If you follow us on Facebook or Instagram you may know that we have just had a lovely little staycation right here in the UAE at the stunning St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi. With no overseas holiday booked this summer, a little break was just what we needed to get in some relaxing family time before the chaos of the start of the school year and my return to work in September.
We first stayed at the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort not long after it opened when Monkey was just under 2 years old and I was pregnant with Missy. That trip was in the winter so we were able to make full use of all the facilities including the huge beach, the various resort pools and the amazing Sandcastle Kids Club with its fantastic splash pad. In our 8 years living in the UAE we have also had mini breaks at a number of other resorts in Abu Dhabi and other UAE Emirates, however, it was the kids facilities at the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, and the Sandcastle Kids Club in particular, that left us in no doubt as to where we were heading for our mini break this summer.
It’s smoking hot outside in the UAE at the moment so admittedly there were a lot of things that we couldn’t do with the kids on this trip. We didn’t use the beach at all or the main resort pool or explore the grounds as we did last time. But we did make full use of the kids club and the munchkins could not have asked for anything more. After stuffing ourselves at the buffet breakfast each morning we headed down to the Sandcastle Kids Club where we were usually the first ones out on the splash pad, catching water fountains, spraying the water cannons, exploring the cave, going down the slide and jumping in pools and puddles. The sail shade blocked out enough of the sun’s heat to give us a good couple of hours of splashing around in the cooled water before we made our way inside for a snack and some indoor play. The Sandcastle Kids Club has rooms tailored to different age groups with everything from walkers and baby toys to board games, books, craft materials, a table tennis table and computer games. The staff are great and facilities fantastic. There is even a darkened sleep room with cots, rocking chairs and floor cushions so Missy was able to have her midmorning nap in there while Monkey played. Following lunch from the kids menu in the main restaurant and a lunchtime nap back in the bedrooms we would go back to the kids club in the afternoon for a second session out on the splash pad leaving the kids completely shattered and ready for a good dinner and a good night’s sleep – exactly what mummy and daddy need to then enjoy their evening! The food options were great, even for our picky eating little Monkey. The main restaurant offers an a la carte menu which starts a little earlier than (and runs alongside) the buffet spread, perfect for little tummies that would struggle to wait till 12.30pm for lunch or 6.30pm for dinner and when you don’t really fancy the full buffet. The kids menu has a good range of proper food options, not your usual chicken nuggets and fish fingers, although my two also loved the vegetable biriyani side dish off the main menu, a new discovery!
All in all we had a wonderful mini break and have returned to Dubai feeling like we have had a proper holiday and made some special memories of family time together. I particularly loved seeing Missy discover and explore the same splash pad that Monkey had played in around the same age as her, some of her reactions were very similar but others were completely different – Missy has no fear and will throw herself at everything whereas Monkey was much more cautious! It was also great to see how far Monkey had come, this time he was a confident boy exploring the splash pad not a baby needing me to toddle around after him and hold his hand.
Given that I completely discourage overseas visitors from coming to the UAE over the summer months, it may seem a little crazy that we chose to have a mini break here in the UAE but there are some very compelling reasons to do so if you are here over the summer anyway:
1. Bargain Rates – Understandably, summer is low season for UAE hotels so many of them will be offering great deals which means you can stay in amazing luxury resorts for a fraction of the usual rate. Many hotels will also have special deals for UAE residents. During the rest of the year tourists from around the world flock to our shores to enjoy the ultimate in luxury holidaying so it would be a shame if we didn’t enjoy the wonderful resorts right on our doorstep.
2. No flights – This is a double bonus of a UAE staycation. Not only do you not have to fork out for the cost of flights for the whole family, more importantly, you don’t have to deal with all the stresses and hassles of flying with kids. Simply load them up into their car seats and away you go – shorter journey times and all in the comfort of your own car with the ability to stop for breaks as needed. Monkey watched Barney on our in car DVD player on the one hour journey while Missy slept and we drank takeaway coffees, a far cry from long haul air travel.
3. No luggage restrictions – Following on from no. 2 above, there are no worries about whether your car seat will be included in your luggage allowance, how many bags you can take, how you will carry baby food above 100ml etc. If you can fit it into your car you can take it with you (although that is sometimes easier said than done when you are a serial overpacker like me, have a space consuming Bugaboo Chameleon stroller, a husband that needs his golf clubs and a whole raft of completely unnecessary floatables and water toys to bring along!). Another good thing about a staycation is that there is a good chance you will be able to find some things you might need in the local supermarket at or close to your destination. For example, the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort benefits from a pharmacy and a Spinneys supermarket onsite, which, if I’d remembered this fact from our previous trip, would have saved me packing nappies, kids snacks and all sorts of other convenience items available there.
4. Holiday allowance– Even if you do not have enough vacation days left from work to enable a holiday abroad, you can still have a worthwhile break in just a few days out of town with a staycation. I’m always amazed at how a long weekend away can feel like a proper break and gives you time away from your usual environment and distractions to spend quality family time together and relax.
5. Bring some friends – While we love family breaks we also love taking mini breaks with friends and it is usually much easier to co-ordinate schedules for a long weekend locally than a longer overseas trip. We have done trips with other families which has been great to give the kids little friends to play with and this trip we had some close friends (who do not yet have children) join us for part of the trip. The munchkins loved having Uncle R and Aunty A to play with and mummy and daddy loved having extra hands to help out. This might be a winning combination for future trips as we have now discovered that a minimum 2:1 ratio of adults to kids makes for a better chance of mummy and daddy getting to relax too. Amazingly, during our long weekend we managed to fit in some time at the adult only pool area, some kid-free dinners and some much needed spa time!
For this trip we got fantastic rates for St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort through Sarah Pickford from the Travel Counsellors. This was my first time booking anything through an agent in the UAE but I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last as not only was the rate a complete bargain but Sarah was great to deal with, responding patiently to my ever changing requests and going back and forth with the hotel to deal with the booking, something all busy mums could probably do with! The bargain rate also meant we could get 2 interconnecting rooms so we were able to take our nanny and not have both kids sleeping in the same room, allowing everyone to get a better night’s sleep. Although, with comfortable sofa beds in each of the rooms, there would be space to accommodate a family of 4 in one room if the kids weren’t likely to wake each other in the night. So no chance with my two then!
After the success of this one, I’m now deciding where we will go for our next UAE mini break. Hopefully we can sneak another one in before the end of the year!
Sarah Pickford, Travel Counsellor’s other top recommendations for a UAE mini break with kids:
“My favourite in Ras Al Khaimah is Waldorf Astoria but I think with small children the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort and Spa is great. Also I was at the Kempinski in Ajman last weekend. The pool is small but has a good size kids section and the hotel is lovely. Most importantly the staff were excellent and they have a little bowling alley which is fab for kids.”
Have you been to the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort? What is your favourite UAE staycation destination? Leave me a comment below, I would love to hear from you!