A luxury resort that ALL the family can enjoy
Any of you who think family travel can’t involve treating yourselves to a luxury hotel with kids entertainment options stop right here. We are about to indulge you in some of the best of the best the United Arab Emirates has to offer in luxury family resorts – and no, it’s not in Dubai!
I was won over on the idea of visiting Ras Al Khaimah when I heard the words “weekend escape”, but if the kids needed any encouragement, I think the mention of a Pirate Ship got them hopping in the car quicker than melting ice cream on a summers day.
We’re taking you off on a UAE adventure to explore the DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa Marjan Island
Ras al Khaimah (RAK) is one of the seven Emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and rapidly pushing ahead to become “the third city” of the Emirates after Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Marjan Island is a man-made peninsular purpose-built for luxury hotels and residences, leisure and entertainment. Like much of the UAE – Marjan Island is still a work in progress – but Doubletree by Hilton is one of the first hotels to open with unrivalled views looking out into the Arabian Gulf and benefiting from year-round sunshine.
This post is part of our series Discover the UAE. Pop over to see all our posts on this incredibly family-friendly country
What will families love about Doubletree Marjan Island?
Our experience starts with a short golf cart trip to our villa room (yes, often the highlight of the journey for small kids!). The resort is made up of the main hotel building, with twin and double rooms, then there are 10 separate villa buildings each with 15 larger rooms – at 49 sqm this is a great size to fit extra bedding for the larger family like ours.
The rooms are all beautifully appointed inside with all the little touches you expect of a 5 star resort. The sofa bed in our room comfortably fit two small children, but if your kids prefer not to share a bed, roller beds can easily be wheeled in too. We didn’t get to see inside a smaller room in the main hotel but we are told the maximum you would comfortably fit in these rooms is 4 (2 adults, 2 children).
Accessibility around the resort is great, there were lifts and ramps available throughout so we were able to get wherever we wanted to with a stroller. Even just walking around the gardens can be an experience, beautiful and lush it makes for a relaxing setting and one of the most beautiful sunrises. Look, I think I can spy a pirate ship in the distance!
The outdoor playground is really quite extensive, it even includes the much sought after baby swing! There’s plenty of variety in equipment to suit a wide range of age groups. There’s climbing, jumping, sliding, balancing, swinging – dare I say better than most of the public play parks we’re used to in Abu Dhabi! It is partially shaded as well so littlies can still get some enjoyment during the midday sun.
The swimming pool
The main pool is brilliant with plenty of deck chair frontage (yes even with a heavy German contingent we could still nab plenty of real estate for a chair each, even after 9am!) and perfectly designed for the kids with a step that runs around the outside of the main pool; the Globetrotters love this as they can safely play on the edge and still touch the bottom.
The main pool is quite extensive and snakes around the gardens with a bridge crossing and a poolside bar (though not a bar in the pool – Mr Globetrotters favourite set up!). In addition, there is a shallow, shaded kids pool area and there’s another large pool located in front of the main hotel lobby, though this one was mostly frequented by adults.
There is also a 450m stretch of beautiful white sand beach packed with deck chairs and umbrellas, though I must admit with all the activities around the pool we never made it down to the beach – that and my sand phobia…
The Kids Club
This is the first time I can remember our older children positively begging us if they could go by themselves to the kids club (we have had many failed attempts in the past because either siblings were too young to be left or they weren’t feeling brave enough to part from us). For once, it finally worked! All of them wanted to go. I get this kids club thing at last!!!
They were kept very well engaged by the lovely child care staff doing colouring and crafting activities as well as face painting. Although there is no structured kids activity programs, kids can be signed in and out whenever you please. During our stay it was not overly busy and our kids got a lot of one-on-one attention and came out beaming.
The kids club is all included in your accommodation, there’s just a small cost to buy tokens if you want to play the arcade style games for the older kids. The staff either called us if there was any issues or walked the kids back to where we were sitting nearby. When Master 3 woke up the next day and demanded to go immediately there rather than the pool, we knew he must of really enjoyed it!
The opening hours are quite generous too, starting from 9am through until 9pm on weekends so parents can even squeeze in a dinner. Private babysitting is available in room if your tots head off to bed earlier.
Sometimes when I hear “all day dining restaurant” I groan at the thought of three meals a day with basically the same stuff being monotonously served up time and time again – it can be a major deterrent to booking all-inclusive packages. The Al Marjan restaurant though really came as a breath of fresh air, with indoor and outdoor seating, beautifully decorated interior and a vast array of meal choices. We felt at every meal there was sufficient range to chose from and there were always kid-friendly options to suit our fussy little eaters. The ice cream was, of course, a real winner for them, and the live pasta cooking station. Catering to a large international audience, they also have a ready supply of pork and alcohol products available despite being a Muslim country. (More on other dining options below).
The Aqua Zone
Let’s not hold back any longer though, the main thing we have come to investigate with our pirate crazed kids is the new Pirate Ship Aqua Zone. Kids of all ages (though ideally designed for the 3-12 age group) will really enjoy this new installation, all built around the shape of a Pirate Ship.
There are four slides to choose from, each giving a bigger thrill and spill. Our one year old could confidentiality use the first one on his own but needed assistance on the larger slides; our 3-year-old was confidently tackling them all on his own. Security are carefully policing the use of footwear on the special aqua zone surface (spongy and it doesn’t burn your feet – genius!) and lifeguards are manning each slide for safety.
Even though we visited on a full capacity weekend, we never felt this area became overcrowded throughout the day, any queuing at peak times was minimal.
The kids having the confidence to tackle the Aqua Zone without us was also another huge breakthrough point – in fact after taking my obligatory thousands of photos and videos (just sharing a few highlights here) they asked me to go so they could enjoy on their own! I am seeing a growing trend here and I think I like it…
Oh and did I forget to mention the Chocolate Chip Arrival Cookie? A tradition for Doubletree Hotels that we have just been introduced too – yes you should plan a trip to your nearest Doubletree just for one of these (hint: You can buy the cookies from the lobby lounge without needing to stay!). Sorry, they were all consumed before I could get a photograph! But yes, they were that good.
Other Hotel Features
Although we were primarily looking at family features, here are a few pointers for anyone looking at visiting the Doubletree Marjan Island in general:
- The 9th floor ShoFee Rooftop Bar is for over 21’s only, but commands some stunning views back to Ras Al Khaimah in the east, and pop on to the back balcony to the west at sunset for some of the most sensational glowing skies you will ever see.
- There are 7 restaurants to choose from. As well as all day dining in Al Marjan which is included in their full board and all inclusive packages, there’s an Italian restaurant, European style Brasserie, a British style pub, the newly expanded and quite extensive lobby lounge, roof bar and poolside bar – all can take children except the rooftop bar because of the shisha smoking.
- If you have success getting the kids happily into the kids club – or you’re on a kid-free retreat – head straight to the Eforea Spa on the 9th floor. The sauna and spa are beautifully set up – with stunning views too! We didn’t get to sample on this occasion but a definite reason to return.
- Wifi was available for free in public areas but chargeable in the rooms.
There will be a new wing of the resort (opening during Q2 2016) called Bay Club which will include a ladies only spa and indoor pool, an infinity pool, new restaurants, a boutique night club and a boardwalk leading into the ocean. While the Bay Club will accept families, most of the kid-friendly features are located down the Garden Villa end of the resort where we stayed and will likely still be your preferred option travelling with kids. Should you get a chance for a romantic break or a girly weekend of indulgence however….
I was also interested to learn that despite being in a Muslim country, the resort being in the Ras al Khaimah emirate is allowed to continue serving food during Ramadan. (It is usually the case, certainly, in the big cities Abu Dhabi and Dubai that food can only be served during the day behind closed off curtains). This might be a great little escape location for UAE expats looking for a daytime fix at this time of year, but of course be mindful that many of the staff may be fasting and show usual respect for this religious occasion.
Notes for visitors on finding Doubletree Marjan Island
This was our first visit to the Northern Emirate of Ras al Khaimah. The Doubletree by Hilton, one of the first resorts to appear on the new Marjan Island coastline has been around for 2 + years, with the newly added Pirate Ship and children’s playground opening in early 2016. If you have visited before prior to the new family-friendly developments, you really need to come back and see what is on offer!
It’s important to note when looking at hotels in RAK there are several with similar names – two of them Doubletree as well as other Hilton chain hotels, so don’t get confused! Marjan Island is a separate peninsula running off the E11, nestled between the Rixos Bab al Bahr and Marjan Island Resort. Its commanding position means all rooms in the main hotel building have ocean views.
International visitors have quite a few options for getting to Marjan Island. Some charter flights can arrive directly into the International Airport in Ras Al Khaimah. Not far away though is the much larger city of Dubai with two international airports, and a further hours drive away Abu Dhabi International Airport. Unless travelling at absolute peak times, you can expect the journey from Dubai to be less than an hour, transfers can be arranged.
For those travelling within the UAE, you are looking at about an hour plus drive from Downtown Dubai, and anything from a 2.5 to 3 hour drive from Abu Dhabi, depending on road conditions and which route you take. A note to staycationers and self-drivers, if you are travelling from the E311 and cutting through to meet the E11 – don’t use the short cut road closest to Marjan Island at night – there is no road lighting, or even reflectors; this route is full of trucks, speed bumps and workers crossing the road without warning! A harrowing experience driving at Thursday peak hour. Take the couple of minutes longer to arrive via the main highway through RAK, or join the E11 earlier near Umm Al Quwain.
What else is there to do in Ras al Khaimah and beyond?
If you think you might get bored and isolated at a resort in the UAE, think again. As well as having their own water sports club offering loads of the usual beach type activities from deep sea fishing to paragliding, there are a plethora of activities you can undertake while being based in RAK. Many of these are organised by the hotel themselves or approved tour operates, but if you have your own car with you, you can easily undertake many of these activities yourself, including mountain trekking and desert safaris, quad biking, horse riding, snorkelling, kayaking.
Nearby there are two water parks in easy reach of the hotel if the kids want more sliding action, or the hotel also offers shuttle services into the city of Ras Al Khaimah and day trips to Dubai.
Any downsides for families?
To be honest its hard to fault our whole experience. The drive through the UAE desert in peak hour on a Thursday put my hairs on edge by the time we arrived but that was hardly the hotel’s fault. The only real issue we had all weekend was that the room was not set up ready with beds for the kids and a cot on arrival – this could have been a booking miscommunication; something I always encourage families to double check directly with a hotel about 24 hours before arrival as I know how important putting sleepy heads straight to bed can be. Customer service was polite and courteous and housekeeping was prompt in dealing with our requests. The cookies helped…
Globetrotters Recommend Doubletree Marjan Island
Without a doubt, this has been one of the best resorts we have stayed at for the whole family to enjoy. When the kids are happy and engaged, you can finally let yourself unwind too. Knowing that not only were there options available that the kids would enjoy, we had confidence in their supervision and they felt independent to explore without us. Not just limited to a kids club, there’s the extensive playground and aqua zone, as well as other family-friendly touches like easy dining options that really sold this resort to us.
The Doubletree Marjan Island scores a big thumbs up from the Globetrotters and we will certainly be planning another visit. Whether coming on an overseas escape to the UAE for some sunshine or making a short Staycation stop from the UAE, its a perfect year-round location for families.
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