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With a wedding to attend in Dubai city proper, we had to hot-foot it out of Al Maha and the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve for the short 50 mins drive over to the Dubai International Financial Center (“DIFC”) area of Dubai, where we’d be staying the night at the Waldorf Astoria DIFC. We visited this property in December 2020 on our way back from the Maldives and had a great stay at the time, and so I was happy to return to a familiar property for the quick 1-night stop.
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
Review: Waldorf Astoria DIFC, Dubai
QuickTake: Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal, Abu Dhabi
Waldorf Astoria (“WA”) is the premium brand within Hilton’s portfolio and probably my favorite individual brand across any of the major hotel groups. I’ve enjoyed several stays at WA properties over the years and have always found service levels outstanding and the attention to F&B offerings very impressive – a consistent theme and focus across the brand.
In 2019, the Waldorf Astoria DIFC was the third property within the brand to open its doors in the UAE (crazy to think that the UAE has 3 WA’s vs a total of 5 WA’s in all of Europe!) after the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah and Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah – and very different from its predecessors too. Where the latter two are beach front properties, the WA DIFC is located in a modern high rise in the financial district of Dubai – so not ideal for those looking for a byeach/resort getaway, and more suited for those looking to enjoy a luxury stay within close reach of certain neighborhoods and attractions within the bustling metropolis.
Located in DIFC as the name suggests – Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa and Downtown Dubai are all one metro stop away from the hotel, with the Dubai International Airport being 11 stops away (Red Line). The metro stop itself is not too far from the hotel – 900 meters / 10 mins walk according to Google Maps… though as anyone who has spent a summer in the UAE will know – that may or may not manageable, especially with luggage in tow.
Alternatively, a taxi/uber ride to/from the Dubai International Airport will usually take around ~15 mins (no traffic) and cost USD ~$25, again depending on traffic.
The hotel itself is located between the 18th and 55th floors of a high rise tower and is well situated as a base from which to explore different attractions and areas within Dubai.
As mentioned above, popular tourist attractions like Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world), Downtown Dubai (sprawling mall/ restaurant complex), Museum of the Future are very easily accessible by metro or quick taxi/uber rides. Dubai Airport and Dubai Creek too are very easily accessible, as is Deira (fancy a walking food tour through here? Highly recommended!), while The Palm is a good ~25min drive away depending on your destination and time of day.
If you’re inclined to spend any amount of time on The Palm – then it’s probably a better idea to look for a hotel on the development, or closer to it. For other area’s – WA DIFC will be well located.
Prices at the WA DIFC fluctuate wildly across the calendar year – going from mid- USD $200’s in the dead of summer, to $600+ during the winter (high season) months for most of the calendar – the price perhaps reflective of the extremely competitive non-resort hotel market prevailing in Dubai.
Being part of the Hilton Honors (“HH”) program, a ‘standard’ points redemption for a room here ranges from 60,000 HH points to 80,000 HH points for standard room availability, with the caveat that the Hilton Honors program did away with fixed award charts a couple of years ago and operates a dynamic award chart nowadays. Anything outside a standard room would likely cost many multiples of what a standard award cost is pricing as of the time of writing.
Similar to the St. Regis Saadiyat Island, I’ve often found that booking this hotel via the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (“FHR”) program can be a terrific deal, and a particularly good use of the Amex Platinum CAD/USD $200 Hotel Credit benefit (depending on which variation of the card you have). Usually, for a very comparable price, you can find the same room type available but get all the additional elite-like benefits that come along with the FHR program (such as an additional USD $100 property credit, daily breakfast, guaranteed 4pm checkout, room upgrade on availability etc).
The example below compares the price of booking across FHR and direct with Hilton on a random day in November. The quote on FHR comes out ~USD $25 more, however the accompanying perks more than offset the difference in rate between the two – particularly noteworthy for those that do not any sort of Hilton elite status. The deal sweetens up even more if you can benefit from the annual Amex hotel credit.
Summer provides even more stellar value if you can stand the UAE heat. The below quote for a night in June comes in at USD $246. Factoring in a possible CAD/USD $200 Platinum credit, the USD $100 FHR credit and the daily breakfast benefit – and this becomes a very, very difficult deal to beat.
Hilton Impressario is a similar program to Amex FHR but administered by Hilton themselves and can be accessed by anyone through an affiliated travel agent. In that regard, its probably an even better booking option than FHR as you are not required to hold an American Express Platinum card and will often get the same benefits as with FHR, but with an even more flexible cancellation policy, higher priority for room upgrades and occasionally extra bonus points for the stay as well.
For our stay, given that it was in the last week of December, cash rates were coming in at USD ~$590 and so we opted to redeem 80,000 HH points. Given that I value Hilton points at USD $0.005 cents per pints (rate you can often buy Hilton points for), the points option offered a solid redemption value.
Arrival & Check-in
Turning into the driveway of the WA DIFC, you can either turn into the parking right before approaching the main entrance, or opt for valet parking as we did. The hotel advertises free parking for all guests on the main page – though it doesn’t specify if it includes valet or the self park option only. For what its worth, the agent at check-in confirmed that there wasn’t any additional charge for valet parking, and nor were we billed anything at checkout.
The hotel lobby is located on the 18th floor of the building compound, which in addition to the hotel, also hosts hotel apartments and offices. To get to the lobby, you have to walk through a series of sparkling hallways until you reach the bank of elevators that will take you up to the 18th floor.
Exiting the elevators, you walk down a short hallway which leads into the main lobby area where the check-in counters were situated. The check-in process was extremely professional and personable at the same time – they welcomed us back and recognized my wife’s Diamond status after which we were informed of an upgrade to the King Premier Suite. The front desk associate also went through the breakfast benefits as well as other various timings of the facilities and restaurants onsite. Lastly she confirmed if we wanted to avail the late checkout for the next day which we did.
Elite & Brand Benefits
Hilton Honors Diamond members have the following benefits:
- Welcome Gift: Box of dates waiting for us in the room followed up by a selection of sweets sent up a few hours after checking. Similarly on a previous trip – a mini mousse cake was sent up.
- Breakfast: Complimentary breakfast for Diamond (and Gold) members is provided at the Bull & Bear restaurant located in the main lobby on the 18th floor, from 7am to 11am daily. The complimentary elite breakfast is the “International Breakfast” option in which you get access to the buffet spread as well as a hot item from the a la carte menu (otherwise costing USD $45/pp).
- 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 get the following:
- Parking: The hotel advertises free parking for all guests on the website. During our stay, valet parking too was included – though I’m not sure if that was also for all guests or if it was on account of Hilton Diamond status.
- Turndown Service: Yes.
- Resort Fees/Tax: None additional on a points redemption.
King Premier Suite
First of all – I’ll try and not keep repeating how gorgeous this property is aesthetically – from the lobby area to the restaurants to the rooms – everything looks elegant and screams high end luxury. I’ve seen it mentioned a few times at the hotel that the theme was inspired from “New York in the 50’s and 60’s” – but honestly – I can’t help but think I’m in one of Baz Luhrmann’s sets of the The Great Gatsby – which would be more akin to New York in the roaring 20’s. Whatever it is – they’ve done a great job of it.
The WA DIFC has 275 rooms which include 46 suites and 28 residential suites. On our first visit during Christmas 2020 – as a Hilton Honors Diamond we were upgraded to a “King Premier Room”, which was a two tier upgrade from the base level room that we had booked, offering some additional space and seating over the base level room.
On this occasion we had again been proactively upgraded, though this time to a “King Premier Suite” room type which was a proper suite and a wonderful one at that. Again, I loved the furnishings and style of the rooms and found our suite to smart, spacious, functional and extremely comfortable.
The suite is in an L-shaped layout with the entrance opening up into a long corridor which if you walk down, will lead you to the living room.
The “New York – 50’s/60’s” theme carries over here too with an abundance of wood and copper/brass finishings alongside an plenty of wall hangings harkening back to that era. The living room in this style of suite seems to have gotten some extra arm chairs put in recently as previous reviews I had seen did not feature them. Aside from the arm chairs, there are two couches in the seating area and behind them is a good sized dedicated desk.
Also situated in the room is a smart look cellaret which had a mini fridge, water, kettle and a Nespresso machine as well. Both room types we’ve experienced also get plenty of sunlight owing to the full floor to ceiling windows in the rooms.
Waiting on the coffee table when we arrived was a sealed gift box of stuffed dates and within about 30 minutes of arriving, we had a platter of mixed sweet treats delivered as well.
To the right of living room entrance is a half bath and across from that is the bedroom which comes with a full ensuite bath. The bedroom is spacious, smartly appointed and functional. Blinds and lights are controlled electronically with a few switch panels located around the suite including the bedside.
Overall we loved both types of rooms we stayed at. The King Premier Suite was obviously a much more comfortable size if your travelling party is more than two, and can comfortably host company as well – but having said that – I would have no real qualms about staying in the King Premier Room – which I think would be more than comfortable for a couple travelling with perhaps upto 1-2 young ones.
Breakfast & Dining
The WA DIFC has 3 dining outlets on property – Bull & Bear, Peacock Alley and St. Trop.
Named after the original Bull & Bear at the Waldorf Astoria New York, this is the hotel’s steakhouse restaurant in the evening, but acts as the breakfast venue during the day time. Hilton Honors Gold and Diamond members receive complimentary breakfast which is served here daily between 7-11am and includes an item from the a la carta menu as well as access to buffet.
Breakfast here was excellent and an improvement (though still good at the time) from our experience in Dec 2020 during which there was no buffet and you could only order from certain sections of the menu – which still provided plenty of high quality options – however seemed unnecessarily confusing at the time. This time around, there were no such restrictions.
Similar to 2 years earlier, we enjoyed the shakshuka and avocado toast and thought the pastries – especially their selection of mini croissants and Nutella berliners – were great.
For the rest of the day, the Bull & Bear offers lunch and dinner. For lunch – as is quite popular in the UAE – they offer a prix fixe Business Lunch option on weekdays between 12:30pm to 4pm – typically these offer great value where available (Zuma and Coya are two other examples I’ve been to and can highly recommend) in the UAE. The Business Lunch will run USD ~$35 per person for a 2-course meal plus dessert and coffee/tea.
There is also an outdoor patio where you are able to dine – though during our visit it seemed to turn into a fun pop-up bar in the evening called “Monkey 47” after the gin it seemed to be promoting. Take a look at the photo dump at the end of the post to read about the “story” behind the founding of this German gin. I do find it wonderful when restaurants run creative and fun things like this.
At night – the venue transforms into a swanky steakhouse with a menu focused on serving modern twists on steakhouse classics likes steak tartare, oysters, foie gras and – of course – an impressive selection of beef cuts from many different regions. It’s also worth noting that until June 2023 – Hilton Honors Gold and Diamond members enjoy 25% of on F&B purchases in the the Asia-Pacific region.
Rounding out the on property dining options are Peacock Alley – an almost ever present feature globally at this brand, and St Trop the poolside bar.
Peacock Alley – also located on the 18th floor, but on the opposite end to the Bull & Bear – is another wonderful space set up to enjoy snacks and drinks throughout the day. Aside from featuring the signature “clock” – there is also a cigar lounge at the end of the space where guests are able to purchase premium cigars and enjoy them there as well. As much as we wanted to – we just did not have enough time to try out the afternoon tea which looks like an overall fun experience (served daily 3-6pm).
Lastly St. Trop is also located on the 18th floor on the outdoor poolside area. It’s offerings include more classic poolside fare including wraps, sandwiches and poke bowls alongside other appetizers and drinks.
Pool & Facilities
Located outside alongside St. Trop is the hotel’s outdoor pool area. While not a massive space, it did look like a great place to hang out and get a swim in – or just to come outside and lounge with company while enjoying drinks when the weather is nice. I probably liked it better than others might as direct exposure to the sun is a bit limited side – while still giving it a nice cozy outdoor escape feel in the midst of a cluster of high rises.
Finally – also located on the 18th floor was a spa and a gym which is open 24/7. The gym in particular was on the small side and while it was well equipped with cardio equipment, some would find the other equipment limiting.
I was happy to see that my return trip almost 2 years later still left me with as good of an impression of the hotel as my first time around. The WA DIFC is a wonderful city hotel – be it as a base from which to explore the city or an elegant spot for drinks or dinner, as a here-for-fun visitor – it provides you with an idyllic spot from which to base yourself in the city.
When you factor is how competitively it is priced for large chunks of the calendar, generous treatment of elites, and the excellent service levels they seem to have sustained – it’s no wonder that the WA DIFC is one of the first names that comes to mind for me when wanting to book a stay in Dubai, or for recommending it to friends and family.
Title Image Courtesy Waldorf Astoria DIFC