Today we have our first Dubai review (albeit a very mixed experience from our luxury specialist Hena). She visited the Anantara On The Palm with her husband and two little girls, Aria (4) and Amaya (nearly 3). They went during Easter 2016 and as always the weather in Dubai was perfect apart from one day when it rained (very surprisingly!)
Why did you book this hotel?
Dubai is our fall back holiday location – not too far, not too much of a time difference, guaranteed sun and not only toddler friendly but lovely for adults too. It is a place we have visited nearly every year, before we had kids and after and we absolutely love it there. We have some friends who live out there so it’s also a lovely to catch up with them.
We try to book a different hotel each time we go. This time, we chose the Anantara on The Palm. I was very excited about this hotel as it’s very rare to find a hotel in Dubai with private pools and one that is more of a resort than a skyscraper on the beach. The Anantara had swim up rooms which we loved the sound of and the website looked amazing!
How did you book your holiday?
I booked directly with the hotel and booked the flights directly with British Airways. The way the flight timings worked out meant we would fly out of London at 8.30pm and arrive in Dubai early the next day. Our flight back was at 1am in the morning so we felt we were really maximising our time there.
I thought I was being clever booking night flights both ways as I assumed the girls would sleep but that’s not quite how it worked out! On the way there, it took them a couple of hours to fall asleep but since the flight was only 6 hours long, it meant they only got 4 hours of sleep; cue grumpy toddlers on arrival!
The 1am flight on the way back worked perfectly however!
Overall we were very disappointed with our experience of the hotel. It wasn’t bad but we didn’t think it was amazing either. Some things were brilliant, such as the kids club and the food, but others, such as customer service, the rooms and the pool, not as much!
On arrival, the kids were treated like royalty, each getting a kids club shirt and a bundle of balloons which immediately won them over. The check in on the other side was not quite as seamless.
We arrived at the hotel at around 9am, tired from the flight and lack of sleep and were told in a very matter of fact way that our room would not be ready till 3pm. This was very surprising as we have never had to wait for a room before! They said the check in time was 3pm and this was on the booking confirmation but to be honest this was never really highlighted but hidden amongst a ton of other policies and seeing that they knew what time we were coming (since they picked us up from the airport), we would have expected an email from them saying that this would be the case and asking whether we wanted to book an extra night or a day room.
As it transpired, there was nothing we could do but wait till 3pm – they said we could have a free breakfast (!) and wait by the pool till then (in our uggs and jeans since our bags were in their holding room!). The manager we spoke to was really rude and just shrugged as if to say “it’s your problem, sort it out”. There was no lounge where we could rest, or change. The pool was so incredibly busy by that time that there were no free beds either and I ended up having to wait in the restaurant with two very bored, hot and tired kids and one husband who wasn’t feeling well (not sure which one was the worst!). We eventually spoke to guest relations and to a lovely lady called Sabrina who said they would do everything they could to get us a room quicker. We actually did not end up getting a room until 3pm (on the dot). She did however offer us a free late check out on the day we left as our flight was not till early morning which we were grateful for.
It wasn’t really the policy that bothered me but just the rudeness of the original manager we spoke to. I recently spoke to a friend who went a few weeks ago and she had had the same problem. She was heavily pregnant and ended up sleeping in reception as she didn’t know where else to rest. Not quite what you would expect from a 5 star hotel!
Oh wow – where do I start? I had booked a “Deluxe Family Lagoon Access Room” which was one of their best room categories and described on the website as having “direct access into the lagoon swimming pool from the terrace”.
When we eventfully got to the room, we were a bit surprised. You enter directly into the main room and then go down an entire flight of stairs to the kids’ room which is effectively in a dark basement. It was painted bright blue with characters on the wall but was still quite depressing. The stairs were also totally unsafe for kids so young in age – especially if they decided to wake up in the middle of the night and come and find us (which unfortunately is very common for these two!).
The terrace came out of the main room and was small but big enough for a small table and 2 sun beds and it looked out onto the swimming pool. There was however no access to the pool, unless you count a 10 foot step ladder on the side which even I was too scared to use let alone the kids. It was so awkward, I couldn’t even take a picture of it!
This was really disappointing as I felt the room was falsely advertised, and whilst it may have worked for families with older children, it definitely did not work for us and definitely did not justify the high price I had paid for this “amazing” room. Again, the hotel were well aware of the ages of the girls when we booked and this really should have been highlighted to us. It didn’t make sense that the downstairs bedroom was decorated with little kids in mind but the pool access contradicted this!
I called Sabrina and the next day they moved us to two small “premier lagoon access rooms” with an interconnecting door which again wasn’t ideal but a better solution as there were no dangerous staircases and these rooms actually had direct access to the pool. I was really grateful that they could move us, and Sabrina was great but once again the awful customer service from the reservation team meant we lost an entire day of our holiday. If it wasn’t for Sabrina, I doubt anyone else would have bothered moving us.
- The main pool was always crowded with no empty beds so we never used it, and just used the pool accessed from our rooms. This had a tiny shallow area so the girls were ok to swim in it but the majority of the pool was too deep for them. One lovely thing was a bar on a gondola that visited our room every day
- The beach was tiny and completely covered in sunbeds. You could barely see the sand!
- The hotel had a lovely kids club run by some lovely staff, especially a lady called Shaanti who babysat for us one night too. Our new room was really close to the kids club and it was one of the first holidays we have been on, where both girls actually wanted to and used the club. The club had a play area, a sandpit, a tiny plunge pool, a TV area and a crafts corner. The policy was that children had to be 4 to be left unsupervised but they were so flexible and let Amaya go too as she was with Aria which was really lovely!
- Another thing to be aware of is that the hotel doesn’t have a doctor there. Amaya got really ill one day with what we think was food poisoning (on the first night the milk that room service sent us for her smelt a bit different but we had assumed it was because it was a different country. It was only when we received normal smelling milk on the other nights that we realised that there was something wrong with it). The hotel did not have a doctor on site and the best they could do was get an on call doctor which would have taken about 4 hours due to the roadworks and traffic!
- The hotel has a spa which is meant to be lovely but which we didn’t use. The hotel also offers cooking lessons and water sports but we didn’t try either of these activities either.
We have always stayed either in Jumeirah or on the Palm. Staying on the Palm has never been a problem as it’s quite quick to get back and forth between the Palm, Jumeirah and the rest of the Dubai. Jumeirah has a lovely selection of restaurants and shopping centres and therefore it is essential that we are not far from there. The Anantara was on the Palm and described on the website as “a 45 minute drive from Dubai International Airport and within easy reach of a plethora of exciting attractions”.
The Anantara however was right at the end of The Palm and we only realised once we were there that this side of the Palm was not close to Jumeirah or the rest of Dubai as you needed to travel all the way round the Palm to get off it! The airport was definitely not 45 minutes away! There were massive roadworks going on near the hotel and Dubai traffic is also generally quite bad but this meant that anytime we wanted to leave the hotel, it would take us an hour/ hour and a half to just get off the Palm!
This didn’t stop us from leaving the hotel but it did make the children really angry sitting in traffic for so long!
Another thing to note with the hotel was that it was really difficult to get taxis from there. On the first night (when we were already really tired and grumpy), we had to wait in reception for about an hour and a half before we could even get a taxi despite having called to book one before we left the room. It was Easter Friday and the hotel was ridiculously busy and had a brunch that had just finished (yes, in the evening!) but it was quite ridiculous! We tried to get an uber but because of the location of the hotel, the waiting time was not much better.
One positive thing about the hotel was the food. The breakfast buffet was amazing and lasted till 11am which was ideal.
For lunch, options included a buffet in the main restaurant, Crescendo or lighter fares by the pool at Mai Bar or by the beach at The Beach House. Every restaurant had a kids menu. We usually ended up getting room service for lunch as we were by the pool in our room most mornings.
Dinner options again included a buffet in Crescendo or pan Asian food at Mekong or Australian food at Bushmans.
We ended up eating at Mekong twice and it was great. They had a kids menu too. Bookings are essential and we were always too late to get a booking at Bushmans.
We left the hotel quite a bit for meals too. Some restaurant recommendations:
- Ronda Locatelli – lovely Italian at the Atlantis and again has a kids menu.
- Bread Street Kitchen – at the Atlantis and again has a kids menu
- Indego by Vineet – Indian restaurant at Grosvenor House in Jumeirah
- Trescind – French Indian restaurant in downtown Dubai at Nassima A Royal Hotel. Absolutely amazing, especially the way food was presented!
- Loca – Mexican restaurant at Dubai Marine Beach Resort
Trips / excursions
We left the hotel quite a few times. Here are some of the kid friendly things we did and I would recommend in Dubai:
This is one of the biggest shopping malls in Dubai. Kids love it as it has an aquarium, kidzania, little cars for them to travel in and massive fountains. There is also a lovely soft play inside the Galeries Lafayette department store where you can leave your toddlers whilst you shop – Le Petit Palais
This was a lovely outdoor play area near Kite Beach with a playground, sandpit, and splash area. Sweet, small and not too busy! Would definitely recommend it.
- Kite beach trampolines
If you do go to The Journey, it is located at Kite Beach so make sure you walk down there too as it has outdoor trampolines and a food court.
- The Lost Chambers Aquarium
This is the aquarium at the Atlantis. If you do go to the Atlantis, try it out!
This is the water park at the Atlantis. There is a kids’ splash area and toddlers can also go on the lazy river but on the whole, it is probably better for older children as it is quite expensive unless you can make the most of it!
We didn’t do any actual excursions as we have done them before but I would recommend the following:
- Gold souk – (http://www.dubai-online.com/malls/gold-souk/)
- Desert safari – (http://www.desertsafaridubai.com/)
- Souk Madinat Jumeirah – (http://www.jumeirah.com/en/hotels-resorts/dubai/madinat-jumeirah/facilities/souk-madinat-jumeirah/)
- Burj Khalifa – (http://www.burjkhalifa.ae/en/index.aspx)
- Burj Al Arab – (https://www.jumeirah.com/en/hotels-resorts/dubai/burj-al-arab/)
- Mall of the Emirates (and Ski Dubai) – (http://www.malloftheemirates.com/)
- Wild Wadi Waterpark – (http://www.jumeirah.com/en/jumeirah-group/portfolio/wild-wadi-waterpark/)
We also didn’t get to go to the following but there are on my list for next time:
- Kidzania – (http://www.kidzania.ae/en/)
- Little Explorer Soft play – (http://www.theplaymania.com/little-explorers)
Some of the staff members were lovely – especially Sabrina in guest relations and all the kids’ club staff. We weren’t however impressed with the service offered by the concierge, front desk and Crescendo restaurant.
Hena’s Tips For Dubai
Overall we had a lovely time in Dubai as it is so kid friendly but it wasn’t our best holiday because of the hotel.
If booking Dubai, I would suggest the following:
- Book a hotel in Jumeirah (for example, The One and Only A Royal Mirage, The Madinat Jumeirah or the Royal Meriden) or if you do want to stay on The Palm, the Atlantis (once the road works are finished) is very kid friendly but also quite busy
- Make sure you don’t take a night flight on the way there as its too short a flight
- Definitely leave the hotel as Dubai has so much to offer for kids and families and adults!