Gary Fearon wanted to experience an alternative winter sun break so took his family to the United Arab Emirates.
Having been Caribbean devotees for a winter break it was with not a small amount of trepidation we looked for alternative locations.
Where would we find great food, great service, great beaches and above all guaranteed February sunshine? The answer seemed to lie in the UAE, but unfortunately, at prices that were eye watering. However there was a new kid on the block offering everything that the UAE delivers but with the Holy Grail of All Inclusive. Step forward Ras Al Khamai (RAK to the locals), situated one hour from Dubai airport. We booked through British Airways Holidays and following their advice chose The DoubleTree By Hilton on Marjan Island connected to the mainland by a short causeway.
On our day of departure we were driving to Heathrow and I have to admit there were still doubts as to whether RAK could live up to the hype. I’ve been on European All Inclusives where they really don’t fully understand the concept and wondered if this might be similar.
We’d booked Heathrow Airport official Meet & Greet and while more expensive than others given some of the horror stories felt it was worth it for peace of mind. To be honest I would have paid the extra anyway given the excellent service and a location that makes your transfer to flight check in the best I have ever experienced. Speaking of which, whatever issues BA may have had last year one thing remains constant, their check-in staff are among the most welcoming & friendliest of any airline I have ever flown with.
In addition, ownership of their own terminal ensures smooth progress throughout the airport. I must also give a shout-out to the new Plaza premium lounge which was superb value, fabulous comfort, great food and invaluable if travelling with a five year old as we were.
Terminal 5 is huge and while very well signposted given the trek and monorail to your gate can seem quite Intimidating.
Step forward then our BA crew who made themselves known to UAE passengers and provided a personal escort to the gate. They even recognised us on boarding, although that may have more to do with Jack than myself or Lynsey.
The plane departed on time and we settled down on what is a quite compact plane but certainly offered enough room to not feel squashed in. The entertainment choice was extensive and ensured we were not bored, while free drinks were served quickly to ensure we were soon in the holiday mood. We had opted to upgrade our food choice which was excellent and well above expectations, with a superb choice of wines. Ours was an overnight flight so given the distance we had travelled we were asleep for a large part of the flight which made it seem even quicker.
Upon arrival at Dubai airport there were the expected long lines for immigration but they are well staffed and move quickly, while we ushered into family friendly lines which speeded our entry.
Our transfer, arranged by BA, was waiting and we were assisted by a friendly driver to a clean air conditioned vehicle & quickly set off. We arrived at the hotel shortly after 11am, with a check in time of 3pm so assumed we would have to wait for a room. However this is a true 5* hotel & guests needs are always first. Friendly receptionists & a surprise upgrade to a Bay Club room was even better news. A smooth transfer by buggy complete with luggage ensured we were quickly installed and ready to hit the pool by 11.30am, excellent news for us and a very excited son.
The room was everything we had hoped for, absolutely huge with a bath and separate wet room type shower. A large balcony had comfortable chairs and a superb sea view. There was plenty of closet space and to my wife’s delight strategically placed mirrors and plugs ensured all hair appliances could be utilised. Not forgetting that RAK uses British plugs.
Once changed we ventured down to a huge infinity pool and a separate children’s pool attached. Best of all every pool on the complex is heated which guarantees six hours every day with Jack was a pleasure not a chilly experience. The range of drinks is not quite as extensive as the Caribbean but there was more than enough to satisfy our requirements, with soft drinks, beer, spirits and cocktails all available. I would point out for beer aficionados however, it is limited to cans of Becks and Amstel served ice cold. Lunchtime sees a range of snacks available as part of the AI, if you don’t want to drag yourself away to the buffet restaurant, usually burgers, pizzas, sandwiches and fries. All tasty and very filling.
The next day Jack spotted one of the hotel’s main attractions, the pirate ship waterpark, so we decamped from the Bay view pool to the main pool area. For those with children or those who like day time activity this is a great spot. One of the largest pools I have ever seen, an exciting range of water slides, excellent pool bar, the usual water aerobics, games, luxurious sun beds and a great kids play area make this the place to be.
Thanks also to the kids club we got to split our time between family and adult. A great mix of video games, movies, crafting, a climbing wall are on offer and it’s run by really attentive staff who ensure the kids have a great time.
Breakfast and most evenings we ate in the buffet, which could be a little bit like a canteen but there is plenty of room out on the terrace to dine al fresco. Breakfast has a huge range suitable for any nationality with a great omelette station.
At dinner the food was excellent, with a superb choice of international cuisine and brilliant quality meat, whether lamb, chicken or beef. It is impossible to go hungry and the biggest danger is overeating. We also dined at three out of five of the a la carte restaurants, for which you receive an allowance of 60 dirham. In order of preference Sanchaya (modern Asian) was exquisite, Meze (Turkish/Lebanese) was a meat lover’s dream and Vespa (Italian) was nice but rather bland.
Not to be missed also is the famous UAE Friday lunchtime buffet offering unlimited food and drink accompanied by a DJ through to the early hours. In addition the range of bars offers something for both families and couples with the pool bar supplying music every night, the Lobby Lounge open 24/7, The Anchor providing a home for those missing the traditional British pub and ShoFee delivering great cocktails in a sophisticated rooftop lounge. If that isn’t enough then take yourself to the ExclusiV nightclub where great drinks and a mix of arabic and dance music see you through to the morning sunrise.
Other services on offer are; a small shopping mall selling beach toys, clothing, souvenirs and great quality leather goods; an outdoors shisha balcony and even shisha and swim in a floating platform; a superb Tarzan diving platform for older kids and numerous water sports including pedalos, jet skis, paragliding and a fantastic inflatable sofa wave runner ride.
Alternative hotels can and do have offerings to rival The DoubleTree but not many can offer the superb package or offer all the extras that meet every need.
I think this aligned to some of the best staff we have ever come across make this a brilliant alternative to the Caribbean. We were fortunate to meet Pieter Van Beugen the resort manager and a number of his team including Lakmal the beverages manager, all of whom take such a pride in the hotel and ensuring their guests have the perfect vacation. This filters down throughout the staff where Vaishakh our pool waiter couldn’t do enough to make sure our every need was catered for.
I think we have found a new winter sun location and while we have previously had a rule of no return visits, the DoubleTree has ensured we will break it and return as soon as possible.