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With a great stay all wrapped up at the Park Hyatt, we still had a few more nights to look forward to at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island and look forward to it we did!
It dawned on me recently, that this is the hotel that I have easily spent the most time at over any other property in the world. It’s not even close – back when I still visited Abu Dhabi regularly to see my folks, I always found a convenient excuse to make a trip down to the hotel. Either to use the beach for the day or be a millennial and do laptop things at the coffee shop, or simply just meet up with friends at one of the hotel’s food outlets for a meal – it kind of became my instant happy place.
Back in 2011, the St. Regis was just the second hotel to open on Saadiyat Island – the first incidentally being the Park Hyatt which opened just a few weeks earlier. It was also the St. Regis brand’s first foray into the Middle East, so I imagine they intended to make a splash with it. Nowadays there are two St. Regis properties in Abu Dhabi, with the second one on the Corniche on the main island, which is less ‘resort’ and more an upscale hotel in a tall modern building.
In case you missed it, I spoke about Saadiyat Island as a destination overall in previous post about the Park Hyatt. The only thing to add is that St. Regis occupies a spot on the same strip as the Park Hyatt, though just a few minutes’ drive before it.
From Abu Dhabi International Airport, expect a 30-minute drive and probably half that to either of Yas Island or the main Abu Dhabi Island.
Like the other resorts, the hotel is flanked on one side by Saadiyat Beach and on the other by the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club. Unlike the other properties though, some of the course grounds hug the property resulting in some views of the greens from most of the higher floor rooms.
Nowadays cash prices for base rooms at the St. Regis range between USD $350-$650 for a big chunk of the summer and shoulder periods, with prices going to USD $1,250+ for the same base rooms over the winter months. For our nights in the last week of December, rates were on the higher side coming in at USD $1,250+ per night when booking a few months out.
If looking to book a revenue rate, I’ve often had good success getting reasonable rates via the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program. It’s not uncommon to get rates during the shoulder season starting in the USD$300’s which can end up being a great use of the US Amex Platinum or CAD Amex Platinum travel credit. On top of the usual benefits of booking via FHR (complimentary breakfast, $100 credit, late checkout guarantee, room upgrade based on availability), I’ve frequently found rates listed for this property competitive to Marriot’s own site.
On the points front, booking a stay with Marriott Bonvoy points can be a great use of those points. Following Marriott’s move to dynamic pricing, the St. Regis has not done too badly all things considered. Currently, points redemption range between 52,000-74,000 Bonvoy points, sneakily putting it just outside the range of using an Amex or Chase co-branded credit card Free Night Award (factoring in the 15,000 points top up feature). Those game’s aside, I think more often than not, it’ll provide for a solid redemption option.
We were able to book our base room for 70,000 Bonvoy points a night for our stay. I value Bonvoy points at USD $0.8 cents per points (“cpp”), resulting in another handy points redemption at better than USD 1.7+ cpp.
The hotel has a good track record at clearing Suite Night Awards (“SNA”) for its elite members and often provides a variety of upgraded rooms to select from. I’ve always selected the Ocean Suite (perhaps renamed now to a Premium 1 Bedroom Suite?) for my selection, which seems to be the 1-2 categories higher than the base suite type (above the St. Regis and Astor Suites), and have always had success with it clearing. This time was no exception as exactly 5 days out, I received the confirmation email.
Arrival & Check-in
Palatial. That’s probably the word that most aptly describes the sense you get arriving at the hotel lobby.
Upon arrival, bells boys and valet staff took care of our luggage and car while we went straight over to the check-in desk. Entering the lobby, it’s impossible not to be impressed. The main lobby is huge, with the main backdrop being the cerulean blue waters of the Arabian Sea that you cannot miss with the giant windows front and center.
Check-in desk was around the corner to the right of the lobby in a seated area. While completing the check-in formalities, the front desk associate seemed enthusiastic when telling us our suite would be on the 5th floor. After a quick recap of the property’s facilities and elite benefits, we were on our way.
Elite & Brand Benefits
All Bonvoy Platinum Tier elites and higher have the following benefits:
- Breakfast: As a Bonvoy Titanium member, breakfast was complimentary and is usually provided as an extensive buffet spread at the O’Lea restaurant from 8am till 1pm(!!). In one of my previous stays, the front desk associate checking me in had mentioned that Bonvoy Platinum members and higher, who are also booked into a suite, have the choice of breakfast at O’Lea or via in-room dining. During that stay I had taken it in my room and though I had no intention to do that on this trip, I did want to confirm my understanding since it wasn’t proactively mentioned this time. The associate made a quick call to check and then confirmed that we had both options available to us.
- Early Check-in/Late check-out: We were able to check in at 2pm upon arrival and were proactively offered a 4pm check-out on departure date.
All hotels guests had the following:
- Parking: The hotel provides all guests with complimentary valet parking which was quite the pleasant surprise. Probably gives Bonvoy elites a nice window into what life is like as a Hyatt Globalist.
- St. Regis butler service: My understanding is that all suites come with the St. Regis signature Butler Service. Our butler Ziya was great. Normally I don’t tend to use Butler Service much but as I was in town for a wedding, I was able to hand over some items to get pressed and polished. Aside from that he was able to arrange a reservation the next night at Santoya. He proactively offered us morning wakeup calls and/or complimentary tea/coffee service – but we politely declined. If I’m being honest – when and what stays come with Butler Service, is still a bit of a mystery for me. If anyone has got the answer to this, then please let me know down below!
- Turndown Service: Yes – though hardly surprising considering where the brand falls in Marriott’s portfolio. Nice to see service levels increasingly returning to pre-pandemic levels.
- Resort Fees/Tax: While not really a benefit (other than maybe for the feds), there is a nominal AED 15 daily local tax on points stays added on.
Stepping into the suite, you first enter a rectangular foyer which is also where you can access a powder room. Past that is the living room complete with a circular dining table, a desk, a couch and a slipper chair.
Through the double doors is the bedroom – which has a dressing table on one side of a sort of false wall, facing two closets on either side of the door. On the other side of the false wall was the bedroom proper.
Waiting on the dining table was a welcome amenity of fruit and a platter of sweet snacks. While nowhere near as impressive as the Park Hyatt’s, the fruit platter was great. Have I been living under a rock? Who knew the yellow dragon fruits were SO good!
The living area and bedroom each had access to a balcony, though I didn’t spend much time in the bedroom balcony given it was smaller with just one sun lounger. The larger balcony connected to the living room and had a comfortable seating for two as well as a patio table. As with the Park Hyatt, the views were outstanding and we ended up spending a fair bit of time out here.
Overall we had a great stay in the Ocean Suite. The suite size was good – despite having just come from an ‘over’-sized suite. Probably the only issue that we faced this time around was that the closet/storage space wasn’t plentiful. This is the only time I’ve noticed it and probably because we had a decent amount of luggage with us for a much longer overall trip. Families of 4 or larger may find this a minor annoyance.
Aside from that, the room maintains the resorts luxury feel. Nothing quite says beach luxury like wooden accents, white marble, beige and white color schemes and the occasional pops of gold and turquoise.
Breakfast & Dining
O’Lea is the property’s all-day dining venue and serves a grand breakfast buffet between 8am-1pm (included for Bonvoy Platinum elites), ensuring that you can sleep in all you want and not feel guilty for missing breakfast! O’Lea is located on the pool level. It’s a cavernous space with all glass windows looking out onto the resort grounds with seating available right outside as well.
Our first morning had some scattered light showers in the area so we had decided to sit inside, while on our second morning we had sat outside (curiously, the bird situation was nothing like at the Park Hyatt!).
For the Christmas period, they had a few extra stations set up – one was decorated like a giant gingerbread house which had the most ridiculous assortment of pastry items I’ve seen served at one time. Behold…
The breadth of options was extensive. In addition to the pastry items, there were traditional Western, Arabic, Indian, Chinese breakfast options alongside lighter breakfast fare of fruits, cereals, nuts and the like. There was an entire mini station dedicated to honey.
Service got a little confused through the course of our meals and coincided with when the dining room became busy. You could also order eggs a la carte to your liking. Coffees were generally really good – though I did receive incorrect drinks a couple of times. For more pictures from breakfast, check out the very the end of the post.
Overall it’s hard to go wrong with breakfast at O’Lea, even if the quality broadly couldn’t quite match the spectacle. There were enough food items that were done well but some of the misses were disappointing. Croissants here were great, though it would make more sense to have the miniature ones when there are so many things to try. The pastries and various quiches were probably my favorite items, putting aside the ‘beached whale’ feelings they gave me afterwards.
Outside of breakfast, O’Lea also features a daily dinner buffet featuring a variety of international cuisines.
Other notable dining options on-site include:
- Sontaya: Featuring Southeast Asian cuisine, I’ve been to Sontaya a number of times over the years, and I can’t recommend it enough. I could probably make a strong case for coming here even when not staying onsite. It’s a beautiful restaurant set up right next to pools and has great outdoor seating options too. Over my visits, I’ve found the appetizers can be a mixed bag, but the mains have been stellar every time. Highly recommend trying any of the stir fried seafood, massaman beef short rib, tamarind fish or the green curry.
- Mazi: The property’s Greek outlet, Mazi is a popular dining spot for many locals looking for a more refined take on Greek food in Abu Dhabi. I visited here once before the pandemic and it was indeed a memorable meal. Both Mazi and Sontaya aren’t budget friendly options but both restaurants really deliver on the dining experience.
- Bhudda Bar Beach: The first permanent location for this former popup concept, it’s open for lunch on the weekends and starting in the early evening on weeknights. Bhudda Bar Beach is set up close to the water and offers another outlet where Far Eastern cuisine is the focus. I have yet to give this place a try, despite often having heard good thing about it.
- The Drawing Room: The main coffee shop located on the lobby level. The drawing room has scattered seating options inside property or outside on its terrace. The terrace is a great spot to grab some coffee or order some drinks from the Manhattan Lounge right next to the terrace, whilst enjoying the views.
Beach & Facilities
The hotel buildings and grounds are in a similar U-shape layout as the Park Hyatt – which makes sense in wanting to maximize the beach front real estate. The grounds are immaculate. Beautiful walking paths lead you past a series of interconnected infinity pools and terraced lawns all the way down to the beach. There is an adults-only pool as well, alongside three others that include a lap pool, a family pool and a kid’s pool tucked away in the Sandcastle Club – an indoor and outdoor children’s play area. All throughout, there seemed to be ample cabana’s and loungers to sit around the pool areas – despite the resort having high occupancy during this time.
The St. Regis Athletic Club is a shared facility for use by the hotel’s guests as well as the residents of the St. Regis apartments and villa’s (development right before the main hotel building and grounds). It requires exiting the hotel from the main lobby and taking a 2-minute walk across some commercial shops and cafe’s to access the facility, which is well equipped featuring squash courts, an indoor pool and a well-equipped gym.
Finally, the beach! Happened to take these photos on a day where some rain clouds were moving in, which to me made for a stunning scene. Check out this IG video of the scene that day
Final Word: Saadiyat Island – St. Regis or Park Hyatt?
It’s time to tackle the obvious question of which of Saadiyat’s two stalwart hotels emerges on top in a head-to-head comparison?
I had a terrific stay at the Park Hyatt but it’s no secret that the St. Regis has been a long time favorite of mine. In fact, I still think of it as one of the most underrated St. Regis’s around, but I’d be lying if I said that this is still the clear winner between the two.
Let’s break it down shall we?
- Elite recognition: While the St. Regis did clear my SNA, it still doesn’t beat Hyatt consistently and proactively granting complementary upgrades to Globalists . In my experience, when not applying SNA‘s at the St. Regis, elite members are more likely to get a lower category upgrade – which really can’t compare with the standard suite upgrade granted at the Park Hyatt (far superior).
- Main buildings & resort grounds: This is not even close. St. Regis oozes opulence and luxury whilst keeping its sense of place. Everything from the lobby, to the abundance of natural light, to the corridors, to the seating areas are absolutely stunning. The pool areas are comparable but my personal preference is again the St. Regis. Beaches are more or less the same. and the coffee shop terrace’s between the two again easily give the St. Regis the upper hand.
- Service: Park Hyatt really shines here. Everyone from the front desk team to our servers at breakfast were so personable and there were no service mishaps to speak of. Not to say anything was poor at the St. Regis – it just didn’t work as a well oiled machine like at the Park Hyatt.
- Breakfast: Park Hyatt handily win’s out over here as well. Despite O’Lea’s extensive breakfast offerings, the confused service, and the varying quality of the 50 or so items didn’t match up well with Le Café, where I feel the quality was much more consistent across all their offerings. The ambiance too was more ‘fun’.
- Food & Beverage outlets: St. Regis comes up on top here with Mazi and Sontaya being worthy headliners for a hotel of this caliber.
- Room: Putting aside probability of upgrades, I have to say that I did find some minor aspects of the St. Regis Ocean Suite lacking. Namely the closet space for one. Other than that, both rooms were wonderfully fitted and felt worthy of their respective brand reputations, though if I had to pick one purely in terms of feel, I’d have to give slight edge to the St. Regis.
So? What’s the answer here?
I think the answer here is to go with where you have top tier elite status. Both hotels are excellent at delivering for their elites and that alone would more than make-up for any of the perceived ‘weaknesses’ mentioned above. Failing that, I’d go for whatever offers the more favorable cash or points redemption option.
In a world where every single one of these things were absolutely equal – I would ultimately pick the St. Regis (with SNA‘s available) over the Park Hyatt. At the end of the day, at resorts like these I find myself spending a decent amount of time walking around the public areas and enjoying the open space. Add in the dining angle and my preference for the St. Regis’ outdoors space and it starts to become clearer that for my type of vacationer, the St. Regis has done enough to edge out the Park Hyatt. Saadiyat – what a great problem you’ve given us!
Included below are a couple of extra photo’s of the grounds and the lavish breakfast spread.