Jumeirah's new resort in the Abu Dhabi desert will, on request, prepare custom itineraries for guests. And so it was that the Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa crafted a personal plan for my sister and me for a hosted two-night stay.
Fittingly, this included elements of local culture, starting with a falconry exhibition. Next up was dinner at the Jumeirah Al Wathba's desert camp, where belly dancing and henna hand painting were part of the fun.
A spa treatment was also a must, since the property promotes its 21,500-square-foot Talise Spa as a destination in and of itself and considers it a top-selling tool for agents.
But ax and knife throwing? From my vantage point, apparently under a rock, I didn't know people did this for fun.
Leon Haywood, the resort's activities manager and our tutor, also leads archery sessions for guests. Abu Dhabi is the largest of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and archery is a traditional UAE hunting method. So it dovetails with the resort's emphasis on Arabian culture.
The resort, a 50-minute drive from Abu Dhabi, offers falconry demonstrations and other traditional desert experiences.
But, Haywood said, the resort provides ax and knife throwing sessions simply because people like them. The appeal escaped me. Then Haywood said, "You have to be ready when the zombies invade." He had me there.
Standing on the sand a safe distance from guests and property, we worked at this with the abandon of those with no reputation, at least in this arena, to save. Haywood offered reassurance, too: He said we weren't his worst students.
It was a blast.
Luxury in the sand
Jumeirah's five-star desert hotel, which opened Feb. 15, is a 50-minute drive from the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, but in a setting with nothing but sand on the horizon, the distance is immeasurable.
Fashioned after a traditional Arabian village and sitting on 5.4 acres, the Jumeirah Al Wathba has 80 rooms, 10 suites and 13 villas.
"Village" structures house restaurants, lounges, the lobby, spa, Sinbad's Kids Club, meetings space, a souk and a majlis (a traditional space in Arabian culture for socializing).
Al Mabeet, the desert camp operating Tuesdays through Saturdays, is set apart and accessible via motorized carts. It is closed in the summer.
Hanine, an all-day buffet, offers Arabian cuisine along with Western choices. Also, there's an Italian restaurant with a rooftop bar overhead.
The Arabian theme extends to room decor, plus every unit has a balcony or terrace. Our room, in the Arabian Deluxe category, came with de rigueur luxury features, but before landing on plush pillows, I was thrilled to find multiple luggage racks. Too often, even at top-rated properties with beds seemingly the size of a double-wide, guests must request a second rack.
A typical desert village would sit at an oasis. The resort's water is piped in, but it's presented in traditional ways, with a fountain in the centrally located Village Square plus pools, other fountains and open water channels, imitative of ancient irrigation systems, carrying sustenance to the resort's plants.
Water's cooling effects get a boost with the resort's 10,764-square-foot swimming pool, which reaches toward the desert but meanders on the property into secluded inlets and coves. Further, each villa has a plunge pool.
The Talise Spa at the resort, which Jumeirah touts as a destination in and of itself.
The spa combines regionally inspired hamam (Turkish bath) treatments (Emirati, Moroccan and Turkish) with the latest in cryotherapy (one to three minutes in a cold chamber at minus 166 degrees), snow caves and salt-therapy spaces.
The resort offers biking among the dunes, animal tracking (wildlife includes gazelles and Arabian foxes), horseback riding and trekking as well as the aforementioned archery; camel rides start this fall.
Itineraries also can include excursions to fossilized dunes, horse and camel races, a wetland reserve and to the annual Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival, staged nearby in winter.
Wahab Sayed, the resort's marketing and communications manager, promoted desert activities as another of the property's selling points for agents.
He said Jumeirah built in the desert because "this is the UAE. It is the desert, and [Jumeirah] wants to connect to the Emirati culture and its desert life."
Desert life can mean sandstorms, which produce an unusual work requirement: Some staff job descriptions include cleaning out or moving sand after such storms.
The falconry demonstration plus sunrise and sunset horseback riding are on fixed schedules; everything else is arranged on a custom basis. Agents can create client itineraries in tandem with the concierge, or guests can wait to book activities on-site.
Transport to and from the property is by car service or taxi. For clients choosing to call their own cab, the Jumeirah Al Wathba provides a road map on request, useful because the resort is new.
Room rates vary by season and holidays but start at about $285, including breakfast for two. Offseason runs from mid-May through September.