Sir Bani Yas, Abu Dhabi
Back in December 2010, LUSSO reviewed the Sir Bani Yas island resort off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s more cultural Emirate. We noted that whenever one of the world’s richest men allows the merely ‘moderately wealthy’ to play with their toys, it’s cause for excitement. But at Sir Bani Yas, there’s lots more to get excited about here; there’s architectural restraint, great service and enough things to keep the heirs to my family’s great wealth amused for a week or more. More developments had been promised, so I went back to see how things are progressing.
Sir Bani Yas was the previous Sheikh’s place to get away from it all. But being the ruler of Abu Dhabi, and therefore one of the world’s richest men, getting away from it all doesn’t involve an allotment and digging in some seed potatoes. Instead, it means a 34 square mile desert island which you arrange to have planted with 2 million trees then stocked with giraffes, gazelles, cheetahs and ostriches and various other endangered Arabian species. The current Sheik has less time for the rural idyll and turned the island into a resort, building a 3-storey, 60 room hotel, run by the excellent Anantara Resort group, on one coast, and letting the guests use the safari park and a couple of other attractions.
The only-mildly disappointing news is the promised developments haven’t taken place yet. The good news is, well, it means there’ll be another excuse to go back to Sir Bani Yas.
We were promised stables and rides for horse-mad girls. No stables, yet, so we indulged ourselves with an hour of archery at the range.
We were expecting a lodge to have been built in the middle of the safari park where we would spend the night amongst the animals. No lodge yet, so we booked a 40 minute cycle round the lagoon with children bouncing along in buggies behind the bikes.
There were promises (threats?) of a small conference facility next to the main hotel and we’re glad to say that there’s no sign of that either.
What has changed in the 12 months since our last review is the service: it’s getting better and better, which is some achievement from the high standard it was at already. There’s still a great staff to guest ratio (particularly if you leave Europe in the chilly dark days of February, arriving in sunglasses and 28°C) and there’s a high retention of talented individuals, so you’ll be remembered from the time before. And if your heir likes rambutan fruit, and there’s none on the menu, don’t worry – the waiters will remember and bring them after dinner.
Infrastructure is holding up well too. The sloping, child-friendly pool still looks good and the Asian lifeguards still apply themselves intensely to their job by clasping their hands behind their backs, leaning over the pool and staring intently at any swimming children.
You can have the same quibbles as last year of course: is it really a safari if the animals are kept in by a 32 km long fence and your jeep driver can take you straight to where the cheetahs are? I don’t quibble. I love luxury and knows it’s hard to get a tent pitched in the savannah to match up to the comforts of a hotel that has three restaurants, choice of menus and internet access. We’ll happily ignore the fakery to get a good night’s sleep and keeping up to date with email.
It’s not ultra-luxury – you’re more likely to find the self-made guy who works in media than the media mogul who buys and sells the self-made man for breakfast. Truth is, if you want your ego massaged along with your wallet, head to the Caribbean. If you want the 5-star version of simple luxury and staff that are amiable rather than, say, cowering, then head to Sir Bani Yas.