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.

Holiday Dining at its Finest

This trip was our first time travelling to the Maldives, and we had heard from friends who had visited previously that alcohol is quite expensive, so when choosing a hotel we were leaning towards an all-Inclusive package so that we could really chill out and enjoy our time away with no worries about the costs of all the cocktails I knew I would be drinking!

One thing that stood out when reading about Ozen was the great choice of restaurants included as part of the all-Inclusive package; but the thing that stood out the most for Ryan was the wine list! We worked our way through five of the six restaurants at the hotel (and only missed out on the sixth one as it was unfortunately closed)!

From my previous posts, you may have come to know that Ryan and I are complete foodies so we were really excited about the extensive variety of food available at Ozen, ranging from Indian to Chinese to International foods. So here is a summary of the amazing restaurant options available at Ozen… don’t read this on an empty stomach!

IndoCeylon

Located on a small pier is a gorgeous wooden restaurant, from the outside the restaurant doesn’t look that big, but inside it houses both the IndoCeylon and Peking restaurants on different sides of the building.

The food at IndoCeylon is à la carte and we had a great selection to choose from, so good we actually didn’t know what to choose, so the chef prepared us a selection platter of all starters which included chicken tikka, samosa and others. When it came to the mains we were just as indecisive and again ordered a selection. This time we had a Goan prawn curry; Lamb Rogan Josh and a butter chicken alongside rice and naan breads.

One of the highlights of dining at Ozen is that the chefs always make the effort and take the time to come and speak to all of the diners, it really adds that personal touch. We were chatting to the chef and it turns out he had trained at Bukhara, a restaurant that we visited in New Delhi in 2017! After hearing that, we weren’t surprised the food at IndoCeylon was so amazing.

Peking

The other restaurant situated in the same building as IndoCeylon was the Chinese restaurant, Peking. Similarly, the menu was à la carte and we ordered a selection of sharing starters, including some sweet and sour prawns that blew my mind! They were so tasty! In fact, the dim sum, crispy shredded beef and duck spring rolls were all so good we ordered another entire round!

We needed a bit of a break before embarking on the mains, as you can imagine. For the mains, we again ordered the Chef’s selection which included a range of chicken in cashew nut sauce, noodles, white fish and rice. We tried to book in again for the following night but unfortunately, as the hotel was at full capacity, Peking was fully booked – and I am honestly not surprised by that!

The Palms

The Palms was the hotels buffet restaurant, although it’s far from your typical, mundane buffet. Starting with breakfast, there is a wide selection of fruits, yoghurts, pastries and international breakfasts if you prefer. The highlight is the grill station where you can place your order for eggs any way, including Eggs Benedict, Eggs Royale etc. Each morning I would choose my egg selection followed by pastries and a coffee. Ryan, on the other hand, would treat himself to a three course breakfast ending with freshly made waffles or pancakes and a cheeky mimosa.

The selection available for lunch time at the Palms was just as varied and the grill station had different options such as tiger prawns, crab, steak, chicken etc. as well as having a section for fresh sushi made every lunch time. 

We ate in The Palms for dinner one evening and it was the night of the international BBQ night, it was a great evening with different BBQ stands such a chicken tikka, a huge rack of ribs, seafood etc.

M6M

The legendary underwater restaurant. M6M is located 6metres below the sea and it was absolutely breath-taking. Depending on the number of nights you stay at the resort, you are able to eat in M6M for lunch or dinner as part of your all-inclusive package. We were torn between whether we should dine there for lunch, as we were told the lighting is much better and you can see an abundance of sea life; or dinner which is adults only and feels much more romantic. We decided on lunch because we just wanted to see more fishies!

Even though there were families dining at the same time, it actually added to the atmosphere as it was cute to hear the squeals of the children every time a shark, or in our experience, eel swam past! Also, due to the layout of the restaurant, all of the seats are in tables of two facing out towards the glass and the chairs have high sides so it felt very private anyway.

The lunch menu is four courses with a choice of two options for each course. I chose the scallop to start which was set on a lovely curried chickpea base and served in a shell platter. Ryan ordered the salmon which was presented in such a unique way with a washing line running over the plate with thin bread croutons pegged to the line! We both chose the Alaskan Crab and butternut squash soup which was beautiful. The dish was served with the crab in the bowl and the butternut squash soup was poured over the dish by our waitress. For the main course, we both chose the lobster (of course), it was served with purple mash and sautéed vegetables and was absolutely delicious, the lobster was cooked perfectly. Finally, the desert. I ordered the raspberry chocolate bomb which was a raspberry dome that the waitress covered in hot chocolate sauce. It was so tasty but by this point, we were absolutely stuffed!

The food and atmosphere at M6M was amazing and to top it all off, each course came with wine pairing, starting with bubbles to white, red and a desert wine. It’s fair to say I had earnt my afternoon nap after a solid two hours of eating and drinking. 

Joie De Vivre

Oh, the pool bar! I feel like we spent most of our time down at JDV! The main pool at Ozen is awesome, it stretches across the beach front with an infinity pool; four double cabana beds in one corner and several other sofa-style beds also set in the pool. There is then several other sun-loungers along the right hand side of the pool and other seating both outside and inside the bar.

Most mornings, after suitably filling ourselves at breakfast in the Palms, we would head out for a nice leisurely stroll to try and walk off some of the food and would always find ourselves ending up at JDV. My morning tipple was an iced cappuccino with a shot of Kalua. Ryan’s was a San Miguel Pale! We would also treat ourselves to a mid-afternoon-post-lunch-but-too-early-for-dinner pizza! They change the menu every day so there was a great choice! 

The views from the pool bar at sunset are phenomenal, so we would enjoy a few cheeky cocktails / wines / beers before heading to dinner… and then some evenings head back down to JDV to carry the night on!

R.A.W

As one may assume from the name, R.A.W specialises in raw, healthy foods such as sashimi, sushi platters, juices etc. Sadly, during our stay R.A.W was the only restaurant at the resort that was not open, but every day there was still a great selection of fresh sushi available at lunchtime in The Palms. When wandering around the resort, we found the location of R.A.W restaurant and it looked stunning! I feel it’s worth a trip back to this hotel just so we can try out this restaurant!

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!)

Exploring Jordan and the Lost City of Petra

This trip had been on our travel list for a while so we were really excited when we were finally able to book a long weekend away to Jordan. To be honest, we haven’t really made the most of exploring the Middle Eastern countries since living here; I guess it’s always the same when something is right on your doorstep. Jordan’s main appeal for us was the Ancient City of Petra; the basis of many films and stories, it really is crazy to imagine a city carved into the mountains, let alone one that was built in 400BC!

When planning our trip and researching online we were uncertain as to whether we wanted to hire a driver for the duration of our trip or whether to hire a car and travel around ourselves. We had read mixed reviews about the quality of hire cars, condition of the roads and also road signs. With the early starts we had planned for each day, we decided it would be the better option for us to pay slightly more and hire a driver for the three days (that way, it meant that we were able to catch up on some sleep during the journeys as well).

Jordan was not as cheap as we were expecting, the Jordanian Dinar (JOD) is almost on a par with the Pound. We also noticed that the price of petrol was quite expensive, again almost on a par with the UK, which is something you should bear in mind if you are considering hiring a car during your time in Jordan. Some friends of ours had visited Jordan in the summer and used a driver whom they highly recommended, Hamza, so I got in touch with him, outlining our full itinerary with dates and times and he replied almost instantly with a quote of 200JOD. Initially I was unsure if it was quite pricey, but considering our travel itinerary was from the Airport to the Dead Sea (approx. 1.5 hours); Dead Sea to Petra (approx. 3 hours) and Petra to Amman (approx. 3.5 hours) including petrol and tolls, I thought this to be quite reasonable. Hamza asked us to simply pay the driver at the end of our final trip which was great. You can find his Facebook page here. If you would like his mobile number please contact me privately and I can provide it.

The Dead Sea

So, we started our journey at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa. There are a cluster of hotels along the same small stretch including a Kempinski and Ramada. We decided on the Hilton because the facilities looked beautiful online, and they didn’t disappoint. On arrival, the security were extremely thorough with checking our vehicle and also our reservation before letting us enter. As we drove down to the hotel lobby we could see the entrances to the other hotels in the vicinity as well as being able to catch a glimpse of the Dead Sea. The Hilton lobby is beautiful, it’s a huge open space that looks out to the sea and has a lovely balcony with some seating overlooking the view.

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Our room was ready early (result) so we went straight there to change and head down to the pool. We found a spot near to the infinity pool but the water was freezing, so I just had a quick dip! We then went down to see what all the fuss was about on the beach. As we entered the sea it was pretty cold, although I guess we were there at the very end of November. There were also a lot rocks, pebbles and lumps of salt at the entrance of the sea. Once I was up to about hip height I threw myself forward and found I just bobbed straight up! No matter how hard I tried to touch the bottom, I just couldn’t! It’s such a strange sensation, especially when you flip onto your front and can’t get back round!

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I was told by a few people to remove all jewellery before going in, because if the jewellery is not solid gold the high salt levels within the water can cause deterioration. I wanted to absolutely ensure none went in my eyes so I kept my sunglasses on but tried to avoid getting any water on them. Ryan thought it would be a good idea to taste some of the sea… I think he may have burnt off a few taste buds in the process! We followed our short swim by smothering ourselves in the Dead Sea clay! It’s full of minerals that are supposed to be great for your skin so layered it on thick and stood out in the sun to bake it on!

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We tried out both the Italian and Arabic restaurants within the hotel and thought that both of our meals were lovely. The one thing that let this stay down was the flies! Oh my god thousands of flies! We sat outside for lunch which was a terrible idea and quickly moved inside. The staff informed us that it was fertilisation season for the fields which is why there were so many flies. So I guess you have to make the decision whether you visit in the heat of summer or in the cooler season and be attacked by flies!

Petra

The following morning we were up at around 6 to pack up, check out and start the next leg of our journey to Petra. Our driver arrived right on cue and decided to take us the scenic route via the Kings Highway. The terrain was stunning; breathtakingly stunning. We did meet a slight roadblock on the way though, two shepherds on donkeys trying to herd around thirty sheep out of the road!

We made a small detour via Little Petra which was our first taste of the Nabateean ruins. We had not yet purchased our Petra ticket but the guys at the entrance were kind enough to allow us through without showing the ticket. We hiked quite a way and navigated our way round to find some of the carvings in the mountains.

We arrived at the Petra Guest House Hotel at around 10.30am and were so lucky that our room was vacant and ready (we were seriously lucky this trip)! We dropped our bags and headed straight to get out entrance tickets to Petra as we wanted to try and beat any queues possible. The entrance price was quite steep at JOD 50 per person for a single day entry, or JOD 55 per person for a two day entry. As we were staying overnight and had the next morning free, we decided to opt for the two day entry as it was much better value for money. We were undecided about getting a tour guide, but I always feel that you learn and absorb so much more by having a local tour guide than trying to read up before and after. You can pick licensed guides up at the same place as purchasing the entrance tickets for JOD 50 which takes you from the starting point all the way through to the Roman ruins. If you wish to head further to the Monastery, the guide charges an extra JOD 50, but ours was honest enough to tell us that the route was easy to follow and we didn’t really require a guide for the final stretch.

We entered the site at around 11am and opted to do the whole thing on foot. As you enter, there are hundreds of horses, camels and donkeys that you can pay to take you through, but honestly, it just looked quite cruel, so we boycotted this entirely. Our guide was lovely and really informative, stopping every so often to show us hidden carvings in the walls and explaining about the Nabateean way of life in 400BC. It’s astonishing to imagine it all such a long time ago! The walk from the entrance to the Treasury was around an hour as we stopped for several discussions and photos along the way. As you get closer and walk through the windy path you can just about see a narrow gap forming in the rocks where you can catch a glimpse of the Treasury. You turn a corner and all of a sudden the rock opens up to a huge open space with the Treasury right in front of you. It is amazing.

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The Treasury

We saw a few people hiking up the rocks opposite to the Treasury and above the path so we decided to follow suit and found a local guy who lives up in the rocks making tea who allows you to sit and have a picture taken. He charged JOD 1 per person to go there so he was making a killing, all in the name of Instagram! We had our photo and continued on down to the Roman Ruins for around another hour. We parted with our guide and continued by foot up the 850 steps to the Monastery.

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The Monastery

That evening we had dinner and drinks at the Cave Bar which was attached to our hotel. The bar was really quirky and had small coves that could sit 2-3 people comfortably. We enjoyed some Jordanian wine (which was surprisingly good) and some local food; Ryan had a shawarma and I had a chicken and rice dish, until we were suitably stuffed!

The following day, we were up early (again), had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight back into the site towards the Treasury, in an attempt to beat the crowds one more time. We headed up the rocks back to the gypsy who lived inside and had some tea with him whilst we watch the sun fully rise across the face of the Treasury. It was a lovely morning, topped off by the fact that he had a really cute cat living up there with him, who I of course befriended.

Amman

Our final night was in Amman, the capital city of Jordan. The drive from Petra to Amman was quite long and exacerbated by the afternoon traffic around the city centre. We set off from Petra at around 12 o’clock and arrived at our hotel, the Amman Rotana, just before 4pm. We checked into our room and our intention was to head straight out to Rainbow Street which is a road full of cafes and restaurants. But the thought of sitting in more traffic for the next 30 minutes wasn’t very appealing. So we decided just to stay around our hotel and have some down time.

The hotel was lovely. The Rotana is one of only two high rise towers in Amman and with very modern interior. We asked for a high room and were given a room on the 24h floor and had views all across the city. 

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The hotel had a good choice of restaurants with the international buffet, an Italian, a bar and an Argentinian Steakhouse. We opted for the steak! We shared a 1kg Tomahawk steak which was amazing, literally melt in the mouth. The restaurant itself was lovely and the internal décor was beautiful, the only thing that was missing was customers! We were literally the only people in there! It did however, mean that the service was exceptional and we didn’t feel like the staff were just hovering around us either.

 

We spent the rest of the evening just chilling in our lovely modern hotel room, watching TV and crashed after the hectic weekend. It was much easier getting back to the airport as it took less than twenty minutes from the Amman Rotana. It was a nice way to end the trip but we agreed it would have been nice to explore Amman a bit more, there’s some Roman ruins just outside the city which would have been great to see.

Our time in Jordan was lovely, if not a bit rushed, but that’s expected when trying to cram so much into just a 3 night stay. We would have loved to explore further by visiting the Wadi Rum and seeing a bit more of Amman city centre.

Our first month with Privilee

We have just finished our first month with Privilee and it’s fair to say it has had a huge impact on our spare time for the better! Not only have we been able to make the most of the 5* hotel facilities on the weekends, we have also been making the most of the gym access during the week days (it’s taken a year but yes, I have finally gone back to the gym!)

Here are some of the highlights from our first month on Privilee:

W Hotel Dubai Palm

W for “Wow”! Upon arriving at the hotel it definitely has the wow factor of a 5* hotel. The Reception staff were really helpful and guided us to the separate Privilee desk which allowed for a seamless check in of our Privilee cards. We headed up to the first floor to visit the gym and were blown away by the view from the outside training area. The gym has views of the W Hotel pool and beach area (which is breath taking on its own), as well as views of the Atlantis, the soon to be Royal Atlantis, the Palm and the Marina. The equipment in the gym is high-tech and the treadmill had access to news channels, Youtube and many more channels. We also loved the kettle bells which were designed to look like gorillas!

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We still couldn’t get over the views from the outside training area so decided to do some abs workouts outside whilst taking in the view – honestly the views actually motivated me to train for longer! We showered and changed before heading down to relax on the beach. The only downside of the gym facilities would be that the changing rooms are relatively small and there is only one shower in the changing room.

The pool area was pretty busy by the time we got down there, approx. 10.30am but this may have been due to the fact that the top pool was closed for brunch and also with it being opening weekend on Privilee. But there were still plenty of sun beds down the beach and we managed to get the last cabana. The hotel staff came over instantly with two complimentary bottles of water and apples!

We opted for sandwiches and chips for lunch, I had the chicken and avocado sandwich whilst Ryan had the Whole Cow (hard earned from the earlier workout) and the food came quickly, fresh and very tasty. We were pleasantly surprised with the bill at the end of the day, appreciating the Prviliee discount of 20% on food as well.

Overall, we had a lovely daycation at W Hotel and felt like it was the perfect way to escape a busy week in Dubai. This is definitely a hotel we will recommend to friends and family – along with the Privilee card.

Address Hotel Dubai Marina

Sticking with our weekend gym routine we decided to visit the Address Hotel Dubai Marina on Saturday morning to take advantage of the gym facilities (as we heard that this gym also has a great view) and we were not disappointed. The gym itself is much bigger than we expected with the 5 treadmills, cross trainers, bikes and rowing machines lined up along the windows with excellent views of the Marina.

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The staff were friendly and helpful by showing us where to exchange our Privilee cards for access cards. Sadly the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t stay to make the most of the pool facilities but, having caught a glimpse of the, we will definitely return!

Waldorf Astoria the Palm

When I first arrived at the hotel the staff were extremely helpful with signing in and swapping my Privilee card for a hotel guest access card. I headed down to the gym for a quick cardio and abs session before showering and beelining straight to the beach!

I really did feel like I was on holiday for the day. The Waldorf has such a relaxing, family holiday vibe that I pitched up on the beach with a book and barely moved for 7 hours!

The hotel offers a large family friendly swimming pool which was a buzz of activity with children playing. They also have a separate adults only pool with a Jacuzzi which was  a lot calmer and more relaxing.

Bounty Beets Breakfast Spot

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 best thing about it though, is that with Privilee you receive 25% off the total bill!

Habtoor Grand

We had such a relaxing day at the Habtoor Grand, the hotel is lovely and the pool area is large with slides in the pool which is great for kids. We, however, headed straight down to the beach to switch off and unwind. This end of JBR beach is lovely because it’s much quieter and you can take in all of the amazing views of the Marina / JBR skyline.

Playa Nomade

This was my first time visiting Playa Nomade and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We arrived at 10 (when it opened) but it didn’t get busy until around 1pm. So we chose a bed by the pool (with easy access in as it was quite hot) and chilled for the day. We treated ourselves to a pizza for lunch and some strawberry daqs in the afternoon (all of which tasted even better with 25% off!)

Fidelity Fitness JLT

Fidelity Fitness is the newest gym to be added to Privilee’s ever growing list of partners. It’s located in Almas Tower in JLT which is few minutes walk from the JLT metro stop which is perfect going on the way home from work. The great thing about Fidelity Fitness is that all of their classes are free to Privilee members! They have a huge timetable of spin classes which run throughout the day every day of the week. I decided to try out the TRX class which was a tough workout but I really enjoyed it. The gym itself is huge and is spread over three rooms and has a swimming pool!

Now that the weather in Dubai is heating up and we are just about to enter Ramadan, I plan on using Privilee to the maximum on weekends and making the most of the pools (and spas) throughout the summer months!

Cheers, Privilee