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This resort offered five-star activities, seclusion, and Michelin star quality food all in an all-inclusive setting.
Pros- All-Inclusive, Wide Variety of Activities, Secluded Setting, Large Private Suite, Large and Comfortable Bed, Amazing Desert Views, Private Plunge Pool, Good Honeymoon Recognition, Michelin Restaurant Quality Food and Drinks
Cons- Aging Property, Insufficient Plugs, Smelly Bathroom Amenities, Slow Service
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One thing I should make clear at the start is the seclusion of Al Maha resort. While no seaplane ride was required, unlike The St. Regis Maldives, this resort was about an hour from the city of Dubai and about two hours from the city of Abu Dhabi. The resort is located is in the emirate of Dubai located within the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Because of this location when you are staying at the resort you are more likely to see a gazelle than a vehicle and it is far different than the glitz of the city of Dubai. During our stay our guide informed us that the resort was originally a getaway for the Emirati royal family and friends and is located in this area because Al Maha has access to fresh water.
Arrival and Check In
We emailed the resort in advance to request transportation from the Abu Dhabi airport to the resort. After reviewing the prices and confirming that we wanted to book the ride five days passed and we never heard back. We ended up calling and we were asked to send a new request. Eventually the resort confirmed our reservation for a driver prior to our departure for our honeymoon.
Upon arrival at the airport in Abu Dhabi we were greeted by a driver who took us on the drive in a very comfortable Infiniti sedan. Once we left the emirate of Abu Dhabi we took a right heading on a highway to the desert. It was very eerie driving through the desert at night and all we could see were a few gazelle on the horizon. Once we made it to the desert we drove on a dirt road for about 10 minutes before reaching the sign for the Al Maha Reserve. Then we saw another sign for the Al Maha Research Center and passing that sign we arrived at the resort.
Once we arrived at the resort we went into the beautiful lobby and were greeted by the front desk attendant. She acknowledged Christina’s elite status, though called it Titanium instead of Platinum, and acknowledged it was our honeymoon. She then greeted us with a very yummy welcome drink and gave us the keys to our room.
Al Maha is an all-suite property with each suite located in its own private villa. We stayed in Suite #14 which was a one bedroom suite but the resort has one, two, and three bedroom suites available. The suites are stunning architecturally meant to mimic a Bedouin style tent in the middle of the desert. While the property was very spread out our suite had a great location not too far from the lobby but still private.
When we entered the suite there was a fruit welcome amenity and a bottle of sparkling champagne from Australia which contained no note but I assumed was in recognition of our honeymoon.
This suite was huge and we suspect it was even bigger than our beachfront villa in The Maldives. At the entrance was a hallway containing multiple complimentary bottles of water and a Kureig coffee machine. The bottles of water were very useful since the super dry desert air constantly made us thirsty. In the hallway was also a mini-fridge containing beverages for sale. We didn't consume any since all of the beverages at the restaurant and through room service were complimentary.
At the center of the suite was a huge bed which I think was a California King size. The bed was very soft but pillows could have bee n thicker and comfier. In front of the bed were two chaise chairs and we loved relaxing and reading on these chairs. The ceiling of the suite was draped in a tent which really executed on the theme. The furniture was also on theme but really could use an update.
On the opposite end of the bedroom from the bed was a desk which looked out onto the beautiful desert views. The sunrise views in particular from our suite were amazing. On the desk were a pair of binoculars to help spot the wildlife from the suite though most of the time the wildlife could be spotted with the naked eye.
There was also an easel with paint for our use, the first time I have seen one in a hotel room, though ended up not painting during our stay.
One negative thing we noticed about the resort throughout our stay was just how much of the property was aging and needed a refresh. For example, our key was not an electronic key but a manual key. Also, the room had nowhere near enough plugs for our electronics.
The bathroom was huge and had a soaking bathtub and shower. I was shocked how great the water pressure was in the bathroom given that we were in the middle of the desert.
The biggest downside of the bathroom were the bath amenities including the body wash from Chemin. We really didn't like the smell of the body wash but I did like the lotion.
The highlight of the suite was the private plunge pool overlooking the desert. When we were in our suite during the daytime we spent the majority of our time in or near the pool. It was amazing sitting by the pool listening to our music and watching the wildlife. The pool was cold in the mornings and evenings but refreshing mid-day. One of the great things about the design of the pool is that the resort did a great job keeping it cool with the tent and the shrubs which provided some shade. Next to the pool was a pool deck which had two lounging chairs. As we sat on the balcony it was fun but then we started getting attacked by wasps and headed inside. The frustrating thing about the pool was that their were a lot of bugs and because of the wind we often smelled the poop from the wildlife in the Reserve. One area of improvement for the resort would be more frequent cleanings of the pool which often got debris from the desert or bugs.
The suite was very private and when we were inside the villa or in the villa pool we couldn't see anyone else. Our most frequent companions were the wildlife including gazelles and oryx that roamed the Reserve. I was surprised by how close the wildlife got to us. There were a ton of birds that regularly came to our villa’s pool to drink.
Activities and Amenities
Al Maha only had a limited number of amenities but offered an extensive array of activities most of which were included in the cost of the room. In term of amenities Al Maha offered a spa, fitness center, and pool all located in the same area of the resort. We ended up not using the fitness center and opted not to get a massage at the spa because of the expensive prices. However, we did try out the outdoor pool which was right next to the spa. This was a really nice pool that was really well taken care of. The pool had the perfect temperature, many chairs and umbrellas, cold drinking water, and pool towels. It was also very private and we saw no other guests in the pool during our stay. I assume this is because each villa comes with a private plunge pool so many guests didn't feel the need to use the pool. We used it several times during the stay though because it was bigger, had a better temperature, and was cleaner than our plunge pool. I would strongly recommend checking out this pool during your stay.
During our stay the resort offered nine activities seven of which were in the cost of the resort stay. The activities included: 1) Falconry, 2) Nature Walk, 3) Ghaf Tree Walk, 4) Wild Life Drive, 5) Camel Trek, 6) Sundowner, 7) Archery, 8) Horse Riding, and 9) Desert Drive. We decided to participate in the falconry, wild life drive, camel trek, and archery all of which were complimentary.
The falconry was a cool activity involving well trained falcons. During the session the falcon trainers gave us the history of the use of the falcons by the Bedouins that roamed the deserts of the UAE. In the past the Bedouins used the falcons to help hunt. The falcons are trained to eat via the glove and come back because of the lure which contains food as a reward. They are very helpful for hunting because of their amazing vision but they have a very poor sense of smell. At the end of the group session, we all got the chance to hold the falcon. Overall, it was a fun experience learning about the history of the falconry and getting to interact with the falcons.
The camel trek was also a fun activity. I had never ridden a camel before and did not realize how temperamental they could be. On several occasions it took effort by our guides to keep them moving or in line. I am a much bigger fan of riding horses than camels.
At the end of the ride, we stopped in the middle of the desert for a champagne toast and got a chance to mingle with some of the other guests. It turns out two of the guests staying at Al Maha had been at the St. Regis Maldives during our stay.
We also participated in the nature drive which was the most boring activity we participated in. While our guide did a good job engaging us with facts about the resort and the Reserve there wasn't much nature in the desert that we couldn't see near our suite. One new animal we did find and Christina got to hold was a lizard.
Of all of the activities we participated in we found archery to be the most enjoyable so much so that we did it twice during our stay. Neither of us had ever done archery before so we didn't realize how physically exhausting it is. We really liked archery and hope to do it again in the future. One interesting thing about the Archery course is that the resort kept track of the top archers. At the top of the board was professional golfer Nick Faldo and our guide told us that he previously met John Travolta at the resort. It was both strange and exciting to be staying at a five-star resort that hosted professional athletes and celebrities.
Overall, the dining was a highlight of our stay. I had low expectations since it is an all-inclusive resort but was blown away by the Michelin restaurant quality dishes. Al Maha had only one restaurant just off of the lobby which served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Because the resort is secluded like the St. Regis Maldives the stakes were already high for food at the resort, however, there was added pressure since this was the resort's only restaurant. One aspect of the restaurant's service I appreciated was a cold towel provided with every meal which I thought was a nice touch.
The restaurant had a wide selection which generally was spectacular. I felt that the meals were alive with flavor. One of the days I had the Al Maha Omelet which had salmon with just the right hint of salt and was fantastic.
One of the breakfast highlights for Christina was foul medames which she had never heard of before. The dish came in a seared pan with two pieces of toast and two poached eggs with light garnish of sea salt and baby spinach. The sides came with a seasoned bean dip, a local cheese, yogurt dip, and hummus. After mixing everything together the flavors were so unreal and everything was fresh. The flavors were bold separately, but together it worked in a harmonious sensation. Christina wondered if the dish was only good because of our experience getting sick likely from the food in The Maldives. The weakest area of breakfast was the drinks. I had mango juice which I only thought was okay since it was less sweet than Caribbean mangoes. I also tried the chocolate milk which was made of camel milk and had a different flavor that I again I thought was not sweet enough.
We typically ordered lunch through room service during our stay. However, when we did try the restaurant we realized that the lunch menu in the restaurant was the same as the room service menu. I ordered the beef burger with bacon which was delicious. Christina ordered the butter chicken which was fantastic.
For dinner the restaurant served on the patio and it was great sitting outside amongst nature. We could clearly see the moon and the setting was quite romantic. The dinner was full service with an amuse bouche, pallet cleanser, appetizer, main, and desert which was quite impressive for an all-inclusive dinner service. One of the highlights was an appetizer of caviar which I really liked. My main was lamb which I thought was really good even though it was too fatty. The weakest part of our dinner were the desserts. I ordered the bread pudding which I didn't like.
One of favorite things about the dining experience at Al Maha was that the room service was included in the all-inclusive rate at no additional charge and we generally had access to the same menu as the restaurant. We took advantage of this on several occasions. Some of the highlights from our room service orders were the grilled lamb kofta and the turkey mozzarella sandwich. The resort also had turndown service and I liked that the turndown service included chocolate but the chocolate itself was only okay.
One of the weakest aspects of our stay was the service which was often very slow. First on a positive note our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable and we really appreciated his good service. However, our experience with the rest of the staff wasn't up to the luxury resort standards. As I stated earlier this started with the slow email response before we even got to the property. Once we got to the property the meal service was often slow. For example, one night at dinner we waited 20 minutes for our desert. At another resort this may have been okay but at this luxury resort the slow service was disappointing.
Al Maha offered a secluded resort, with private plunge pools and amazing food. Despite the slow service we really enjoyed our stay at Al Maha. I would strongly recommend it as a honeymoon destination for a couple looking for a secluded and luxurious stay.