The half-hour drive from the airport to Shangri La Hotel on the outskirts of Muscat takes you through a dusty sandy-coloured landscape of mountains and valleys. Although the Middle East that I pictured had sand, this land looked completely different with its winding mountain paths through sand. After a tunnel takes you through the last mountain, you find yourself in a veritable oasis. Really. It’s all green and lush with palm trees, traditional Dhofori architecture and the sparkling sapphire of the Arabian Sea under a cloudless sky. My family and I were more than ready for some winter sun at the Shangri La Muscat!
The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort
The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa in Muscat is deceptively big because there are actually 3 hotels in one location. The hotel does have a mini-bus that takes you into Muscat which we did use one day. It’s really not practical though to go into Muscat every day. If you go to Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah resort, be prepared to spend most of your time at the resort itself. Not that it’s a hardship!!
Al Husn, the most-exclusive hotel, is reserved for adults. We were told later that children can technically stay there but they are not allowed to use any of the facilities. We were joined on this trip by a friend who had stayed at Al Husn previously. She thought it was exceptional with its own private beach and pools. We couldn’t even take a peek at Al Husn because it is perched on a cliff overlooking us mere mortals who had the temerity to bring children on holiday.
Al Husn perched on its cliff-top location.
The other two hotels are walking distance of each other. We stayed at the Al Bandar Hotel which is the hotel in the middle-location. The Al Bandr Hotel has most of the restaurants. The rooms are spacious and the hotel itself is well-laid out. The architecture is traditional Omani and the hotel encircles a courtyard area with restaurants.
The grand traditional architecture at Al Bandr.
The bedrooms are spacious and can accommodate another bed.
In the evenings, we sat outside in the balmy night air and listened to the live traditional music. Many people were hanging around smoking shisha pipes. The sweet smell wafted through the air around us. When the night air got too chilly, we’d go inside and listen to Pamela, the resident piano bar singer. A fellow American, Pamela even took us out during her free time to go shopping at the big mall in the area.
The beach has gentle waves thanks to the sheltering rocks.
The third hotel, the Al Waha, is the largest of the three hotels. The Al Waha is billed as the most ‘family-friendly’ because it has a lot of suites and interconnecting family rooms. We did notice that most of the families staying at the resort stayed at the Al Waha. As you can expect, this part of the resort was the least quiet.
Family Fun at the Shangri La Muscat
The Shangri La Muscat has a lot of facilities in two of its hotels for children. First and foremost, the beautiful beach is in a sheltered location with gentle waves. My kids can play for hours in the sand and waves.
The pleasant little beach at the hotel.
Each of the Al Waha and the Al Bandr Hotels have a selection of pools. The lazy river runs between the pools. In the ocean, the hotel has a bouncy castle-type of thing that lets you jump into the water. My children played at the cute little mini-golf every single day.
The beautiful landscaped grounds at Al Bandr
The restaurants have a children’s menu which is excellent. Even without a children’s menu, you do have a choice of places to eat, including an outdoor buffet option. We thought the buffet breakfast was extensive and delicious. There was a choice of traditional as well as a full-Western repertoire of food at the breakfast buffet. The choice of restaurants at the resort includes Moroccan, Lebanese, Italian and Asian. We found ourselves drawn to the Spanish tapas place a couple of times. Not only was the food great and everyone could find something they liked, we could sit outside in a casual atmosphere.
We had a children’s pack waiting in our room which had a cute stuffed toy camel and a colouring book and pencils. The colouring book had an excellent overview of the culture of Oman.
A welcome package of fruits and nuts is a nice touch.
My son went snorkelling with his father and had a grand time. My daughter and I had some quality spa time because my daughter refused to snorkel because she considers fish swimming near her face ‘creepy’. She had her first mani-pedi and felt like a princess.
My daughter’s first mani-pedi. Of course, she choose purple.
The therapy rooms are all built like little houses with a seating area, double massage beds etc. She hung out on her massage bed while I had a very relaxing massage next to her.
My daughter loved hanging out in her own tented bed.
Our Opinion of the Shangri La Muscat
The Shangri La Bar Al Jissah Resort (well the Al Bandr and Al Waha specifically) is great with young children. My children enjoyed it tremendously. It was definitely a different atmosphere from the adult sophistication of The Chedi Muscat. After all the running around playing and late nights they had at the Shangri La, even my children were ready for a few days of quiet time in the sunshine. We went in December and the weather was near perfect. It wasn’t too hot in the daytimes and there were not pesky mosquitoes bothering us. We had some great winter sun before we went back all refreshed and geared up for the end of year festivities.
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We waffled back and forth on booking the Chedi Muscat Hotel. It was a choice between The Shangri La Hotel in Muscat and the Chedi Muscat Hotel. I know, I know – #firstworldproblems. We booked The Chedi, then changed over to the Shangri La because everyone said it was better for families. After 3 days at the Shangri La, we transferred to The Chedi Muscat.
Is the Chedi Muscat Hotel Right for Families?
It depends on your family.
In this instance, conventional wisdom is probably right for families that like traditional family hotels. The Shangri La was more family-friendly with children’s menus and a choice of two hotels on the complex that catered to families. On the other hand, our children neither participate in kids’ clubs nor are particularly rambunctious. I was ready for a change of hotel after three days of dealing with other people’s kids. But that’s a story for another post.
We loved the Chedi Muscat hotel. From what we could tell, our children were the only children at the Chedi Muscat hotel. There was one kids’ pool which was absolutely beautiful. Lots of adults sat around the kids pool since there weren’t any other kids there (other than my two, of course).
The kids pool was enormous.
Amenities at The Chedi Muscat Hotel
The food at the Chedi Muscat Hotel was excellent. We enjoyed our breakfast buffet every morning. In addition, we had lunch at the hotel courtyard restaurant and dinner at the Beach restaurant.
A little decadence at lunch.
The restaurants and food options
The boutique at the Chedi was one of the best hotel stores I’ve ever visited. The items were beautifully curated. I did some major damage on jewellery, scarves and handicrafts.
Some of the beautiful items in the boutique.
We also arranged through the Concierge for a private tour of Old Muscat. I thought the service at the hotel was also excellent. Although the Chedi Muscat is outside of the old town, it is only a short drive. The Shangri La is approximately 45 minutes away from Muscat by car.
The hotel was beautifully decorated with a modern and minimal take on traditional Omani luxury. There were no shisha pipes on offer, and definitely, no ‘Moroccan or Asian takeaway’ in the bar areas. Also, unlike the Shangri La, it was way too cool for a piano bar.
Photo Gallery of The Chedi Muscat Hotel
The beautiful lobby with its tented ceiling.
Sleek bedrooms with minimal clutter.
The do not disturb sign is beautifully crafted.
The bathroom, closet, shower and toilet were all in one end of the room.
Believe it or not, this is the kiddie pool
The courtyard restaurant
The path to the hotel’s private beach.
It’s all about the rest and relaxation here.
Our Opinion of the Chedi Hotel Muscat
You can safely assume that we preferred The Chedi Muscat to the Shangri La Hotel for our family. We liked the sophisticated, modern luxury and our children are used to hanging out in adult environments.
Do I have any criticisms? The hotel room and bathroom are semi open-plan. It’s a little awkward with children when you step out of the shower straight into a common area with no door. It’s also a recipe for creating major wet areas in the bathroom. Our room had only a shower (no bathtub). Our children are old enough for the lack of bathtub not to be a problem.
What’s our verdict? If your children are old enough to appreciate luxury and not to need all the amenities of a ‘family-friendly’ resort, I would definitely recommend The Chedi Hotel Muscat.
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Walking into the Piano Bar at the Shangri La Muscat, I was a little bemused when a man walked over to the lady at the piano and started snapping his fingers at her. She was playing a rocking rendition of Purple Rain, and it took her a minute to turn her face to him. She was met with a halo of flash from the man’s camera.
“You could just have caught my attention by simply saying hello!” she said. Or, waiting for the song to finish and for her to look up, I thought.
The steel magnolia in her voice was immediately recognisable. A fellow American! Looking over my shoulder, she immediately broke into a smile at my friend. It turns out she knows my friend through mutual singer friends. I can never get over what a small world it is.
The Piano Bar @shangrilamuscat perfect way to end the evening with a nightcap.
Pamela, the resident singer at the Shangri La Al Bandr Hotel for the next few months, came over to chat with us when she had her next break. We were admiring her beautiful Arabic Jelabiya dress, when she invited us to go shopping with her during our stay. Shopping? Sure. I never met a mall I did not like.
Arabic Jalabiya Dresses
Pamela introduced me to the colourful world of Arabic Jalabiya dresses for women. The Jalabiya for women is similar to a caftan with a high neck and long sleeves. The male version is a simple white and called a dishdasha in Oman.
What is a Jalabiya?
This blog post has a good rundown on the different types of outfits women wear in the Arab countries. Mostly, we as foreigners see the Abaya, the long black outer covering that Arab women wear outside the home. Women can wear the elaborate Arabic Jalabiya dresses for women-only parties or for attending weddings. I learned that women and men traditionally are gender segregated at Arab weddings so it would be an women-only event.
For foreigners living or visiting Arab countries, such as Pamela working in Oman or Kim Kardashian visiting Dubai, it is completely acceptable to wear the Jalabiya outside in public generally. Pamela has a collection of gorgeous Jalabiyas for work because the outfit is both glamorous and modest. Of course, Kardashians manage to make even the Jalabiya look a bit trashy wearing the top low-cut and hiking the hem up. No surprise there.
Photo Gallery of Arabic Jalabiya Dresses
So here are some photos of the beautiful beadwork and detailing of the Arabic Jalabiya dresses.
This design reminds me of a patchwork pattern.
Such gorgeous beading
Traditional embroidery instead of glitter and beading.
These dresses are not meant to blend into the background!
Even the simpler patterns are quite elaborate.
Avenues Mall in Muscat
The Avenues Mall in Muscat is considered the high-end mall in Muscat. The largest mall in Oman, it contains many European, American and local stores. For example, I saw Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, The Early Learning Centre and MAC cosmetics. Note though that the largest mall in Oman is still nowhere near the size of malls in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
We were shopping for Jalabiyas at the Sara Plaza store at the Avenues Mall. Sara Plaza seem to have stores throughout the Middle East though.
The runway show for Sara Plaza
Unlike Western stores, the outfits are mostly folded and behind a counter. When you ask to see something, the sales person opens it carefully and holds it for your inspection. You can flip through catalogs which show the outfits fully before you make your choice as well. Although an old-fashioned type of service, the customer gets a lot of attention this way.
The one downside of this process though? Having to tell the salesman your size. On the other hand, these caftans are voluminous because they should be worn loose. Even then, you would need a much smaller size than you would in a Western sized outfit. Many dresses have ties that can cinch in the waist, sleeves etc so they are not completely shapeless.
We also went to Lulu Hypermarket, a megastore in the Middle East which is similar to an American Target or Walmart. I was able to buy cheap gifts for the kids and their cousins at Lulu. I had never heard of Lulu before Pamela took me to one, They are a massive operation with many stores in the Middle East and Asia. No doubt they will make their way to Europe eventually.
Plastic gold bracelets – all the bling you could want!
Visiting Avenues Mall in Muscat
A chance meeting of mutual friends in an exotic location provided an interesting shopping experience which was completely different from our visit to the Muttrah Souk.
We took the Shangri La hotel shuttle to the Avenues Mall. The Mall is located in Muscat proper on Avenue Qaboos Street. After visiting the Avenues Mall, we took a taxi to the Chedi Hotel Muscat and the charge was the standard 5 Omani Rial for fares within the city.
This post is linked with Travel Photo Thursday and Weekend Travel Inspiration.
Looking around Muttrah Souq in Muscat, my eyes were drawn to the sparkle of colourful sequinned clothes, the dull sheen of old silver daggers and the brash brightness of tourist tat. The smell of spices and incense wafted through the air and the low murmur of Arabic voices enticed me deeper into an Aladdin’s cave of ‘stuff’.
The Mutrah Souq located off the Corniche on the Muscat waterfront is supposed to be one of the oldest markets in the Arab world.
The entrance by the Corniche
Muscat has one of the world’s biggest natural harbours. In historic times, it was a convenient port for the trade coming from India and China.
Men hanging out by the souq
You really can’t tell how large the souk is from the unprepossessing gate. Inside the souq is covered in timber sheltering you from the sun but also creating a shady darkness. You never know what you’d find at the next store so, of course, you had to look. Part of the fun of visiting the souk is not known what you will find.
Traditional Omani headgear
Amongst the stores, I spotted frankincense and gold. I’m sure I would have found myrrh if I had looked hard enough. We were dazzled by the ornate treasure boxes in gold and silver, the khanjars (daggers) that Omani men wear and the traditional Omani jewellery of the women.
I love the detail of this hat.
We did a careful loop around the souk making sure we knew how to get back to the taxi. There are lots of side streets that branch off making navigating the souk tricky.
Omani flags hung from the ceiling
As you would expect, we were approached by vendors trying to sell us things. Vendors though were polite and accepting rejection with good grace. We never got the hard sell though like we did at the Medina in Marrakech. Nor was the souq a chaotic jumble of tourist entertainment and local shopping that we found at the old marketplace in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt.
Men hanging out by the souq
The intricately decorated ceiling
Visiting Muttrah Souq in Muscat
The souq is open in the mornings and then has an extended lunchtime closing. It reopens in the evening around 4pm. I found Muttrah souq in Muscat much more enjoyable an experience than other Arab market places I have visited. Haggling is expected but, these people are experts. Don’t be disappointed if they only throw you a pity reduction in prices.