We wondered if we were crazy. With almost four weeks and eight hotels in South Africa, what were we thinking when we booked a stopover in Dubai, requiring a ninth hotel?
Not only that, but everyone we knew who’d been to Dubai said they didn’t like it. “Like Las Vegas,” they said. “Hot!” they said.
But we were committed to finding out first-hand if this was something we would want to recommend to clients flying to or from Africa. And this is the verdict…
Now, in fairness, we didn’t stay in Dubai proper. Rather, a sedan whisked us straight to a desert oasis called Al Maha. It's located in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, less than an hour’s drive from the airport but a world away from anything resembling Las Vegas.
This and cover photo courtesy of Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa
Our private check-in
I enjoyed telling my friends that I went "camping"—"in a tent"—"in the desert." In Dubai, no less. But the tent was over 800 square feet of luxury, my favorite way to travel. :)
The goodies were tasty—but look at this glass-topped coffee table!
I thought beforehand that the bathroom might look a bit dated. But seeing it in person, it all worked nicely with the overall décor.
Entry to the toilet room
The pièce de résistance was our very private plunge pool. “If you would like the water warmer or cooler, let us know,” we were told. “That can be handled remotely.”
Words fail me to describe the feeling that came over me, with elbows propped on that infinity edge, looking out over the vastness of the desert landscape. It was a peacefulness that seems hard to come by in our hectic society. Now that I’m back in the real world, my mind sometimes takes little mental journeys back to this pool at Al Maha.
Soon it was time for lunch in the dining room. The architecture, the décor and the waiters’ uniforms served as constant reminders that we were in a very special place. An exotic place.
Al Maha’s rates generally include not only meals, but afternoon and morning activities. For riders with at least three or four years’ experience, there are Arabian horses.
Photo courtesy of Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa
Other activities include falconry, a nature walk in the Arabian desert, a wildlife safari in an air-conditioned 4x4, a dune drive (not for the faint of heart) or archery. But we knew immediately that our afternoon choice would be the camel ride across the desert with a champagne sundowner.
Photo courtesy of Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa
“But camels stink,” friends warned us. That would not be acceptable at Al Maha. We were told these camels receive their daily beauty bath, and we certainly detected no odor.
We loved it! There was just something about knowing that we were really in Arabia, these were real Arabian camels, and our guides weren’t secretly employed by the Disney corporation.
A camel named Clyde. (Not really, but I have to admit, Ray Stevens did come to mind more than once!)
We rode for about a mile into the desert, enjoying the camel's gentle rocking motion. Of course, we weren’t used to riding, so a couple of times along the way we both voiced words to the effect of, “I’m going to be sore tomorrow, but this is SO worth it!” (Turns out we didn’t get sore anyway.)
We knew there would be champagne, but didn’t know a mini-feast would be awaiting our arrival. Whoever came up with sundowners had a brilliant invention.
Serving up refills, this was the most popular man in the desert. (Yes, there is alcohol in the UAE.)
Ah, Arabian nights! Dinner was a magical time in the comfortably warm desert night air, with candles and torches providing a romantic glow. (Left photo below courtesy of Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa.)
We wondered if we’d been crazy to add this stop onto an already long trip to Africa. What we learned is that, yes, we were crazy: we were crazy about Al Maha! South Africa was a wonderful experience but, totally unexpectedly, Al Maha is the place I keep coming back to in my mind.
So if you’re considering a stopover in Dubai, realize that Dubai can look like Vegas. Or, it can look (and sound) like this…
Disclosure: we were guests of Al Maha without any obligation for either bookings or review. The post above is our honest evaluation of the property—which wasamazing!
If you would like to experience the wonders of Al Maha for yourself, ScheckTrek Travel can provide the following complimentary amenities for 2017 (and expected to continue):
• Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability • Daily full breakfast for up to two persons per room [generally included in the rate] • $100 USD equivalent Resort or Hotel credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full) • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability [This is very helpful, as flights often arrive in the early morning.] • Complimentary Wi-Fi