Abu Dhabi Things to do

 

Back in March I returned to the UAE for the first time in years and although I didn’t fall massively in love with the place, I did have an amazing time out there. We flew into Dubai but the majority of our trip was spent in Abu Dhabi, so I thought I’d share my favourite parts of our stay:

 

Yas Waterworld

I’ve put this first because it was my favourite! I LOVED this water park, it was great for kids but also so much fun for adults!! Mo and I had a blast trying out all the rides and generally enjoying the sun from the water. The food at the kiosks was tasty, we spent the whole day there, didn’t get bored and all the staff are friendly and helpful.

*** Top tip – take your own towel, otherwise you have to pay to hire one!

 

The view from Tiara

During our stay, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at the Tiara restaurant in Marina Mall. Not just any kind of restaurant, a sky high revolving one. I’ll be honest, the food wasn’t great – it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t amazing either. The view however, was fab and I only wish we could have visited during the day as well to see just how far out the skyline stretched.

 

Emirates Palace

One of the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever walked into, Emirates Palace is ostentatious even by Arab standards. Theres marble and gold leaf pillars and arches. Obscenely large crystal chandeliers and spectacular lighting scenes illuminating every perfectly thought out nook and cranny. Even the grounds on the outside are a sight to behold, the hotel has its own beach and private marina as well as 14 seasonal restaurants!?! We stayed for a light mezze lunch – although it obviously wasn’t cheap. The afternoon tea here is meant to be spectacular and costs around £50 per person – once you’ve added all the extra charges.

 

Shopping, shopping, shopping

Now I’ve probably pointed out many times that shopping really isn’t my thing. At all. I will never ever ever pick shopping as an experience. Wait I tell a lie – I do enjoy souvenir and local craft shopping – the kind of stuff that is locally made, locally sourced and you can connect with local people. But anyway, back to the other kind of shopping – the Emirates are famous for their large and heavily populated malls filled with big brands from all over the world. Dubai mall may be the most famous, but there are a number of nice ones in Abu Dhabi too such as: Marina Mall, Yas Mall, Al Raha Mall and The Galleria.

 

Last but definitely not least…

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The most famous tourist site in Abu Dhabi, and what a sight it is. Its architecturally beautiful, a peaceful place for reflection and is dripping in opulence. I wrote a whole blog post about it some time ago (click here to check it out) but it’s definitely one of the few things in Abu Dhabi you can’t afford to miss, visually stunning during the day or night.

*** Top tip – There’s a dress code for anyone wanting to enter the mosque. You can hire abayas (Arabian cover ups) on site but it’s advisable to wear clothes that cover your arms and legs out of respect.

 

 

Have you been to Abu Dhabi? What did you get up to?

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You can imagine when this Sheraton opened in Abu Dhabi as one of the first few hotels in the late 70’s it would have fit right in. But now? it’s a world away from the surrounding modern, glass, obnoxiously tall skyscrapers that dominate the centre.

Some Tripadvisor reviews have described its appearance as out-dated. It’s significantly smaller than most hotels (height wise anyway) but holds its own off Corniche Road with its sand-textured exterior.

Quite frankly, the fact that this family-friendly hotel is an exact opposite of what the rest of the City has become, is the main reason I hope to return.

After almost 24hours of travelling, Mo expertly navigated us from Dubai straight down the Sheikh Zayed Road until we finally screeched to a halt outside our hotel. Greeted with smiles, and sympathetic looks as they could sense (and probably see) our exhaustion we were ushered through the revolving doors and into the cool lobby. Here we were greeted by the even friendlier reception staff who took us through our stay.

As this trip was a family affair, we had three rooms booked, two were sorted quickly and ready straight away. Mo and I had to wait for our room as the hotel had kindly arranged for us to have a resort view upgrade. It was worth the wait as we were treated to this wonderful welcome:

Generous sized double bed, tv, desk area, balcony… I’m not going to go into major detail here because this room is exactly what they say it is, there are no hidden issues. My favourite element was the bathroom. Spacious power shower cubicle, large bathtub and my main concern on any visit – very clean and in good condition. A perfect base for our family holiday.

Let me take you through a few of my favourite things:

First, breakfast. A large continental fully stocked breakfast spread awaited us every morning. As a family we all had different eating habits, some opted for cereal, others egg, waffles, pancakes, cakes or all of the above. Personally, I couldn’t stay away from the traditional middle eastern choice… Foul moudamas. I had it every. single. day. I don’t for one second think you should do the same – but no visit to this area of the world is complete without at least trying it.

Speaking of food, we sampled a few meals at the hotel. We ordered from the all day menu a couple of times, from our room and also by the pool. The quality each time was of a very high standard, most times better than that of the fancy restaurants we visited in the city!

One thing I should mention which was a disappointment food wise (bearing in mind it was the only one) was the club level deals. Although they seemed reasonable, the club level itself was a bit of a let down – more so for those that don’t drink alcohol. The Cloud 9 area was quite small and the dining options weren’t as good as what we could find in other parts of the hotel, so as a non-drinker, upgrading to club access wasn’t worth it.

For the first time in the history of me staying at a hotel, I decided to use the gym. I really enjoyed it too! The leisure centre facilities are free for hotel guests. The machines looked brand new, I was completely spoilt for choice and the staff manning it were helpful and friendly. I found myself waking up at unheard of hours just to squeeze in an hour or so whilst the others slept (how I miss it!).

If the gym isn’t your thing, when on a sunny holiday you can’t go without stopping by the pool. It wasn’t huge, but it had a swim up bar and lots of surrounding deck chairs and tables mapped out over the sun spots. We spent most of our time at the kids pool, of which there are two, one for tiny tots and one for toddlers.

The kids had an absolute blast. I had brought with me some inflatables that I purchased from Bestway beforehand and I’d encourage anyone else with kids to do the same. Inflatables obviously flat pack so take up no room in luggage and just think of the hours of fun you can get out of them?!

Done with the pool? There’s always the beach. Again, I’ll be honest, it’s not huge. Unfortunately Abu Dhabi seems to have some weird ideas on road construction as the main Corniche Road bridges over the mouth of the bay which opens out to the sea from the private beach area. Don’t get me wrong there is still sand and sea, it’s just not a very big space. There is a water sports centre (quite reasonably priced I thought) which offer everything from paddle boards, canoes, banana boats and more, and don’t worry, they would take you out past the bay and into the open water.

Whilst we were there the hotel put on an outdoor cinema evening (family-friendly), with large double bean bags, popcorn and a traditional Arabic barbecue menu (5AED shawarmas!!) right on the beach.

After dinner, the outdoor B-Lounge transforms into a chic seating area for the adults wanting to relax. The amphitheatre style steps are covered in majlis cushions, lots of ambient light boxes and fairy lights hugged the palm trees (just like mine at home!). Here couples and groups can order drinks, food and sheesha. Resident dj’s put on evening sets of cool, relaxing tones – nothing heady hard-core. One night really made me smile when I heard one of our favourites Kwabs subtly echoing round the perimeter.

The more I look back over our trip the more I realise how much use we made of all the services that were available. The laundry service was on time; reception always on hand; lifeguard at the pool helped when I had a cut on my knee; dessert counter in the lobby made a beautiful cake we took away as a gift; concierge made calls for us when we needed to book places.

Before checking out, I grabbed a quick coffee with Judith, the Director of Marketing just to give some feedback on our stay and to ask her thoughts on the hotel and Abu Dhabi (you can see her #top3tips here).

She mentioned that the hotel still welcomes guests from when it first opened, regulars who now bring their children to the club, return to stay at the weekends and some staff members can boast 30+ years of service. For a hospitality business, that’s no mean feat and as she recounted tales I found myself nodding, as after a week here I can see why people would return.

For a country where ‘big and bold’ is everything, it was a welcome relief to stay in a hotel that didn’t boast over the top opulence. As a family of 6 adults and 2 children it catered to every eventuality. When you spend your time sight seeing round the Emirates and all you can see is bling, bling, bling, coming back to a homely, comfortable hotel was exactly what we needed.

image-taken-from-sheraton-website-abu-dhabi-Hotel-Exterior-day-view-1600x900

So…

When we going back?

 

Thank you to everyone at the Sheraton for taking such good care of my whole family during our stay, the service we received throughout was excellent!

Anyone interested in booking – we booked our hotel 6 months in advance through www.agoda.com as they offered the best rate – (If you go through quidco you can even claim some cashback on it!)

** Mo and I received a view upgrade (from road to resort), not a room upgrade. This review is based on a 6 night stay in a Classic room.

 

Have you stayed at the Sheraton on Corniche Road? What are your thoughts on simple elegance vs over the top opulence?

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Before visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi I had scrolled through hundreds of photos (hundreds!) and I was afraid that the over-exposure would result in a bit of an anti-climax on arriving there. Luckily this was not the case.

We had passed the grand minarets numerous times. Driving down Sheikh Zayed road at any time of the day, you can’t miss it. It’s a refreshing sight of purity amongst the tall, modern skyscrapers that dominate most Emirati city skylines.

The lovely Lorraine advised us the best time to visit was at night time. However, due to our tight schedule we were only able to make one trip over, and we decided that the best time for us, as Muslims, was to visit for Friday afternoon prayers.

The largest mosque in the UAE, designed to fit around 40,000 worshippers, it really is a sight to behold. The flowing water, the pristine white wash, the calligraphy, it’s a place of tranquillity and calm for any visitor. Mo was quick to point out it looked just like ‘Agrabah Palace’ from Aladdin (minus the minarets), which makes sense as the building design is a hybrid of Persian, Moghul and Moorish architecture.

The mosque is home to the largest carpet in the world, created by an Iranian designer, the third largest chandelier in the world can be seen in the central prayer hall and the lighting system installed here is phenomenal!! (I’ve only witnessed this on a video and when driving past on an evening).

Having worked in the lighting industry, I am obsessed with the scheme used, designed by world famous lighting architects Speirs & Majors, it really is creativity at its best. As the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, they took their inspiration from the phases of the moon. The external hues mimic the different stages, so every couple of nights it’ll lighten or darken accordingly. GENIUS.

Of course being a mosque, there is a dress code. We were arriving for prayer time so I was already donning my abaya and scarf, but I believe ladies can actually borrow cover ups once you’re there. Not only should you be appropriately dressed, but you must also behave yourself. There is to be no swearing, no loud ringtones, no smoking, no food or drink. It’s a religious site that expects to be respected (as you should any other!).

Speaking of prayer time – if you get a chance do try to coincide your visit with one of the five daily prayers (Friday afternoon is the busiest). For Muslims, its always nice to pray in any mosque amongst fellow Muslims. And for non-Muslims, its a great opportunity to witness the Islamic way of prayer and how even a large congregation of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities can stand alongside each other and follow a harmonious pattern in perfect sync.

Here are a few of my favourite snaps from our visit:

As a Muslim, I am lucky enough to have access to what I believe are the most incredibly beautiful (traditional) architectural creations in the world – the two holy mosques in Saudi Arabia. But for those who can’t make it there, Sheikh Zayed has created the next best thing.

An up to date Moorish-inspired masterpiece, perfect for those who want a peaceful place to reflect.

All the pictures on this post are from my own collection, however I would encourage you ALL to check out the lovely Emma’s post and marvel at her stunning photography – it blew me away!! – Click here to see what I mean

 

Have you visited? Did you think it lived up to its images?

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A lot of my ideas and projects are usually initiated or expanded on with the help of my dad. And this post just happens to be one of those I’ve decided to nick from him (he’s my dad, he won’t mind).

Recently when putting together a spreadsheet to help guide us on the religious holiday we were headed for, he decided to approach friends and family who had been and ask them for their top three tips. A simple, genius idea which I instantly knew I wanted to adopt.

Amended the concept slightly… I’ve decided to collect my top three tips from locals I come across whilst travelling – a great way not only to get good on the ground tips, but also to engage with new people.

So without further a-do, here are the #top3tips I collected from Abu Dhabi:

 

Lorraine - Abu Dhabi

1. If you want to take the kids out for a day, they would definitely have lots more fun at Yas Water Park than they would at Ferrari world. Ferrari world is generally aimed at the ‘big kids’ in the group, the ones who are into the Ferrari brand. If you’re not, 250AED (approx. 50quid) is a bit much to be spending on a theme park, which won’t really take up a whole day.

2. There’s lots of fun to be had at Yas Marina. Perfect for anyone into or wanting to try out watersports such as wake surfing, paddle boarding and kayaking. You can also charter mini cruises to take you out for the day.

3. Everybody who comes to Abu Dhabi has to make a trip out to see the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. I would recommend going to see it at night – in fact everything in Abu Dhabi should be seen at night, it’s cooler and everything feels so much more magical.

 

Family Friend - Abu Dhabi

1. One of our favourite places to go with the kids on the weekend is the beach! The Corniche is perfect for walkers, cyclists and there are plenty of spots to enjoy a picnic or marvel at the coastal views.

2. Anyone wanting a place to really unwind, needs to take a trip out to one of the other Emirates –Ras Al Khaimah. It takes just over a couple of hours to drive there but it’s worth it.

3. For the ultimate desert trip head to Qasr al Sarab in the Rub’Al Khali, the largest desert in the world.  The Anantara here is not just the right place for those wanting to spend time on the dunes, it’s also one of the most luxurious locations this side of the UAE.

 

Judith - Abu Dhabi

1. The expat community here is huge, making it so easy to make new connections. As a visitor it means the people you meet are usually happy to stop for a chat. It’s always interesting to converse with staff at restaurants, shops, drivers, venues and here how they find their Middle East experience.

2. Take advantage of the food. There’s so much of it around! Going back to having such a large expat community, whether it’s fine dining or not, the chances are the food you’re eating will be authentic.

3. Whatever you do this is a place that lets you relax, take your time. Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi is a lot more chilled out. You don’t have to worry about hour long traffic jams wherever you go and everything is less busy and chaotic. You don’t necessarily have to hire a car to get around here either as travelling via taxi is so quick and cheap.

 

So there you have it. Can you think of any other Abu Dhabi ‘know-before-you-go’ travel tips?

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I’m off on my first International trip for 2016 this Saturday, back to a part of the world which for many years I called home.

I moved back to England in the summer of 1999 after having lived my whole life (up to that point obviously) in Saudi Arabia. My primary years spent living in the coastal town Jeddah, my secondary school years in the capital, Riyadh.

This trip will be my first time back to the Middle East since coming here all those years ago. I’m not intentionally travelling for a nostalgic trip, but just being back in that part of the world will I’m sure bring back many happy memories.

We start in the UAE – staying in Abu Dhabi, allowing ourselves some time to check out Dubai, another place I visited in my younger years, way before the rapid development and expansion of this super city started.

After that, it’s off to Saudi Arabia for a spiritual holiday. We’ll be headed to the holiest sites in the world for Muslims, situated in the regions of Makkah and Madinah. Living in Riyadh I was fortunate enough to have both these cities practically on my doorstep, and I have visited them many times with my family throughout my childhood.

Like the UAE, the Saudi government are constantly expanding and regenerating the two holy sites (mosques) and the surrounding areas so I can imagine a lot of changes must have occurred in the last 16 years.

Although I’m having quite a hectic week trying to work, catch up with people and of course pack I thought I’d share a few old snaps I found. I’m quite looking forward to seeing how much has changed! (and to form my own opinion on whether its for better or for worse).

As much as I’d love to sit and spend the night reminiscing, I have some serious packing to take care of.

 

Anyone visited the places I’ve photographed above? Jumeirah beach seems to be the go to place for most people in Dubai these days… wonder if I’ll recognise it 😉

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