Stop one on my Dubai hotel-hopping circuit was The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre – or DIFC for short.
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The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre – Booking
My reasons for choosing this hotel were somewhat arbitrary: there were a couple of different brands I wanted to try around the DIFC part of town, with this one-night stay at the Ritz followed by a short hop over to the Waldorf Astoria across the street.
Moreover, Marriott’s hotel portfolio in Dubai is extremely varied in both quality and quantity, and having already reviewed the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai on my last trip, the Ritz-Carlton DIFC seemed from the pictures to be another higher-end option that was worth trying.
(Certainly, it looked more appealing than the other Ritz-Carlton in town – The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai over at The Walk by JBR – which appeared to be an older property that also commanded a higher price point.)
Finally, I wasn’t expecting to do much during these dates besides catch up on rest after the exhaustion of an Emirates First Class extravaganza, and I’ve always found Ritz-Carlton hotels to be a good fit for that purpose (such as my one-night stay at the Doha property earlier this year, which gave me excellent rest and recuperation after a long flight).
The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC is a Category 7 property within Marriott Bonvoy, meaning that a free night costs a whopping 60,000 points. That was far too much for my liking compared to the cash rate of about $280, so I went ahead and paid cash for this stay, looking to leverage a few nice offers on my US Bonvoy Brilliant Card to boost my points earnings, too.
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The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre – Location & Arrival
With my Emirates flight from Paris arriving into Dubai International Airport at 7am, I advised the hotel of my early arrival on the day of check-in, and they said they’d do their best to prepare an Executive Suite by around 9am.
(I had actually asked for the second-highest Ambassador Suite as a Titanium upgrade at first, but was informed that the top two suite types were not available for free upgrades to elite members. That left me with the option of asking for the third-highest Club Suite as well, but with the hotel proactively offering a generous early check-in to the fourth-highest Executive Suite, I decided to take this as a win and conserve my suite-talking energy this time around.)
DIFC is one of Dubai’s financial and commerce hubs, taking the form of a massive office and retail complex with soaring skyscrapers scattered across several city blocks. It’s an easy 10-minute Uber, Careem, or taxi ride away from the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa, with other destinations like the Palm Jumeirah or Dubai Marina requiring a longer journey.
From the airport, it was a 20-minute journey that cost 90 AED ($31), although a taxi would’ve been cheaper. If the Dubai Metro is more your speed, the Financial Centre station serves the area as well.
The hotel occupies a sprawling multi-purpose building on the western side of DIFC. A towering waterfall feature decorates the entrance, as you might expect from the Ritz-Carlton brand.
Heading inside (after a quick temperature check at the entrance), the lobby is also quite ostentatious, although you can instantly tell that the hotel is slightly dated and could use a round of refurbishment in the near future.
The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre – Check-in
The check-in desks are located to your left, and I was quickly helped by a front desk associate, who confirmed my early arrival, suite upgrade, and late checkout at 4pm the next day.
Since Ritz-Carlton hotels do not offer elite members free breakfast, I also inquired as to what the cost of purchasing Club Access would be, since I mostly wanted to rest and didn’t feel like leaving the hotel for my meals over the next day or so.
I was informed that the Club Lounge was currently closed due to the COVID-19 situation, and so Club Access would take place in the hotel’s Cake restaurant instead, where I’d be able to order unlimited food and drinks (including alcohol) throughout the day. Also, I’d get complimentary pressing for two garments thrown in as well.
The cost? Only 250 AED ($90) for single occupancy – and I’d get to enjoy Club Access for the full duration of my stay, from 9am now to 4pm the next day. I felt like I could easily recoup the cost in food and drink, and so I went ahead and added the Club Access package to my stay.
With that, I grabbed my keys to Room 1004 and headed upstairs.
The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre – Executive Suite
The guest room hallways reflected the same look as the lobby: they were nicely appointed by standards 10 to 20 years ago, but definitely could use a refresh to catch up with the times.
It might not be a surprise that my thoughts about the Executive Suite followed the same theme.
Having said that, at least the square footage was impressive, with the living room consisting of a separate sitting area, work desk, dining table, and pantry.
While the desk was a nice spot to work from, I thought the furniture in the living room also fell short of what I would expect from a Ritz-Carlton: they sunk inwards far too easily, and definitely needed replacing sometime soon.
The pantry came with a Lavazza coffee machine, which proved very useful as I continually slept and woke up at odd hours throughout my time in the suite.
The bedroom is accessed through a set of double French doors. Here, the king-sized bed fortunately met the comfort standard that I’ve experienced at other Ritz-Carlton hotels, and I also enjoyed the presence of a second desk right beside the bed – for catching up on that last bit of work before turning in for the night.
My thoughts on the bathroom echo those of the suite overall: it’s a generously large space, but the decor standard is definitely falling behind the times a bit compared to other Dubai hotels. I’m usually a sucker for a nice hotel bathroom with marble floors and walls, but the water stains on the marble, after many years of use, made this space a little less attractive for me.
I had come down with a bit of a sore throat after the dryness of a 51-hour airplane journey, though, so I did appreciate having an oversized bathtub for a long warm bath.
In addition to the master bathroom, the Executive Suite also came with a half-bath and vanity room near the entrance, which I didn’t make much use of.
The views of the suite overlooked the central pedestrianized courtyard of DIFC, and also had a view of the Waldorf Astoria building where I’d be moving to the following day. In theory, the rooms on the south side of the Ritz-Carlton building might also offer views of the Burj Khalifa, but I believe those are dedicated to the Ritz-Carlton Residences rather than hotel guests.
Despite the spaciousness of the Executive Suite, my overall impressions of the guest rooms at this hotel are somewhat disappointing due to the somewhat tired-looking nature of the rooms.
The rooms still achieve a high standard expected of the Ritz-Carlton in many ways (like the very comfortable king-sized bed), but I think you can get much better value in exchange for the price point here in Dubai.
The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre – Club Access
Fortunately, the Ritz-Carlton, DIFC would at least go some way towards making up for that value proposition in the form of its Club Access.
At 250 AED ($90) per day for single occupancy, and by stretching it even further through my early check-in and late checkout, I was very satisfied with the deal I got. With a 9am check-in and a 4pm late checkout the following day, I could in theory eat five or six top-quality meals here at the Cake restaurant, and that was exactly my plan.
Now, this value proposition would’ve been different if I were staying somewhere with a world-class local food scene, where I might be missing out on unique food experiences if I simply ate at the hotel.
That’s not necessarily what Dubai is known for, though, and moreover I had plenty of time later on this trip to check out a few restaurants, so I was content to catch up on rest and take all my meals onsite in exchange for only $90.
First up, I enjoyed breakfast shortly after check-in, where I had no hesitation about ordering a few side dishes to go with my omelette. I also opted for a variety of juices, teas, and coffees to nurse my sore throat, and I’m pretty sure I had already recouped the $90 that the meal would’ve otherwise cost me in one breakfast sitting alone.
After sleeping for most of the day, I then had a very nice dinner of lentil soup and grilled sea bass with butter sauce. $10 San Benedetto water – normally a ridiculous proposition – was ordered very enthusiastically now that it was all part of the package.
For breakfast on the second morning, the hotel was happy to invite me to a fuller breakfast menu in the Le Cirque restaurant (I didn’t get this on the previous morning since I had only paid for one night of Club Access).
I sat in the restaurant’s winter garden and helped myself to a delicious Arabic breakfast spread of mezze, ful medames, shakshouka, and cinnamon pancakes.
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Finally, back at Cake, I ordered a lunch of chicken wonton soup, Caesar salad, seared prawns, and chicken green curry.
Oops, I might’ve ordered a little too much, do you mind if I take this to-go for dinner instead? The staff were of course happy to oblige.
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Club Access here at The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC is competitively priced in exchange for what you’re getting. During regular times, you’d be treated to the same unlimited meal presentations up in the hotel’s Club Lounge, which would be just as abundant in its offerings – but there was something extra nice about being given carte-blanche access to the restaurant’s menu instead. For me, it was a redeeming quality in a hotel stay that didn’t leave the best impression overall.
The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre – Other Facilities
Besides the Cake and Le Cirque restaurants mentioned above, the hotel also offers quite a few more dining options, including the Cafe de Belge brasserie on the ground floor, the Sunken Garden outdoor cafe, and the Flair 5 outdoor resto-bar with a live DJ set.
Before leaving the hotel, I took a moment to check out some of its other facilities, like the fitness centre located on the mezzanine level.
The exercise equipment here is nice and varied, with a bench press and squat rack among the items that you might not usually find at a hotel gym.
With gyms having closed back home in Montreal and Toronto for the better part of the last two months, I probably should’ve spent more time on this trip hitting up the hotel gyms, but alas, other stuff got in the way and I didn’t get to exercise as much as I’d like.
Instead, I continued to indulge in my lazy side and spent time hanging out by the pool instead. What can I say, it’s 2020…
First, I visited the indoor lap pool, which seemed a little bit empty and bare-bones. Perhaps that makes sense when you consider that the hotel offers an outdoor pool as well, which is located on the 15th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Residences wing.
The rooftop pool is much more geared towards taking a dip and relaxing in the sunshine than for actual swimming. I enjoyed a drink up here and a brief nap in the sunshine before completing my late checkout and moving over to the Waldorf Astoria in the afternoon.
As far as Dubai hotels go, I’m afraid I can’t really recommend The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre for your next trip. There’s simply too many better-value options to consider in exchange for the price point in either cash or points (seriously, somehow this is a Category 7 hotel!)
The hotel is nearing a 10-year lifespan in its current form, and I do believe that it had taken over a previous property rather than having been newly refurbished upon its opening in 2010. Accordingly, the guest room interiors are past their prime, and didn’t really live up to the high expectations I had developed across previous experiences at Ritz-Carlton hotels.
On the bright side, service at the hotel was outstanding and on par with the brand standards, and the Club Access package is excellent value for money if you’re looking for a hotel where you can simply hang out and rest in relatively luxurious surroundings. But ultimately, you don’t stay at a hotel simply for the Club Access.
I’d only recommend staying here once the hotel refreshes its interiors at some point, since there are many other properties in Dubai – such as the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, to name just one – that comes at a cheaper price point, offers newer rooms and suites, and also provides an all-day Club Lounge to meet your needs for food and drink.