Family staycation review: Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi
The royal treatment…
Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi is a hotel that needs no introduction, but seeing as these sorts of reviews come with one as standard, let’s dive in. It’s a name that’s synonymous with unbridled luxury, and just a brief exploratory mosey through the grand boulevard-sized, art-strewn corridors, would confirm its regal status to even the staunchest skeptic. But since the Mandarin Oriental renovations began, the hotel operators claim that this grand dame of the leisure stage, is equally appropriate a destination for family holidays. So we took one, let’s say, ‘energetic’ five-year-old, a very stubborn two-year-old and two perennially tired parents to find out if Emirates Palace really does offer a royal welcome to families.
Found at the glitzy end of Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, Emirates Palace has some pretty august neighbours. To one side, there’s Qasr Al Watan, a stunning piece of architecture that serves as the site of the UAE’s Presidential Palace. On the other side of the road, there’s the cloud bothering clutch of skypiercers, Etihad Towers. And before it, 1.3 kilometres of immaculate private coastline. All good palaces should come with a long and winding path up from the gate to the entrance, this one does not disappoint. Past a king’s guard of fountains in full pomp, weaving through some of the 100 hectares of manicured lawns and gardens — it is an expectation-setting ceremony, a journey into splendour.
The look and feel
You have to make a conscious effort to not use the word ‘palatial’ when describing the property. It’s not easy, the definitive qualities are politley screaming the word at you from every direction. But it suffices to say that it is on a completely different level to any other hotel in Abu Dhabi, likely the whole of the UAE. It’s so fancy in fact, that I was always mindful not to clap my hands, in case I accidentally summoned a scullery maid from the wings. I did and it did not. The feel is not cold or bumptious though — on the contrary, it’s light and inviting, like a decadent Disney chateaux frozen in pre-corronation jubilations. The staff are warm, and forever content to field ‘so how do I get to?” questions (which will come, the hotel is gigantic) alongside cross-examination from the smaller contingent, of the sorts — ‘does the queen live here?’ ‘why is there gold on the ceiling?’ and ‘do these (palm trees in one of the corridors) have monkeys in them (they do not)?
There’s a massive gym; two separate pool complexes on each hemispheric wing — one has what amounts to a water park complete with slides, kids’ club, and lazy river; the other has a meandering stream, hot tub, swim-up bar and overwater hammocks; you can ride camels along the beach at dusk, play tennis or padel or beach volleyball, do yoga, have a bonfire brunch at a pool bar or just go for a meditative stroll through the gardens. And then there’s…
Almost every spa in Abu Dhabi seems to brand itself as award-winning, but few are as accolade worthy as this wellness gem. It is a haven of serenity, with private suites, two hammams and a menu full of exotic treatments that really put the amp into pampering. We had a Fire and Ice foot bedazzling with black diamond scrub, a signature treatment from the Bastien Gonzales range and in addition to the raw enjoyment of the hedonistic ritual, the sensation following the session was like we had been given a new pair of legs to start afresh with. We also experienced the Rose and Oud Hammam, which was 90 minutes of the most audaciously indulgent sensorial bliss you’re ever likely to encounter.
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A little way along the western stretch of beach lies a fully air conditioned hub for all things watersports and it really is one of the resort’s highlights. Non-motorised activities are free for hotel guests, but the real fun is to be had on the more gnarley equipment. Guided jet ski tours of local islands, doughnut boats and the outfit’s resident Poseidon, Dean — is a wakeboarding impresario. He managed, in one session, to get our five year old son, up and waterskiing at the age of five. Forgive the paternal pride, but it’s a core memory, none of us are likely to forget.
We stayed in a Panoramic Sea View Suite which was near enough the same floor space as entire hotels we’ve stayed in when backpacking in Europe. There’s a separate living room, bedroom, balcony terrace, and a bathroom with free-standing bath and walk-in wardrobes. There are of course more modest rooms, that also come with balconies and handsome views of either the Corniche’s towerscape or beach and garden. Across the portfolio, the interior detailing is modern, Arabian inspired and elegant without an ounce of ostentation.
The food and drinks
On the grounds for your tastebud tantalising pleasure — there’s an outstanding Italian restaurant called Talea, from Michelin Star-winning chef Antonio Guida; a multiple What’s On Award-winning Indian restaurant — Martabaan form renowned culinary kingpin, Hemant Oberoi; epic, MENA 50 Best recognised, Cantonese restaurant, Hakkasan; and traditional Middle Eastern hospitality and local Arabian cuisine at Mezlai. There are many more fine dining delights contained within the palace walls but our recommendation would be to ensure you take in the gold leaf cappuccinos and exquisite afternoon tea selection at Le Café.
The room rates
Standard rooms start at around Dhs1,581 and the particular suite we stayed in is available at a rate of Dhs4,221. There are offers of course — right now for example, you’d find discounts on half-board and cut price costs (from Dhs1,000) available exclusively to UAE residents.
Claim confirmed — Emirates Palace truly does make for the very best kind of family holiday.
You can book your stay now on the mandarinoriental.com website. Tel: (02) 690 8888