There’s something charming about an Emirati lifestyle.
The Emirati man finds a way to fuel a lifestyle of luxury and enjoyment. For the Emirati women, wearing the abaya is a form of remaining true to the roots of the UAE, unifying and liberating women and not forgetting the local culture and tradition.
The Emirates is a ‘destination of distinction’ where taste is prioritised, with flavour influences of the Western world inter-mingling with the deep-rooted Arabian heritage. Rituals like drinking Arabic coffee and eating dates are social occurrences. The culture remains vibrant, reflecting the countries future; punctuated with it’s cosmopolitan shopping experiences.
During our recent trip to the UAE, we traveled to Abu Dhabi, the rival metropolitan neighbour of Dubai. During our time there, we discovered the seamless contrast of old and new, creating a modern legacy of it’s own.
How to get there
We opted to fly with the national carrier, South African Airways. SAA introduced the daily service between Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi double with partner Etihad Airways continuing its seven weekly departures in March of this year. Business and leisure travelers will benefit from the convenience of multiple flight options between Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi within the same day.
The cabins are neat with basic amenities afforded to travelers in Business Class. The quality of these items fare poorly in comparison to the other airlines that we’ve traveled on. The food was average, with little attention paid to plating. With that said, the food was in abundance and the air hostesses were very considerate to offer snacks outside of the dining times. The kids particularly enjoyed the dessert offering of Haagen Dazs ice-cream.
The services were timeous with a lot of attention paid to kids on-board. Special consideration was given to younger travelers and the overall fuss was appreciated by parents.
Air tickets may be booked online on the flyssa.com website. Subscribe to their newsletter to be informed of any upcoming specials (including one of a ridiculous rate of R2,500 per person which was their introductory rate!). Visitors from South Africa are required to obtain Visa’s before they travel to Abu Dhabi. We arranged ours through the services of Fatima. She charged us a rate of R1400 per person. She may be contacted on 0727868072 or alternatively on email firstname.lastname@example.org
Landing in Abu Dhabi and Cellular phone connection.
Once you arrive in Abu Dhabi, be mindful of the queues at Passport Control. Business Class travelers can wait in line under a sign that says ‘Fast Pass’. Consideration is also afforded to travelers with young children, although this is not a given so don’t expect to be ushered to a shorter line.
Once you’re out of the security area, proceed by purchasing a data card which allows you to retain all internet based applications with your South African cell number. Although the gentleman offered no advice on getting it running, the instruction leaflet is pretty explanatory and you can always pass by a vendor whilst out in the malls if any concerns arise.
We were not always confident travelers. So much so, that we ensured that transfers to and from the airport were arranged for us before departing South Africa. Whilst this is the hassle-free way to travel, so are taxi’s in countries where there are marked and designated taxi waiting zones. We paid Dhs90 for a 30 minute ride to our hotel. This is a flat rate, regardless of the size or style of taxi that you choose. Ours was larger due to luggage and children, but very spacious and comfortable for the 30 minutes transfer. The Hotel shuttle service is at a cost of Dhs210 should you wish to opt for that instead.
Our Itinerary during our 5 day stay.
I had spent a considerable amount of time researching the highlights of Abu Dhabi before we had left SA. At this stage, I need to add that we did not do half of what I had found online. Much of the ‘must-do’ places that have been suggested online have become old and redundant in reality.
I also went through detailed reviews on the Hotels that we wanted to stay at. After careful consideration, The Sofitel Corniche met all of our needs and requirements during our stay in the UAE.
I also noted using the Hop on, Hop off bus whilst we were there, but once you realise just how affordable (and convenient) it is to travel by taxi, the fare spent on the bus tickets is rather high. In addition, the distance between points is a lot, so you might end up traveling for a longer time with stops included.
We needed to factor in a considerable amount of of our day for child-friendly activities. Whilst this is an indication of what we did whilst away, a couple with no kids might be able to do most of these trips in an entire day.
We decided to have a leisurely breakfast at our hotel before heading out. I have detailed the hotel profiles and the service offerings on my next post for easier reference.
Our (my!) plan was to get shopping out-of-the-way (system!) so the rest of the holiday could be enjoyed, leisurely. I spotted the stores that I was keen on visiting at Galleria Mall on Al Maryah Island which was a short 15 minute drive from The Sofitel Corniche. The mall is noted for it’s selection of luxury and high-end stores, so I suggest going through the online store listing before going there to determine which stores you really want to go to. We particularly enjoyed Cafe Bateel before leaving (it’s conveniently located before one of the exits). We had a light lunch of Grilled chicken, tomato salsa, coriander and chili-pepper spread on toasted panini and Rigatoni in a light creamy sauce of mascarpone, Reggiano Parmesan and diced Pecorino cheese. The encore, Traditional Arabic coffee (Qahwa) served in a dallah flask with Rhutab dates (you have a choice between how many you’d like to order). The taste is very potent yet aromatic. Glasses are usually filled halfway and sipped slowly. Make this a must-try if you’ve never traveled to any Middle Eastern countries before.
If there’s any particular thing that i absolutely love doing on holiday is visiting their local grocery stores! There’s always something interesting that I manage to find, which in most cases happens to be food related. It’s also a fraction of the price that you would find at any of the grocery stores at the Malls. It’s a great opportunity to stock up on on-the-go snacks which will come in handy on longer days out. I suggest proceeding directly to your hotel after so there’s no need to lug around these items whilst out. Try to also find the closest grocery to your hotel, your taxi driver will be able to assist in this regard.
The kids enjoyed a leisurely afternoon at the poolside whilst I enjoyed Afternoon Tea at Club Millesime at the hotel. Club Millesime is the executive floor exclusive to guests of the Club Suites. The level of attention is outstanding and the service matches the expectations of a clientèle in search of the exceptional. It’s a sophisticated VIP lounge that invites you to relax in an oasis of calm away from the hubbub of the city – with a cup of one of world’s best teas and carefully crafted canapes or pastries. More details may be found on the hotel profiles post following this.
Our plan was to visit the grand Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque towards Maghrib time, to best enjoy the ambiance of the masjid during the day and partially into the evening. It’s also less crowded during this time and one can appreciate it’s beauty and seek solace in the peacefulness. It’s about a 20 minute drive from the hotel, and the taxi’s have special demarcated areas to drop off and collect visitors which is directly in front of the main entrance. If you aren’t dressed appropriately, there is a room where you can loan a head scarf and/or an abaya to use during your visit to the Masjid. Once you have the proper attire you may make your way up the pathway to the main courtyard area of the Masjid. Follow the demarcated areas for men and women. There are areas for shoes to be placed before entering the main area of the Masjid. Try to arrive just before Maghrib salaah to view the Masjid in daylight. It’s a vast contrast between the two hours of the day. Without going into too much facts (which one can easily find on search engines).
“Abu Dhabi hosts the third largest mosque in the world – after the ones in Mecca and Madina in Saudi Arabia. It is named after the founder and first President of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He chose the location and took substantial influence on the architecture and the design of the mosque. Based on his vision, the mosque was built with the rise of 11 metres above sea level, and 9.5 metres above the street level so that it is clearly visible from all directions”.
For more detail on the architecture and interior, visit: Abu Dhabi eGoverment Gateway
A few things to remember: No public displays of affection; this includes your husbands arm around you for photographs! You will be reprimanded by the guards (as one would expect in a Masjid!). Be respectful in your dress and avoid hair peeking through your headscarf. Try not to create too much noise of chatter unnecessarily. The guards also shake their heads on ladies taking too many ‘selfies’ whilst there (I witnessed the reaction of one). Instead, find a quiet spot where you can take pictures of the actual architecture instead. There’s no food items available to purchase in or around the Masjid, please ensure that children are well fed before visiting. I highly suggest visiting the masjid on Day 1 of your trip. It sets the mood and spirituality for the rest of your time in Abu Dhabi.
Before leaving SA, I came across a rather unconventional dining experience online called Rogo’s The Rollercoaster Restaurant. Befitting to it’s name, patrons can expect their meals whizzing down a spiral, through a tornado loop and along double metal tracks above your head in a very retro and visual dining adventure. Rogos is located in the Yas Mall on Yas Island. Patrons are seated and briefly explained on how to order and what to expect. The state-of-the-art ordering system via individual handheld tablets located under the tables, enables diners to order individually to your place and table number which then corresponds with the food as it arrives on the tracks in front of you in sealed pots. There are a couple of huge multi-spirals, double loops and tornado tracks that make up the network of thirty roller coasters that the food and even your cold drinks (hot drinks for obvious safety reasons are delivered in a conventional way by a server) travel down to arrive at their final destination (traveling up to 8km/h).
The food is fast. Patrons can expect meals like Fried chicken and Chips and Mac & Cheese as one of their many offerings. The concept screams ‘novelty’ to younger children who really marvel at the way the food arrives to them. It’s gimicky approach to dining makes this a must-do whilst in Abu Dhabi especially if traveling with younger children or teens. Remember, seating is shared around a table, so you will likely share a table with other guests. If you find this as a invasion on your privacy, it’s best to avoid dining here all together.
We managed to do a lot on Day 1 of our trip and returned back to our hotel past 12am. We were keen on maximising as much of our days as we could (even though we had younger children with us).
We spent much of the morning enjoying the poolside at the Hotel. The kids in particular enjoyed their time there and we wanted to afford them a relaxed morning in so we won’t wear them out by the evening. We opted to dine at the Hotel for lunch at B…Easy Restaurant & Lounge. They offer contemporary Italian cuisine with charming interiors providing a truly authentic Italian experience with breathtaking view over the Corniche and Arabian Gulf. Their portions are generous, with 4 of us being able to share a large pizza. Their decor is not child-friendly but it’s a relaxed experience to enjoy Italian cuisine in the comfort of your Hotel.
Reservations were made for us to experience the Afternoon High Tea at The Jumeirah Etihad Tower. It’s a 15 minute drive from The Sofitel Corniche, and it’s a great way to catch a glimpse of the Emirates Palace whilst driving past.
Located on Level 74, the Observation Deck at 300 is the highest vantage point in Abu Dhabi and offers simply stunning views across the city and Arabian Gulf. I must add, that I was most impressed that there was no strict policy about children not being allowed to dine at the Observation Deck. There is comfortable seating for them to relax. Reservations must be made in advance as everything is prepared according to the number of guests that have been booked for that particular day. Entrance to the Observation Deck at 300 is AED 75 for visitors, redeemable against AED 50 for food and beverage served at the venue. This entry allows you to take a walk and view, and have a drink or coffee whilst there. Hotel guests can enjoy complimentary entrance. If you are booking for the Afternoon High Tea experience in particular, the price per person is AED 175.
Proceed into the Hotel when you arrive and ask to be directed to the elevator which leads up to the Observation Deck. It’s to the left of where the taxi has dropped you off. You will find a payments desk before the entrance of the elevator. You will receive your ticket and be ushered up to the 74th floor.
Huge windows line the walls, allowing in the streaming sunlight and picturesque view over the gardens of The Emirates Palace and other notable landmarks in Abu Dhabi.
Once seated, you are offered an extensive tea menu curated by Singapore-based TWG Tea which has deemed to be the finest luxury tea brand in the world. TWG Tea is internationally recognised as a true innovator with the creation of new varieties of tea every season in collaboration with the world’s most renowned estates. Expect to spend at least 15 minutes deciding on which of the 24 teas on offer to try first, whilst sipping on a complimentary glass of Iced Tea with berries and Grenadine.
We opted to begin with the Royal Moroccan Tea which boasts one of the finest green teas and an exceptional blend of wild mints. With rare resins and fresh notes of the world’s rarest elixirs – ambry myrrh, musk, and precious calambac – this blend truly yields a majestic infusion. This is a tea of perfect elegance and sophistication. My husband opted for the Grand Oolong Fancy, who’s composition of Formosa oolongs are considered amongst the finest and most distinguished in the world. This highly aromatic tea yields a smooth aroma and an earthy taste. Guests are allowed any combination of tea, however Mocktails and Coffee are at an additional charge. If you find yourself enjoying any of the teas in particular, head out to their Tea Salon & Boutique situated in Yas Mall on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. Whilst you’re there, indulge in handmade patisseries, which are all prepared fresh daily.
Tea is on-tap, and accompanied by a varied selection of perfectly presented and delicate sandwiches and mini Pastries. To whet your appetite; Poached Herb Chicken Breast, Pesto Cream-Cheese in Rosemary Bread, Citrus Shrimps, Abu Dhabi Caviar, Chive Creme Fraiche on a Brioche Roll and Norweigan Smoked Salmon, Green Apple Slaw on Rosemary Rolls are one of the 5 savoury items that one can expect whilst dining there.
Promising it was indeed, with their small cakes being the best bits of the experience. Cherry Roulade, Linzer Torte and my favourite; the Toffee Banana Cheesecake was nicely proportioned and just enough to avoid you feeling completely sugared-out. The scones were presented with 2 varieties; Chocolate Chip and Traditional Plain Scones with Clotted Cream and Strawberry Jam. Rustic and crumbling in texture, these scones were served warm and very much inviting, as one would expect to feel at an Afternoon Tea. I’d say that they were one of the nicest that I’ve had, and proportioned large (or small enough) enough for a lady to enjoy without any wastage.
With the huge windows lining the walls, allowing in the streaming sunlight and looking over the gardens, Afternoon Tea at The Jumeirah Etihad Towers is a destination Tea which has proved to be modern and hip and one to add to your itinerary whilst in the UAE.
A few minutes from The Jumeirah Etihad Towers is The World Trade Center Mall. The Mall itself was of no interest! I was keen to get my hands on a bag of dried Rose Buds from the Souk across! The store is on the right hand side just as you enter the Souk.
These Rosebuds originate from Iran, much like every other nut and spice in the store. They are used mainly as garnish on desserts, and I especially wanted them to gift to friends and family back in SA. I knew that they would appreciate something as delicate and seemingly difficult to find in South Africa.
Whilst the kids and my husband spent the evening at leisure in the Hotel, I spent this time sampling tea at the Dammann Freres Boutique “tea bar” in the Lobby of the Sofitel Corniche. Having tasted the tea on our first trip to Paris (and very much a novice at quality teas that young into my adulthood), I knew that it had then exceeded all my expectations that I had concluded about what luxury teas were meant to taste like. Later on into my travels, I had come across it again in Dubai, and purchased my first box of Dammann Freres Earl Grey tea in Cristal tea bags. The material, close to silk, permits to obtain an infusion with all the same qualities appreciated in loose tea, with less of the actual fuss of preparing. To this day, their Earl Grey tea has the best balance of tea flavor and bergamot that I’ve ever tasted.
It was befitting to say, that I would gift myself the finest box that was available, as it finally had it’s space in my Tea Room back in SA, for a bit of everyday luxury. Dammann Freres Tea Bar at The Sofitel Cornich is also a retailer of Canasuc sugars which add the perfect finishing touch to drinks. Each has a cutout, turning it into an edible centrepiece and conversation starter with a difference. I was first gifted these by a friend on her travels to Dubai. I knew that I wanted to add the new ranges to my collection, and to include Coeur Rouge Rose Blanc as a whimsical touch to my tea parties. Inquire about the tea-tastings when you’re at the Hotel and make it a point to attend them.
The weather was perfect for what we had planned for Day 3 of our trip. The Sofitel Corniche arranges a shuttle to and from Yas Waterworld daily at 11am and returning at 16.05pm. The shuttle drops off guests at the entrance and collects guests in the same place. Make a reservation with the Concierge to ensure that you seat has been allocated. It is a 30 minute trip to Yas Island, so make certain that kids have been attended to before departing the hotel.
The waterpark’s theme is based on a legend that represents local Emirati culture and heritage. Visitors will enjoy attractions that follow the adventures of the waterpark’s main character Dana, a young Emirati girl in search of a legendary pearl that brought prosperity to her village.
If you have younger kids, you might want to consider the following items to pack: Cossie and additional set of clothing to change into when departing, Sun hats (as the midday sun is harsh on skin and hair), Sunscreen (they’re available in the store but you can expect to pay at least double the amount as you would in SA), and comfortable sandals. Visitors are not allowed to take in any food items other than formula and baby food for very littlechildren, or if you have certain dietary requirements. All food that is on the premises is Halaal, so that’s not an issue with Muslim patrons. Although there are designated children and adult areas, if you pass the 1.2m height restriction, you can enjoy most of the Park’s attractions. Remember as an adult to wear appropriate swimwear, as traveling in the UAE means that scantily-clad women will be reprimanded. Be sure to pack special swim diapers for babies and toddlers as those are not on sale from the merchandise store on-site.
Tickets may be purchased from the main ticket counter once you’re into the complex. Tickets are sold separately or as a packaged Parks Pass in conjunction with Ferrari World. One-Day ticket prices range from the Bronze pass at 240 AED to 460 AED for the Gold Pass. The Gold Pass enables you to unlimited Fast Passes for rides, but with the Park being so quiet it might be a waste having to buy this ticket. There is an option of upgrading your existing ticket to the Gold or Silver (3 Fast Passes) should you go inside and find the queues too busy. Your entry wristband can be pre-loaded with money at the Concierge counter inside. This can be swiped against drinks and food inside the Park, and takes out the hassle of lugging around cash. The money is refundable if it is unused, which can be done at the same counter before exiting.
We opted for the 4-person Private Cabana which includes a water and soft-drink per person, fresh fruits, Yas Pearl Diving Experience for 1 person, sunbeds and 2 towels per person, a safety box to store valubles, a butler service and a great location in the Park with restricted access to Cabana guests only. This is available at the ticket counter at AED499. A great tip is to go in a day earlier and ay and reserve your preferred Cabana. We did this for the following day as we would be returning with friends of ours. Top tip: Request Cabana 25 as it has the best views of the Kids area in the Waterpark.
We spent most of the day with the kids at the Marah Zone. This area is dedicated to the tot’s playground and Infants pool. The play structure is designed for kids from 3 to 4 years up, but it doesn’t deter younger kids from splashing in the shallow water alongside. There slides of different skills sets and heights, so even the slightly older kids can enjoy climbing all the way to the top for a more thrilling experience. There are loungers for parents to chat on whilst the kids play so take your sunnies with to enjoy sneaking in some quiet time!
Food may be ordered directly from your Cabana using the telephone provided. The menu is hung up on the wall and includes a selection of Pasta and Pizza, an Indian menu, Burgers and Kid-friendly meals and desserts. Prices range from AED 45 for a full meal with soda to AED 60 for the Indian options of Biryani, Papar, Kachumar and a soft drink. The meal was average. Expect fast-food and nothing more than that.
You need to be mindful of the time from around 1515pm as you need to depart promptly at 16.05pm from the main entrance. The shuttle is on time as to avoid messing up their schedules in collecting other guests from the other pickup points, so don’t make them wait for you. If you happen to miss your time, you can get a taxi in the same area for approximately AED 80 back to the hotel.
We were rather exhausted from a full day out at the Park and retired early to bed that evening. We opted for in-room dining and ordered a selection of Biryani, Indian starter platters of samoosas and a Mushroom Velouté. The food was superb and definitely suited our palates.
Friends of ours were arriving in Abu Dhabi later this morning. We opted to book into The Yas Viceroy so we would be closer to what we had planned over the next 2 days and it made sense to stay at the same hotel which would make transportation and planning easier. The Yas Viceroy is on Yas Island and a 30 minute drive from The Sofitel Corniche. We arranged our own transportation and wanted to get there early to be able to relax in the Hotel for that morning. I have a detailed Hotel profile scheduled for my next post and you will find more specifics there.
We checked into our Suite and I took the complimentary shuttle to Yas Mall whilst the kids stayed behind with their dad to enjoy the Rooftop Pool. The Shuttle service schedule may be obtained from the Concierge and the return times are also listed on the poles where you are dropped off. There are no announcements made whilst you’re on the shuttle, so you may need to ask to clarify that it is the correct stop. Ferrari World and Yas Mall are at the same stop, so you should jump off when you see Ferrari World in front of you.
Building Two, Al Marasy,
Al Bateen Harbour.
Abu Dhabi, UAE.