For several reasons the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort (not to be confused with the St Regis Abu Dhabi, which is in the centre of town), is widely thought of as one of the go-to, child-friendly, winter-sun hotels for those craving warmer climes when Europe is at its coldest.
Abu Dhabi is about as close as you can get for guaranteed year-round warmth. Plus, the minimal jet lag, short airport transfer, fantastic location on one of the best beaches in the Arabian Gulf and the comprehensive family offering (the jewel in the crown being the Sandcastle Club for kids), all combine to offer an easy, luxurious break for families.
I had briefly visited a couple of years ago and enjoyed a delicious lunch, but I mainly recalled a huge hotel of indefinable style, fairly nondescript bedrooms and a lot of shiny marble, somewhat standard in the region – essentially a hotel lacking in real warmth and character. So I was interested to see whether I could be won over this time during my stay.
And in short, I was. Yes, it’s a hotel of 376 rooms and you will find yourself surrounded by others, including many children, during your stay. And service, although good, inevitably in such a large hotel, does lack a personal touch. However, there are more than enough redeeming features for me to recommend this as a great option for families (and couples) looking for a relaxing stay in the area. The beach at Saadiyat is gorgeous (like the white sand and warm seas of Dubai but without the look-at-me crowds and the side-by-side hotels), and the hotel and grounds are immaculately kept and in fact score pretty highly on the glamour stakes. The spa is spectacular, the variety and quality of food very good, the bedrooms incredibly comfortable, and The Athletic Club is one of the most impressive gym facilities I’ve ever seen in a luxury hotel. There is plenty of outside space too, with three pools, a private beach area and large, manicured gardens.
In short, this is a resort hotel that could, essentially, be anywhere in the world, but the facilities, choice, service and comfort ensured I thoroughly enjoyed my stay.
- Daily breakfast for two
- Buffet breakfast served in Olea Restaurant
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Hotel credit
- US$100 or equivalent to be used in the restaurants or Spa (one credit per stay)
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
- Detailed Review +
- Facts & Amenities +
As I pulled up outside the hotel, my first impression was of a large resort hotel – a slick, efficient operation and a sparkling, impressive entrance area. I arrived mid-morning, before my room was ready, so I checked in quickly and efficiently at one of the reception tables, designed to feel a lot more relaxing and personal than a standard reception desk. I decided to leave my bags and head into town to do some shopping. Staff were very friendly, helpful and quick to arrange a taxi for me. The vehicle arrival area is run like a military operation – it’s that efficient.
Before I left, I booked a spa treatment for when I returned in the afternoon, and this was organised very efficiently. So I headed straight to the spa on my return, and my bags were waiting in my room for me when I arrived after my treatment.
Rooms and suites
There is a huge choice of accommodation to suit all needs – again, something that ensures an appeal to families of various sizes and also to the local Emirati market, who spend a lot of time in their rooms, so size and in-room facilities are very high quality.
My room was, on first impression, fairly run of the mill but by the end of my stay I didn’t want to leave. At around 60sq m (646sq ft), it was spacious, and I had two large twin beds instead of one king. The layout was long and thin, with the wardrobe/desk area by the entrance and a balcony overlooking the resort, pools and beach – nothing very innovative. But it was immensely practical and user-friendly, with small details that made it welcoming. The beds, for example (always a highlight of any St Regis hotel), were the kind that only the promise of a delicious breakfast could prise me from. There was enough storage and hanging space for two people and a clever cupboard that opened to reveal a full-length mirror and a plug and storage for hairdryers and straighteners – a very clever use of space. The mini-bar was perfectly fine, with a standard Nespresso machine and a selection of tea, and there was plenty of complimentary mineral water.
The large TV had multi-language satellite channels and pay-per-view films, and wi-fi access was free and excellent.
The hotel describes its style as Mediterranean, which I didn’t entirely see, but the decor was certainly very different to the heavier, elaborate style often found in the Middle East. The use of light aqua, turquoise and gold colours worked well, and despite the rather mass-market (and sometimes questionable) choice of art throughout the hotel, the overall effect is luxurious, comfortable and relaxing. ‘Classic luxury’ sums it up well.
Other rooms and suites I saw were decorated in a very similar style but varied in size, or had more lounge furnishings than smaller rooms. Some are marketed with more of a sea view than others but in reality, all rooms face towards the sea and have a resort or beach view of some description.
All the room categories (Standard, Sea View and Premium Sea View) can be interconnected with a similar room.
My bathroom was one of the reasons I loved my room. Not only was it spacious, light and beautifully designed, it was perfectly laid out, so a couple, family or friends would also find it practical. At one end was a large, egg-shaped bath, cleverly positioned so that you could bathe with a sea view, and then dual vanity units separated by the huge, walk-in rainforest shower, which could be accessed from both sides. On the other side of the shower was another vanity unit and private WC cubicle. The lighting was also very good, and there were gorgeous Laboratoire Remede toiletries. In short, the bathroom showed excellent attention to detail.
The buffet breakfast served in Olea, the all-day restaurant, is very impressive. The restaurant itself is huge, light and open-plan, backing onto the lobby in a double-height atrium style, with grand staircase and views towards the pool and beach. It’s so big there’s a danger of feeling more like a canteen than a restaurant but it just about manages to stay on the right side of the industrial look. There is an outside seating area, which was lovely and comfortable, although a little hot and humid in the evenings during my stay, so it was nice to have an air-conditioned option inside as well. In the cooler months, however, I can imagine these tables are super-popular. The pastries and breads were particularly delicious, as were the local breakfast specialities and the amazing selection of fruits, juices and smoothies, with service relatively quick and efficient.
As I was on the half-board plan, I ate my evening meals in this restaurant too. I would have eaten elsewhere rather than compromise on choice or quality but the delicious food and variety in the evenings (a buffet with a different theme each night) was more than enough to keep me happy, and the Arabian specialities were especially good. However, there was always freshly grilled meat, cooked-to-order pasta, delicious fresh breads, a tremendous variety of salads and more. The variety of fish was also notable, and the general quality of cooking, especially on this scale, was excellent.
I ate lunch by the pool, where the menu was substantial. I had a delicious duck salad (and the chef was only too happy to swap the duck for chicken), and the ice cream, smoothies and iced coffees were all delicious.
I also enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails and post-dinner drinks in The Manhattan Lounge – a sophisticated and comfortable bar frequented as much by locals as hotel guests. It has a gentleman’s club vibe rather than that of a buzzing bar, and the cocktails and nibbles were excellent.
Other restaurant options
The variety of dining options here is impressive. Plus, there are many promotions and special events – as much to attract non-residents as to provide variety for hotel guests. I was tempted but refrained from attending the Noche en Argentina at 55th and 5th, the grill restaurant. The Fashion Afternoon Tea in the Drawing Room, the lobby lounge area that provides all-day service of baked goods, teas and coffees, also sounded good.
I didn’t eat in Sontaya but many local friends assured me this is an Asian restaurant they especially enjoy, and I liked the location in the middle of one of the swimming pools. Meanwhile, Turquioz, the current beach bar/restaurant, is being transformed into Buddha Bar Beach Abu Dhabi, which many are looking forward to.
The Collection, part of the wider resort development village just outside the hotel, has various restaurants you can stroll to should you wish to try somewhere else. There is also a mini-mart to buy drinks and snacks – especially useful for families.
Spa and wellness
The Iridium Spa has nine treatment rooms, and like most other Middle Eastern examples has separate male and female changing areas, which also incorporate respective Jacuzzi, steam, sauna and hammam areas. The silver-leaf ceilings set off dramatic black chandeliers and intricate mosaic tiling. Everything is finished to a very high quality and gives the feeling of detachment from everyday life that a good spa should always achieve. I had a wonderful deep-tissue massage from a particularly talented and insightful therapist and had plenty of time to relax in both the Jacuzzi area and the supremely comfortable relaxation area afterwards, which was well stocked with current magazines, herbal teas and delicious snacks.
The Athletic Club, a truly impressive facility, is slightly away from the hotel in the resort development surrounding the back of the hotel. At over 3,000sq m (32,292sq ft), it’s vast, light, extremely well equipped and immaculate. It has a 25m indoor lap pool, a large high-tech gym, many group classes, highly qualified personal trainers, a fabulous juice bar and two squash courts. The Club also organises yoga on the beach and snorkelling, paddleboarding, kayaking and boogie boarding, plus tennis.
Pool and beach
There are three large outdoor pools: the family pool (which has an upper and lower level), the adult pool and a lap pool. So not only can you relax in different areas but you should always be able to find somewhere that suits you, either in child-free peace or where it’s convenient and safe for families. I had a restful afternoon by the lower level of the family pool, where cabanas provide shade (all on a first come, first served basis). Alternatively, there were plenty of sun loungers all around, including floating ones on the adult pool, where there is great service (the cold, fresh coconuts were especially welcome). The outdoor areas of the pool are built largely around the restaurants and are very much the focal point of the hotel. It’s only a few steps down from here to the beach area, where there are many sun beds and parasols set out on the private strip.
This is an exceptional beach where the only development, at the moment, is the nearby Park Hyatt and you can walk or jog along the 9km of clean, soft sand, or swim in the shallow, safe and warm sea.
As well as the very impressive Sandcastle Club, the main kids’ club, there are various other touches that make this a great option for families. These include various promotions, such as ‘kids eat for free’, a comprehensive kids’ menu and ‘sleep for free’ for under-sixes.
The Sandcastle Club has just undergone a recent refurbishment, and there is now a new outdoor mini-basketball court, new toys and games, and a new kitchen and dining area. This means that children can stay and eat rather than having to be picked up by adults to go and eat in the main hotel. Four- to 12-year-olds can be there without an accompanying adult, and the layout and impressive, spacious facilities encourage them to be as independent as possible and see it as their own space. The main indoor area is based on the idea of being in a cave, with different areas and facilities for various age groups, and the outdoor activity pool is also really impressive and almost all under a huge sunshade. Babysitters are available for the under-fours.
There are even activities that kids and teens can get involved with at the Athletic Centre – from swimming and tennis lessons to kayaking and boogie boarding.
Staff and service
The St Regis butler service is a key part of the offering in any of its hotels – available to all guests and designed to set them apart from the competition. Your allocated butler will help with packing and unpacking, wake-up calls, morning coffee, pressing up to two pieces per day – and is your general main point of contact. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet my butler – possibly because I arrived in my room after check-in, which is the main point of contact. She did leave a note to make contact, but as my stay was relatively short, I didn’t require her help. The staff, in general, were friendly, helpful and professional.
Of all guests, 95 per cent are on holiday, which helps the hotel to maintain its relaxed atmosphere. However, 30 per cent of all guests are local, either Emiratis or expats, who tend to stay for weekends or short staycations, followed by similar numbers of UK and German guests, plus Swiss, Russians and Italians.
The bill was settled quickly and accurately, and a taxi was ready and waiting, with bags brought from the room quickly and carefully. It’s worth joining the St Regis loyalty programme (currently the SPG programme but this could change now that owner Starwood is part of Marriott), as this does give some good discounts on your food and drink costs.
How to get there
30 minutes by road transfer from Abu Dhabi International Airport
376 rooms and suites