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. Of course, these two hotels are two of several luxury hotels in Muscat but we decided to stick with what we knew.
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.
One of the best side trips we did was the desert safari in Dubai. Organised by our hotel, The Atlantis,, we were picked up and taken out of the city to a location where we met the other members of the tour. After wearing ourselves out at the water park and enjoying lots of Dubai’s famed urban fun, we were ready to see the wide open spaces of the desert.
We were bundled into Toyota 4×4’s for some serious dune bashing by the tour group. The children throughly enjoyed the roller coaster ride. I just prayed that the driver would get us to our destination in one piece and without overturning. Just in case, you think I’m over-reacting, you can see YouTube clips of dune bashing accidents (which I convinced myself were not trained drivers of high-end tours).
After a stomach-churning 30 minutes, we eventually got to the campsite in the desert. There were camel rides on offer.
My children though really liked playing in the sand. I know some of these safaris offer sand surfing if you want organised fun. My children, however, had a blast running up and down the dunes, making sand angels and playing in what amounted to them as a giant sandbox.
making sand angels
The sunset in the desert was stunning. All oranges and golds reflected back on the yellow sand.
We all enjoyed the dinner offered at the campsite, a traditional meal of grilled meats, which even my fussy-eater liked. We lazed about in the heat which had mellowed a bit with the evening sun.
I think there was shisha on offer but nobody in my family tried it. The evenings entertainment concluded with a belly dancer. She was definitely energetic! And could shake it, shake it, like she’s supposed to do. Even my 8 year old sun took notice!
We really appreciated getting away from the urban environment of Dubai. The desert just stretches endlessly in front of you even though we were not very far from the city. I can’t even imagine living in such an inhospitable environment like the Bedouins traditionally did. The fact that an entire city sprang from the desert in a matter of mere decades is just as astounding.
We stayed at the Atlantis Resort in the Palm Island. The rooms are traditionally decorated (think lots of opulent gold leaf and carved wood). My kids loved being next door to the Atlantis water park into which they could nip in and out as they pleased. I enjoyed to spend short bursts of time at the water park because we could convince them to leave knowing they could come back.
Check the TripAdvisor reviews for Atlantis, The Palm Dubai
Have you ever been to a desert environment? What did you think?
Are you ready for part II of our recent visit to Abu Dhabi? In writing about our trip to Abu Dhabi Part I, I covered entertainment, pools and beaches and shopping. In this post, I shall look at eating out with your little ones and sightseeing in public buildings.
The food is excellent and kid-friendly. Most places had something for the children – hot dogs, chicken nuggets or burgers. I honestly did not have a bad meal. I get the impression the authorities are quite stringent on food quality and hygiene standards. Here are some of our eating highlights:
Origins at the Viceroy Hotel on Yas Island which was given runner up status for best Friday brunch by Time Out Abu Dhabi in 2013. The Origins brunch is buffet style with a massive assortment of delicious food, including fresh breads, fresh seafood, grilled meats and fish, Italian food, Indian food, Thai food, sushi bar, middle-eastern specialties, salads, and desserts.
The atmosphere is buzzy with a live DJ playing European dance music. It seemed very popular with families because children eat free. Unless you plan on drinking a lot, paying extra for the all-drinks inclusive is not worth the money. My children were thrilled with the chocolate fountains (one with milk chocolate and the other with white chocolate).
Outside on the terrace you can see where the F1 track snakes around the Viceroy hotel and the massive yachts in the Yas Marina.
We also went one night to Bocca at the Hilton Abu Dhabi which was voted Best Italian Restaurant by Time Out this year. The food and wine at Bocca were indeed excellent. My children liked the fresh breadsticks and child-sized pizza on offer.
In the Central Market souk, Shakespeare & Co is a good casual option. The decor is charmingly eccentric Anglo-French with random lampshades and mismatched chairs and sofa seating. Shakespeare & Co really looks like someone exploded a shack full of French boudoir furniture.
My children loved the tableside cooking by the chef at Benihana at the Beach Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi. Don’t judge.
I liked Le Deck at Monte Carlo Beach Club, voted runner up for Best Contemporary European restaurant by Time Out but the children were unimpressed. It looked like Le Deck’s chicken nuggets were made with real minced chicken and not rubbery enough. We all loved the sweet potato fries though which were absolutely delicious.
I also really liked Ushna at the Souk Qaryat Al Beri for Indian food. It had been voted the best Indian restaurant by Time Out in 2012. This year, Ushna was the runner-up to the winner which was Angar at the Yas Viceroy. I thought the food was excellent and full of flavour (not just spicy). The service likewise was excellent as is the view from the large windows directly onto the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The restaurant has an excellent selection of vodkas, including esoteric flavoured ones.
papad and chutneys
In the case of the Emirates Palace, all that glitters IS gold. While the Burj al Arab in Dubai bills itself as a 7 star hotel, the Emirates Palace doesn’t even bother with star ratings and just goes by “palace”. Star ratings are for commoners, daaahlings.
The lobby is gold plated, and Swarovski crystal chandeliers are hung everywhere. There are 114 domes in the building, and the main one, the Grand Atrium dome, is decorated with silver and gold glass mosaic tiles. Of the 8000 palm trees inside the hotel, some are petrified to maintain their natural beauty.
The week I was visiting, the King of Morocco was staying at the Emirates Palace. He had booked an extra 200 rooms at the St. Regis for his overflow staff. I’ve got to say, the St. Regis was nothing to sneeze at either. The St Regis was likewise opulent and had a fabulous Gone With The Wind style staircase. It was all I could do not to sweep down the staircase in my best melodramatic entrance.
If all that decorative gilt makes you break out in hives, Abu Dhabi does have great contemporary hotels as well. For example, the design at the Yas Viceroy was all-white, sculptural and contemporary.
Abu Dhabi is a bit like New York in that it is fond of cool skyscrapers. Many of the skyscrapers are office buildings that the public can’t enter.
They are, however, still fun to look at, especially in contrast with the more traditional architecture interspersed among the modern. My children nicknamed a few of the skyscrapers, e.g., the Coin Building, the Booby Building, the Swirly Building etc.
The “booby” building
Next door to the Viceroy Hotel on Yas Island is a large circular building, O1ne, which is a bar and club. O1ne commissioned 18 street artists to cover every inch of the outside of the building with grafitti. It’s visually stunning but, you will note, even the street art in Abu Dhabi must be legally sanctioned!
The Corniche in Abu Dhabi is a beach front promenade. It’s great for an early evening walk to watch the spectacular sunset. Al Markaziyah Gardens is the Abu Dhabi’s most popular park. The Emiratis really are into their families and there’s a plethora of parks and playgrounds, including Khalifa Park where the Murjan Splash Park is located.
What’s the verdict?
The children and I had a fabulous time in Abu Dhabi! I found it safe, clean and family-friendly. The harsh punishments for disobedience meted out by the rulers really do ensure compliance. I thought of it in many ways as ‘Singapore in the Middle East.’ The flight time is 7 hours from London which makes it closer than lots of other places as a winter sun destination. Luckily, my friend is in Abu Dhabi for 3 years and I’m sure we will have a return visit.
You can find more photos from my Abu Dhabi trip on my Flickr page, click here.
Things to Note:
- Abu Dhabi does not allow Skype or Facetime. You’ll need to find alternate means of keeping in touch with people at home.
- Only the tourists walk outside during the day. I thought my kids were being wimps for not walking the 10 minutes to the Emirates Palace. After I did it on my own, I was eating humble pie. Even in the shade and without humidity, the heat itself is wearing.
- Taxis are cheap and plentiful even if many of the taxi drivers are fairly clueless about actual driving or destinations. It helps to have good directions to where you want to go (look on a destination’s website). Do NOT get out of the taxi until you know you are at the right place or don’t pay him beforehand if you need to get out and check. You could get stranded on a construction site a long hike from civilisation, as your taxi driver speeds away into a cloud of dust.
- Everything is open really late. Many places are deserted during the noonday sun (or even closed) because sensible local people stay inside. If you have active children, afternoon naps may not be an option. On the plus side, attractions may be less crowded and easier to visit.
What do you think? Would you consider Abu Dhabi for an easy winter sun option? I know my children can’t wait to go back. Next year, they will be tall enough for the Ferrari roller coaster and I am already panicking over the thought.
For half-term, I took the children to Abu Dhabi to visit a friend who has recently moved there. Poor Mr. N had to work and so did not join us. I was a little apprehensive about travelling on my own with the children in a foreign country. My two children have widely different interests and levels of tolerance for new experiences. I needn’t have worried because Abu Dhabi is incredibly easy with children.
What were the highlights of our trip?
Yas Island in Abu Dhabi is being turned into a top leisure destination. Still under construction, it has hotels and entertainment centres galore, such as the Yas Marina Circuit (home of the Formula 1 Grand Prix), Ferrari World (the world’s biggest indoor theme park) and Waterworld (a water park).
My children thoroughly enjoyed Ferrari World. Definitely similar to Disney World, all the rides and attractions are based on the Ferrari story. For example, Bell’ Italia takes you on a miniature 1958 Ferrari through a scale model of Italy (think It’s a Small World at Disney). The Tyre Twist is similar to Disney’s giant teacups and Viaggio in Italia is similar to Epcot’s Soarin’.
The children were thrilled to drive miniature Ferraris on a scaled-down track after which they received their Ferrari driving licenses!
I wouldn’t say there was very much for non-car enthusiast adults to do, except for the roller coaster. Mercifully, my children were too short to go on the world’s fastest roller coaster. It went so fast you were given goggles to protect your eyes from the wind. Except for the roller coaster, all the rides and attractions are inside and climate-controlled.
I think Ferrari World will need to get their employees trained to Disney efficiency if they want to be a contender. We went on a fairly quiet day and there were barely any lines. The ride attendants, however, pretty much measured every child for the height requirements even when it was clear the child was height appropriate. I was amused to find that when my children went on a ride for a second time (immediately after getting off the same ride), they were measured again.
Yas Island is also the home of Waterworld which is a giant water park with 43 rides and attractions. I have friends who have been to it and liked it. My daughter doesn’t like water slides and so instead I opted to take the children to Murjan Splash Park.
Murjan Splash Park is really suited for the under-10’s. Although a little tame for my son who is an adrenaline junkie, my daughter loved it. Although small with about 12 rides, my children had a blast. Many of the rides did not involve water slides, such as a lazy river, surfboard simulator, trampolines, water balloon catapults and bumper boats.
Both the play and seating areas were well-shaded. I felt comfortable sitting down and letting the children play because I could watch them from the seating area. The ride attendants were very vigilant and all rules were strictly enforced.
The shopping malls and the souks are a cornucopia of interesting things to do, see and buy.
The souks are wonderful places to explore. Central Market is centrally located and easy to navigate. It’s a good place to stock up on local handicrafts and trinkets without drowning in tourist tat and the hard sell.
I personally loved the Souk Qaryat Al Beri which is part of the Shangri-la Hotel about 20 minutes outside the center of town. Set among man-made canals, the souk is a contemporary take on a typical Arabian market. The location is stunning especially in the evening with the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque, located right across the water, gleaming white against the inky blue sky.
In terms of modern malls, we agree with the locals that Marina Mall is our favourite mall. Marina Mall has more than 300 stores, a cinema, a Fun City entertainment complex (roller coasters, bumper cars etc), bowling, ice-skating and target shooting. You could easily spend a whole day here without actually shopping.
Pools and Beaches
We had our pool at the St. Regis Hotel which was lovely. I could hang out in the lounger which was set into the pool side and watch the children play. The lifeguards watched the children like a hawk probably because they decided my son was trouble (and, yes, he is). Unlike Dubai and most other places in the world, when the sign says ‘no diving’ they really mean it – much to my son’s chagrin.
We also spent the day at the the Monte Carlo Beach Club in Saadiyat Island which was just stunning. We loved our cabana which was located on the water’s edge and featured 2 queen beds for lounging. My son was disappointed to find he wouldn’t be allowed to dive off the cabana into the water. Once again, he had the lifeguard watching him intently to ensure compliance with the no jumping/diving rules.
The Beach Club also had a fabulous beach with the softest powder sand I’ve ever felt. I’ve heard unconfirmed reports that the sand gets imported from Algeria. The sand is the perfect constituency for molding and playing.
The children’s area at the Beach Club includes a tented pavillion for very young children. The children’s pool is large and shaded as is the playground. The playground also has a fountain area.
Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi (which is still mostly under construction) will have offshoots of several amazing museums, inlcuding the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi to be designed by Frank Gehry and a branch of the Louvre.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the world’s 8th largest mosque. It is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder and first president of the UAE, who is buried here. It made the news recently when Rihanna was barred entry after using the mosque as a backdrop for a photo shoot. As you may have guessed, the powers that be in Abu Dhabi insist on compliance with all regulations.
I dressed conservatively but, unless you are covered head to toe, security will insist you wear the traditional black abaya and hijab. A first experience for me, I was sweltering under the full covering of polyester .
The mosque is beautiful with intricate marble mosaics set into the white stone. It’s massive and can hold up to 40,000 people.
I’ll finish up our adventures in Abu Dhabi in the next post as this post is getting too long. I have a short attention span, and assume everyone else does too!