Louise Crawford from Oasis Travel at Howard Street in Belfast samples a life of luxe and leisure in the elegant, exotic and occasionally extravagant city of Abu Dhabi, courtesy of Etihad and Abu Dhabi tourism.
Seven sheikhdoms nestled around the Arabian Gulf make up the United Arab Emirates, with the gleaming city of Abu Dhabi as its capital. The city has become a high profile byword for ultimate luxury, yet it retains an aura of mystique and many travellers are unsure what to expect from this exotic location … myself included.
My first experience of Abu Dhabi got off to an impressive start, travelling with Etihad and revelling in the airline’s elegant and well-equipped business lounge which includes free Wi-Fi, buffet breakfast and also hot breakfast made to order before enjoying a flight where service was nothing short of superb.
Oil-rich Abu Dhabi is, famously, the site of ultramodern Burj Khalifa tower, enormous shopping centres and stunning high rise modern architecture. Its skyline is as powerfully beautiful as it is dramatic, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, with its shimmering crystal chandeliers and room for 41,000 worshipers is one of the loveliest buildings I have ever seen, particularly when visited as part of a walking sunset tour: something I would heartily recommend. Common sense and courtesy should of course encourage all visitors to respect local standards and dress appropriately in any location, but do remember that dress code for a Mosque visit is extremely strict: women must cover arms, legs and hair and, while short-sleeved shirts are fine on men, any tattoos must be fully covered.
Abu Dhabi has a lot to offer for all ages. For families, Yas Island waterpark is a fantastic fun day out and you can buy a ticket which gives access there and also to the wonderful Ferrari World, home to the worlds fastest roller coaster and a must-do for anyone who loves cars. There’s plenty to entertain the whole family and the good news is that it’s indoors and fully air-conditioned.
Sand dune driving isn’t for the feint-hearted, but it’s an incredible experience, as are the (less demanding) jeep safaris with come complete with BBQ and local dancing. This is a great way to get out and about and see something of the local area and culture.
I visited many hotels on my fact-finding trip, but the outstanding one was undoubtedly the fabulous Ritz Carlton, situated just opposite the Grand Mosque about 20 mins transfer from the airport. The name Ritz Carlton probably says it all, but expect traditional chic décor and marvellous pool facilities, for kids as well as adults. Fantastic kids’ club here and all facilities are positioned in the shade which is welcome, given the temperatures in the UAE.
I stayed in the Jumeriah Etihad Towers, the contemporary hotel where Fast and Furious 7 was filmed recently. The drive up to the hotel was the most impressive I have seen and, on arrival, I adored the lively lobby, with its café, perfectly designed for people-watching! My room was elegantly modern with all mod cons and a huge bathroom with stand-alone bath, massive shower and double. Breakfast was the most impressive I have ever seen with something to suit all needs. Lovely pool area, too, and a nice small beach with plenty of sun loungers.
Yas Viceroy is the only hotel in the world to overlook a Formula 1 racetrack which is a great claim to fame. Very modern and brilliantly sized rooms overlook the track. Quirkily – and usefully - family rooms feature a tent for children so they have their own space.
Radisson Blu on Yas Island is a lovely 4* hotel with a beautiful lobby area and pool, spacious rooms and range of facilities, all at keen prices. The hotel has a shuttle bus service for its beach club and for Ferrari world, Yas Island waterpark and the shopping mall.
Emirates Palace is an outstanding hotel with a real wow factor! Perfect for a special occasion stay plus it also has a lovely private beach area with nice pools and good facilities and a fun waterpark for children. Rooms are splendidly spacious and well designed. Even if you aren’t staying there, the Emirates Palace is a great destination for afternoon tea or even an afternoon cocktail.
Abu Dhabi is a fantastic city to visit for an unusual and re-energising city break or as a stopover to another country. My first trip gave me a wonderful glimpse of an exciting and exotic culture and a fun experience of living like a celeb. I got a taste for the luxe lifestyle and I’m already planning a return visit! Catch me in person at our Howard Street branch in Belfast or call me on 028 9031 3311, if you’d like to find out more.