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Trip Planning: Winter Holidays in UAE & Pakistan
Review: Park Hyatt Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
Review: St. Regis Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
QuickTake: Al Maha Desert Resort Luxury Collection, Dubai
I love Saadiyat Island. Growing up in Abu Dhabi throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s – Saadiyat (loosely translated to ‘Happiness’) was a place I’d only hear about when heading out on a friend’s boat for a day trip to one of the nearby islands. Of course, this was before the city underwent a transformation of sorts with the development of all the surrounding islands into what it is today.
So what is it today? Whilst it continues to undergo development (as most places in the UAE forever do), it has become the arts and cultural hub of sorts. It is home to pristine beaches, beautiful waters and some lovely resorts. Then there’s the Louvre which opened up to much fanfare in 2017 – a museum that I quite unexpectedly enjoyed when I last visited. The Guggenheim and the Zayed National Museum are expected to follow circa 2025-2026, with up to eight museums eventually planned for the longer term. The island is supposedly home to breeding hawksbill turtles (you can take part in Jumeirah Saadiyat resort’s “Turtle Patrols” during April-June) and gazelles (often on the stretch close to the Saadiyat Beach and Saadiyat Golf Club – drive carefully – twice I almost hit one!).
Adjacent to Saadiyat Beach, where most of the initial resort developments were commissioned (St Regis, Rotana, Park Hyatt, Rixos, Saadiyat Golf Club, Jumeirah) is Soul Beach – home to the Mamsha Al Saadiyat development. In 2020, this stretch of beach was a ghost town despite a whole host of new low rise luxury condo’s being on the cusp of completion. At the time, it looked too good to be so deserted and personally served as a wonderful escape to walk around outdoors at the beginning of COVID-19 in March 2020. Barely three years on and this empty little strip of solitude has transformed into a bustling beach front boardwalk and residential neighborhood – with some great food and beverage outlets. Highly recommend heading here next time a visit to Abu Dhabi is on the cards.
In short – Saadiyat Island to me is one of my favorite places in the UAE. It mixes together calm, peace, serenity and beauty whilst not being too far away from anything. Unsurprising then, when I knew I’d be spending around a week in Abu Dhabi, the first place I looked at staying were properties on the island. The first of which was the Park Hyatt Saadiyat Island. I had last stayed here in Feb 2020, shortly before COVID-19 happened. At the time I really enjoyed the stay, so was curious to see how it continued to hold up in 2022.
Like most hotels in the UAE, there is a considerable amount of variance between low season and high season cash rates. During the summers, the Park Hyatt Saadiyat averages anywhere from USD $300-$450 per night, with rates going comfortably north of USD $800-$900 during ‘peak’ times in November and December, which coincide with Formula One and the busy holiday season.
At the time of writing, the Park Hyatt Saadiyat sits as a category 6 property within the World of Hyatt (“WoH”) loyalty program. A redemption here typically requiring 21,000/25,000/29,000 WoH points depending on off-peak/standard/peak pricing.
For my desired nights, cash rates were USD $1,100+ per night making the use of WoH points the obvious choice here. The same nights priced at 25,000 and 29,000 WoH points meaning I’d be getting fantastic value for a points redemption. I generally value WoH points at ~USD 1.75 cents per point (“cpp”) meaning I’d handily be extracting outsized value here (USD 3.7+ cpp).
I ended up booking the first night for 25,000 WoH points and using a WoH Category 1-7 Free Night Award for the second, more costly night. The certificate had been earned a few weeks prior on account of requalifying as Globalist and came with the standard six month expiry, so I was more than happy to put it to good use here. Despite having a decent amount of travel planned in the coming six months, pretty much all my aspirational hotels had been booked already. The upcoming few that were with Hyatt were category 8 (i.e Andaz Maui) properties, making them ineligible for redeeming against this certificate.
Once booked, I reached out to my Hyatt concierge to apply a Suite Upgrade Award (“SUA”) to the reservations. I was weary that there might be an issue given I had made separate mixed points/certificate reservations, however I had seen datapoints where an upgrade certificate could be applied to back-to-back points and cash stays, so I was optimistic. Unfortunately, after a quick email exchange, it turned out that while a SUA can be applied to a points/cash booking, it could not be applied to a points/certificate booking. Overall, it wasn’t a big deal as the Park Hyatt Saadiyat has a good track record of treating globalists well. The only reason I had considered using the SUA for this relatively short trip was that it was due to expire in Feb 2023 and at the time I didn’t really have a use for it (luckily for me, I ended up using it for a trip to Maui instead… but that’s for another post 😊).
Lastly, I wanted to mention that the Park Hyatt Saadiyat is one of *those* properties that occasionally offers up one of its specialty suites for the “Upgrade Premium Suite” booking option. For those not familiar, I’ll address this in a future post if there is interest, however suffice to say that Hyatt offers a couple of different ways to book rooms – one of which is when you pay 6,000 or 9,000 WoH points on top of the standard flexible room rate, you can book into a standard or a premium suite. The premium suites at some properties can include specialty suites that are otherwise not available for a points booking. In this case, the “Prince Suite” can be booked this way at an overall cost that can be quite compelling. I had myself booked this room on a prior trip where I had expected to host many guests… but then… y’know… COVID things, so didn’t get a chance.
Arrival & Check-in
Having arrived in the morning at Abu Dhabi International Airport, we picked up our rental for the week and were on our way to the Park Hyatt Saadiyat, arriving within about 30 minutes. Whilst not as grandiose looking at the outset as some of its neighbors (I’m looking at you St. Regis), the approach is still impressive, giving off a very Arabian feel. Leading up to the cool-white colored main buildings, guests can walk up a central staircase sandwiched between towering palm trees to the front entrance or drive up the horseshoe driveway straight to the drop-off area.
Staff assisted us with our luggage as soon as we arrived, while we made our way to the hotel lobby to attempt an early check-in. The lobby space exudes a luxurious and minimalist feel that is synonymous with the Park Hyatt brand; and whilst it’s a beautiful look – I can’t help but think that it just feels a bit too dark at times. Contrast this with the feeling you get when you walk into the St. Regis down the street, and you’ll see what I mean. Where the St. Regis succeeds at bringing in the natural light and the epic Arabian Sea views right from the moment when you first enter, the Park Hyatt fails in celebrating its biggest selling point – the coastline it sits on.
That observation aside, given that it was the day before Christmas Eve, there was plenty of festive decorations all around – and most heartwarming of all… Olaf seems to have finally gotten his wish.
Check-in ended up being a breeze. I was promptly thanked for being a Globalist member and then they uttered those magical words that everyone in this hobby wants to hear… “We’ve upgraded you to a beautiful suite”. While the desk agent was checking on the status of our suite, the front desk manager walked over and welcomed us as well. To my surprise, he mentioned that he had checked in my parents on a Guest of Honor booking a few weeks earlier and followed that up by wishing us a happy belated anniversary (more on that below) as well. What a fantastic way to begin a stay – small personable touches like this leave such an impression on me (clearly – as I still remember my check-in process more than a month later!)
One thing to know for Globalists booking a stay here is that the Park Hyatt Saadiyat is designated a ‘resort’ property in the WoH program. Unfortunately this means that the guaranteed 4pm late checkout benefit does not apply here and is on a availability basis only. Now that being said, as I indicated earlier, this property does have a reputation of treating Globalists really well so I don’t expect this to be a common occurrence, especially during non-peak times.
As the room wasn’t quite ready yet, we opted to grab a quick coffee and snacks at The Library – a tea lounge styled as its name suggests, which was just tucked round the corner from the main entrance.
There was a terrace as well, overlooking Le Café and the swimming pools, had we wanted to sit outside. After waiting about a half hour, our server informed us that our suite was ready and handed us our keys.
Room – Park Executive Suite
We were assigned Room #565, a Park Executive Suite which is the standard upgrade typically granted to Globalists when available. On my last trip I had received the same suite type on the ground floor, so this time I was looking forward to the 5th floor views.
First impressions of the suite were just how incredibly spacious it was. Design was typically Park Hyatt – stylish and modern – with many of its finishes and light brown/cream color schemes blending in wonderfully with the overall stylings of the property.
The living room was furnished with a large sectional, an armchair and a small dining table that I suppose could double up as a desk. More than enough seating to comfortably entertain a few visitors.
Just past the entrance was a separate powder room after which was the entrance to a very large walk-through closet which eventually opened up on one side to the bathroom, and the other side to one of two entrances to the bedroom.
Back in the living room and stationed on the wet bar were perhaps one of the most impressive assortment of welcome amenities I have ever received at any property – two huge and delicious coconuts, assorted truffles and a really cool date platter complete with a legend indicating the types and origins of all the dates offered. Also not pictured was your standard fruit basket.
That’s not all – as this reservation had originally been made for our wedding anniversary a few weeks earlier (which we had to postpone), the hotel still went the extra step in leaving us a delicious raspberry charlotte and a welcome note.
Not wanting the bedroom to feel left out no doubt, the staff arranged an extra something on the bed in the form of two turtle plushies. As with the dates – I loved how this too was a nod to the island and country’s heritage!
Did I mention how spacious the suite was? It seemed to be larger than I remembered and for good reason. Understandably, there are a couple of different configurations for Park Executive Suites. As this one was at the corner of the 5th floor, there seemed to have been a lot of extra space on offer – so much so that at times the bedroom and living area almost felt like they were missing some furniture.
Another unique aspect of this suite was the lovely terrace, which was one continuous long parallel space adjacent to both the bedroom and living room and personally my favorite part of the suite where I spent a lot of time taking in the marvelous views of the property and the beach. Standard suites usually come with two separate smaller terraces attached to each room.
Lastly, there was a hidden ‘backyard’ of sorts which I imagine most people would easily miss like I almost did. Next to the bathtub was a glass door covered with blinds. Unlocking it gave access to a small outdoor space with high walls and two sun loungers. It just seemed to be extra space afforded to the unit given the corner location of it, that the hotel had repurposed. Not much views to be had unless you were peering over the edge, but it offered maximum privacy and a nice quiet place to get some sun should anyone wish.
Breakfast & Dining
Breakfast is served daily at Le Café between 7-11am and its quite the affair. As a Globalist, breakfast here is complimentary and boy, did it get my vacation off to a good start.
Le Café provides both indoor and outdoor seating options and despite the hotel being close to max occupancy, we were able to get tables outside without too much trouble. The outdoor seating is just off the property’s numerous pools, with lots of greenery all around. The restaurant’s interior is a great space as well, with plenty of natural light and floor to ceiling windows making for an inviting space.
In addition to the plethora of food stations (feel free to browse the photo dump at the bottom of the post) on offer for breakfast, you’re able to place your barista made coffee orders along with any a la carte orders off the egg menu featuring popular items like eggs benedict’s, omelets, avocado toast, shakshuka etc, all cooked to your liking.
Service was outstanding all the way through – often being greeted by hosts and servers by our name despite barely having been there for half a day. The offerings included a fresh juice/ smoothie bar, an Indian breakfast station, classic western selections, fish and meat charcuterie, crepes/pancakes/waffle station, a lavish bread and pastry area, fruits, cereals and on and on and on… even an ice-cream cart.
On my first morning I saw a falconer with his bird walking around the patio. Confused by that, I dismissed it as likely a kid’s attraction put on for the holiday period. It was only the second morning when I saw two of them, that I found out that their main purpose of patrolling the dining area was to scare away the abundant bird life that kept coming for table scraps. It struck me as a novel concept and probably a sound idea too as there were a lot of birds everyday at breakfast.
Along with the local bird life, we really enjoyed our leisurely breakfasts as well over the course of our stay. The overall quality was excellent and there was plenty of variety on offer each day within each respective ‘themed’ station. Coffees and juices were consistently great as well. If I were to nitpick, perhaps the one slight weakness was with respect to the viennoiserie – which is usually done pretty well in the UAE.
Aside from hosting daily brunch, Le Café is also the setting for the Park Hyatt’s lavish weekly Friday Brunch. For those not familiar with the UAE, Friday brunches are a ‘thing’. Think Vegas levels of swank… and to be fair – probably higher quality across the board too and often complete with live entertainment and kids activities too.
Park Hyatt’s other notable dining options on-site included:
- Mate: An Argentine themed steakhouse with Mediterranean influences. Named after its namesake drink which apparently gained popularity within the Lebanese diaspora returning home from South America. This restaurant was highly recommended by some local friends, and as much as we tried to, we couldn’t swing it due to existing commitments. Keep an eye out for their Wednesday Supper Clubs which were featured until November 2022 and could come back in the new year.
- Shala Beach Lounge: Set up on the beach as the name suggests, this is the property’s take on a bohemian cocktail lounge. Opening in the early evenings until late into the night, it was a great place to sit outside and enjoy the fresh sea breeze whilst having some drinks or food in a relaxing boho setting.
Given the holiday week, there was also a special Christmas Eve Dinner hosted at Le Café during our visit with another elaborate food spread across various themed stations again. There were live seafood and meat grills, a lavish Indian spread, an Italian station with fresh made pasta’s, risotto’s finished in a Parmesan wheel and pizza’s, amongst many other options.
Beach & Facilities
The Park Hyatt is a large property. The outdoor spaces are beautifully maintained with lots of green space, lawns and walkways weaving around a variety of delightful pools, which include a family pool, a large sized lap pool, a series of smaller hot tubs as well as an adults-only pool closer to the beach.
The fitness center was located on the pool level, a flight of stairs down from the Atarmia Spa, and was decently equipped in a well-lit space featuring full panel windows with access to the spa’s pool right outside.
There is also a Camp Hyatt on site as well for families who want to drop off their young ones for some supervised play time. Hotel guests can use this facility free of charge.
Finally, the crown jewel of this hotel – and any others on this strip – Saadiyat Beach. Guests have direct access from the hotel grounds and have set up a number of loungers and umbrella’s for use by guests.
We had an absolutely terrific stay at the Park Hyatt Saadiyat and wouldn’t think twice about returning. Globalists consistently receive excellent benefits at the property and it was particularly pleasing to see that this hotel is going from strength to strength three years on from my last visit. Breakfast in particular was a massive improvement from my last visit, while the rooms continue to feel modern and fresh.
Be it a couple looking for a relaxing vacation, or a family with kids looking to getaway for the Christmas holidays – this property truly has mass appeal without compromising on any aspect of luxury. I honestly can’t recommend it enough if you have an upcoming trip to this part of the world – particularly during Spring and Winter time’s in the UAE. If looking to book a stay here, I would highly recommend considering making a Hyatt Prive (on cash) or a Hyatt Guest of Honor (on points with no status) booking as the extra perks would absolutely be worth it.
Coming up next is a review of an OG favorite of mine – the St. Regis Saadiyat. Let’s see how it compares to my wonderful stay at the Park Hyatt!
Included below are a couple of extra photo’s of the grounds and the lavish breakfast spread.