Miami or the Middle East? A review of The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi

Dec 12, 2019

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To The Point

The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort Abu Dhabi is one of only a few hotels that can effortlessly combine a the qualities of a beach resort with one with access to a global hub of culture and business. Pros: Confirmed upgrade to a spacious ocean-view suite, and a delicious, locally inspired breakfast buffet (free for Platinum elites). Cons: An apathetic check-in agent, poor elite recognition and a technologically challenged room.

After the mass exodus last year of four Dubai hotels from the Marriott portfolio (a W, a Westin and two St. Regis hotels), Abu Dhabi now holds the unique distinction of being the only city in the world that’s home to two different St. Regises. Downtown on Corniche Road, the main beachfront promenade, you’ll find the Category 5 St. Regis Abu Dhabi. Just a few miles away, completely removed from the hustle and bustle of city life, lies The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi was the second stop on my Marriott megamerger trip, which drew a crooked line from The St. Regis Maldives to the Al Maha resort outside of Dubai. For a short stay, The St. Regis Saadiyat Island provided exactly what we wanted: a slow-paced beachfront spot to relax and decompress, and easy access to Abu Dhabi’s cultural district.

In This Post

Booking

As a Category 6 property, an off-peak award night will cost you 40,000 points, a standard night will run you 50,000 and you’ll need 60,000 for a peak award night.` I found award space on the dates I was traveling at 50,000 points per night, but my Marriott account was nearly empty, so I opted for a paid stay instead. I was able to book a three-night stay for 3,343 dirhams (about $900), including taxes.

Even if I’d had enough Marriott points to book an award stay, with cash rates this low I would have gotten a pretty mediocre redemption value of 0.6 cents per point, well below TPG’s valuation of Marriott points at 0.8 cents each. If you have a 50,000-point free-night certificate from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, you could also use it here. A $300-plus value from that free night, plus the $300 Marriott property credit more than offsets the card’s $450 annual fee.

As a Marriott Titanium elite, I get two choice benefits a year, one for reaching 50 nights and another at 75 nights. I selected five suite-night upgrades for each threshold and applied three to this reservation. I was very happy that exactly five days before check-in, I got an email and push notification from the Marriott app letting me know that my upgrade had qualified me for a 1,400-square-foot ocean suite. Every room at this hotel includes a private balcony, but the ocean suite offers a more expansive balcony and incredible views. This room often sells for about $1,500 a night after taxes, so I was very happy with the value of my upgrade.

Location

As mentioned above, this St. Regis is on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, about 30 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). Saadiyat Island is incredibly close to the recently opened Louvre museum (we could actually see it from our third-floor balcony) as well as New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. The hotel itself is about 10 minutes from the highway, nestled on a hill between residential villas, so you’ll have to rely on Uber and taxis to navigate the area.

Check-in

Over 14 hours had passed since we’d checked out of The St. Regis Maldives, and with an afternoon laying on the beach, a seaplane ride and a nighttime flight to Abu Dhabi, we were dead tired by the time we finally arrived at Saadiyat Island a little after 1 a.m. Our exhaustion, however, in no way excused the curt and apathetic check-in we received.

The check-in desk was around the corner from the main entrance, and we were invited to sit in comfy chairs while we were being helped. I’d forgotten to add my girlfriend to the reservation in advance, and there ended up being a 100-dirham ($25) surcharge per day to make the room double occupancy. On top of that, the entire exchange felt purely transactional. There was no explanation of the hotel’s multiple restaurants, pools and beaches, or of how The St. Regis butler service worked at this property (the agent never even mentioned that our suite upgrade entitled us to butler service). The only recognition of my top-tier Titanium elite status came in the very last sentence, when the agent asked if, as an elite member, I wanted to add breakfast to my stay. While that would have been my chosen welcome amenity anyway, I definitely noted the lack of choice.

There was a cart of coffee and tea conveniently by the check-in desk. Throughout our stay, we saw several other guests offered a welcome drink and towel when they arrived, but we weren’t even offered a bottle of water while we waited.

Room

The resort was in a giant U shape, with the ocean suites at each end offering direct views of the water. Our room was on the third floor, the same as the main entrance, but at the end of such a long hallway that it still felt private. Both the lobby and hallway were decorated with soft stone and Middle Eastern art.

There was no sign for our room, 378, and the hallway simply dead-ended into a wooden door. We eventually noticed a keycard reader next to it, and the door opened up to a semiprivate entryway for rooms 378 and 379.

Once inside, our suite opened up into a large living room with a couch, dining table and ocean-facing balcony.

There was also a half bathroom adjacent to the living room.

During the day, we kept the windows wide open and enjoyed basking in the sunlight from two different sides of the room.

The desk had a few beautiful postcards of the hotel, as well as a binder with information about the resort. While there were title pages for butler service, hotel amenities and the resort directory, those sections were missing any actual pages of information.

The room also featured an easy-to-use Nespresso machine, which was restocked daily.

Below that were the minibar and snacks.

In the back of the living room was a set of closing doors that led to the bedroom area. When you turned the corner, you found yourself face to face with a desk and vanity.

The actual bed was behind it, and was among the comfier hotel beds I’d ever slept in.

The bedroom featured a second set of balcony doors, which connected to the living room balcony.

Directly opposite was the bathroom, which featured two sinks.

As is the norm at St. Regis hotels, toiletries were provided by Laboratoire Remede.

The bathroom had a large tub in addition to a waterfall shower.

There was both a toilet and a bidet.

The views were one of the highlights of the room, and we enjoyed watching the sun set over the resort and the Louvre in the distance.

There were a few things about the room design that bothered me, starting with the technology. I had high hopes when I saw that the doors to the room had a touch keycard reader, but the light switches inside felt at least a decade out of date.

After three days in this room, my girlfriend and I still couldn’t figure out which set of switches controlled which lights, as the right and left side of the bed seemed to have different controls. Of course, there were no labels to help anywhere, and after struggling for 30 minutes on our second night, we actually had to call our butler to help us get all the lights off. It even took him a good five minutes to figure out. Let that sink in.

There were also a number of random dials throughout the bedroom and bathroom that seemed to control nothing at all. Of course there were no USB ports or universal power outlets anywhere near the bed, and I’m notoriously bad at remembering to bring an adapter with me when I travel.

Food and beverage

Breakfast was a massive buffet in the Olea restaurant on the first floor.

There must have been some mixup with the check-in process (which doesn’t surprise me at all), as when we showed up for breakfast on the first day we were told we would be charged extra for it. I explained to the server that I’d selected breakfast as my Titanium welcome amenity and she assured me she’d take care of it. I never saw a bill, so clearly this was an easy mistake for her to correct.

The buffet itself was an impressive selection, with multiple different stations. We were given a full tour on the first morning, so we could check out the Middle Eastern food.

The creations of the in-house pastry chef looked great.

And we made an obligatory stop at the healthy station before making our final choices.

There was just enough variation day to day to keep things exciting, and the food was all fresh and delicious.

There was even a chocolate fondue station, but I never had room left on my plate by the time I got to it.

I enjoyed being able to sit outside, as it afforded some of the best views of the resort.

One very minor issue, but on all three mornings I ordered coffee with milk, and on all three mornings I was served black coffee. It took another 15 minutes or so to actually get the milk, as the servers were hustling to serve a full restaurant.

No trip to a St. Regis is complete without trying each property’s unique and signature Bloody Mary. In this case, it was the Arabian Snapper, served poolside. The twist involves adding za’atar, a popular Middle Eastern spice mix that was also prominently featured in a number of dishes at breakfast. The drinks were extra spicy, just the way I like it.

On our second night, we decided to eat at Sontaya, the hotel’s Southeast Asian fusion restaurant. By day, you could easily mistake its floating tables for an extension of the hotel itself.

Once the sun went down, it completely transformed.

The Sontaya menu actually included the signature Bloody Marys from a number of other St. Regis hotels, including Osaka, Singapore and New York. My girlfriend and I sampled all of them and agreed that the in-house Arabian Snapper was by far the best.

We started the meal with the sharing platter, which included seafood spring rolls, fish cakes, beef satay, chicken pandan, a pomelo salad and a variety of dipping sauces.

For the main course, I had the chili-glazed salmon, which was cooked perfectly and might be the single best piece of fish I’ve had.

My girlfriend had the green chicken curry, which she really enjoyed.

Dessert was a bit of a molecular gastronomy magic trick: We were served a plate of mango sticky rice buried beneath a mountain of cotton candy. Our server came over and delicately poured warm coconut milk over the cotton candy, melting it down to reveal our dessert.

Amenities

This resort had something for everyone, whether you wanted to lounge by the beach or stay moving.

In addition to a series of interconnected infinity pools, I loved the poolside cabanas, which offered an added layer of comfort and privacy. Between the cabanas and palm trees, this could just have easily been The St. Regis Bal Harbor and not the Middle East.

The private beach had plenty of chairs laid out, and I never saw it even approach half full.

Both the beach and pool tables featured little call buttons, which made it easy to order drinks or ask for extra towels.

The entrance to the beach also had a helpful whiteboard with the weather forecast, water conditions, local marine life and a list of available water sports. We looked into renting a kayak one day, and at $35 for the hour, it was a decent price.

The athletic club was outside of the main hotel building and open to hotel guests as well as those who lived in the hotel’s residences on Saadiyat Island.

The two-story design was very impressive, certainly a step up from most hotel gyms.

In addition to a smoothie bar, there were plenty of treadmills, machines and free weights, and depending on which machine you picked, you might have even lucked into a view of the Abu Dhabi skyline during your workout.

Another thing that left a very positive impression on me was both the depth and breadth of service at the hotel. In addition to your standard concierge desk, there was a dedicated ticketing desk for museums and attractions. We were able to secure tickets for the Louvre before leaving the hotel and skip the long lines when we got there. Similarly, the concierge was able to preregister us for our visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and save us from a 45-minute or longer line.

With the exception of check-in, every single staff member we interacted with was competent and helpful and seemed genuinely concerned with making sure we had the best stay possible. Their help and advice saved us time and added real value to our stay. By our second day, we felt like guests in their home more than customers in a hotel, and that’s a rare feeling these days. There were even a few employees who (despite our short stay) greeted us by name every time we passed them in the hallways.

Overall impression

From a massive suite upgrade to delicious food, great views and personable service, I was very happy with my stay at The St. Regis Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island. The room itself could use a technological overhaul, but other than that, I consider this hotel to be a great value, especially for the 50,000 point free night certificates from the Bonvoy Brilliant card.

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