum and her Partner and we went for a lovely breakfast followed by a day relaxing down the beach. It was 30 degrees, I couldn’t believe it!

Woolhouse Barn was based in a very rural area and, the intention was, for me to get insured on our hire car so I could get out and about in the mornings for my breakfast dates whilst Ryan worked. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to drive and we decided to cut our trip short and fly back to Dubai so I could seek proper medical advice about my foot. I felt so sad that our trip ended like this but, we were so lucky to have spent such a long time at home in the first place. So we flew back to Dubai a few days early with cases full of nappies and wet wipes to keep us going until Christmas!

Our First Time Traveling with a Baby

Since before Arlo was born, we were already dreaming of, and planning all the amazing places that we could take him. Travelling and creating memories is something that Ryan and I love doing, it only seemed right that Arlo would just slot into that lifestyle and come on all of these adventures with us.

Of course, the most special first adventure we could take him on would be travelling to England to introduce him to all of his family.

Maternity leave in the UAE isn’t great so we wanted to be sure to make the most of the time we had off. We planned a six week itinerary in England with a short 3 night stay in Paris built in – you can read more about that trip here.

Flying

We booked our flights direct with Emirates before Arlo was born. Then, once we received his passport we contacted the airline to have him added on to my ticket. With most airlines, infants travel for free up to the age of two. We had a small supplement to pay as we requested the bassinet seat for Arlo which meant we needed to pay for the seats with extra leg room.

I was very nervous at the thought of flying with a three month old baby, I was worried he wouldn’t be comfortable, that he would be out of his routine and he would disturb the other passengers. But, Arlo was brilliant. Annoyingly, we were sat on the tarmac on the plane for over an hour which wasn’t ideal. I had read that when flying with infants you should feed at take off to prevent their ears from popping, so I prepared a bottle of expressed milk and fed Arlo at that time. As he was finishing his bottle we heard the poo explosion that he had clearly been saving for us a for a few days. Thankfully, Ryan offered to take the lead on that one!

Arlo didn’t sleep for very long on the flight, considering we were on the plane for around 8 hours in total, he slept for maybe an hour and a half. The rest of the time he was just happy to lay and chill in the bassinet or sit on our laps looking around.

Travel Essentials

I packed a backpack which was dedicated to Arlo for the flight which contained all of his essentials. That way, we knew we only needed to search in one bag, rather than across all three of our hand-luggage bags, if we needed something for Arlo.

I packed several travel pouches which were each dedicated to: changing, feeding and toys. This worked really well for us as when we needed to change Arlo we just picked up one pouch which contained nappies, cream, wet wipes, disposable changing mats, plastic bags and a change of clothes.

I also panicked about breastfeeding Arlo whilst traveling and was worried about taking liquids through the airport. In Dubai Airport they were absolutely fine and there were no additional checks on the milk. However, when leaving Gatwick we were required to take out Arlo’s milk so it could be run through a separate scanner. When flying home to England, I packed 4 portions of breastmilk in a cooler bag which had been defrosted the day before so they were good for 24 hours. I also packed 4 bottles of the Aptamil 1 Ready to Drink Milk (at this point, we hadn’t given Arlo formula but I wanted to have it with me as a back up). I also packed my portable Elvie breast pump which worked extremely well for us during the flight. Ryan would give Arlo a bottle of expressed milk and, at the same time, I pumped using the Elvie to prepare for the next bottle.

When we were deciding on a stroller we knew a travel stroller would be essential for us so we opted for the Leclerc Magicfold which self-folds down to fit in the overhead baggage area on the plane. At the time of flying home, Arlo was still only 3 months old so we decided to take the bassinet attachment with us but we checked this in along with our cases. Getting through the airport, I carried Arlo in a baby carrier so he was close to my chest and we placed out hand-luggage in the stroller which Ryan pushed through the airport. This worked really well for us as Arlo loves being carried and often falls asleep!

*You can purchase any of the items linked above on Mumzworld.com using my code LOU10 for discount.

The Flight Home

Unfortunately, we had to cut our trip home short as I fractured my ankle with just over a week of the trip left. I was wearing a boot and didn’t have a lot of mobility to begin with and I found it hard getting up and down the stairs in the cottage. It also meant that I wasn’t able to drive and was completely reliant on Ryan.

So, we made the decision to fly back on the Wednesday, instead of the Sunday but there were no bassinet seats left. The thought of flying with Arlo and my foot in a boot in a window and an aisle seat really made us anxious so, we decided to bite the bullet and upgrade to Business Class – and it was the best thing we could have done. I was able to lay out with my foot elevated which really helped with the swelling on the flight. It also meant that Ryan and I could take turns with laying Arlo down on the mattress. Arlo ended up sleeping for 5 hours on the flight back which was brilliant. But I think we may have built a rod for our own backs with the flying experience with Arlo now!

Versace Versace Versace

Last year I booked a one night stay at the Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai for a relaxing girly weekend away with one of my friends. I managed to get a great rate on the hotel, booking a discounted “industry rate” as an Independent Travel Agent.

Besides from the road works on the way in, the entrance to the Versace Hotel is just as grand as you would expect. As you enter the hotel, you are greeted by the large Medusa head in mosaic tiles on the floor, the lobby is bright with high ceilings and coated in gold.

We reached the hotel early as we wanted to make use of the facilities and our room wasn’t quite ready, so we left our luggage with the reception staff and headed out to the pool.

Hotel Facilities

The hotel has a gorgeous spa, salon and gym that you can access as a hotel guest. It also has three pools, the Central and West Pools are family pools and the East Pool is an adults only pool. Outside guests are able to use the pools at a day rate of AED200 which is fully redeemable on food and beverage but access to all three pools is complimentary for in house guests.

As the hotel does not have it’s own beach, hotel guests are able to use the pool and beach at the Nikki Beach Resort and Spa in Dubai at a charge of AED300 minimum spend per adult and AED150 minimum spend per child.

We decided to head down to the East Pool (making the most of it being adult only) and started our day off with some cocktails whilst soaking up the sun. The East Pool had a good choice of food on the pool menu, which is served from La Piscina, so we stayed around the pool for some lunch as well.

Restaurants

There is a great selection of restaurants at the hotel from Italian, to Iranian to Continental you won’t be stuck for choice.

For dinner, we decided to book into Enigma which is the Iranian restaurant and we ordered a selection of the mixed grill, rice and breads. The food was great and the service was excellent. The restaurant has a special dish called “Meet the King of Persia” which the table next to us ordered. This consists of a slow cooked lamb rack and leg which is marinated in “the King’s secret recipe” and is brought out by several members of staff playing instruments and with the King of Persia presenting the food to the table. It was great to watch – I kind of wish we had eaten it too!

Our hotel booking included breakfast for two in Giardino which is the hotel’s buffet restaurant. It had a great selection for breakfast including an egg station, pancake and waffle station, fresh pastries, fresh fruits and teas and coffees.

After breakfast, we headed back down to the East Pool for another day in the sun. Overall, we had a lovely stay at the Versace hotel, it was perfect for a relaxing, girly weekend with a lot of cocktails, sun and nice food.

Our Long Weekend in Athens

We have just returned from a lovely holiday in Athens and it was my first trip back to Greece in almost seventeen years – goodness that makes me feel old! Mum and Dad used to take us on our summer holidays to Greece when my sister and I were younger and we were lucky enough to visit several Greek islands including Crete, Corfu, Kos, Rhodes as well as Cyprus and Northern Cyprus. I love Greece and have lovely memories from our family holidays, like singing karaoke with Katie, playing card games with Mum and going on walks with Dad to find cats (I haven’t changed!) 

So as the Eid holiday was approaching, Ryan and I looked into our options for travel, as certain countries are opening up for travel from the UAE – it also helps that we are both fully vaccinated. We were initially looking into the Seychelles but as Eid approached the prices started to rocket. So we browsed through the options on Emirates Package Holidays and found a great deal for flights and four nights accommodation in Athens and booked a locally branded hotel called Divani Caravel – it was quite a corporate hotel but was great for the price and a nice walk into the city centre.

We were so excited to be heading back to Europe as we haven’t been since our mini-moon in Nice almost two years ago. For the first time in ages we had a day flight which was actually lovely, we normally opt for the red eye night flight to maximize our holiday but decided to stick with the nice 10.50am flight which got us into Athens for 3pm.

When you arrive in Athens and you are fully Vaccinated for COVID (having had both doses at least 14 days before travel) then there is a separate queue which requires you to show proof of vaccination and you can head straight for passport control. Alternatively if you’re not vaccinated with both doses then you must go in the queue for a rapid COVID test (you do not need to pay for this) and await the results as a group before proceeding to passport control. It was strange receiving a passport stamp for entry to Greece!

Day One

We weren’t sure how easy it would be to get from the airport to the main city so we pre-booked our transfer on an app called Welcome Pickups. It was the first time I had used this app but it was extremely easy to use. It can be accessed across 63 countries and connects users to local taxi drivers (in the same way as Uber) but it allows you to book your ride in advance. We were then provided with the driver’s name, phone number and registration plate which was great. There is also the option of taking a metered taxi or the train as there is a train station located at the airport and several metro links across the city.  

As planned, our driver was waiting in the lobby holding a sign with my name and we headed straight to the hotel. The hotel was slightly out of the city centre but was only a 25 minute walk. We thought that it would be a lovely way to walk around and explore the city each day. We reached our hotel at around 4.30pm, had a quick change and then set off on our first adventure. Of course, I had done my research online beforehand and found some gorgeous restaurants and tips for sightseeing in Athens (you can read all about our amazing dining options here). One of the top places to visit in Athens is Plaka; one of the older neighbourhoods which is filled with brightly coloured buildings and quaint restaurants and cafes. It was about a thirty minute walk from our hotel to Plaka and we loved taking in the views (and some beverages) along the way.

On our journey from the airport we asked our taxi driver for recommendations for any local bars we should visit during our trip and he suggested a wine bar called By The Glass. It was relatively easy to find from our hotel and sat outside overlooking a cute church whilst enjoying a few glasses of rosè and a charcuterie board – it was the perfect way to start our trip!

We had made a reservation at Psara Tavern – which means the old fisherman’s tavern in Greek – and is listed as the most romantic restaurant in Athens. The restaurant is gorgeous and set at the top of a stairway with other bars dotted alongside. The restaurant has a lovely view over Plaka and the food was just as impressive as the view!

Day Two

I had planned a day of sightseeing for our first full day so we were up and rearing to go bright and early! We had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight to the Acropolis. We didn’t buy our tickets in advance we purchased them at the site entrance for €20pp. We had also toyed with the options of a tour guide but decided against it but it was easy enough to pick up local licensed tour guides at the entry for €50pp – these tours last approximately 50 minutes but we felt we wanted to go at our own pace although it would have been great to have the ancient history told along the way.

We were provided with a map, along with our tickets, which identified stops along the way with placards of information so we were able to read up on the information ourselves as we went at our own pace. We visited at the start of May which is outside of the peak season and it was an amazing time to visit as we only crossed a handful of people of the way up whereas we have been told that during the peak season there will be thousands!

After a few hours at the Acropolis we continued exploring the narrow roads of Plaka and the New Town before grabbing a taxi back to our hotel for a quick change before dinner. Uber was one of the most convenient ways for us to get around but it was just as easy to flag down the local yellow taxis and request the journey on the meter.

For dinner that night we had booked a restaurant called Orizontes Lycabettus which is located on Lycabettus Hill. To reach the restaurant you can either walk (not in heels) or take the cable car up which was €7 per person for a return journey. The views from the restaurant were amazing, we felt like we could see across the whole of Athens. As the sun started to set, we noticed what looked like smoke, followed by fireworks and the waiter informed us that Olympiacos had just won the league!

Day Three

By our third day we were exhausted from all of the sightseeing so I was very happy we had booked a relaxing beach day in the middle. We grabbed a taxi outside the front of our hotel and headed down to the beach. The drive was around 35 minutes and cost around €17 in the taxi. Astir Beach Club is affiliated with the Four Seasons and when making your reservations online you can choose different sections, one being adults only (yes please)!

As we travelled before the season fully opened it was pretty quiet when we arrived, but in typical Louise style we were early. Throughout the day the beds started to fill up and we had chosen a cabana on the front row. It was super chilled and the food was amazing so if you are visiting Athens and need a day to relax I would highly recommend Astir Beach.

We had also booked dinner at a restaurant called Blue Fish that evening which is a short 15 minute walk from Astir Beach around the sea front. The food was incredible (you can read all about it here) and it was a unique dining concept which I would absolutely recommend if you love seafood!

Day Four

Whilst we were in Athens, some of the COVID restrictions started to ease. A curfew was in place meaning we had to be home by 11pm but on our final night this was extended to 12.30am. We were also lucky enough that on our final day the restrictions on closure of museums was lifted, meaning we were able to visit the Acropolis Museum – to Ryan’s delight!

We walked from our hotel into the city centre and timed it well so we were able to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was interesting to watch as the guards are dressed in traditional uniform (my favourite part being their shoes).

The entrance to the Acropolis Museum was amazing as the museum itself is built over ruins which used to house some of the most affluent residences in Athens! The entry to the museum is €10 per person and you can purchase your tickets at the entrance on the day.

We ended our final full day by meeting some friends for drinks and dinner in the New Square, starting at A for Athens and finishing across the square in 360 Bar. Both of these bars have increidble views of the Acropolis during the day and at night.

Day Five

We decided to have a lay in and just chill on our final morning so we popped out for our last breakfast and in true European style found a café on the side of the road to sit and drink our coffee and orange juice. We ordered an Uber for our journey back to the airport which was very straightforward and an easy drive.

For our return flight to Dubai we were required to show a negative PCR test upon check in so we arranged that with a company called IASYS. They were extremely responsive by email and I informed them of the date and time that we were flying and they scheduled our COVID test for the morning before. The nurse came to our hotel and carried out the test in our room which took no more than 15 minutes for us both from start to finish. We were then emailed our test results within 24 hours. This service cost €60 which we were more than happy to pay for the convenience of not having to leave our room!

Zanzi-Bars and Restaurants

I am reminiscing about our amazing holiday to Zanzibar and can’t believe we have been back for two months already! As you know by now, Ryan and I love love LOVE food and one of the best parts about travelling for us, is all the amazing food we get to try along the way. Being in Zanzibar, we really wanted to make the most of the fresh seafood that was all around us so below is a list of the restaurants we visited (and loved) during our trip.

6 Degrees South

We stumbled across this restaurant on our first day in Stone Town when we were walking around the area near our hotel. The staff were extremely welcoming and the restaurant had part inside / outside seating – we were part outside so needed a fan!

I opted for the grilled prawns with coconut rice and my husband ordered the kingfish and masala fries – both dishes were delicious and generous portions.

The restaurant also has a rooftop bar which we wanted to visit but it opens from 5pm and with happy hour!

Beach House – Park Hyatt, Zanzibar Stone Town

Before traveling to Stone Town we had read great reviews online about the Beach House. A security guard greeted us at the entrance of the hotel and we went in for, initially, a few drinks. However, we fell in love with the view and the chilled vibes that we decided to stay for a few more drinks and then for dinner.

We shared the bruschetta to start which was a very generous sized portion and was really tasty, followed by the king fish and biryani. The food was delicious and service was great as well. I would highly recommend this restaurant as we felt it ticked all of the boxes.

Baladin Zanzibar Beach Hotel & Restaurant

We stumbled across Baladin when on our morning post-breakfast walk along the beach. We loved the style of the restaurant (well, the whole hotel for that fact) and decided to return for lunch that day. The restaurant decor was lovely, all wooden which gave that rustic feel but modernised with quirky seating areas.

To start, we shared the calamari which was fresh and delicious. We then both ordered the same main as it caught our eye and that was the beer marinated prawns. They were super tasty and served with rice and salad. The staff and restaurant manager were extremely friendly and we have recommended this restaurant to friends visiting Zanzibar since our trip.

Upendo Zanzibar Beach

As we stayed at Upendo we decided to enjoy dinner at the hotel each night of our stay. The menu is so expansive that we were not stuck for choice!

Breakfast was included in our stay and each morning it consisted of fresh juice, tea, coffee, a fruit platter and then a main breakfast dish. We worked our way through the breakfast menu and each morning it was the perfect start to the day.

In the afternoons we would treat ourselves to a little snack, our favourites were the homemade hummus and bread as well as the flatbread which were bruschetta style breads topped with a variety of toppings.

For dinners, we worked our way through the menu and would highly recommend the surf and turf; seafood skewers; local curry which is served with rice and bread (I think this was my favourite dish) and also the burger!

Pandu Ngozi Restaurant

This inconspicuous restaurant is located along the beachfront, a stone’s throw away from the famous Rock Restaurant and our hotel, Upendo. We came across Pandu Ngozi on our morning walk and decided to return for lunch one day. I decided to have the lobster and Ryan treated himself to the jumbo prawns. The food was so amazing we returned the next day for lunch and I ordered the prawns and Ryan, the lobster.
The staff were extremely friendly, the food was amazing and the rustic vibe of the restaurant is what we loved the most and would highly recommend a visit.

The Rock Restaurant Zanzibar

We visited the famous Rock Restaurant on my birthday and it did not disappoint. We were staying at Upendo and so our swimming pool looked out onto the Rock.

Our table was booked for 2pm and we timed it right with the tide as it was out so we were able to walk over to the restaurant. We sat outside and had an amazing view that looked the whole way along Pingwe Beach. We shared the tempura prawns to start followed by the grilled seafood platter. The food was great and a very generous portion. Overall we had a lovely lunch and would highly recommend visiting this restaurant.

… I hope reading this post hasn’t made you too hungry!

Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa

Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa is one of my favourite hotels in Dubai. Located on the far end of Jumeirah Beach, the hotel has three swimming pools, two of which have swim up pool bars to really give you those holiday vibes! The hotel spans across a huge grass area which leads onto its own private beach which in turn connects down to JBR beach. The hotel is definitely family friendly with a children’s play area; kids swimming pool; volleyball courts; football pitch; table tennis and mini golf!

Ryan and I have visited Le Royal Meridien many times for brunch at Brasserie 2.0, which is a must if you haven’t done it before, and for pool days (as they often have some great deals, especially during the summer) but we had never actually stayed before. I decided to book a girly weekend (sorry Ryan) and my friend and I booked a one night stay with breakfast for a weekend in October of last year. 

Pulling up to the hotel entrance, the concierge are instantly at hand to assist you with taking your luggage and valet parking your car. I love the lobby with its chic light interior, hammock chairs and seating areas. The hotel has installed clear plastic dividers between the guests and the hotel staff at the check in desk, as well as installing queue mechanics to ensure that a safe distance is left between the guests checking in. We had booked with a great deal on Booking.com and upon check in we were offered an upgrade to a sea facing room with balcony for an additional 60 dirhams, which we jumped at!

The rooms are modern, although on the slightly smaller size, and come equipped with all of the standard items you would expect, including extra-cosy dressing gowns (my favourite). We headed straight down to the pool for a frozen daiquiri and a sunbathe and relaxed straight into holiday-mode. Unfortunately, the hotel did feel quieter than the usual buzz it has about it – but that can only be expected in these times. The staff were great with taking all precautionary measures required as a result of COVID. The sunbeds were well distanced and the beds were frequently sanitised.


Restaurants

The hotel has a whopping twelve restaurants to choose from with the choice of Mexican, Indian, Italian, seafood, steak and international buffet. We wanted to get as much time in the sun and so for lunch we decided to order from the pool bar food menu and eat at our sun-beds. For dinner, as you can imagine, we were spoilt for choice but the steak restaurant, Rhodes 2.0 had a great offer on for starter, two mains, two sides and a bottle of wine for AED500! The food was amazing and the restaurant had a really romantic feel with high ceilings, chandeliers and an intimate feel to it.

I love a hotel breakfast and, I must say, this was one of the best hotel buffet breakfasts I think I have ever had! The choice was huge! We ordered sausage and bacon (yes, real pork), eggs in any way you like, and then headed up to the buffet. There was a great choice of pastries, fruits, juices, coffee, tomatoes, mushrooms, the lot. I didn’t need to eat again until dinner!

Spa 

We couldn’t end our girly weekend without a trip to the spa for a pamper. So after breakfast we spent the morning around the pool  and booked a massage for 3pm. The spa is also on the Entertainer which is great so the massage was buy one get one free.

I would absolutely stay at Le Royal Meridien again, and as we have a few friends that often stay at the hotel, we plan on joining them next time they make it over!

Zanzibar

Our flight landed into Zanzibar at 6.10am, we had applied for our visa online in advance of traveling which saved us a lot of time at the airport. The visas cost $50 for UK passport holders whether this is completed online or on arrival. We were also required to complete a health declaration form on the plane for handing over to the staff when entering immigration. Even with the requirements of the additional forms we were through security in record breaking time and as we had decided to travel with hand luggage only we were out of the airport within 15 minutes!

We had arranged our airport transfers in advance, which I would highly recommend, as it can be quite overwhelming with all of the taxi drivers waiting around the exit. Our hotel in Stone Town had put us in contact with a local driver who organized all of the transfers we needed for our trip. Our driver was waiting outside for us and took us to our first destination which was Tembo Hotel in Stone Town.

Stone Town

Stone Town is the “old town” of Zanzibar with a very active port that has daily ferries that run to mainland Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya. Stone Town has a real buzz about it and is full of restaurants, roof top bars, gift shops and one of the main attractions is a museum dedicated to Freddy Mercury! When Freddy Mercury was younger he and his family used to live in one of the rooms at Tembo Hotel (this was secretly another reason I wanted to stay there)!

We had booked a trip across to Prison Island which is one of the main tourist attractions in Stone Town. The story behind the prison is interesting but the main attraction on the island is the tortoise sanctuary. There are over 100 tortoises at the sanctuary with the oldest being 195 years old!

You can easily pick up boats and tour guides around the area and probably for a cheaper price than we paid so if you’re not on a tight schedule I would advise just checking out what’s around when you arrive in Stone Town. 

We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant called 6 Degrees South and I tucked into my eagerly awaited spicy prawns – they didn’t disappoint. We were absolutely shattered by this point so headed back to our Freddy Suite (joke) and had a little nap before getting ready and heading out for some sundowners. We had read about a restaurant called the Beach House which is connected to the Park Hyatt hotel and ended up staying for 4 hours watching the sunset and having a lovely meal.

The following day we were up early and excited for our flight out to the Serengeti for a 2 night stay and safari – you can read all about that here. After the 2 night stay, we landed back in Zanzibar for the final 4 night stretch of our holiday. 

COVID Testing

We had arranged to be collected from the airport by the same driver we previously used and he was stood ready and waiting for us. We headed straight to one of the nearby COVID-19 testing facilities as we were required to have our test carried out at least 4 days prior to our flight – this is because all tests are then sent to the mainland for laboratory testing so the results take slightly longer. We had been well informed by some friends regarding the process before our trip so felt as though we were as prepared as could be… oh how wrong we were. Of course, the day we visited they had changed the process, which no one was aware of, and we were required to complete a form online via the Zanzibar COVID-19 Testing app. In the form, you are required to add the date in which you would like your test results dated, although we had the test on the 9th March, we requested that the results were dated 11th March so that it was sufficient time prior to our flight on 13th March.

So, once you have downloaded the app and completed your form, you need to print and take a copy of your form as well as your passport copy to the counter for payment. You can make payment by card or cash, it is $80, but we were advised to have cash as sometimes the electricity goes out! After making payment and with your printed form you can then make your way through to the test itself. After this, you are free to leave and you can check for your results via the app by simply entering your passport number. This was the most efficient part of the process as once your results show up in the app you can then print this for your check in at the airport.

Our Poor Hotel Choice…

We left the test centre feeling very flustered, hot and were excited to get to our hotel to relax as it had been a long day of traveling. But. We arrived at the hotel we had booked in advance, Karafuu Beach Resort and Spa, and without going into too much detail it was horrendous. Ryan and I are well-seasoned travellers and know, most of the time, what we are getting ourselves into. We also have a list of all the hotels we have stayed in together which currently totals 63, and Karafuu is the first hotel which we have asked to move rooms and although our booking was for 4 nights we stayed for one and checked out only 16 hours after checking in!

Anyway… the following morning we walked along Pingwe Beach, which is a gorgeous stretch of white sandy beach, and popped into every hotel along the way, asking if they had availability for a three night stay. Thankfully, the last hotel along the beach was Upendo Beach Zanzibar and they had room at the Inn for us to stay for three nights. We were ecstatic and managed to get a really good rate as we were making the booking so last minute. We headed back to Karafuu to collect our cases (which we hadn’t even unpacked), checked out and took a taxi back to Upendo. That is when we could finally just relax.

Upendo Beach Zanzibar

As we checked in we were greeted with a fresh coconut and the hotels guard doggies wagging their tail; it was bliss.

Our room was available immediately as the staff had been in to make sure everything was perfect before we arrived back with our suitcases. Honestly, our room was world’s apart from the room we had just come from – but I don’t want to dwell on the previous hotel – all I can say is that Upendo was absolute heaven. Our villa was standalone and on the beachfront so when we opened the curtains we could only see the sand and sea. On the front patio area we had a gorgeous hanging double lounge bed which we spent most afternoons chilling on! Inside the room it was nice and light with lots of small windows covered by mosquito nets which meant we had lovely day light.

The bathroom was one of the highlights of the room for us, it was huge. As you walked in, to the right hand side, just under the window was a lovely free standing bath followed by a Jack and Jill sink, the toilet and then the highlight, an outdoor open air shower! The shower had a waterfall shower head hanging from the ceiling; a huge piece of drift wood which was used for holding the complimentary shower gels and other toiletries but the best part of this shower was the plants and trees which had grown up the outside of the shower room and into the shower itself, it just gave it that real jungle feel.

 The room was gorgeous and felt very rustic and authentic yet with modern furnishings. It had a coffee machine with pods refilled daily; a water dispenser so we had unlimited access to complimentary water; gorgeous toiletries in sustainable glass bottles and of course, the best part was our private rooftop swimming pool!

We really fell into the swing of island life and fell asleep early each night and woke up early each morning. We would head down for breakfast which was served with tea, coffee, fresh juice and fresh fruit and worked our way through a different dish on the menu each morning.

Upendo is located at the far end of Pingwe beach so after breafast we would go for a lovely walk along the beach and onto the sandbanks where the tide had drifted out. Also along Pingwe beach is a great choice of restaurants so each lunch time we decided to head out to find some of the local seafood restaurants.

Upendo has a popular restaurant with an extensive menu so each night we stayed at the hotel and tried a different dish on the menu. The food was incredible and we loved the relaxed vibe of the restaurant, we could just lounge around for hours on the sofas.

We decided to book the Snorkel and Starfish trip and booked this direct through our hotel, rather than with the guys along the beach. Although the trip was slightly more expensive with our hotel, they always book through the same local man from the village and pay him a salary of the tours at the end of the month, he then distributes this throughout his village. Ryan and I were the only ones on the trip and so we were able to go at our own pace. It was lovely that our tour guide came in to snorkel with us and for a swim when we reached the starfish.

Our final day in paradise just so happened to be my birthday and we had some friends from Dubai who were in Zanzibar at the same time so they came over to our hotel for some drinks and we had a lunch reservation at the Rock Restaurant. The food was great (as were the drinks) and Ryan and I ended up heading back to the airport rather drunk but at least it meant we slept for the whole flight!

We absolutely adored our time in Zanibar and Tanzania and are so glad with our decision to change hotels at the last minute, we definitely would not have had the same incredible experience otherwise!

Al Maha – A Luxury Desert Resort

The name really says it all. This hotel took the meaning of Luxury to a whole new level for us!

The hotel is located about an hour’s drive from Dubai Marina and about 45 minutes from the Dubai Hills Estate. We set off relatively early and once we turned off the main road onto an adjacent slip road out to the desert, we were greeted by a security guard who confirmed our check in details before letting us through the gate. What we didn’t realise at the time is that Al Mahais located in the middle of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve which is why the security is so stringent. As we set off from security, the next 25 minutes of the journey was off the beaten track, on a small rubble road leading you further into the desert towards the hotel. On this part of the journey we were surprised to already encounter some wild Oryx and gazelles. Before we had even arrived at the hotel Ryan was bored of me shrieking “LOOK” every few minutes!

As some of you know, I changed jobs in July last year and my lovely team from my previous company were extremely generous and gifted me a voucher which we used towards a one night stay at Al Maha. Ryan and I have stayed at several desert resorts throughout the UAE but AlMaha has always been slightly more on the expensive side. We decided to use our gift voucher for a one night stay to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary. Crazy right, heading out to the desert in the middle of the heat in August… but don’t worry, every room comes with its own private infinity pool!

We spent the day chilling around the pool and every so often some of the gazelles would become a bit curious and come over to investigate. The hotel staff said that if we had a small amount of bread we might be able to feed them, so I asked for a side of bread with my pizza at lunch just in case. Sure enough later in the afternoon the gazelles came back and I got close enough to feed them!

As we approached the main reception of the hotel it just felt so calm and quiet everywhere. We checked in and were taken by a golf buggy straight to our room with an early check in (I say it every time, but honestly I love an early check in)! The staff dropped our bags and I’m not sure if they heard the clanging of the wine bottles in our bags, but they conveniently asked if we would like an ice bucket and glasses – which, of course we did!

The room was stunning and so spacious. As you entered the front doorway there was a small cloakroom area with a desk and chair and a small area to make tea and coffee. To the right of the entrance was the bathroom which was huge, with a lovely big bath, Jack and Jill sinks and a double door which opened wide so it felt as if the bath was outside – I got South African safari vibes from this! Located in the main room (which was a bed room / living area) was a huge double bed and a chilled out seating area with two chaise longue either side of a small coffee table which faced outside to the main highlight of the room, the pool. The room was designed in the style of a tent, so there was a pole in the centre of the room, propping up the draped ceiling. The pool was really big for a private room pool, considering that every room in the hotel has one!

As we were there celebrating our first wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves to the private in-room dining experience and the sunset camel ride. We headed down to the lobby for 6pm for the sunset desert camel ride and both shared one camel which took us on a 20 minute journey out to the desert.

When we arrived, there was a small bar set up with champagne, beers, wine, soft drinks, anything you could want, and we sat on the dunes watching the sun go down before heading back on the 20 minute journey back to the hotel.

When we got back to our room, the hotel staff had already been in and set up the dining area outside our room on the terrace in front of the pool, it was so lovely. When we requested the in-room dining we were required to choose our options from the set menu. For starters, we ordered the beef carpaccio and shrimp tempura. The carpaccio was gorgeous and the shrimp tempura was presented on a bed of black rocks which was unique. For mains, I have to say that I made the best choice, and ordered the fillet steak which was served on a bed of creamy mash potato and a side of vegetables. Ryan’s main was also super tasty, he opted for the Arabic mixed grill which came with a selection of beef kebab, jumbo prawn, fish and chicken with a side of grilled vegetables and chips. To finish, the hotel had treated us to a lovely chocolate cake which was personalised to say “Happy Anniversary” which was extremely generous but by this point we were stuffed! At least we didn’t have far to go back to our room!

After an incredible night’s sleep, we requested the hotel to deliver our breakfast to our room and placed our order over the phone. We had an amazing selection of pastries, breads, eggs benedict, waffles, coffee and juices, all set up on the coffee table in front of the doors leading out to the pool.

We were able to have a slightly later checkout and spent the day chilling in the sun in our private pool; it was bliss. Thankfully, the drive back home was short and sweet after an amazingly relaxing stay. Al Maha really is one of, if not the most, luxurious hotel I have stayed it, nothing is enough for the staff and the proximity to central Dubai is great as its only a short drive home after a chilled out weekend.

Sharjah’s Hidden Gem

Tucked away off one of Sharjah’s busy roads is a small entrance to the Chedi Al Bait. The complex opened its doors as the Chedi Hotel in December 2018 and I have to say that it was only this past summer that I began to hear about the hotel. So, we packed our bags and booked up a one night stay at the start of August. The hotel was a relatively short drive from our villa so we enjoyed the little road trip crossing the border into Sharjah – I have to admit that in my almost six years living in Dubai this is the first time I visited Sharjah (as opposed to just driving through it)!

When the maps told us we were only one minute away I thought to myself, “surely we have the wrong address here” but we turned the corner to see the subtle Chedi sign at the side of the road. The concierge assisted us with our luggage through the narrow walkways into the reception.

Upon check in, the staff provided us with a small sanitising pack which contained anti-bac gel and gloves which was a nice touch.

Hotel Facilities

Inside the grounds of the hotel it felt so peaceful. There are courtyards with olive trees and casual seating areas tucked in all corners of the hotel. It really is like a maze wandering around the narrow pathways.

The hotel also houses a library which explains some of the history of the building itself and has a large collection of books in both English and Arabic.

The hotel also has a lovely, albeit small, swimming pool. As we visited during COVID times we were required to book a 2 hour slot at the pool so as to prevent it from becoming overcrowded.

Our Room

One of the highlights of our stay was the amazing bed in our room! No, seriously. This took hotel beds to a whole other level! The mattress is made from horse hair (you should probably check if you have allergies before staying) and it really felt like I was sleeping on air. The bathroom continued the traditional Arabic themed décor with neutral walls, wooden doors and dark basin sinks. It also had a gorgeous waterfall style shower.

Restaurants

We dined in both the International restaurant as well as the Arabic restaurant during our stay at the hotel. We decided on having lunch in the International restaurant whereby we had a range of small dishes from salads to soft-shell crab and it was all lovely. The International restaurant is very light and open and also had a lovely outdoor seating area (which we chose not to make use of in August)! The breakfast also served in the International restaurant and has a great selection of egg dishes, pancakes, waffles etc. of which you could order multiple items! We were also served a selection of freshly baked pastries as well as juice, tea and coffee – as you can tell, I love a good breakfast! 

We ate at the Arabic Restaurant for dinner on the Friday night – we were glad to have made a reservation as the restaurant was quite busy. We shared a selection of Arabic meze starters such as hummus, tabbouleh and falafel, followed by one sharing platter of chicken shish tawook and another platter of grilled seafood. Everything was super tasty!

Sadly, during our stay at the Chedi, I feel ill (which I know now as being the onset of my Bell’s Palsy). As much as I enjoyed our stay it was shrouded by stress with not knowing what was wrong with me at that time. I would love to return because it really was so relaxing and a lovely way to escape the city.