I’m a big believer in celebrating birthdays. We get very few excuses to celebrate as we get older, so why not embrace that day once a year and milk it for all its worth? For the last few years, I have booked a mini break so I can drag out the celebrations for at least a couple of days – and this year, we decided on Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa.
This was exciting for two reasons. Firstly, it was the same place I had celebrated my 30th half a decade beforehand, from the comfort of a sunlounger (no kids in tow back then) so we’d get to revisit a place with lots of happy memories. And secondly, the idea of swapping Dubai Marina for burnt orange sand dunes, camel rides, falcon shows, and dinners in the desert was very appealing – we’d enjoy a dramatic change of scenery and feel like we’d had a proper break and the boys would finally start to understand that they really do live in a city surrounded by sand!
There are two options for families at Bab Al Shams: interconnecting rooms or suites. We went for the latter and although pricier, we found it worked really well with smaller kids as we could put them down to bed in the evening and relax in the lounge next door.
The rooms have a rustic feel, so don’t expect carpets, soft edges, or baby proofing of any kind. But having said that, I think we have one of the hardest combos of children in our two ridiculously active boys (one that has a fondness of throwing himself onto hard floors) and yet we still felt very much at home, so don’t let this put you off visiting. We loved our room, which had a small outside garden and was really close to the pool.
What we did
We spent most of our time eating, playing in the pool, and riding camels!
The day started with breakfast, which we enjoyed outside with the sound of birds tweeting in the trees around us (still such a novelty to be outside after a long summer indoors!) – and I was impressed with the selection, especially the table for kids (rainbow bread was a big hit!
We then moved to the kids’ pool, which was without doubt the most relaxing kids pool we’ve ever taken the boys to. With such shallow water, they could play happily with the pots, buckets, and inflatables while we sat on the side of the pool and watched them. It felt very special to have the desert surrounding us as they played happily in the sunshine.
Then just when the boys were getting a bit bored of filling buckets, we discovered the Kids Club! Such a lovely space, filled to the brim with toys and craft activities to keep them busy. My boys were too young to leave (not that we planned to) as the minimum age is 4 years old, so we spent an hour playing on the first day – and on the second day (my birthday), we booked a resort babysitter (who they knew by this point) to stay and play with them for an hour so we could head back to the sun loungers while they played.
That same babysitter helped us out a couple of other times during the stay. Firstly when they napped that lunchtime and we crept round the corner to the Friday Brunch for an hour. Watching children enjoying rides on camels was such a different background to the usual Dubai brunch and they were all having the time of their lives, so it’s something I’d really recommend if you are staying for the weekend or just want to head over for the day.
When the boys woke up, we took them over to the brunch and they rode their first camel – the highlight of their visit to Bab Al Shams and something they have been talking about ever since!
After another afternoon by the pool, more camel riding on the sand dunes, and an impressive falcon show (or pigeon show, according to Stanley), we headed back to our room.
And once they were happily snoring (exhausted from all that splashing, playing, and camel riding) and our lovely babysitter had arrived again, my husband and I made our way through the desert following a path of lanterns to discover an amazing banquet waiting for us at Al Hadeerah Restaurant. If you haven’t tried this night out, you must – imagine a vast buffet of delicious Arabic food, accompanied by constant entertainment and a fireworks display to finish. The perfect way to welcome in my 35th (gulp) birthday.
The next day, the same routine followed – before we checked out the hotel, jumped in the car, and drove back to Dubai spotting camels out the window on our way.
Why choose Bab Al Shams for a family staycation?
I knew I was going to enjoy Bab Al Shams having been there before, but I had no idea how good it was for children.
There were so many lovely touches – right from the boys being handed cuddly camels as we checked in, to the kid’s pool of my dreams, to a lovely play area on the grass, to camel riding and falcon shows every day at 5pm to totally enchant them. Not to mention the brilliant family-friendly brunch, a great kids club, some of the best hotel babysitters I have met in this city, and kid’s food on the menu that they actually want to eat.
I genuinely think we could have stayed for 2 weeks and they’d have enjoyed every second – and we, believe it or not, would’ve actually found it relaxing.
So for that reason, I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the very best choices for a family staycation in the city. If you fancy a break, make a booking – I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
To make a booking online, visit www.meydanhotels.com/babalshams/