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Winter sun holidays: Discovering Abu Dhabi’s desert safaris and gigantic aquaparks on a family break

The oompah band has misplaced its oomph. All of a sudden, giant swathes of Europe appear destined to be off the menu (or severely restricted) this Christmas and into the brand new yr, simply as thousands and thousands of us have began to offer critical thought to taking a winter break.

Fortunately, choices for much-needed sun farther afield stay open — and given all of the doom and gloom of final Christmas, has the concept ever appeared fairly so interesting?

For a whole bunch of hundreds of British holidaymakers, it can immediately conjure ideas of that tried-and-tested winter pleaser, the United Arab Emirates.

Glowing: Desert sands in Abu Dhabi, UAE, which Robert says is a 'tried-and-tested winter pleaser'


Glowing: Desert sands in Abu Dhabi, UAE, which Robert says is a ‘tried-and-tested winter pleaser’ 

The Hardmans (pictured) stayed at the Saadiyat Rotana Resort in Abu Dhabi

The Hardmans (pictured) stayed on the Saadiyat Rotana Resort in Abu Dhabi 

There are few locations with extra flights, shorter flying instances and a higher probability of respectable climate on the different finish. 


And whereas many individuals will routinely gravitate to Dubai, an growing variety of Britons are beginning to search for family enjoyable within the bigger, extra highly effective member of the UAE confederation — Abu Dhabi.

Having carried out so myself shortly earlier than the pandemic, I can see why.

For right here is a place with all of the amenities and the great things you count on of Dubai however with one added attraction: house. Masses of it.

It’s the very first thing that hits you while you sit up out of your sunbed on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi’s most important vacation coastal strip. 


Instead of cranes and high-rise blocks, you see nothing in any respect besides sand and sea. 

And that’s how Abu Dhabi is planning to maintain it. 

We stayed on the Saadiyat Rotana Resort, constructed within the fashion of an Emirati dwelling, low-lying with a large, ethereal atrium main out to a big palm-lined pool.

Blue horizon: The view from a hotel on Saadiyat island, where - according to Robert - 'you see nothing at all except sand and sea'

Blue horizon: The view from a lodge on Saadiyat island, the place – in line with Robert – ‘you see nothing in any respect besides sand and sea’


  • All guests should register their vaccination standing by way of the ICA Smart App ( previous to journey and take a PCR take a look at not more than 48 hours earlier than departure (youngsters below 16 exempt).
  • Travellers should then take a PCR take a look at on arrival on the airport (freed from cost). They don’t must quarantine earlier than getting their outcomes. Children below 12 are exempt.
  • All travellers aged 16 and above should obtain the Al Hosn cell phone app ( and add proof of vaccination standing. The results of the PCR take a look at taken on the airport might be routinely up to date on the app. If it’s adverse, the app will present ‘green’, which allows vacationers to have full entry to websites, bars and eating places.
  • Unvaccinated vacationers should take a PCR take a look at on arrival, with out the necessity to quarantine, and additional PCR exams on days six and 9.
  • More data:


You don’t sense that there are literally 327 rooms (and 11 villas), because the lodge constructing meanders by way of lawns and gardens alongside a third of a mile of near-empty seaside. It solely opened in 2018 however already has a eager worldwide following, a lot of them British.

The consideration to element is spectacular. A family room is extra like a presidential suite, with two massive rooms (each ensuite) linked by a frequent hallway relatively than a connecting door by way of the wall. With numerous separate air-conditioning zones (I like issues Arctic, the youngsters want a fug), monumental beds and impenetrable blinds, all of us slept like infants.

Across the pool space there are greater than sufficient sunbeds to go spherical. Stroll alongside the boardwalk over the baking sand and there are loungers galore on the seaside, too. Although the place was apparently full throughout our keep, we at all times felt as if the primary occasion had but to show up.

It may be simply half an hour from the worldwide airport however, from March to midsummer, that is a hatchery for Abu Dhabi’s endangered hawksbill turtle. The Rotana is happy with its turtles, therefore its Turtle Bay restaurant.

Half-board company can decide and select from a number of eating places however our three (then aged 12, ten and eight) rapidly singled out the poolside brasserie for its fish, steaks and creme brulee. I famous down the tuna ceviche and the cauliflower popcorn and would order it once more tomorrow. Now and then, we’d comply with the waft of home-made dough to the lodge’s glorious Italian restaurant, Si.

For those that can not bear to overlook the sporting motion at dwelling (or anyplace else), Hamilton’s gastropub has all the same old sports activities bar choices on supply, beneath jumbo screens beaming in each main fixture on the planet.


Perhaps probably the most spectacular manufacturing of the lot was the weekly Market Brunch on the Sim-Sim restaurant, a lot admired by native expats. It is the one time in my life when anybody has ever mentioned to me: ‘How many lobsters would you like, Sir?’

There is a well-staffed youngsters’s membership operation — each indoor and out — however after a couple of days we wished to discover. If Dubai prides itself on skyscrapers and sporting occasions, Abu Dhabi’s forte is tradition and theme parks, with loads of each inside a 20-minute cab experience.

Yas Waterworld, one of many largest aquaparks within the Middle East, not solely has extra tubes and chutes than something again dwelling but additionally has a rollercoaster which whizzes you across the 30-acre web site in your bathers.

Near by is the huge Warner Bros World, a billion-dollar funding which does for Scooby-Doo and Batman what Disneyland does for Mickey Mouse. Unlike Disney, nonetheless, the makers have put all of it inside an air-conditioned complicated the dimensions of an airport, with eye-popping particular results.

We arrived within the morning and needed to drag the youngsters away at 7pm. Now totally reopened and Covid-compliant, it prices £60 a head and the add-ons are moderately priced — e.g. £8 for a pizza.

Describing Abu Dhabi, pictured, Robert says: 'Here is a place with all the facilities and the good stuff you expect of Dubai but with one added attraction: space'

Describing Abu Dhabi, pictured, Robert says: ‘Here is a place with all of the amenities and the great things you count on of Dubai however with one added attraction: house’

Robert paid a visit to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, pictured, which was built in partnership with its Parisian namesake

Robert paid a go to to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, pictured, which was in-built partnership with its Parisian namesake


Doubles B&B at Saadiyat Rotana Resort from £229 per evening ( 

London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi returns with Etihad from £376 (

Arabian Nights Village desert experiences from £21.50 (

For a full change of scene, we paid a go to to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, constructed by the founding father of the UAE who’s buried there. The scale of it’s breathtaking, with acres of geometric swimming pools, soothing fountains and mighty minarets. The most important prayer corridor is roofed by the most important carpet on this planet, hand-made by 1,200 Iranian weavers, which lies beneath what was (till not too long ago) the world’s largest chandelier.

Equally restful is a journey to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, in-built partnership with its Parisian namesake. A Picasso/Chagall exhibition was on throughout our go to.

Equally spectacular was the constructing itself, constructed like a floating dome, rising from sea with dappled daylight coming by way of a latticework roof impressed by a palm frond.

You can’t come all this fashion with out a journey to the desert. We had a spectacular Arabian Nights Desert Safari, pushed from our door to the center of nowhere for camel rides and a fabulous dune tour, pausing on the high of the sand mountains to see the panorama change color within the setting sun.

Finally, we adjourned to a carpeted oasis for plates of flame-grilled lamb and hen in entrance of a belly-dancer who quickly had our three up on stage and becoming a member of in.

At the time, all of it felt like a long-lost imaginative and prescient of one other world. How thrilling that it may very well be a real risk this winter.

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