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With international travel still some way in the future, we thought we’d share some reviews of travel during happier times.
Today’s Saturday Escape is from our good friend over at InsideFlyer Netherlands, Ralph.
One of the fun things of this miles and points hobby is spending our hard-earned points on things you would not usually book when using cash. For instance a First Class ticket for a flight, or a stay in a luxurious 5-star resort…
Hilton Honors is my primary hotel loyalty programme and it regularly offers lucrative promotions, allowing one to rack up lots of points relatively quickly. I had saved a good amount of Honors points that I wanted to use for a nice hotel and the Waldorf Astoria Ras al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates has long been on my bucket list. It is regarded as one of the best chain hotels in the UAE in its class, and certainly in Ras al Khaimah.
This location is also had my preference over the Waldorf on The Palm in Dubai because it was a much more expansive resort. Furthermore, it was cheaper on my travel dates (generally Ras al Khaimah is cheaper than Dubai anyway due to its lower taxes). For 59k Hilton Honors points per night, we booked three nights at the Waldorf Astoria Ras al Khaimah.
Waldorf Astoria Ras al Khaimah – Location
The hotel is located in the Al Hamra area in the Emirate of Ras al Khaimah (RAK), about a one hour drive from Dubai International Airport, depending on traffic. This is a leisure oriented area where the Ritz Carlton, Hilton Al Hamra Resort and Al Hamra Village & Beach Resort are situated too. The city itself is a further 30km North, so you would have to rely on the facilities of the hotels or take a taxi.
The small Al Hamra Mall is within walking distance and offers some shops, cafes, restaurants, food-court and a supermarket. Contrary to Dubai, it is possible to buy alcohol in RAK without a license. Next to the hotel is the 18-hole Al Hamra Golf Club.
Hotel – Entrance
The hotel complex can be seen from afar. It truly is an impressive building and was built on the order of the sheikh of the Emirate. It is supposed to represent a palace. Besides the Waldorf, there are also residences in the same building.
Through a driveway, you arrive at the tall entrance. Here, our bags were swiftly received by the staff.
Upon entry, the signature clocktower, a feature in every Waldorf Astoria, immediately struck the eye. The clock in RAK is the most expensive of all Waldorf hotels worldwide – something that they don’t like to admit in neighbouring Dubai ;).
We proceeded to the reception where there was a small wait. Since we required a room with twin beds, an upgrade to the next category, a junior suite, was not possible. Therefore we received the same category room we booked: a Family Classic Room. The rooms are categorised according to the view in this hotel, and not necessarily the size. Hence we got a larger room, but officially in the same category. The base rooms start at 56 m2 which is already excellent. By virtue of our Hilton Honors Gold status we also received daily breakfast for two in the restaurant and free wifi. The receptionist also handed us a brochure with that month’s activities of the restaurants and entertainment as well as a map of the resort.
A couple of days before your stay, you are assigned a personal concierge at Waldorf Astoria hotels, who contacts you by email or calls on the day of arrival. The concierge can assist with special requests and reservations for the restaurants for instance. After the check-in formalities, our concierge escorted us to our room on the 7th floor.
Family Classic Room
In the room, she briefly showed us around. Immediately to the right after the entrance is the beautiful, black-marble bathroom. The bathroom was very spacious with a separate walk-in shower, bath, toilet and two sinks. Amenities were from Salvatore Ferragamo.
To the left in the hallway, opposite the bathroom, was the dressing room with luggage rack, closet and safe.
And then came the rest of the room… Wow! I was thoroughly impressed by the space and decoration. From the pictures online, I got the impression that the interior might be too classic and old-fashioned. However the interior was chic, light and in excellent condition. Normally I would find antlers as lighting fixture hideous, but in this room it just worked.
On the left were the two large, comfortable beds.
Opposite the beds was a large TV on the dresser which divided the room in two areas. On the other side was the seating section with a couch, some chairs and a second TV. There also was a separate desk.
The room was equipped with a Nespresso machine and kettle. There was no shortage of bottled water. I counted 12 and they were replenished during each service round! The minibar was well stocked as expected.
Next to the desk was the entry to the L-shaped balcony which featured two chairs. There was partial sea view but mostly you could see the pool area around the corner. It didn’t matter too much during our stay as it was way to hot to sit on the balcony!
During my stay I also got the opportunity to have a look in one of the junior suites. As mentioned, the rooms are categorised based on the view and not the surface area. To be honest our classic room seemed larger due to the fact it was not in a rectangular shape, but the junior suite did boast a direct sea view.
Pool, beach and resort
The Waldorf is a true beach resort. The outside area, one floor below the lobby, was very large and expansive. Directly adjacent to the hotel was the (temperature controlled) main pool with plenty of sunbeds and (free) cabanas in the shade.
Very convenient, and also sustainable, were the drinking stations located around the pool. Instead of plastic, single-use bottles you could fill a hard cup with cooled (infused) water and ice cubes. This was definitely necessary in October with the, still relatively high, temperature. The hotel can save a lot of waste through this initiative.
At this pool, the pool bar was also located. It was noticeable that this is a family-oriented resort – especially during the holiday season, there were lots of young kids. The pool was not very quiet and sometimes filled with inflatable toys.
Further down the resort is an adult-only infinity pool. Next to this pool, the Siddharta Lounge was just opened – a sort of beach club. Instead of children screaming, you’ll have to endure loud music here 😉 . There are also free cabanas but otherwise there isn’t a lot of shade. Therefore we only used the main pool.
All outside areas in the garden were clean and well maintained.
And then there was the very nice, and wide, 350m long beach.
Restaurants, cafes and bars
There are plenty food & beverage outlets throughout the hotel. As can be expected at a hotel of this calibre, they don’t come cheap, but the quality is very good.
On the lobby level there is the Lexington Grill, specialising in steak. This restaurant was named the best steakhouse in the Middle East and is based on a classic New York steakhouse.
UMI serves (on some days freshly flown in from Tokyo) fish, sushi and teppanyaki. Those wanting to taste Middle Eastern cuisine can head to Marjan which also has a great view, being located on one of the highest floor.
Qasr al Bahar is the buffet restaurant where breakfast is served. This venue was surprisingly modest in size. There is both indoor and outdoor seating. The selection during breakfast wasn’t enormous, but the quality was excellent. Especially the coffee, juices and bakery were better than usual in hotels.
Guests on a half-board package also dine here. We had dinner here once and, as with the breakfast, the selection may not have been the largest but the quality was up there. There are various live cooking stations and the chefs were willing to prepare other dishes on request. In general, the service was also very good. Everything was cleared quickly and the staff repeatedly asked if everything was okay. There were some moments though when the restaurant was completely full, and people had to wait to get a table.
During the day, Azure serves Italian dishes on the terrace, in the restaurant or poolside.
In the lobby, the Peacock Alley is the place for afternoon tea or an evening cocktail. Camelia is a tea lounge which also has outdoor seating.
Le Diwan specialises in shisha and 17Squared serves cocktails and other alcoholic beverages.
The hotel of course has a spa, located on the ground floor next to the pool.
Furthermore, there is business centre, gym and various shops. In addition to the golf course nearby, the hotel has some tennis courts. Then there is a kids club. There are also daily activities such as a movie night and falconry show on the beach. During the evening there is live music in the various bars, ranging from piano and jazz in the lobby to a DJ in the Siddharta Lounge.
During my entire stay I was positively surprised by the service. At every step, the staff went the extra mile compared to many other five-star hotels I’ve stayed at. At the pool, the attendant does not just hand you the towel – instead they escort you to your desired spot and make up the sunbed. During the afternoon, staff went around with ice popsicles. In the restaurant they recognised us by name and only asked for the room number on the first day. The service during breakfast and dinner was fast and on point. Even if we were only away for on hour to have dinner, the room had been serviced for turndown, including a date on the pillow.
For reservations you could contact your personal concierge, or through the Hilton Honors app you could message the front desk. This way, late check-out was fixed without leaving the pool.
All in all the service at the Waldorf, at almost all touchpoints, was noticeably friendlier, more pro-active and extensive than other five-star resorts I have stayed at.