When I first heard that the Waldorf Astoria was opening in Ras Al Khaimah, I was in disbelief. Having grown up in Connecticut, the Waldorf Astoria name was so unmistakably linked to New York City that it was hard to imagine the hotel setting up a location in the midst of the UAE’s desert landscape. It was especially hard to foresee its presence in Ras Al Khaimah, an emirate that has been evolving exponentially, but is still largely considered behind Abu Dhabi and Dubai in terms of high-end developments. The hotel has indeed arrived in Ras Al Khaimah and its new station has been the talk of many within the UAE. As my guest and I made our way through the barren desert to reach it, we continued to ponder just what was the lure of such a place for the Waldorf to add it to the list of its many prime international destinations.
The hotel’s opulent exterior and lobby were the first aspects which amazed us for the breadth of its decor and large size. Beautifully-decorated in warm shades of cream and turquoise, the finishing were certainly befitting for the era of the 1920s – a deliberate way to recall the original Waldorf Astoria in New York. The check-in counter was surprisingly busy and my guest and I had to wait quite a while before our personal concierge appeared. Friendly and efficient, he led us to our room – a 2 Queen Deluxe Suite with a balcony overlooking the 18-hole Al Hamra golf course. Wonderfully opulent and inspired by the palaces of the Arabian Peninsula with Waldorf decorative touches, the room was spread over 90 square meters with a balcony, seating area and 42-inch HDTV and work desk. The marble bathroom was enchanting and comprised a soaking tub and rain shower and replete with Salvatore Ferragamo bathroom amenities adding a luxurious touch to our weekend.
We quickly got ready before making our way down to UMI, the hotel’s newly-opened Japanese restaurant. While we were clearly some of the only guests present, except for a trickling of local Emiratis later in the evening, the food was without a doubt some of the best Japanese I’ve experienced in the UAE. We relished over delicious seafood dishes made on the open Teppanyaki grill as well as a wonderful selection of wines and sakes. We were equally impressed by the service and level of expertise, especially when it came to our wine selection.
Heading back to our room amidst the large and highly-decorated halls, something felt missing. The Waldorf Astoria appears to be incredibly large in size and perhaps even more so at that time of night as no guests were in sight. We made a stop at the dimly-lit Cigar Bar that easily recalled an upscale piano bar in Manhattan. One could sense that much work had been put into each aspect of the hotel’s decor, but the large and effectively not-very-populated space made the hotel seem eerily silent.
On the contrary, when we woke up the next morning and journeyed down to breakfast where we were startled to find a crowd of guests, mostly families from the UAE and a few Russians and Europeans. The breakfast selection was stellar and we were able to sit outside and enjoy views of the pool. The hotel clearly served as a quick weekend getaway for many in the UAE.
But what pulls people away from their respective emirate to this blue-chip hotel brand? The Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah opened in August 2013 and boasts an astonishing 346 rooms and suites complete with extensive grounds. These are all accessed by an impressive white marble door at the entrance that has been handmade in Syria and is flanked by huge iron lanterns from Lebanon. Apart from the nearby golf course, the emirates many waterparks are also a short drive away making for an agreeable day spent outside the hotel.
For recreation there is a private lap pool for adults as well as a children’s club for ages three to 12 that offers games, arts and crafts. On the beach are a variety of watersports including jet-skiing and parasailing – a great advantage when booking a weekend away.
What the hotel has done well is marry Art Deco New York-inspired elements from the original Waldorf Astoria with traditional Arabian notes. More often than not one finds international hotel chains setting up locations in the UAE forget to effectively emphasize the local culture – a much needed necessity when expanding to foreign lands.
While it is clear the hotel is still in its teething phase, it does have the potential and allure to become one of the UAE’s best weekend getaways. And for the developing emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, an international brand such as the Waldorf is greatly needed.
The Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. Tel: +971 72035555.