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.

The Magical Maldives

2020 was a tough year for travel but in December we were lucky enough to go on our first holiday of the year and we headed off to the Maldives. The Maldives has been on my bucket list forever, but we have always said we would save it for a special occasion. But, as our honeymoon was cancelled and we weren’t able to travel anywhere else in 2020 we decided to treat ourselves. 

A key factor when booking trips at the moment is whether quarantine is required on arrival and any other COVID restrictions of that country. The Maldives has been open for travel since the Summer and, when travelling from Dubai, the requirement is to present a negative PCR test upon check in and as residents, when returning to Dubai, a negative test was required for check in for the return flight. Apart from that, there were no other restrictions or isolation requirements in either the Maldives or Dubai. 

So, with a five day public holiday approaching, we took the plunge and booked a four night all inclsuive stay at Ozen Life Maadhoo.

Firstly, and most importantly for travel in current times, Ozen’s response to COVID was outstanding. The island is COVID free which means that hotel guests are able to roam the island without the need to wear masks – we had forgotten what that felt like! Our personal Butler, Kunal, assisted us with everything throughout our stay, including scheduling our COVID test for our return flight to Dubai via the hotels onsite doctor. The doctor came to our room for an examination and to conduct a nasal and mouth swab. The results were then sent to the main island for analyzing and we received the results the following day. Ozen provided us with a soft copy of the report and hard copy print outs for the check in desk at the airport. Given the travel situation in the world right now we were anxious about travel but Ozen really took that stress and worry away.

Now onto the fun stuff! 

From the moment we arrived at Male airport an Ozen member of staff was waiting for us. They greeted us at arrivals, took our luggage and we set straight off on the hotels private boat for the 45 minute journey to the island. 

The island was absolutely stunning. On arrival, we were given an itinerary for our stay which included a fishing trip, dolphin sunset trip and a snorkel trip as well as reservations at each of the hotel’s restaurants. We didn’t have to think about anything – it was the ultimate relaxation.

The hotel has five restaurants which were all included as part of our all inclusive package (I will write a separate post about all of the amazing food we ate during our stay). We stayed in one of the overwater villas which was a dream come true. The hotel also has beach front villas which looked just as amazing, imagine waking up and stepping onto your own private beach! We really wanted that Maldives experience of laying out on the terrace watching the fish swim below, and heading down the steps of our room straight into the ocean.

Ryan and I are creatures of habit so every morning we got up and sat out on our terrace trying to spot any sharks or sting rays with our morning coffee before heading down to breakfast. We ate in the Palms restaurant every day for breakfast which had a great buffet selection along with a live cooking station. Ryan followed his three course breakfast with a Mimosa, whilst I had an iced coffee with a shot of Kalua as my tipple!

The island was so relaxing and each morning we would set off on a walk or bike ride around the island after suitably stuffing ourselves at the buffet! The sun was very powerful and even though we live in the sun all year round we still got quite burnt!

Another great benefit of the all inclusive package was the unlimited complementary use of snorkel equipment, kayaks and paddle boards so most mornings on the way back from our walk, we would stop off at the water sports area and head out on the water. I love paddle boarding, Ryan on the other hand isn’t much of a natural so he would always opt for a kayak!

One of the highlights of our stay was dining in the under water restaurant, M6M, which is located 6 meters below the sea! Eating lobster and drinking champagne whilst watching the sharks swim by – that’s an experience that is going to take a lot to beat.

Also included within our all-inclusive package was a complimentary 60 minute spa treatment which we saved until our final morning. The spa is located nearby the gym and saltwater swimming pool and consists of several small huts which each accommodate couples massages and face out to sea. The massage was heavenly and the perfect way to end our five days in paradise.

We cannot fault any part of our stay at Ozen. Every member of staff took time out of their day to speak to us, ask how our day was going and if we needed anything. We can’t thank them enough for making this trip so special. We already can’t wait to return.

Fairmont Ajman

In the UAE, our lockdown was pretty intense. We understand it was a necessity, but it proved challenging at times. During mid-March through April we experienced our strictest time of lockdown. All gyms, bars, restaurants and clubs were closed. Almost everyone was required to work from home, except for the key sectors, and to go outside we were required to apply online via the government portal for a permit. These permits would allow us a trip for essentials such as medication, groceries, ATMs etc.

Ryan and I were still in our one bed apartment at this time, with two cats and both working from home at opposite sides of the dining table. But, we made it through. We may have gotten through a bottle of wine a day, but we made it through!

Some of the other Emirates in the UAE were slightly more lenient with the easing of restrictions following lockdown. For example, Ras al Khaimah and Ajman allowed alcohol consumption in hotels and around swimming pools / beaches. At this time, in Dubai, this was not yet allowed. The border to Abu Dhabi remained closed and so in mid-May, we decided to head down to Ajman for a staycay.

We set off early on the Friday morning, really early, as we had planned to meet our friends Emily and James. It was James’ birthday weekend and Emily had booked a round of golf for him so, as a surprise, we met them both at breakfast and the boys went off to play golf whilst Em and I had a girly pool day together.

It was the first time I had been out in the sun in over two months and it was delightful.

The Fairmont Ajman has two main restaurants, an Italian called Gioia, and a Turkish restaurant called Kiyi. We decided on the Italian for lunch, which was absolutely amazing and the Turkish for dinner – although I would have preferred to have returned to the Italian restaurant for dinner!

The hotel was great with implementing safety precautions for COVID, the hotel was only booked to 30% capacity, the rooms were sterilized following each occupancy and although the breakfast was buffet, you were served each time by the staff. Masks were compulsory at all times whilst walking around the hotel and restaurants.
Overall, it was a cheap and cheerful stay and we were very grateful for the sun, cocktails (and time apart for Ryan to go off to play golf)!

The Address Sky View

As most of you know from previous travel blogs, I ALWAYS travel for my birthday. It’s just what I love to do! However this year, as we were due to be going on our honeymoon at the start of April, only a few weeks after my birthday, I decided it would be best to spend this birthday in Dubai. It’s a blessing in disguise really, could you imagine if we had travelled and ended up like all of those other poor people stranded around the world!

Anywho, our honeymoon was sadly cancelled as a result of COVID, but, I digress. This post is in relation to the delightful staycation we ended up booking for my birthday! I have a hotel wishlist on my phone, which appears to be constantly growing! And I decided on checking out the then-recently opened Address Sky View Hotel.

Located smack bang in the middle of Downtown Dubai, the Address Sky View has uncomparable views of the Burj Khalifa and is a stone’s throw away from the Dubai Mall. As we entered the hotel we were greeted with the familiar “Address” scent, our luggage was taken and we were whisked straight to check in. We managed to get a great offer by booking directly on the Address website. Our hotel price included breakfast and we each received three vouchers for use across the Emaar facilities, this was a nice bonus. We chose vouchers for the Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Ice Skating Rink and Reel Cinemas. (We used the Aquarium voucher in the summer and it was a great experience, I didn’t actually realise how huge the aquarium is in the Dubai Mall!)

We left our luggage with the Concierge and headed out for some lunch at the restaurant around the pool. I have to admit, I was feeling quite sensitive (and sorry for myself) as I had been out celebrating my birthday with the girls the previous night.

Our room was ready early so we headed up for a quick change and then straight to the highlight of the hotel… the rooftop infinity pool.

We had access to the Lounge included in our room booking so popped there for a coffee and nibble before getting ready for our meal.

Ce La Vie
I was so excited to dine at Ce La Vie! For my birthday last year, we actually visited the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore and had lunch at Ce La Vie. I hope this has become my new birthday tradition…!

The food, service, drinks and view were all spectacular. It was by far one of the best meals we have had in Dubai.

We rolled out of the restaurant (I’m not sure if it was too much food or wine) but luckily didn’t have too far to go. When we got back to the room, the staff had laid rose petals on the bed, wishing me a happy birthday. It was a lovely touch and a perfect end to the day.

The following day we were able to extend our check out. The rooms come with a smart TV with Netflix built in so we decided to give in to all of the social media fuss and start the series Love is Blind. We all but finished the series that day!

I have to admit, this was the first Address Hotel that we have stayed in, but I cannot fault our stay from the service, cleanliness and overall experience. I would absolutely stay here again.

The Staycay Series

I have really missed writing my travel blog this year and I’ve decided that, even though we’ve been unable to travel abroad (so far…) we’ve still had a lovely year of staycays in the UAE! So I’ve decided to write this Staycay Series, giving a shout-out to all of the lovely hotels we have stayed at throughout the year.

It’s still not the quite the same as the excitement of researching and planning a holiday; the super early wake up call to get to the airport; the satisfaction of a full nights sleep on a red-eye flight; and the lists coming out of my ears to make sure I pack appropriately! Nonetheless, we are so lucky to live in the location that we do with the UAE’s versatile range of hotels, and looking back over the past six months, we have done a pretty good job of making the most out of them!

So here is a snapshot of what’s to come…

City Breaks
There’s nothing more relaxing than finding an oasis in the centre of a bustling, vibrant city. And we uncovered two of those this summer! Starting the year at the newly opened Address Sky View hotel with unbeatable views of the Burj Khalifa, it was a birthday to remember.

We then ventured into the narrow streets of Sharjah for our first staycay in the Emirate. The Chedi Al Bait is a hidden gem located in the middle of a busy street, but once you step inside the walls you’re welcomed by the calming sound of silence.

Beach Vibes
As soon as lockdown lifted in the UAE we headed straight for Ajman, the rules were slightly more relaxed, the hotel swimming pools were open and alcohol was being served so we treated ourselves to a cheap and cheerful stay at the Fairmont, Ajman.

Zabeel Saray – a hotel that has been on the hotel bucket list for a while! But we finally got to experience the hotel first hand (and yes, I did find an amazing deal).

A hotel that we have visited many, many times before is Le Royal Meridien but I was finally able to enjoy a one night stay! It was the perfect girly weekend full of sunbathing, wine, lots of wine, and fun!

Desert Dreaming
The one night stay that, I don’t think, will ever be beaten! Al Maha Luxury Desert Resort is exactly what it says in the name! The hotel really catered for our every need during our stay as well as the needs we didn’t know we had!

At the time of writing this post we also have one more staycation planned for a few weeks time for Ryan’s birthday as we are off to Sir Bani Yas Island. We have heard amazing things about this hotel so I can’t wait to experience it for ourselves!

I hope you enjoy the reviews to come, and hopefully by the time they’re finished, we will be ready to board a plane for our first holiday of the year… (please keep everything crossed for us!)

Our Cape Town Itinerary

Of all years for Ryan to decide that he wanted to go away on holiday for his birthday, he decided that it would be smack bang in between our wedding and our honeymoon! Of course, I’m not complaining and I’m not one to say no to a holiday, especially when it means visiting another new country!

Ryan has wanted to visit South Africa for such a long time, I must say I had never really looked into SA but, once we started planning this trip I couldn’t believe how much we had to try and squeeze into just 10 nights!

Every single meal we had in Cape Town was amazing, you can read my separate post on where we dined with our food and wine recommendations here.

Day One

We left Dubai at 4am, I managed to get a 3 hour nap before heading to the airport and another 6 hours sleep on the flight! The flight was just over 9 hours long and we arrived in Cape Town just after 11.30am.

We had arranged a transfer to our hotel in Camps Bay direct with the hotel which removed the stress and hassle of having to locate a taxi at the airport. By 1pm we were at the hotel, checked in and ready to start exploring!

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Camps Bay is a beautiful area, located right on the white beach front with a great selection of restaurants and bars overlooking the sea. We stopped at La Belle for a light lunch and dived straight into the seafood, ordering mussels and calamari – straight away we knew we were going to love it here.

We stayed at South Beach which is a small boutique hotel a stones throw away from the beach. The staff were extremely friendly and constantly helped us with arranging Ubers and other excursions. The hotel has complimentary bikes which you can take out along the walkway, two pools and a bar. The rooms come with a full kitchen and fully stocked fridge and the staff leave fresh bread and croissants on your door every morning at 8am!

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That afternoon we had made a reservation at the Mount Nelson Hotel for High Tea. We sat outside on the terrace drinking MCC (Method Cap Classique, South Africa’s own champagne), eating cakes, sandwiches and scones and it was lovely.

Dinner: the Bungalow, Camps Bay

Day Two

We booked onto the 9am tour across to Robben Island for the tour of the museum and the prison. They offer three tours a day starting at 9am, 11am and 1pm, each lasting around 3.5-4hours including the ferry ride too and from the island. We booked our tickets in advance online (here) as we were advised that in the high tourist season the tours can book up quickly! You should also take your passport or ID with you so that staff can check your e-ticket against your ID (I didn’t know this but luckily had a copy of my passport with me which they accepted).

The boat ride across to the island was quite choppy (and cold!) but if you get the chance to sit outside on the boat you absolutely should. The views as you leave the harbour are just incredible with a full skyline of the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, Lions Head and the stadium built for the FIFA World Cup held in South Africa in 2012.

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The tour around Robben Island was so informative and eye opening. We were taken on busses around to different parts of the island, culminating with the tour of the prison itself. Our tour guide was an ex-prisoner who had spent almost 20 years in the prison himself for political crimes. We saw the quarry where the prisoners were forced to work every day, including Nelson Mandela. We were taken around the prison cells in each of the blocks, finishing at Nelson Mandela’s cell. The tour was so educational and I would highly recommend it.

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We spent the afternoon wandering around the V&A Waterfront. It was a hive of activity with different things going on around every corner. By this point we were hungry so headed straight to the food market, it was full of stalls ranging from Poke Bowls, biltong, pork belly, oysters, samosas, anything you could think of! We bought a selection from a few of the stalls and sat outside with a drink in the sun. There were also local street performers around the area so we sat watching a group of young children in tribal wear singing and dancing and it was just amazing.

Dinner: The Pot Luck Club, The Old Biscuit Mill

Day Three

We wanted to visit Cape Point and Boulders Beach but didn’t want to do this as part of a big group so we decided to hire a private driver for the day so we could arrange our own itinerary and move around at our leisure. I contacted several companies but we decided on using the company Citi Shuttles. They were really professional and helpful during our correspondence with them and mid range price. We were required to make the full payment upfront as they did not want their drivers to be carrying large amounts of cash so we made the payment using TransferWise to reduce the bank charges.

We started our day at 8.30, driving the coastal route down to Cape Point. On the way we stopped at Hout Bay and went down to the harbour for a coffee and a wander around the stalls. From here, you can take a trip across to Seal Island.

The coastal route was beautiful and at one part you drive on a road that has been carved into the edge of the cliff. We got to the Cape of Good Hope in good timing and avoided all of the queues at the entrance to the National Park. We saw wild ostriches roaming around and baboons! We attempted to have our picture taken with the sign “Most Southernly Point in Africa” but we couldn’t quite fight our way through the tourists so we went for a short hike up one of the trails. It was so windy down there, I’m glad I chucked my hoody in last minute!

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We then headed to the lighthouse and hiked up the hill to the top. The views were beautiful. We had made a lunch reservation at the Two Oceans, when we arrived we had the choice of tables but within half an hour the restaurant was packed inside and out. They have a great selection of seafood platters and we chose one with langoustines, prawns, calamari and mussels, with a bottle of Chenin Blanc to soak it up!

 

After our amazing lunch, we headed down to Boulders Beach. The beach is famous for being the home of around 2,000 penguins! I’m not sure what I was expecting but to be honest, it was part of the trip that I would say could be missed out if you’re pushed for time. It was completely crowded and you pay an entrance fee of around $20 per person and the walk way is relatively short. It was cute seeing the penguins but it didn’t really feel any different than being in an overcrowded zoo.

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Dinner: Bilboa, Camps Bay

Day Four

On our final full day in Cape Town we woke up to thick fog, cloud and mist. This morning, we had planned to hike up Table Mountain, starting at 7am. Initially, we intended to do this alone as I had read online that you don’t necessarily require a guide and that the route is signposted. However, I was slightly apprehensive due to the weather so contacted reception and they strongly advised us not to go alone, especially with the weather conditions and that we book with a guide. Our hotel kindly then contacted and booked a guide for us to start the hike at 11.30 (as he was already half way up the mountain with another group!)

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Our guide, Johan October, was so passionate about nature and his main priority was getting us up to the top safely. So we started the hike at 11.30 and could not see a thing the entire way up due to the clouds. It was disappointing however, we still feel so accomplished that we completed the hike. I would not advise doing this hike without a guide, especially when the weather is unpredictable. We took the easy route, Platteklip Gorge, and found parts of it very challenging. We had to scramble over rocks at certain points and the whole trail is not well signposted, I think we came across two on our whole hike. Also, due to the weather conditions we only crossed paths without around 8 other hikers. Johan advises that from December onwards the route would be much busier and so you may feel more confident doing it without a guide.

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We took the cable car back down which took less than five minutes as we had booked our tickets in advance to save queueing twice and headed straight to the Codfather to reward ourselves with a huge amount of seafood!

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Dinner: Paranga, Camps Bay

Day Five

Our last morning in Cape Town was spent chilling in our apartment and having breakfast before heading onto the next part of our trip, Stellenbosch! Again, we booked a transfer with our hotel in advance however, you can just as easily book an Uber from Cape Town out to the wine lands.

We absolutely loved our time in Cape Town. Prior to travelling there I was slightly apprehensive but we didn’t have any issues at all. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. It’s really easy to get around and everyone uses Uber as it’s much more convenient and also cheaper than taxis. You also find that everywhere has WiFi so you can pre-order your Uber before leaving. We were advised by our hotel not to carry large amounts of cash with us which was no issue at all because everywhere we ate / visited accepted card, including entry to the nature reserves. It is also custom to tip 10-15% for good service so it’s helpful to have some notes on you for that, we found it was definitely appreciated but not expected.

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Summer never tasted so good!

Those of you who know me, know just how much I love my food! Whether it’s a breakfast date, brunch, cheap eat or fine dining I just love eating out! Since joining Privilee, we have had the benefit of enjoying discount at some amazing restaurants throughout Dubai, and food definitely tastes better with a discount!

So here are some of my favourite restaurants in Dubai with Privilee discount:

Bussola @ The Westin

OK, I’ll admit, I ate here twice in one week (oops). Bussola is split into two restaurants with the fine dining restaurant on the lower floor and the pizzeria up on the first floor. I love the pizzeria because of the relaxed atmosphere, the pizzas are HUGE and are cooked in a clay oven and come packed full of toppings. The fine dining restaurant serves a great selection of pastas, salads, meats etc. and have gluten free options for all of the pasta dishes.

As a Privilee member, you receive 25% discount from Bussola from Sunday to Wednesday.

Little Miss India @ The Fairmont on the Palm

I think this is my new favourite Indian restaurant in Dubai! From  the moment you walk in the décor is so beautiful, from the large gate outside the entrance, to the vibrant painting around the bar and the elegant décor inside the restaurant itself. We ordered a selection of cocktails to start, all of which had their own Indian twist. When you enter the indoor seating in the restaurant the smell of the spices hits you instantly (I was salivating at this point!)

The waiter recommended the lamb chops to start, I would never have ordered lamb chops as a starter but four pieces were served in a jar with smoke funnelling out of the top! The meat literally fell off the bone! For our mains we shared a butter chicken, lamb Rogan Josh, pilau rice and lots of bread! I would highly recommend this restaurant and with Privilee you can enjoy 20% off the total bill (including the wine and cocktails)!

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Bounty Beets @ Le Meridien Mina Seyhahi

Has anyone else ever chosen a breakfast spot just because it looks cute on the gram?! Well I did and I’m so glad that the food was just as lovely as the décor. Bounty Beets is located in the ground floor in Le Meridien (next to the Westin) and is the perfect place for a girly breakfast date! The restaurant was very quiet when we visited so the service was great and the interior / fit out is lovely. The best thing about it though, is that with Privilee you receive 25% off the total bill!

Thiptara @ The Palace Downtown

The Palace Downtown is home to one of my favourite restaurants in Dubai – Thiptara. Not only does Thiptara serve some of the best Thai food in Dubai, it also has breath-taking views of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountains. Thiptara is a must when we have friends and family visiting on holiday and Privilee members get a lovely 20% discount off the bill!

The Atlantis

The Atlantis houses some of my favourite restaurants in Dubai including Nobu, Seafire, Breadstreet Kitchen and Privilee provides its members with 20% discount in each of these restaurants (and more)!

 

Privilee has an exclusive deal that’s valid for 72 hours only!! For AED 1499 you will receive a 3 month Privilee membership plus an extra 2 weeks for free so you can enjoy your EID holidays with Privilee as well. That’s less than 15dhs a day! You can find out more information on their website: https://www.privilee.ae/summer