Review: Al Wadi Desert Resort (Ritz-Carlton Partner Hotel Outside Dubai)

I receive compensation for content and many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).

Back in January I booked Al Wadi Desert Resort when it was flagged on another blog. It’s a great value in the desert outside Dubai (in the UAE’s Ras al Khaimah).

Last year I stayed at Al Maha, which features standalone Bedouin villas with private infinity pools looking out at the desert. That was discounted from its 60,000 Starpoints per night price down to 39,000 Starwood points. Of course it’s all-inclusive, and inside its own nature preserve.

Al Wadi, though, is just 40,000 Marriott points per night. And since Starwood points transfer 1 to 3 into Marriott Rewards, that means I was able to use just 13,333 Starwood points per night for my three night stay.

That seemed like a great value for a Ritz-Carlton (former Banyan Tree) where every room has its own pool. And it is. Although the experience doesn’t come close to comparing with Al Maha.

We arrived after a two hour drive from the Abu Dhabi airport at around 10:30pm to find our upgraded villa.

When booking the award we had the choice between two of the resort’s four room types:

  • Al Rimal Pool Villa: this has a view of the desert
  • Al Rimal Enclosed Pool Villa: this has more of an obstructed view, but it also more private

The other two room types are essentially the same except for their positioning at the resort.

  • Al Khaimah Tented Pool Villa
  • Al Sahari Pool Villa

The base room is 1700 square feet. The two premium room types are 2700 square feet. If you book an Al Rimal room and which to paid to confirm an upgrade to Al Khaimah, it’s 650 AED (US$177) per night. If you want to confirm an upgrade to Al Sahari it’s 750 AED (US$204) per night.

The hotel provides upgrades to Platinums subject to availability although it’s not really required to under program terms.

We received an Al Sahari villa which was large, private, and with incredible views.

Here’s the bathroom and dressing room:

And the huge outdoor deck with private pool:

The property is gorgeous, with plenty of walking but it’s easy walking rather than substantial hills. They’ll happily come get you and return you to your villa by golf cart whenever you wish.

One thing that I’m not used to — as a Hyatt and Starwood top tier elite, I can pretty much always have breakfast complimentary — Marriott Rewards doesn’t offer breakfast to Platinums at resorts or at Ritz-Carltons, a double strike. Breakfast in the restaurant was good, and though service was friendly it was forgetful. Coffee took a long time, I would order two coffees at once to compensate. Other requests were often forgotten.

During my stay I took a took of a standard room, if you can call a 1700 square foot room (including outdoor space) with its own pool.

The closet:

Here’s the bathroom.

And the outdoor spaces:

The spa was excellent but surprisingly expensive for the area, but not for a Ritz-Carlton resort, I had just one treatment during my three night stay.

We enjoyed our stay. It’s an incredible value on points. But looking back had I not already stayed at Starwood’s Al Maha I’d spend the additional points to go there if possible.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. Agree that excluding resorts for complementary breakfast sucks. Just finished up a staycation in DC and the Marriott Marquis refused to allow our entire party into the lunge for breakfast (we booked for 3 people). They made us pick 2 people to get the breakfast benefit. I was literally shocked. This 2 person limitation in addition to the resort breakfast exclusion and late checkout exclusion for resorts/convention centers may be a deal breaker for me. These are big differences between the programs.

  2. @”A” : my method of cheating with party of 3 was me sending my parents to the official a la carte breakfast at the main cafe and me going to the elite lounge to have continental breakfast.

  3. If you would rather spend 3x the points to stay at Al Maha, I can’t see how Al Wadi represents an incredible value.

  4. @ABC well the 3x points includes all meals and 2 activities daily so it’s not apples-to-apples. Al Wadi is a phenomenal value. Al Maha is a truly unique experience.

  5. So when you tour other rooms on property, is a clerk with you at all times? Does that ever get awkward? How do you phrase your request in such a way that you don’t get flagged as a journalist and therefore better treated generally? Curious about the mechanics… maybe a blog post?

  6. @stvr I did this a couple of days into my stay, I’m honest about my reason for wanting to tour the property but it’s sort of too late for them to treat me any differently. Although plenty of non-bloggers ask to see other rooms on a property, especially exotic or new hotels, it’s not a super uncommon request (sort of like asking a fine dining restaurant if you might see the kitchen).

  7. I’ve stayed at Al Maha before and I agree it was special. You wrote that Al Wadi doesn’t compare, but after reading your post, I’m still not sure why (other than breakfast).

  8. I’m glad to read your report as we head here later this year. We, also, had a fantastic stay at Al Maha. Regardless, given the difference in points, I’m looking forward to trying this property.

    I’m surprised that it is a two hour drive from DXB. Was the road construction still in progress when you were there?

  9. Only 45-60mins from DXB and by the 1st October, every villa will be fully renovated and the hotel will be flagged as a full Ritz-Carlton… if you book now to stay from October, the value is even better!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *