In the five years that I have lived in Dubai, I have never spent a night or two in one of the swanky hotels in town. There are more 5* hotels in this town than there are red buses in London and yet I have always had a reason not enjoy the perks of these institutions. This run of bad luck finally came to an end the other week when I went to Bab Al Shams.
Bab al Shams is theoretically not in Dubai, but with the growth of Dubailand (finally!), al Shams is literally on your doorstep now. 20 minutes drive away from Jumeirah (who coincidentally own the Shams), past some “watch the camel and horses” signs and you are in the desert haven of the resort.
With no sea and only miles of desert around you might wonder why the hell you would spend a weekend away in this 5* star hotel when you live by the sea. The reasoning is that it was cheap (Ramadan offers gotta love them) and it was away from the main part of Dubai. I live 5 minutes from the sea, I can smell the sea especially when the tide is out (so not nice), and so the sea is not a novelty for me. The desert is much more of a novelty for us now, as all we usually see are high rises and crazy arse drivers.
Once you have entered and valeted your car at the Shams you check in (you only need your UAE licence if you are a resident here), show your Sirius card (us Dubians love our points cards) and given a cold towel to cool yourself down. Then a lovely lady called Nadia in authentic Bedouin stylee outfit took us to our adjoining rooms. The pictures do not do justice for the rooms. They were beautifully set out with Arabic style decor. The design of the rooms was how I wish I could decorate my place. Nadia showed us around the room and gave me the internet cable to assist me with doing work whilst staying at the resort (yep violins please start playing). We techno-geeks in the group did complain about the lack of wireless service in the resort especially in the room. Nadia then left us to admire the room and outside where we had a small outdoors area to sit in the evening when it was cooler.
We had problems with our espresso machine in our room not working, but as soon as we told the operator someone was at our door within 10 minutes to check it out and within two minutes after that we had a new machine. 2 hours later we were also provided a fruit basket with lovely dates in them.
We were slightly disappointed that we had not been able to make bookings to use the spa (using our Entertainer vouchers) as the Spa was fully booked that weekend, but after talking to the concierge and especially a lady called Crystal they took our details and promised to call us as soon as there were any cancellations. Later on in the day, three out of the four of us were able to make booking s for the next day to get a massage. We were impressed, but slight peeved that we had been told the week before when making the hotel booking that we wouldn’t need to book for the spa. Hmmmm. Anyway problem sorted.
Next onto the pool area which is the main reason to come to the resort. To say it is huge is an understatement. There are four pools, kiddy, length, shallow pool and the main pool. Within the main pool is a roman style square atrium style Jacuzzi section which is fab if you want to get jacuzzied and read a book. Around the pool area there were so many sun loungers that you won’t need to fight with any Germans for some space (and there weren’t many of them around, few Italians though). As soon as you get to the pool area, the manager comes to greet you, asks you how many in your group, shows you an ideal location and then gets towels sent to your loungers. Before you have sat down the loungers are sorted and the umbrellas are out to shield you. Then it is time to relax. It was great. We had fresh fruit brought to us every so often, cold towels, and we could order the newspaper to read and also drinks all the time. The service was non-intrusive. We were able to do what we wanted in peace and quiet. I haven’t read a book quietly for so long. It was lovely.
You can’t stay in a resort and not eat. For lunch on both days we went to Al Forsan which is a buffet restaurant near the pool. We decided to forego the buffet and use our entertainer vouchers to order our lunch (Its buy one get one free!). The food was delicious (so good that we had practically the same the next day). The manager was a kindly Indian guy who spoilt us rotten and was lovely to chat to.
Our dinner was not as amazing. It was Ramadan so there was Ramadan buffet food at Al Hadeerah. This restaurant is supposed to have the best Emirati food, but by the time we got there at 7.30 (an hour and half after iftar) the good stuff had run out and the food was mediocre in taste. I don’t know if it was because they had finished their run of cooking or due to cooking so much for so many people, but it was not great food especially for a Jumeirah place. We were so disappointed that we got a discount on our bill when we were checking out. The show which is shown around 9ish, provides the brief story of Dubai (I think!) was cool with real horses and horsemen, donkeys (that rolled around in the sand), goats and other animals, providing the entertainment in the sand dunes on top of the restaurant. We also had a Sufi man dancing around in circles which seems to be the national dance during the month of Ramadan (although I don’t remember this in Ramadan’s past in this town).
The next day we went horse riding. We thought the stables were within Bab al Shams but actually they are next door to the resort, part of Endurance city. We went out in the desert for 1 hour with lovely horses and a great Filipino guy who was patient with the newbie riders and me (I’m not a newbie but it had been a while). We saw a massive chameleon that ran and changed colour while going over the dunes and had to deal with my panting horse. But it was a great feeling although we were dying of thirst at the end. For 200AED it is expensive but for a one off trip it is worth the money. We also had the privilege of meeting the Emirati owner of the stables who showed us a new stunning stallion he was bringing to the stables. We learnt that the majority of horses including the ones we rode on are or were owned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed so we felt kind of special and also thought they must be good if HH owns them!
The final part of our weekend break was enjoying the spa services. There seemed to be issues with the manager and her spa staff when I got there, but they were attentive with me and I had a great masseur who tried to get the big knots out of my shoulders. She did recommend I go see her again at the Talise spa at Al Qasr in Madinat Jumeirah and have a hot stone massage. I am taking her up on that recommendation very soon. The spa was the usual high standard you expect from a Dubai spa. It was clean, beautifully set out and you were treated well. I have to say I do make the most of the spas here so I can only really comment on a spa if the service is beyond amazing or not up to the normal Dubai standard (god I sound spoilt).
At the end of our stay we still had great service. Whilst waiting for our cars to come from valet we were provided water and asked to take a seat in one of the cool outdoor seats, to relax and wait for our cars. I didn’t want to go home but when its time its time.
I am now making it my mission to go to more of these hotels every other month to spend a weekend relaxing and winding down. It’s a great thing to do especially if you are unable to leave town due to work or whatever and it’s not that expensive. As a resident I highly recommend that you get the Entertainer book and use it to the max. Between my spa book and our friends dining book, we were able to make a lot of additional savings on staying at the resort. Also you don’t need a partner to go to these hotels and resorts. Go with friends in a group and you get to hang out, chat, chill and make the most of what we have offered here in this town and country. There are so many perks for us residents of UAE so we should make the most of it.
Now I have to think about where to go next. Any ideas?
(Ps this is the site for Bab Al Shams http://www.jumeirah.com/en/Hotels-and-Resorts/Destinations/Dubai/Jumeirah-Bab…