If my memory serves me well and my childhood visits to see family in India are anything to go by, then we, as a family, always had a tendency to try and avoid booking indirect flight options where feasible. After all, if a direct route is affordable, available and price comparable for a long haul adventure, then surely there can be no good reason to prolong an already stretchy journey.
Or can there?
A couple of years ago, when we stopped off in Abu Dhabi en route to the Seychelles, my perspective on stopovers changed. It lent an opportunity to see a new destination without any extra effort and allowed me to reacquaint myself with the Middle East; it eased the jet-lag trajectory, added a contrasting dimension to our otherwise water-predominant holiday and showed us one of the most gleaming mosques we have ever seen, our number one Abu Dhabi highlight.
This year, therefore, after a hectic five days of Indian wedding debauchery, we used the stopover plan as the handiest excuse going to indulge in another luxurious Arabian adventure – Hello Oman!
When I put out some tweets for Oman hotel recommendations, raving reviews arose time and again for the Shangri-la, Ritz Carlton (we had loved Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi) and the Chedi. After much deliberation, we chose Shangri-la, having previously had wonderful experiences at their Myanmar and Borneo hotels but that wasn’t the end of the hotel decision-making. With 3 entirely separate Shangri-la resorts all within one gigantic area of land and all falling under the one umbrella of Shangri-la Barr al Jissah in Oman, the next step was selecting which one most aptly suited our travel style.
Al Waha seemed the cheapest of the three resorts and the price difference was more than marginal so where cost is the primary focus, Al Waha is the one to go for. Al Husn swings the other, calling out to the luxury lovers and offering an impressive range of exclusive additional touches but thereby charging a hefty price tag in the process. And that leaves Al Bandar, the sandwich filling that lies somewhere diplomatically between the two. You could call it the Swiss cheese (spot the political joke?!) It’s that hour of the day, where silliness beckons, as I write this blog post.
A little tip to make the Shangri-la Al Husn stay more affordable is that if you are in Oman on a stopover and flying with Oman Air, then look at booking your hotel through Oman Air Holidays, as they frequently throw in a complimentary night’s stay.
With two of my school friends bellowing praises about their time at Al Husn, our minds were made up. Was the Al Husn resort worth the splurge though? Here are 10 reasons why it absolutely was:
The Shangri-la Al Husn, Oman
Who knows whether the lazy river at the Shangri-la is pitched at big people or little people but I doubt anyone at the resort was more excited by it than I was. Not a single day of the trip passed without us grabbing an available inflatable donut and floating around the elliptical lazy loop in a languorous lull, cajoled along by the currents (eventually cajoled anyway, as it somehow took me 15 minutes each time to actually get moving, by which time Pumpkin had long given up waiting for me and was barely a figment of a human contour in the distance.) Somehow or the other, on a lazy river that even 6-year-old children seemed to be mastering, I managed to find myself in a pickle with how to initiate the whole drifting process?!
Whichever one of the Shangri-la hotels you choose to stay in, the good news is that the lazy river is free to be enjoyed by all.
Private Infinity Pool
The lazy river might not be exclusive to Al Husn guests but you will not even remotely begrudge that when you see the dreamy infinity pool that is.
With a pool of such magnitude offering up a sanctuary of relief from the Arabian sun, there is no excuse not to get some laps in and stay fit (although I still found one); but if your lethargic legs start to pay the price from all the hiking between sun lounger and beach, then feel free to rest and recuperate in the hot tub immediately adjacent to the pool, smug in the knowledge that this particular pool vantage point is for you and your newfound Al Husn friends only.
Private Beach and Cove
The more robust sea-creatures among you, who prefer submerging your semi-clad selves into Earth’s natural waters rather than man’s chlorinated ones, will be pleased to learn that Al Husn guests have a private little stretch of the beach exclusively for themselves, partially lined by sweeping, pastel yellow rock formations, which are strangely reminiscent of the recently fallen (sob sob) Azure window in Gozo.
The beachside loungers are like gold dust in peak season (metaphorically and literally since the Omani beach sands do look freakishly like gold dust) so if you want a prime location beachside bed for the day, leapfrog out of bed early and mark your territory in that way we all know and hate with your fluffy beach towel and an almost-empty bottle of sun lotion chucked on top. It was all too reminiscent of trying to find a parking space at Sainsbury’s in Christmas week but the staff are always more than happy to try and accommodate you somewhere
Complimentary Afternoon Tea
You already know I have a penchant for afternoon tea (and if you don’t, a cursory glimpse at my tea and cake page will leave you with no doubts) but over at Al Husn, they serve you up a full, 3 tiered afternoon tea EVERY DAY. Yes, you’re not in the midst of a sordid cake fantasy – I did in fact say every day.
Not only can you stuff your face with an array of sandwiches, savoury snacks, scones and patisserie offerings every afternoon but it just so happens that it’s all included in your room rate so make space in your bellies as there are no additional indentations on the wallet for this.
The setting for afternoon tea is quite unlike anywhere I have ever seen in the UK – on an outdoor terrace overlooking the beach and ocean so my tip is to arrive early if you want to bag yourselves a table with the best views.
This is the second time that I have come across a hotel offering this tradition (the first being Kayumanis, Bali) and I have to say, I could get used to it!
Even better news is the fact that the complimentary food and drink fun doesn’t stop there. Allow me to tempt you by the complimentary minibar, in which all food and drinks (alcoholic and soft) are restocked every day and with no extra charge. Let’s just say that Pumpkin ensured no Ferrero Rocher went neglected and that a few tins of Pringles and nuts are sitting cosily in our larder here in London…
If you’ve seen the hotel room scene with Ross on Friends, then you will know why I was cringing but then if you read about the Ferrero Rocher event I attended, then you will know why I will happily cringe for a free Ferrero Rocher.
Beachside Service ( & Coolboxes)
I didn’t really judge my Mister too much for nabbing the crisps and nuts from the minibar but I did raise a baffled eyebrow when I was unpacking in London and found two mini Evian facial mist sprays in our cases and what is Evian facial mist I hear you ask? Every day, as we headed towards a sun lounger, an astute and extremely hard-working member of poolside staff approached us, laid out our towels, opened up a parasol for us and handed us a cool box topped to the brim with cold drinks, water and Evian face mist.
The face mist may well be the ultimate in superfluous products on the market but boy oh boy, will you yearn for it when the sun leaves you more baked than a potato at school dinners.
And that was only the start of the surprise treats that came our way unexpectedly as we read our books poolside, doing absolutely nothing to deserve them. Other temptations that kept us glued down included the tray of individual sorbet portions hovering in the distance and the poolside watermelon slices, which were quite clearly made for the Instagram generation…
Adult Only Peace and Quiet
The key thing to be aware of if you are heading to Shangri-la Oman with children is that Al Bandar and Al Waha are family friendly resorts and were full of young families when we went. Al Husn is the only one of the three that is adults only.
Now, don’t get me wrong– some of my favourite people in the world happen to be toddlers but not a single day of my working life goes by when I’m not interacting with tiny people. Many are angelic, sitting quietly by Mummy, engaged in their Ipads, forgiving me when I run out of stickers to give them and one of them even once declared that she loved me, slightly catching both myself and her Mother off guard as she did.
But then there is another cohort – these are the ones who can scream out a waiting room, run around the office grabbing (costly and essential) equipment, mistaking the weighing scales for trampolines and mistaking my belly for a football when I try to look at their tonsils. Perhaps you can see why, during my annual leave, I prefer more serene surroundings. 😀
If you drive a hard bargain and still aren’t pleased enough with your complimentary minibar and complimentary afternoon tea, then perhaps the offering of the daily, pre-dinner canapes and drinks might finally win you over.
The drinks are limited to long drinks and soft drinks so no free cocktails, sorry folks, but they were offering bottomless bubbles, although it did make me giggle how the only people taking them up on this were the Brits whilst the French tourists sat elegantly sipping from their one glass of wine for a full hour! 😀
The setting for the reception is, in itself, a class act of romance with a seductive golden glow infiltrating the room whilst live musicians (my favourite being the harpist) provide a soft, entrancing but courteously un-intrusive backdrop.
There is something so mystifying and passionate about a balmy Arabian night and a fiery Arabian dusk and yet, the full six years that I lived in the Arab world, I genuinely cannot recall even a single sunset. I suspect the sun probably did set at least on one occasion whilst I was there so I can only put it down to the fact perhaps sunsets fail to captivate the imaginations of young children.
In Oman, I made up for lost time, as we watched those intense hues engulf us, whilst listening to the sound of the brazen waves, (which I must admit were a little choppy for my swimming desires).
Service & Amenities
You might wondering about the food- was that not swoon-worthy enough to make the post?
Truth be told, the food I sampled did have me swooning in the kind of shrill blogger way that my poor Instagram husband still struggles to cope with but my food swooning-abilities were somewhat impaired by the fact that (as per always), I somehow picked up a bit of a tummy bug in India so whilst I could certainly still eat, I couldn’t eat to the best of my holiday capabilities. Bit of a first world problem wouldn’t you say and possibly not a bad thing given the degree of over-indulgence that tends to go down on a beach holiday and the rather extortionate restaurant prices at the hotel.
Still, with a breakfast where we were treated to both a la carte and buffet options and a room service set up that definitely took my mind off my queasiness, the staff at the Shangri-la went above and beyond at every single opportunity we encountered them.
I was there as a paying guest and no one had any clue I blog yet this level of attentive service seemed to pervade throughout Al Husn.
Then there was the little birthday surprise that the hotel threw my way (birth-DAY shamelessly became birth-MONTH this year) and the extremely sweet exercise instructor from Sri Lanka who clearly took pity on me and showed leniency as I huffed and puffed my way through an 8am *gentle* stretches, still encouraging me to return despite my useless performance!