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With our trip to the UAE sadly winding down, we had one last night left at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal in Abu Dhabi, heading over to Pakistan for the rest of our winter break. Over the years, firstly living in and then frequently returning to Abu Dhabi, I had visited this property often but hadn’t actually stayed here.
Despite knowing we’d only be able to fit in a short stay- as we’d be arriving back from Dubai in the evening with our next flight at noon the following day- I thought it would be nice to get in a brief bottom line review of the property by way of a “QuickTake” – especially since this is a property I often get asked about from friends and family.
The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi is situated right at the beginning of Abu Dhabi Island proper – a quick trek over from Abu Dhabi’s oldest bridge – Al Maqtaa Bridge. The waterway that runs under the bridge is what is referred to as the “Grand Canal” nowadays, but is essentially a natural waterway between the mainland and the island. Back in the 1990’s – Al Maqtaa Bridge was the major artery into Abu Dhabi before the construction and development of the surrounding islands.
The hotel is located beachfront to the canal and opposite to the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on its other side. Aside from its location being very close to the Grand Mosque – it isn’t particularly close to anything else. On its sprawling premises is the “Venetian Village” which is a waterside promenade hosting some great restaurants (which operate separate to the hotel). Across the water, there is the the Souk Qaryat Al Beri – which is a shopping and restaurant complex that’s part of the Shangri-la Hotel and designed to be in a traditional Arabian market layout (“Souk”).
When staying at the Ritz-Carlton, you’ll never really be near anything – nor too far away from anywhere either. Abu Dhabi International Airport is a 20 min drive away, with parts of Yas Island and Saadiyat Island being and easy 25-35 mins drive, whilst downtown Abu Dhabi is a ~15 min drive away. For an extended stay, a car rental would definitely be recommended if you want to keep the cost of taxi’s/Uber down.
Standard rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi range between USD $200-$500/night, with most nights fallings around USD $300/night – certainly on the lower side of what Ritz-Carlton rooms are usually priced at.
Points redemptions meanwhile, range between 33,000-45,000 Bonvoy points as of the time of writing – again a pretty reasonable redemption given that its the Ritz-Carlton brand. The current range also potentially allows for the use of a 35,000 Free Night Award (“FNA”) that comes with US (non-premium) & Canadian issued Marriott Bonvoy co-branded credit cards by American Express and Chase. Recall that Marriott now allows you to top up FNA’s with up to 15,000 Bonvoy points for the purposes of a redemption – putting even the high end of the redemption range, within reach of a FNA + top up.
Similar to booking options for the Waldorf Astoria DIFC, this property is another where you can get fantastic value booking via the American Express Fine Hotel & Resorts (“FHR”) program, especially if you can leverage the Amex Platinum CAD/USD $200 travel credit as well.
While I did have some Amex USD $200 travel credits available to use – and I debated booking through FHR – ultimately the fact that I wasn’t interested in utilizing the USD $100 food and beverage credit (benefit of booking via FHR) during my short stay there (and had a plan to use my Amex credits in time for another stay) made me decide against it. I instead used two close-to-expiring Marriott FNA’s which covered the full cost of two rooms at 34,000 Bonvoy points per room per night.
Elite & Brand Benefits
The Ritz-Carlton brand usually doesn’t offer much in terms of elite recognition to Marriott Bonvoy Elites. For my stay, the property was unexpectedly generous though…
- Welcome Gift: Waiting in my room were 3 mason jars filled with an assortment of nuts and placed on a slate board with “Thank You” written on it.
- Breakfast: A major surprise. Normally breakfast is not offered to any Bonvoy Elite levels at the brand, however during check-in, the associate proactively informed us that he is happy to “gift” both rooms complimentary breakfast as a thank you for choosing the property – a gesture that caught me very off-guard and was appreciated. Breakfast is served at Giornotte restaurant, daily from 6:30am-10:30am on weekdays and till 11am on weekends, otherwise costing USD ~$44/pp, though normally comes with a 50% discount for Bonvoy Titanium elite members.
- Early Check-in/Late check-out: We arrived late and did not need to ask about early check-in. Similarly, we didn’t need to request too late of a checkout – with a noon checkout time being no problem.
- Suite Upgrade? Hah! At a Marriott Bonvoy property.. that too at the Ritz-Carlton brand.. lets keep dreaming. Did not inquire at check-in either.
All hotels guests get the following:
- Parking: Free Parking.
- Turndown Service: Yes.
- Resort Fees/Tax: 15 AED tourism tax per room per night charged at check-in.
- Free shuttle every half an hour between the hotel and the Grand Mosque.
The property’s main public spaces are quite the sight. The lobby area screams grandness and opulence – and still look every bit as impressive now as they did when the hotel first opened its doors back in 2013. There is glistening marble seemingly everywhere, high ceilings with sparking chandeliers, gorgeous detailed inlaid work across furnishings and fittings – plenty of Islamic cultural aesthetics visible in countless designs and motifs which are seamlessly blended in with Venetian themed design elements – its feels like you’ve stepped into a palace.
The hotel has over 440 rooms and suites and an additional 87 private villa’s situated across its expansive property. The rooms are housed in either the main hotel building or could be assigned in the nearby “Venetian Village” promenade as well. Interestingly, points redemptions also allows you to select your preference for this.
For our stay, we were assigned the rooms we had booked, which were a pair of Deluxe Rooms in a King and a Twin configuration. The rooms were a good size and overall a comfortable space to spend a few days in though left a weaker overall impression than some of the earlier hotels we had stayed at on Saadiyat Island – despite being newer than them.
Both rooms had an additional arm chair and a small glass desk, in addition to the bedside tables and an entertainment unit. The bathrooms had both, an enclosed rain shower and a soaking tub, and double sinks – the soaking tub next to a folding panel which could be folded out to open up into the room.
Both rooms came with balconies overlooking the pool area of the hotel and offering up great views from the third floor of the hotel’s recreational spaces – a great place to hang out at during the cooler months of the year.
For the influencers amongst you – there is also a special “IG spot” on the premises which staff will apparently be happy to direct you towards – there you’ll be able to strike into any number of cliched pose’s in front of an arch with the entire Grand Mosque framed within the arch in the background *cringe*.
The hotel offers a really well regarded lineup of dining outlets – an apparent strong point of this property. There are no less than seven options to be precise, ranging from sushi and dim sum (Le Jiang) to classic steakhouse fare (The Forge) and Arabic cuisine (Mijana) amongst many others. Notwithstanding the outlets on property – the Venetian Village too offers some really good dining options, including an excellent Indian restaurant – Punjab Grill (great food! Handily my top suggestion within the village for an upscale – yet still fabulous meal) alongside Abu Dhabi’s first kosher restaurant – The Kosher Place.
If for some reason you’re craving something other than what the above ~13 dining options have to offer, you can take a water taxi (USD ~$4 one way) over to the Souk Qaryat Al Beri for even more dining options in which to indulge in… its safe to say you won’t be left feeling like you’re missing out on Abu Dhabi’s dining scene if staying here.
That brings me to breakfast. As mentioned above, we were very generously gifted breakfast at Giornotte – which is where the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi offers it breakfast buffet.
Breakfast here was… well… lackluster and really disappointing if I’m being honest. The variety offered at first viewing seemed good – and on par with what we had been indulging at over our holiday so far – but there was a very obvious gulf in quality between what we experienced here and had previously enjoyed on the trip thus far.
Unfortunately it seemed providing endless variety and options was more of a priority vs. taste. Coffee based beverages were abysmal as well – coming from machines instead of the barista prepared coffees that are usually very common place across the UAE. Overall the entire dining vibe and experience made it feel more Florida Marriott than Middle East Luxury. Putting a damper even more on the experience was the blandness of the indoor venue when you contrast this with the gorgeous morning setups that we had when having breakfast at the likes of Park Hyatt or St Regis Saadiyat’s, WA DIFC or Al Maha. Overall to say it was a disappointment is an understatement – which came as a real surprise given the generally favorable feedback the hotel’s other outlets regularly garner. If staying here in future, I’ll be happily skipping breakfast in favor of more exciting things elsewhere.
As for the facilities, the hotel has a large pool in the central courtyard near what is considered the “beach side”. While the pool, one of the larger ones in Abu Dhabi, seems like a great place to unwind in – the ‘beach’ is a far cry from the stunning beaches over on Saadiyat Island and other easily accessible places in the UAE.
The pool and beach area was another aspect that felt a bit dated to me. Don’t get me wrong – its was a perfectly adequate and scenic place – but again – it lacked some of the imagination and aesthetic of the the other high end properties in the UAE. Given the huge amount of space this hotel has at its disposal – it’s disappointing that the same amount of thought was not put out onto the exterior spaces as was put into the interior (in my opinion only of course)
The gym here is well equipped and open 24/7. I also noted that the hotel has padel courts which if I had more time, I would’ve definitely wanted to try out finally.
Final Word – Time for Refresh?
Overall I had a pretty lukewarm experience at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi. Whilst the interior public spaces are gorgeous and the service I encountered during my short stay, excellent – I can’t help but feel that the property could do with a refresh/ redesign of some of their rooms and outdoor spaces – not to mention overhauling the breakfast concept – especially considering that they don’t typically dole it out for free to elite members. All of these things contributed to the overall experience paling in comparison to our other stays during this trip.
Important considerations for me such as room aesthetics, outdoor spaces (in resorts), breakfast offering left barely an impression. Ultimately for me it boils down to the purpose of your visit. Are you coming here in the winter months, for a quick 1-2 day stay to be close to the Grand Mosque and the Airport, on a good FHR or points rate? Then sure.. I can see this being a good candidate in those circumstances.
However if the purpose of your trip is for a first time visit to Abu Dhabi, or something in excess of 2 days where you’ll have time to sight see and/or want to relax on property – then skip this – there are simply too many better alternatives providing better locations and more upscale experiences than what the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi can offer.
Title Image Courtesy Arabianbusiness.com