My month-long trip through the Mediterranean and Middle East had taken me through a host of high-end luxury hotels, but the crown jewel of the trip would lie at the very end, in the form of Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai.
Anyone who collects Marriott Bonvoy points with an eye on redeeming them for luxury hotel stays would’ve come across Al Maha at some point. Sitting in the desert reserve on the outskirts of Dubai, Al Maha is a one-of-a-kind luxury resort that treats it guests to a uniquely intimate experience in the desert biome, expansive suites with private swimming pools, and three gourmet meals and two desert activities per day included in the room rate.
Back when Marriott Bonvoy’s top properties were going for 60,000 Bonvoy points per night, it was a no-brainer for me to book a three-night stay at Al Maha for 180,000 Bonvoy points to wrap up our time in the UAE, and my excitement was building to unprecedented levels as we took our pre-arranged car service from the W Dubai The Palm out to Al Maha.
In This Post
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Location & Arrival
45 minutes into the southeasterly journey from Dubai, and suddenly you turn off the main highway and onto a tiny desert road leading into the desert reserve. Traces of civilization begin vanishing quickly until you find yourself passing through the outer entrance to the resort grounds.
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Then it’s another few minutes’ drive until the resort itself creeps into view, nestled along the curvature of a natural desert ridge. A winding road leads you to the main lodge, where two Al Maha staff members greeted us by name upon arrival and helped us with our bags, the first of many instances of spectacular service throughout our stay.
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Check-in
We were ushered into the main lodge and shown towards a private curtained-off seating area to process our check-in formalities. As we sipped on our welcome beverages, we were warmly welcomed to the resort and given given the full rundown of what to expect over the next three days.
First, the staff member informed us that we had been assigned one of the resort’s best Bedouin Suites: Suite 32, which boasts a commanding view of the desert landscape and the nearby watering hole, where many desert animals like to gather during the day.
As a Titanium Elite member within Marriott Bonvoy, I had asked Al Maha beforehand if it were possible to upgrade beyond the base-level Bedouin Suite I had booked into, but alas, giving me one of the best Bedouin Suites was all that the hotel could do.
Next, we talked about the meal supplement here at Al Maha. Whether you booked with points or cash, the resort offers all its guests an all-inclusive experience, so we’d be treated to complimentary breakfast (buffet and à la carte), lunch (a three-course set meal), and dinner (a five-course set meal) every day, which we either could take in the restaurant or through private dining in our suites. However, alcohol was not included and would be purchased separately.
Furthermore, there’d be complimentary snacks and soft drinks in the main lodge in the mornings and afternoons, albeit behind a curtained-off zone during the holy month of Ramadan. Suffice to say that my mouth was already watering at the thought of the gastronomic indulgences that lay ahead.
Lastly, the staff member informed us that we’d be treated to two complimentary desert activities per day, and that we’d arrange these with Nathan, the other guy who had welcomed us at the front, who’d be serving as our activities guide.
And with that, we were whisked off to our suite to get settled in. Al Maha offers guests complimentary buggy service across the resort, and Jessy and I happily took a ride over to Suite 32.
Along the way, we became introduced to our new friends for the next three days: the precocious gazelles and majestic Arabian oryxes that freely wander and roam around the resort grounds!
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Bedouin Suite
The Bedouin Suite had a palatial feel about it as we approached the front door, eager to discover what lay inside. Take note of the straw partition walls to the left of the main entrance, which provides a layer of privacy from the back porch and is also the side entrance used by housekeeping staff.
A twist of the key swung the doors open, and we found ourselves in the foyer, the rest of the suite opening up in front of us and the restroom to our right-hand side. Let’s begin our tour by heading into the living quarters first before circling around the other side.
Al Maha’s base-level Bedouin Suites are designed to look like the traditional tent structure of the nomadic Bedouin peoples, with two large wooden beams in the centre of the living room supporting the overhead canopy.
A gigantic bed – one of those “larger-than-king-sized” beds – takes up a large chunk of the space, adorned by some simple geometric artwork and two Arabic teapots up top.
How was the sleep quality of this bed, you ask? In one word, heavenly – perhaps even too heavenly, as I’ll touch upon further later on in the review.
Then at the front of the suite, you have two daybeds flanking a coffee table. The Bedouin Suite isn’t quite large enough to have a dedicated indoor dining area (there’s a dining table, but it’s out on the back porch), so this is where your food would be served should you choose to dine within your room.
A variety of fresh fruit, as well as Arabic sweets, dates, and walnuts had been left waiting for us here as our welcome amenity.
Moving on to the near side of the room, there’s also a large set of cabinets, in which you’ll find the closets, storage units, and indeed the widescreen television. It may seem a bit odd to place the television inside the cabinets, but as the associate showing us around our suite said, “You didn’t come here to watch TV, now did you?”
Adjacent to the cabinets was an easel with oil pastels and a sketchbook, encouraging guests to be inspired by the desert scenes surrounding them and create some artwork. I tried my hand at crafting my masterpiece, although I think the final product is best left unpublished. 😉
Proceeding to the far side of the Bedouin Suite, a large desk provides guests with ample space to get their work done, facing the tranquil surroundings of the desert wilderness. I had a great time working from here, especially during the daytime when every now and then a gazelle would wander up to the suite outside and look at me curiously before trotting off.
The desk also plays host to a set of binoculars, which you’re encouraged to use for some casual wildlife-spotting, as well as the usual information sheets about the many dining options and desert activities available at Al Maha.
Our tour continues into the bathroom, which occupies the space around the back of the larger-than-king-sized bed. The bathroom is extremely spacious, and while the finishes are arguably beginning to show their age a little, they do stay true to the unfiltered desert surroundings of Al Maha.
There’s an oversized bathtub and a separate shower for washing up, as well as double sinks, a large mirror, and a separate toilet chamber.
It’s worth nothing that there’s also a door leading from the bathroom out to the back porch, although we never made use of this particular entrance, instead preferring to use the doors leading out from the main living area instead.
The bathroom joins back up with the foyer at the front of the suite, and this is where you’ll find a small vanity table, as well as the pantry and minibar.
Al Maha provides complimentary mulled wine in every guest’s suite, which you can pour for yourself and ask to be replenished at any time. This also happens to be the only complimentary alcohol at the resort; everything else is subject to payment.
Notably, the pantry featured a Nespresso machine along with no less than 36 (thirty-six!) Nespresso pods. Who would need this much coffee?!
Jessy and I certainly took ample advantage of the Nespresso machine throughout our stay, although we never came close to polishing off the six pods of each flavour profile before they got replenished.
Okay, okay, it’s now finally time to talk about what’s by far the most stunning part of the Bedouin Suite: the outdoor patio.
Two outdoor lounge chairs occupy one side of the patio, while a dining table and two chairs occupy the other. When ordering room service, breakfast and lunch are typically served here in the great outdoors, whereas dinner tends to be served inside on the coffee table, given that far more animals are prowling the desert at nighttime!
The highlight of the Bedouin Suite’s back porch is no doubt the private pool, which overlooks the vast desert landscape off in the distance. As you can imagine, the pool can get a little sandy at times, and the housekeeping staff clean the pools once every day as part of their duties.
It’s an absolutely unreal feeling to step outside on to the porch and dip into the cool waters as you wade over to the pool’s infinity edge, looking out into the desert.
I had never stayed at a desert resort like Al Maha before, so this was one of the most unique experiences I could ever recall having at a luxury hotel, and I found myself instinctively dipping into the pool and gazing out from the infinity edge countless times during our stay.
It can sometimes be difficult to fully let myself go when I travel, especially given the volume of new experiences I try to fit in a short period, as well as my desire to document all these experiences for the blog. I’m therefore happy to say that perching myself by the infinity edge of our private pool and observing the slow natural life of the desert made for one of the few true forms of relaxation that I’ve managed to savour in recent times.
Every villa at Al Maha is designed to be obscured from the other private suites, so you’ll be undisturbed as you relax out here, with the exception of the gazelles that are entirely unafraid to wander up and stare at you curiously.
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Dining
So, besides relaxing in the peaceful oasis of your suite, what else is there to do at Al Maha? Well, if I’m being honest, you’ll probably spend most of your time eating one of the many complimentary meals and taking part in the two complimentary desert activities per day. Let’s talk about those, beginning with the meals.
On our first night, Jessy and I took dinner at the Al Diwaan restaurant, the resort’s only dining venue. The outdoor seating is scorchingly hot in the daytime, but becomes a pleasant environment once night has fallen, so we took our seats at one of the tables here.
Guests are treated to a five-course meal, of which three courses – the starter, main course, and dessert – can be chosen from the menu. The menu tends to stay the same from day to day, although there’s enough variety to keep you occupied over a multi-night stay.
The service at the restaurant was incredibly polished, and the meal was delivered at a good pace as well. As we made our way through the five-course meal on the first night, we could scarcely believe that Al Maha was so generous in providing full board for all their guests.
The dinner menu read as follows:
The food itself was prepared to a very high standard. Relinquish any notions you may have about the food quality at “all-inclusive” resorts – these meals genuinely belong in a high-end restaurant, and Jessy and I enjoyed sampling as many items as we could over dinner on three nights.
Dinner would begin with an amuse bouche.
Then, the standout options in terms of appetizers were probably the pan-fried octopus and sashimi platter…
After appetizers, we were each presented with a sorbet course to cleanse the palate, served on top of a block of solid ice.
Among the main courses, our favourites were the grilled lobster and the duo of lamb…
And for dessert, the tender coconut creation was an interesting challenge for our taste buds, but it didn’t quite compare to the incredible tiramisu.
After being blown away by dinner on the first night, we returned for breakfast the next morning, and we were not disappointed.
Breakfast features a limited buffet spread, with most of your orders being taken off the à la carte menu.
You could order items such as French toast, Eggs Benedict, omelettes, and steak & eggs in unlimited quantities. Whereas we’d normally fill up on the complimentary breakfast at hotels, Jessy and I made sure not to overindulge on breakfast here at Al Maha because we knew we had lunch in a few hours!
Lunch is also taken in the indoor restaurant until 2pm in the afternoon, and we’d often find ourselves visiting close to that time since we still weren’t hungry from our breakfast yet. (It’s not as if sitting on the deck looking at the desert is a particularly strenuous way to spend the morning.)
For lunch, you can choose from a three-course set menu that’s a little more dressed-down compared to dinner. You’d choose a starter, a main course, and a dessert, and there was also a Healthy Dining menu if you wished to order off that instead.
The meal begins with some bread with garlic butter.
Among the appetizers, I enjoyed the cherry tomato gazpacho, while Jessy tended to opt for some of the salad dishes, since we were consuming a fair bit of meat in the main courses.
For the main course, we ordered a steak frites and a grilled Dorado fish and shared the two dishes among ourselves.
Finally, ice cream was my dessert of choice – although Jessy perhaps made the wiser move by skipping dessert to save room for dinner later on!
Overall, we were entitled to three meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) on three separate days, and we took two of each of the meals in the Al Diwaan restaurant, and ordered room service once for each meal as well.
For room service, we selected from an all-day dining menu, and you can treat yourself to as many rounds of food as you wish, at whatever time of day you wish.
Some of the highlights from the all-day dining menu included the mussels & fries, the jumbo prawns, and one of my favourite new foods from this trip through the Middle East: Om Ali, a type of Egyptian bread pudding with pistachio inside, and Al Maha’s version was masterfully executed.
Throughout our stay, I was in continual disbelief at the fact that not only are three gourmet meals per day included in your stay, but you can order room service on an unlimited complimentary basis as well.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a single luxury hotel elsewhere in the world where you could redeem loyalty points for such excessively generous treatment, and we made sure to maximize every second of it.
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Activities
Al Maha’s complimentary perks for its guests don’t end there, though: there’s still the matter of two desert activities per day included in your rate, which you’re asked to schedule beforehand with the front desk. In fact, it’s a good idea to plan out your daily activities as soon as you arrive at the resort, because each activity only takes place once per day.
You’re free to schedule the activities whenever you wish throughout your stay. For example, we were staying for a total of three nights, so we’d be entitled to six activities, but we were free choose to do two activities per day or spread them out in a different order.
The activities list is as follows:
Falconry (5:30am): Experience the traditional Arabic art of falconry, and hold a falcon on your arm for a cool photo opportunity
Nature walk (5:30am): Join your guide for a walk around the vicinity of the resort to learn more about the desert biome
Ghaf tree walk (5:30am): Join your guide for a walk through a grove of Ghaf trees to learn more about the UAE’s national tree
Wildlife drive (4:45pm): A drive through the desert to learn more about the desert biome
Camel trek (6pm): Ride camels into the desert to watch the sunset from a set of rolling sand dunes with a drink in hand
Sundowners (6:15pm): Same as the camel trek, except you’re just driven out to the sunset viewpoint instead
Archery (9am/10am/11am): Practice your sharp-shooting skills and try to get on the Al Maha leaderboard
In addition, you could also book the following paid activities for 270 AED ($97) per person:
Horseback riding (5:30am): See the desert at sunrise from the back of an Arabian horse; requires previous equestrian experience
Dune bashing (7am): An extreme 4×4 drive through the desert dunes with an experienced dune-basher at the wheel
As you can imagine, the falconry and camel trek caught our eye the most, and we also thought it’d be fun to do a nature walk and some archery as well. We initially left our remaining two slots undecided, but we had such a great time on the camel ride the first night that we selected it for the second and third nights as well!
The camel trek gathers at the main lodge at 6pm, and then you walk down to the spa building to meet your camel herders.
You’re given instructions for how to “board” the camel – hold on tight and lean backwards as the camel yanks itself upright, lest you get thrown off!
Once everyone is onboard, the camel ride into the desert begins. It was such a unique calming experience to trod along through the middle of the desert on the back of a camel as the daylight begins to fade away, and it’s no wonder that Jessy and I decided we had to do it again over the next few days as well.
The camels take about 15 to 20 minutes to get to the sand dunes in the desert. When you get off your camel and climb up the dunes, you’ll discover an Al Maha employee stationed there already, like a spiritual guide who magically appeared in the desert, ready to serve you your sundowner beverages.
You have the choice of beer, sparkling wine, or non-alcoholic beverages, and you’re allowed to roam the sand dunes freely as the sun begins to set.
These dunes were gigantic, and I can’t tell you how much fun I had endlessly hurtling myself down the desert slopes.
Meanwhile, guests who do not happen to be children trapped in adults’ bodies can also take this opportunity to grab some epic sunset photos in the desert.
Of course, sunset is also when all the creepy-crawlies in the desert come out to play, so we’d have to get back on the camels as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon. Then it’d be another 15 minutes or so on the way back to the resort, where the smell of dinner would already be wafting through the air.
In addition to using three of our six activity slots on the camel rides, we also spent the first morning embarking on a nature walk with our guide, Nathan. Note that these early-morning activities begin at 5:30am, so they aren’t going to be the easiest to wake up for.
Nathan drove us out beyond the resort grounds before bringing us along a 20-minute walk through the desert sands.
He shared with us his expertise about the desert biome by pointing out all the fresh tracks made by all the various desert creatures during the night before, and we even spotted a few baby gazelle carcasses along the way as proof of the harsh, unforgiving desert ecosystem.
We also took part in archery on the second morning. The archery range is located a few minutes’ drive away from the main lodge, and Jessy and I were both given bows and arrows to practice as much as we wished.
A stray gazelle would sometimes wander onto the archery range, and Nathan would have to chase it away as we held our fire. As we came to learn over the course of our stay, gazelles really aren’t the smartest animals!
Neither of us got anywhere close to ranking on the all-time Al Maha leaderboard, which is currently headed by Sir Nick Faldo, an English former professional golfer who is apparently one of Al Maha’s most frequent guests and its most eagle-eyed archer!
So that’s five out of six activities. We had booked our final activity as falconry on the last morning of our stay, but unfortunately – and I say this with profound regret – we slept through our alarms and missed out on the falconry performance at 5:30am.
I know, I know… How on earth could I let that happen?!
The falconry had been one of the things I had been looking forward to the most at Al Maha, so I was genuinely quite upset with myself when I woke up. If you’re going to Al Maha, make sure to schedule the activities you want the most for the first few days, lest you oversleep and miss out on them entirely!
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Other Facilities
Besides the amazing suites, the bottomless food and drink, and the two desert activities per day, Al Maha has a few more facilities to occupy your attention.
The main lodge plays host to several onsite amenities, such as the bar, library, gift shop, and business centre. There’s always a staff member stationed at the front desk to assist you with making dinner reservations, scheduling activities, or anything else you may need.
The bar is located at the far end of the main lodge, its balcony overlooking the expansive desert below. During the holy month of Ramadan, the bar was only serving alcohol after sunset, although there’d be a small snack spread here for guests to enjoy before they head out on one of their daily activities.
The library consists of a few desks and a television, and is a quiet place where you could get some work done, if you found the allure of relaxing on the deck in your private suite to be a little too distracting.
Then there’s a business centre with a few computer workstations, and a gift shop where you can buy several Arabic and Bedouin keepsakes.
A short walk downhill from the main lodge is where you’ll find Al Maha’s spa facilities, operated by Timeless Spa, which as we’d find out soon enough, was the same provider that serves the Emirates First Class Lounges at Dubai International Airport.
While we never came here for a spa treatment, we did come to the fitness centre a few times to work off the calories from our never-ending gourmet food consumption.
The fitness centre would be the only mildly disappointing thing about the resort, since it’s very limited in square footage and therefore also in the variety of equipment. But hey, you’re not gonna let that sway your decision to come to Al Maha, are you?
Outside the spa building is the resort’s main pool, but to be perfectly honest there’s almost no reason to visit this pool when you have your own private pool right on your doorstep, and so consequently we never saw any of our fellow guests using the pool either.
Our three days at Al Maha were truly indulgent in every sense of the word. We’d roll out of bed, head to breakfast, return to lie in bed for a little longer, play with the gazelles by the pool for a little while, order lunch, spend a few hours getting work done from our balcony, go on a camel ride, have dinner, take another evening dip in the pool, and then sleep.
It was one of my laziest resort stays ever, and yet it was exactly what we needed after a long month of travel through the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and I never wanted it to end.
Indeed, as we took a final dip in the pool before packing our bags and completing our 4pm late checkout, I couldn’t help but regret that I didn’t use the Fifth Night Free benefit to book five nights at Al Maha instead of three at an even more spectacular value!
If you’ve been to Al Maha, you’ll know that I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s hands-down the single best luxury resort I’ve had the pleasure to redeem my points for, and that it’s changed the way I look at my Marriott Bonvoy points forever.
Here’s the thing: beach hotels are a dime a dozen, and you could redeem points for a luxurious beachside resort virtually anywhere in the world. But Al Maha’s unique desert landscape, full of gazelles and oryxes that wander straight up to your doorstep, as well as the complimentary meals and desert activities that guests enjoy, are what elevate it into a league of its own.
Nowhere else can your Bonvoy points deliver anywhere close to as much value as you’d get from Al Maha, and as far as I’m concerned, everyone should be saving up their Bonvoy points to experience Al Maha – which, nowadays, will require at least 70,000 points per night on off-peak dates – at least once in their lives.
I’m no stranger to the occasional tinge of sadness when it’s time to leave a memorable resort, mostly because I’m never sure when I’ll be able to return in the future. But as we got into the pre-arranged ride that would bring us from Al Maha back to Dubai International Airport, I felt none of that familiar wistfulness, instead only a sense of absolute certainty that I’d be back in the comforts of this desert paradise someday not too long from now.