December 6, 2015

Review: Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa Dubai (2015)

Planning & Booking
American Express Centurion Lounge DFW
Emirates A380 First Class Dallas to Dubai
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa Dubai
Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Emirates 777-300 First Class Dubai to Male
Transfer to Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Park Hyatt Maldives - Resort & Park Villa
Park Hyatt Maldives - Water Villa
Transfer to Male
Singapore Airlines 777-200ER Business Class Male to Singapore
Grand Hyatt Singapore
Singapore Airlines The Private Room Singapore
Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class Singapore to Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco

After a phenomenal flight on Emirates we were first off the A380 and through immigration in a matter of minutes.  We hit the ATM and duty free to grab a bottle of scotch given that liquor is about the only thing not included at Al Maha.

Since we didn't check bags we were outside of customs 30 minutes after exiting the plane.  It was a sunny and warm day in Dubai as we met our driver in the arrivals hall.  I had pre-booked transportation (our driver was waiting for us with a name placard) through the hotel which I would highly recommend.  Round trip transport cost around $150.  The resort is a 45 minute drive from the airport.  The last 15 minutes you're driving through conservation park over dirt roads with little light.  Our return trip was going to be very early in the morning so we were glad to have someone that was used to navigating the route.

Welcome to Al Maha

Before I get into the review, a little background on Al Maha.  The resort is situated in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve which is essentially a protected park owned by the government.  While others can use the park, Al Maha is the only hotel located within the boundaries.  The park is pretty massive - encompassing 225 square kilometers which is nearly 5% of Dubai.  The resort plays a pivotal role in managing the park's ecosystem and sharing all that the park has to offer with others.

The resort opened in 1999 and has been affiliated with Starwood's Luxury Collection since opening.  Cash rates start at ~ $1000 and award pricing is essentially cost prohibitive (60,000 SPG points/night).  Given the recent 35% off sale, we figured this would be a great time to try out the property at 39,000 points per night.  Not cheap by any means but after our stay, I honestly can't wait to return.  Even at 60,000 points per night I think it would be worth it.  We were absolutely wowed by this place.  Given the price and the intimate nature of the resort (42 suites) there aren't a ton of reviews online.  Hopefully this review helps others considering a journey to Al Maha.

Al Maha

The drive from DXB to the resort took us quickly through the city and into the desert.  While only 45 minutes from the city, the park feels like a world away.  We turned off the main road and entered the park where there are several security checkpoints before arriving at the resort.  Al Maha really feels like a desert camp as there is absolutely nothing else around.  Our bags were whisked away while we were warmly welcomed into the hotel's "library" by Maria.  Check in formalities were processed while seated.  Cold towels and tea were provided while our passports were scanned.  Maria introduced us to Niko who would serve as our field guide for our time at Al Maha.  He had already confirmed our activities and informed us of start times and where to meet.  Maria informed us that we'd been upgraded to a royal suite (no idea why but no complaints) and a drove us to the room in a buggy.

The suites are situated in such a way that you have complete privacy from the "backyard" deck and pool.  We felt completely alone early in the morning and late at night relaxing in the pool staring up at the stars/sun/moon.  Amazing.

Royal Suite - Master Bedroom

Royal Suite - second bedroom

Living room

Best Nespresso setup ever

Welcome amenity


I'll let the pictures speak for themselves - the 2 room suite with giant deck and pool was likely the nicest (Four Seasons Bali at Sayan a close second) room we're every stayed in.

Our bedroom featured a massive king bed, sitting area, closet, and writing desk.  The second bedroom was essentially the same with two twin beds.  Both bathrooms contained an amazing shower, tub, dual vanity, and Bulgari amenities.  There were literally a dozen bottles of water in each room and a Nespresso with an array of capsule choices.  Each room contained an easel in case the desert landscape moves you to draw.

The outdoor area was massive.  We could have had 10 people over to relax in the pool.

Amazing view from the deck

We used the second bedroom and outdoor table as our "dining areas" when we ordered room service. We would have been perfectly comfortable in a normal (~900 square feet) suite but were very appreciative of the upgrade.

After putting our things away, we ordered room service for lunch.  Al Maha is an all-inclusive property.  3 meals a day are included.  You can eat in the restaurant or take the meals in your suite.  You can basically order whatever you want off the menu in either scenario.  Everything we ate was outstanding.  There is tea (complete with the traditional food pairings) served in the lobby in the afternoons.  Two activities are included per day as well.  The only thing not included is alcohol.  We had several drinks during dinner and in the lobby bar and prices were totally reasonable - $10 - $15 AI.

Room service lunch

After a great lunch we cleaned up and made our way to the lobby for an hour long drive through the desert - our first activity.  Niko explained all about the history of the park, the flora and fauna, as well as the conversation efforts to ensure the park stays beautiful for years to come.  We stopped at the Falcon "stable" on the way back to the resort where we got to meet these guys.

Oscar the Owl

Jazeera the Falcon


Next up was the camel ride!  We met in the lobby and were led down to our awaiting motorcade.  There were probably 20 people on the ride and after saddling, we set off into the sunset for 20 minutes or so.  We arrived at the top of a dune where the resort has a full bar (seriously) setup in the middle of the desert.  Amazing moment watching the sunset over the dunes.

We took in the view and were all too soon back on our camel for the ride to the resort.  It is certainly an experience to ride a camel.  Although 40 minutes is a long time.  An alternative is a sundowner drive (led by your field guide) out the same spot which I think I would do next time.

Bar in the middle of the desert

It had been a long day so we ordered room service and watched the stars come out from our back yard.

Nighttime swim

The next morning we woke up excited to go dune bashing!

Sunrise over Oman

Royal Suite # 30

Emily was a bit nervous - especially when Niko told us not to eat breakfast until after.  Both of us had a blast and our stomachs seemed to cooperate with the rollercoaster like ride in the middle of the desert.  In my opinion, this was the best activity.  We drove (in a motorcade again) through the resort grounds and reserve into another Emirate (Sharjah) before making our way over the dunes.  Niko expertly guided us up and over the soft sand in his 4 x 4.  Seriously so fun.

Let's go bash some dunes

Nothing but sand

And more sand...

We stopped at the top of "the big dune" for a photo opp.

Back to the hotel for a great breakfast.  You can order off the menu and there is an extensive buffet inside as well.

Breakfast with a view

We spent the rest of the day lounging around the pool.  We ordered room service for lunch and had a special guest join us throughout the afternoon.

Our gazelle friend

After an awesome day of relaxing we had a couple of beers at the lobby bar.  Cold Peroni on tap staring into the blackness of the desert.  Unbelievable.

Dinner time

Lobby bar

Daytime view from the lobby bar patio

We finished our drinks and headed down to eat dinner outside under the stars.  The five course meal was outstanding - service was very good and the staff was extremely proactive with Emily's food allergy.  While we enjoyed room service for dinner the night before, I would definitely recommend eating at the restaurant.  There are only so many places in the world where you can eat outside year around with nothing around except for other diners, stars, and animals.

Arabian Oryx

Our time at Al Maha had all too soon come to an end.  Our transport (same driver) was waiting for us when we arrived at the lobby in the morning.  I can't recommend Al Maha highly enough.  The service was 5 star perfect.  All the staff we interacted with (especially Maria and our field guide Niko) were top notch professionals.  The room felt like a second home and the food was excellent.  We cannot wait to return.

Even at the normal SPG redemption rate (60,000 points/night) I think Al Maha can still be an excellent value when you consider the all-inclusive nature of the resort.  I would guess the activities would run $100 - $200 per person so if you're excited about the activities on offer, there is a ton of value there.  If you add in resort meal pricing at probably $150-$200 per person per day, the actual cost of the room is far less.  How many places can you redeem SPG points for activities and great meals?

While we were very sad to say goodbye to Al Maha, we were soon off to DXB for another Emirates First Class flight.  But first up the Emirates First Class Lounge!!

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