Written by
Mary Pratt

Published
07 Mar 2016

Review: Anantara Qasr Al Sarab luxury desert retreat

07 Mar 2016 • by Mary Pratt

In search of the ultimate desert retreat in Dubai, I immediately jumped online. Bab Al Sham was a contender, but felt too close and Al Maha would have made my credit card scream in protest.

I was well aware of the Anantara brand thanks to some luscious visits to the pool at The Palm. Combined with some epic word of mouth recommendations, we decided the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab was the destination of choice for the perfect girly adventure.

 

Getting there

The number one rule for visiting the Anantara – fill the tank up, it’s called the Empty Quarter for a reason!

You can expect the drive from Dubai to take around three hours; maybe less if you drive like Lewis Hamilton but be warned – not only is the road a haven for trucks once you pass Abu Dhabi, but there are also heaps of speed cameras.

The journey passed quickly thanks to iTunes and the creation of the ultimate road trip playlist, and copious amounts of Haribo and water!

By 2 hours 55 minutes and just as the playlist has finished, there it was – the sign to Anantara Al Qasr Sarab! So we turned in and that’s where the WOW moments began. We were greeted by virgin desert, disturbed only by the track to the hotel, and kilometers of breathtakingly beautiful dunes.

Upon arrival

This sprawling Arab castle is set in what can only be described as an enchanting desert oasis that wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney film.

Upon arriving at the entrance, we were greeted by the courteous and efficient valet parking attendants who used the local Thai greeting to welcome us to Anantara, and wouldn’t let us lift a finger!

Interior first impressions

It's impossible to be anything but happy at Anantara, and perhaps that is why, when entering the lobby, we were greeted by smiling faces. We were then introduced to Jasmine, our very courteous hostess who showed us to a seating area to relax while some drinks and ice cold flannels were brought to us. With so much to take in, this was no moment to quickly check your iphone for messages. I was torn between wanting to run through the door to the balcony to lap up some more of the stunning scenery, and exploring the hotel shop.

The interior of the lobby was a fusion of Thai and Arabian designs, dark woods that didn’t compete with the outside landscapes, but complemented them simply and effectively.

After orientation (remember your ID or passport) we were whisked away on a golf buggy for a quick tour of the resort.

 

The rooms

In total, there are a total of 205 rooms, villas and suites within the resort. At that time, one of the luxury villas was occupied by one of Sheikhs and his family (always a good sign).

Accommodation choices:-

Deluxe Garden Rooms at 48m²

Deluxe Balcony Rooms at 48m²

Deluxe Terrace Rooms at 85m²

The Anantara Suite at 86m²

1 Bedroom Anantara Pool Villa at 92m²

2 Bedroom Anantara Family Pool Villa at 178m²

3 Bedroom Anantara Family Pool Villa at 238m²


TIP: While the Terrace Rooms have a living area and are larger and more expensive than the Balcony Rooms, I much preferred the Balcony Room thanks to its glorious views and enormous outside space.

Although the villas were spacious and beautiful and came with a swanky dip pool, the Balcony Rooms still pulled at the old heart strings. They are ideal for a delicious room service dinner, cocktails and vino, setting the world to rights with an old friend or partner, under the stars in the comfort of your own room.

Terrace Deluxe room

Our Garden Room was as impressive as we had expected, although we would have preferred a room on a higher floor. The dark tones of the room may not be to everyone’s taste either. The room itself was a perfect size for two girls with oversized luggage, and there was an attractive and appropriate sized bathroom area. Jasmine again orientated us perfectly and introduced us to our West-facing back garden, which despite needing a tidy up was set in front of a magnificent dune. We were informed that many climbed the dune to experience the beauty of the moment that the sun set. However for that night we opted to hit the roof top cocktail bar!

There were a few ‘minor’ annoyances and maybe it’s a girl thing, but there were zero towel rails in the bathrooms, which resulted in feeble attempts to fling towels over the shower door. Also, we were disappointed that the Anantara are still using bins with lids you had to remove with your hands...eww.Anantara, if you insist on using these bins, please have hand sanitizer permanently glued to the wall. Foot pedals all the way please.

Complimentary treats included four soaps to select from, plus Elemis shower goodies and espresso. Suggestions for further treats…how about a 15 minute complimentary treatment at the glorious Spa and a beach bag to carry our goodies to the pool?

The pool & food

After having a good poke round our room we ordered our buggy, and in less than five minutes we were greeted by our driver who was clearly an F1 fan as he proceeded to speedily whip us round to the pool area.

The pool itself was pleasant enough with comfortable sun loungers (bonus – believe me some of the 5 star resorts fail in this area miserably); however pick your seat carefully if you want to take advantage of the Wi-Fi. After three attempts we finally found a Wi-Fi happy zone so we could get our iPhones logged on to Apple music and chill out to some awesome tunes.

While sunning ourselves we were greeted with some complimentary offers including sunglass cleaning, which was great but could be even better with a few cucumber slices to cool our eyes while were waiting!

For lunch we ordered a perfectly cooked Nicoise Salad, after which we floated across to the Pool Bar. Now here comes a little moan….  if you are worried you have a little buttock cellulite going on then these bar seats are going to be a better treatment than anything chemical. We experienced what I can only describe as a “buttock exfoliation”. To say it was like sitting on sandpaper would be an understatement. It would also be better if the stools weren’t so high, as when we sat down only our thighs were in the water – not a flattering look for any girl BUT again minus this, we had a fabulous time putting the world to rights while lapping up a few rays.

After a crafty couple of hours chatting and chilling, we headed back to the room on the buggy of yet another speedy driver. I know F1 is big out here in the Middle East, but I didn’t think Buggy F1 was a “thing” just yet?! 

After a quick shower and light make up appliance (this place is all about chilling and relaxing – possibly great for a detox weekend too – maybe an Anantara Desert wellness weekend?) We opted for a buffet supper at Al Waha, which was priced at 240AED per person. However it would have been a crime not to watch the sunset over the dunes, so before dinner we headed to the Suhail rooftop lounge and settled down with a cocktail. The view is utterly magnificent and it’s something that no Kodak or Fuji moment could ever do justice to.

Unfortunately, the 50-minute wait for sundowner cocktails was disappointing, and the early 1980’s style music left a lot to be desired. How about some café del mar instead?

However, going back to our drinks, a swift word with the staff sorted the issue, and we embraced a belated complimentary sundowner before munching our way though a gorgeous buffet.

The thing with buffet dining is that you really have to be a hearty eater to get your money’s worth. On reflection, what we ate certainly didn’t equate to 240AED but that was our personal choice – the eyes were saying oh yes and the stomach nope!

Alternatively you could opt for the Mediterranean restaurant, Ghadeer.

On this occasion, we sat inside but I can be certain that once things have cooled down the balcony dining tables would have been heaving.

We had a fantastic night of restorative sleep, followed by a great breakfast. If there is one comment I could make it is to beg the Food & Beverage Manager to work on the Bircher Muesli, which is more ‘raisin-filled runny glue’ than Muesli!

Activities

You could be forgiven for wondering how you could possibly spend a week in the desert, but honestly, there is so much to do at Anantara, you couldn’t possibly be bored. From relaxing by the pool for some much needed R&R, to camel trekking, archery, desert yoga and more, there really is something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a girl’s spa weekend, a detox break with your best girlfriend, or a private escape with a loved one, the Anantara has everything you could need.

 

One thing which was highly obvious to me and maybe it’s just because of my recruitment background, but the staff were genuinely happy. We spoke to a number of them and at least five of the ones we chatted to had been there for over four years, so kudos to Anantara on this one! Staffing is everything in a resort like this and whilst yes, we had a few issues in the evening; the way they were handled was smooth, competent and professional.

Overall, it really was just what we needed – we were away for 24 hours and still felt as if we had been on “holiday”. I would suggest that you really need a minimum of a two-night stay to really embrace this enchanting Arabian resort. In fact, I highly recommend that you just hop online and book right now – oh and you HAVE to book into the Spa.

 

The stats:

Value for money                                                        4/5

Our Room                                                                 4/5

Food quality                                                              3/5

Cocktails                                                                   2/5

Staff                                                                         4/5

Brand strength                                                           4/5

Interiors                                                                     4/5

Extras                                                                       3/5

Overall rating                                                             4/5