Dusty, dusky Dubai and why the Anantara Palm is the perfect family escape
Dusty, dusky Dubai and why the Anantara Palm is the perfect family escape
Pulling up at the spectacular resort of the Anantara Palm Dubai, it is easy to imagine you have arrived inside a tropical getaway to Thailand. The teak shingles synonymous with the South East Asian country rise majestically into the hard blue sky — the curves of the roof creating an inviting sanctuary where we were spending four days with the children.
Bringing the children to Dubai was something we'd been planning for a long time. We wanted to show them the Middle East — introduce them to new cultures, new foods, new experiences. The 7-hour flight from Dublin with Emirates was surprisingly straightforward. The children slept and we watched movies. The Anantara is located about 35 minutes drive from the International airport of Dubai. It is on the east crescent of the famous Palm — a man-made island which stretches out its feathered sandy fronds from the city of Dubai into the gulf — our views of the ocean were breathtaking.
It is also close enough to some of the attractions like Aquaventure Waterpark, Dubai Marina and the Mall of the Emirates (to which there is a complimentary shuttle).
We were greeted by singsong 'sawasdee ka' ('hello' in Thai) and ginger tea. The children were immediately given colours and activity books which meant we could check in hassle-free. The reception area is bursting with shiny marble, polished brass and the most mesmerizing floral displays. In the corner, there is a little shop that sells hats and souvenirs and, essentially, armbands. A stairs leads down into the main restaurant, Crescendo's which hosts the international buffet meals — downstairs the restaurant extends outside and looks out onto the pool. It is a beautiful setting for breakfast as we discovered the next morning.
Out the front of the resort, a brightly coloured 'tuk-tuk' chauffeurs us to our room. It whizzes along past the many lagoons and shallow 'beach' areas that meander around the rooms. The show-stopping draw of the Anantara Palm Dubai is undoubtedly the pool access. Most of the rooms open out onto the swimming pool 'lagoon' which means you can swim from your balcony — something that not only feels like you are in a tropical Venice but is really handy with the children. Instead of packing up all our belongings each day to drag to the pool, we could simply open the gate on our balcony and they could glide (flop) into the water. See? Hassle-free. A market-stall longboat floated past selling fruit and ice-creams at all the perfect moments. Would a fishing rod be a step too far?
Making a splash
The main pool sits prettily overlooking the sea, set back a little from the beach. Far enough to appreciate both pool and beach but close enough to laze deliciously in the pool watching the sun set heavily into the hazy horizon. Another essential — the pool has seats which open out onto the bar. Sundowners had never been so fun. The children's pool was right beside the main pool and was thankfully completely covered which a shelter so the children could splash even in the height of the heat (It was about 35 degrees) while we read our book in the shade. There was a ping-pong table next to it too which was a nice distraction between bellyflops.
In the many hotel breaks we have been on, the staff make or break a trip. Of special note was the lifeguards at the Anantara who not only kept us and our children safe but who really added to the ambience of the trip. The lifeguard at our nearest lagoon knew the children by name (probably because he heard me shouting at them so much!) and kept us some sunchairs closest to the little beach area the children could play in under the shade. Another lifeguard at the main pool spent time teaching the children how to play table tennis. In Dubai, there is a different relationship between staff and guests than I have experienced elsewhere — it is definitely a little more deferent and that can often lead to a lack of what we call 'banter' — in the Anantara, the warm and curious nature of the staff lent a little extra to our holiday without even meaning to. That makes it all the more special which it is unconscious.
Food is one of the most important parts of any trip (in my opinion). We rolled from sea to pool to lunch to spa to bed. It was an indulgent few days on the diet but je ne regrette rien! Breakfast was an extravaganza of fruit, pancakes, egg-stations, a mountain of golden flaky pastries, hot chocolate on tap and Asian mezze. Buffet-style can often tend to feel a little hectic and loveless, but in the Middle East, they have perfected the art of the high-quality buffet. The famous brunches celebrated on Fridays across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and beyond are a testament to how to do get this right.
Our first night we ate at the Thai-inspired Mekong restaurant with its quirky rickshaw tables on the terrace. The children had a feast of noodles and chicken while we opted for the sharing platter of prawn toast, papaya salad, sun-dried beef and chicken satay. The flavours and spices of Thailand, China and Vietnam brought me back to the trip I took around South East Asia in my 20s. For mains, I had an unforgettable Gaeng Phed red curry with sweet basil, eggplant and a limey freshness. My husband opted for the Massaman short ribs with baby potato, chilli and coconut milk. We topped it off with Thai ice-tea cake. it was as delicious as billed. We loved the Beach House restaurant for lunch on the beach. This had a more Mediterranean feel. We spent long lunches drinking rose with seabass while the children played on the beach yards from us. This is what holidays are about. There is an Australian-themed restaurant at the resort too called Bushmans where we tried the mouthwatering wagyu beef but weren't brave enough to try the kangaroo steak or croc skewers. In all the restaurants there are child-friendly menus and plenty of activities to keep little minds occupied.
Every day the children asked to go to the Tuk-Tuk kids Club (3-13-year-olds) which is a first for us. The minders were wonderful at sweeping them into a game, arts and crafts, sand castle competitions or dancing. There is a giant covered sandpit outside and inside is a cool sanctuary where our girls got their hair french-braided with colourful beads. This made me so happy — untangling knots after the pool is not fun. By the children's pool, there were always activities to keep them from asking us 24 thousand questions — henna tattoos on their arms, balloon animals, face-painting. I managed to get through 4 books in 4 days which was a miracle not achieved since pre-baby days.
Our room was huge. Most rooms in Dubai are huge. We had a king size bed and another queen size bed to one side of the room. Our bathroom had separate WC and shower and bath, double sinks and crisp robes for us all. The Thai-style roof curves mean our ceiling was tower-esque with wooden panelling and a large fan. Each day we were left a little gift which was a lovely touch — a neck pillow, an elaborate fruit bowl, crudities with hummus, chocolates. We felt cherished — it is an added touch that we weren't expecting.
We eyed up the Maldivian-style Over Water Villas perched on stilts the sea with glass viewing panels. Next time, we promised ourselves.
Fit for kings
Dubai is unapologetically fond of luxury. We enjoyed the feeling of living your best life while on holiday. We splashed out on a couples Hamam treatment while the children were digging a giant hole at the kids club. It was 2 hours of unadulterated pampering. When I was in the thick of it with babies, I used to fantasise about something coming and lifting me into a bath, lovingly washing my hair and covering me with moisturiser. That's basically what a Hamam is. We were lead into a magnificent Turkish-style hall adorned with deep reds and golds and the ladies gestured for us to lie down on the altar-like white marble table that took up most of the room.
We were scrubbed, exfoliated, had buckets of warm water drizzled down our bodies, suds squeezed onto us (separately) that piled high making us look as if we'd been topped with icing like a cupcake. The finale involved ice-cold water buckets over our heads (remarkably refreshing) and we were wrapped in warm soft towels and deposited into the relaxation room- a throne room that the Turkish Ottoman empire would have been proud of. I was too relaxed to even speak. We nibbled the nuts and apricots we were brought and sipped our cold ginger tea.
When you come so far, your home for the few days should be certain things — it should be comfortable, luxurious, entertaining, clean and picturesque. The Anantara offered us a whole lot more as a family. It was nurturing, amusing, surprising, exciting. It far exceeded our expectations. I wanted to balance this article with something we genuinely found offputting — a little slip I could mention so I didn't gush — to add credence to why we enjoyed our stay here so much. The truth is that from start to finish it was the ideal family holiday. The heat was combatted with clever shelter, air con and shady palms (as well as the man with the ice-pops who circled the pool area). The food was top notch. The resort spotless and designed to give a real tropical leafy feel in the middle of the desert. The bang for your buck is spot on too. It isn't cheap but you leave feeling like it was a fair trade. The alcohol is expensive but that is across the board in the UAE.
If you want to visit Dubai but are unsure how the children might find it, I'd highly recommend following our footsteps. This was a big trip for us but one that went surprisingly smoothly. The hotel was a huge part of that. It is a tropical oasis and astonishingly secluded in the centre of a busy metropolis perfect for those who want to simply fly and flop. It is close enough to sightsee (we took the long-boat from the resort on a trip around Dubai Marina), it has the beach which is ideal for sand-castle enthusiasts, it has water sports for the adrenaline junkie (none of us) and the lazy-pool-feel everyone wants on their jollies. Just make sure to pack the loose trousers for the buffet!
The Anantara Palm Dubai Resort offers double rooms starting from €190
I'm a writer and mum to three adventure-loving cuties. I enjoy trying to show my family as much of the world as possible in-between the school runs and writing about our latest adventure.