After five lovely nights at Le Méridien Maldives, we continued on to the United Arab Emirates for the next instalment of luxury at Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai. We went from being surrounded by the turquoise blue waters of the Indian Ocean to being enveloped by the golden sands of the Dubai Desert.
Ricky extensively reviewed this property in 2019, so rather than going over the entire property in detail again, this post covers what our experience was like in March 2022.
We stayed for two nights and the better part of three days, and it was an entirely pleasant, if not indulgent, experience.
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Booking & Arrival
We booked our stay prior to the recent Marriott Bonvoy devaluation for 100,000 Bonvoy points per night. While this is a far cry from the much lower 60,000 Bonvoy points per night it cost a few years ago, it offered great value versus the cash cost which ranges from $1,200–$2,400 per night.
Under the current iteration of Bonvoy, redemptions cost anywhere from 80,000–120,000 points per night. This could rise even further when the program transitions to fully dynamic pricing in 2023, so be sure to lock in a rate sooner than later.
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We rented a car from the airport in Abu Dhabi and made our way into the desert. The drive was quite easy; we stayed out of the left lanes to make room for vehicles whose drivers had a more liberal interpretation of the speed limit and only had to avoid one camel on the side of the road.
There are two main ways to drive to Al Maha from Abu Dhabi. One is inland on E20, via Sweihan, and one is along E11, the main highway that links Abu Dhabi with Dubai.
We opted for the inland route outbound and the main route inbound. Both take around the same time, but the inland route is much quieter.
If you arrive in Dubai, the drive is much more straightforward, and it could also make more sense to arrange for a transfer instead of renting a car.
After turning off from the highway, we proceeded through a series of gates and along a narrow, sand-swept road that led us through the desert to the resort.
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Check-in & Room
We pulled up to the parking area adjacent to the check-in and slid our modest economy sedan between two Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUVs. This was the first reminder that people can afford to pay cash for stays like these, and also a reminder of the types of experiences being a Miles and Points enthusiast can unlock.
Check-in was a breeze. We arrived around noon, and although our room wasn’t quite ready, the concierge suggested that we sit down for a nice lunch until the room was prepared.
Following our lunch, we were presented with the keys to Suite 13, located a short walk from the main check-in area. Our luggage awaited us in our room, and we took stock of the decadent surroundings.
There was plenty of real estate in our Bedouin Suite. We slowly strolled around the room, remarking at the spacious bathroom, the impossibly comfortable king-sized bed, and the matching chaise lounges with a bowl of fresh fruit on the table in between.
Heading outside, we marvelled at our private pool that overlooked the desert and the shaded area surrounding the pool. For me, it was one of those very satisfying moments where dreams met reality; akin to stepping onboard a long-awaited First Class flight.
One aspect of the room that I thoroughly appreciated was how the space transformed from day to night.
In the mornings, we’d sit outside with a coffee and watch as hot air balloons soared into the morning sky. It brought us back to the beginning of our honeymoon, when we took a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia.
During the day, we spent time lazing in and around the pool, listening to the chorus of birdsongs coming from the surrounding bushes and gazing at the mountain gazelles that were munching on shrubs nearby.
In the evenings, we found ourselves drawn back outside to stargaze. The pool was equally as inviting then as it was during the day. The pottery on the shelves above our bed was illuminated as we headed back in for the night.
Unlike in the Maldives, where the temperature didn’t fall below spicy, it cooled down to around 17 degrees Celsius during the night after peaking around 27 during the day.
We spent a lot of time enjoying the suite during our stay, and there was plenty of space for us both to relax, do some work, and unwind.
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Dining
One of the highlights of anyone’s stay at Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai is the dining experience. It’s unique as one of the few properties that can be booked with points that includes three meals per day, but also because the quality of the food and the atmosphere of the surroundings are memorable.
We had a total of six meals during our stay, and each was unique and delectable.
The service was also remarkable. Of the few fine dining experiences I’ve had in my life, the service at Al Maha was comparable.
Admittedly, I’m fairly easy to please when it comes to service, but the elevated level during our stay enhanced the overall quality of our stay.
Lastly, you can choose to eat any meal in the restaurant or have it in your room at no extra cost. This is contrary to most other hotels, who charge an arm and a leg for the privilege of dining in your room.
The current menu for the resort may be found here.
Breakfast is served from 7am–10:30am.
We opted to have breakfast on one morning at the restaurant and one in our suite.
There’s something special to be said about in-room (or next-to-room) dining. We placed our order in the morning before I headed off for a desert run and my wife Ashley headed to the gym.
After working out and relaxing in the sauna, we came back to our room only to have breakfast delivered and set up seconds later.
We appreciated the private atmosphere, even as we were greeted by several curious birds and mountain gazelles looking for a crumb or two.
Lunch is served from 12:30pm–2:30pm.
We had two lunches during our stay, and we decided to have them both at the restaurant. We were offered lunch after our late-ish check-out at 1:00pm, but we were still quite full from a large, late breakfast and regrettably declined this generous offer.
We particularly enjoyed the mezzeh platter for two, New Zealand lamb chops, and grilled lamb kofta.
Dinner is served from 7:30pm–10pm.
We sat outside, near to the dining room on one night and on the balcony overlooking the desert on the second. The latter was a better location, as we were near to the torches and loved seeing (and hearing) the flames against the dark skies.
Both of our dinners were delicious. We enjoyed the wagyu beef carpaccio appetizer so much that we ordered it again on our second night.
Other highlights included the Bedouin platter, the beef biryani, and the anniversary cake that the resort surprised us with.
We ordered a couple of cocktails to accompany our dinners, and while I usually balk at the cost of drinks in luxury resorts, we enjoyed sipping on them during our meals.
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Activities
Guests are treated to two complimentary activities per day. Some have an added fee, but we decided to go with the ones that didn’t.
As is usually the case, I’d suggest discussing your activity options and booking them very early on in your stay. Some, such as camel riding or the falconry demonstration, can fill up quite quickly, so lock in your spot so you’re not left disappointed.
Luckily, we were able to do all of our preferred options during our stay. We opted for the sunset, falconry demonstration, wildlife drive, and archery.
We decided to skip the camel ride and were driven to the sunset point instead. What we lost in riding camels we made up for in extra time for sparkling wine and soaking in the desert surroundings.
Sunsets were a big part of our stay in the Maldives, and we were grateful to be treated to a spectacular show in the desert as the sun dropped behind the dunes that surround the resort. Having some sparkling wine for the occasion made it even more sweet.
I heard some guests engaging in a thrilling discussion about Miles & Points, but resisted the temptation to jump on in, much to my wife’s delight.
We awoke early for the falconry demonstration on the first morning of our stay. In total, four birds were displayed, and we were amazed at their finesse, speed, and grace.
It was a pleasant surprise to have them perch on the benches next to us in between their flights. It’s rare to get so close to birds like these, and the demonstration was one of the highlights of our stay.
Consider grabbing a warm coffee from the main lodge before heading to the demonstration.
Of the four activities, this was our favourite.
Our guide took us on a drive around the reserve and discussed its history as a conservation area. He pointed out various flora and fauna that inhabit the desert, and guided our untrained eyes to spot lizards, oryxes, and birds in the distance.
Our wildlife tour also encompassed some dune-bashing and a trip out to an incredible vantage point.
During one stop, we felt as though we were stuck in an hourglass, as we were surrounded by sand blowing over dunes which created a multitude of patterns and shapes.
I often think back to this moment, which also reminded us of another part of our honeymoon watching the sunset on a gigantic sand dune in Mongolia. There’s something very hypnotizing about standing in the desert, surrounded by a landscape vastly different than our home in British Columbia.
After our in-suite breakfast, we headed over to the archery location for our last activity immediately prior to checking out.
Our guide let us know that apparently, archery didn’t play much of a role in the history of the area, so its inclusion as an activity is more for fun and games than anything. We turned it into a friendly competition and worked up a bit of a sweat over the course of an hour in the hot mid-day sun.
It was nice to end our stay with a low-key activity, although I refuse to confirm the winner of the competition. 😉
Within the spa is a sauna and steam room area. It has to be reserved in advance, but that was easily done through a quick phone call with the concierge.
While most people likely don’t go to the desert to sit in a hot room, I found it to be a very relaxing experience, especially after a morning workout or run. There is also a cold tub and two showers to cool off in.
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Resort Grounds
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai is nestled in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. The Reserve takes up five percent of the Dubai emirate and is the first national park established in the United Arab Emirates.
The Reserve was established to protect and preserve the unique desert flora and fauna native to the area. Upon opening in 1999, 70 Arabian oryx were reintroduced and over 6,000 trees and shrubs were planted in Al Maha’s 27 square kilometre conservation area.
The Arabian oryx is a conservation success story in the UAE, moving from endangered to vulnerable with a stable population.
Aside from our gorgeous room and the resort’s amenities, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the desert on our wildlife tour and on foot.
During a morning run, I encountered several oryxes nearby, who joined me (from a distance) for part of my jog. If only my stride was as smooth as theirs as they galloped through the desert sand.
Had we stayed longer, we would have taken more opportunities to explore the surrounding area. If you haven’t been to a desert before, you’re certainly in for a treat at Al Maha.
Our two-night stay at Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai was everything that we could have asked for.
Our suite was spacious, luxurious, and surrounded by pristine desert landscapes. Our meals were memorable, not only for the tastes but also for the surroundings, atmosphere, and service.
We were treated to a host of beautiful scenes that changed from morning to night.
Should the opportunity present itself, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again in the future, as long as the cost in points or cash doesn’t present a significant barrier.