Our first trip to Oman didn’t get off to the best of starts: beware that getting through customs at the airport is a SLOW process. After a 6.5 hour flight from London to Dubai, 2 hour stop-over in Dubai and a further 45 minute flight into Oman, we were understandably tired and very keen to get to our hotel so the delay at customs was completely unexpected and stretched my patience to its very limit! Hardly the hotel’s fault but if you aren’t familiar with Oman it’s worth bearing in mind before choosing it as a tourist destination.
Things improved significantly once we arrived at the Al Waha, though. It’s an impressive complex – part of a 3 hotel resort as you’ll probably know. Even thought the Al Waha is the cheapest of the three, it’s by no means a poor relative and since you get to share the same facilities (with the exception of the beach and some parts of the Al Husn) I’d actually recommend choosing this hotel to save some money instead of booking the Al Bandar.
Over the course of our seven days I’d have to admit it was a pretty faultless experience. The room was comfortable and well maintained, if not quite the level of luxury you might have experienced at other 5* resorts (decor was a little dated and the bath is tiny) but nothing to get upset about. We were lucky I think to get an ocean-view room on the second floor right at the back of the hotel (nearest the beach). It was far enough from the pool area not to be noisy, yet close enough to get to via a nearby stairwell, and the view was great. Either the rooms are very well sound-proofed or we were lucky to get quiet neighbours as we never heard a peep once the door was closed. The maid service was excellent, the room kept clean and tidy and the staff always smiled and said hello as you passed in the hallways.
Dining was great. The selections at breakfast and dinner in both the Al Waha and Al Bandar buffet restaurants were plentiful and though some dishes weren’t to our taste, the quality was excellent and we never left the table hungry. Lunchtime we just had drinks and snacks at the Al Waha pool bar, where again the food and service were fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the pasta station at the Al Waha restaurant where you can have fresh pasta cooked to order and even design your own sauce to go with it!
The complex itself is large but easy to navigate and very well maintained, with lush grass areas, trees and plants to break up the pathways and give real colour to the resort. Even though we don’t like to be surrounded by kids, the Al Waha pool area is large enough that the noise doesn’t really affect you and each day we could get a sunlounger easily and relax and enjoy the warm sunshine.
We ventured across to the ‘village’ a couple of times to enjoy the GameZ zone, playing some snooker and pool (we were the only people there both times). It’s a shame it closes at 7pm as the snooker/pool would be a great evening entertainment, though it is a bit of a walk from the hotels so I can also see why it closes early. We also played a game of mini-golf which is a bit of a gimmick really – the course is very simple and won’t compare well if you’ve played anywhere else, but it was good fun all the same.
So what stops the Al Waha being a perfect holiday destination? For me the biggest negative is the cost of the food. Yes I understand it’s a 5* resort and maybe their prices are in line with other nearby hotels (I wouldn’t know), but those who are considering splashing out a lot of money to stay here need to be aware that you’ll have to budget more than usual for food and drink. We paid in advance for the half-board package (not sure how much it cost as it was added on by our agent) and were disappointed that this didn’t even cover drinks with dinner – which is fairly common in all other HB hotel packages we’ve had before.
To give an example, a large (pint of) beer cost 3.2 Rials, but then you have to add 9% sales tax and 8% service charge, increasing every item by nearly 20%. At time of writing that means the beer cost almost £7. Over the 7 days we spent just short of 210 Rials on snack lunches (one drink plus a burger or sandwich each) plus one or two drinks each at dinner. That’s roughly £375.
Some people might not be put off by this, and I can’t question the quality of the food, the service or the hotel as a whole, but I still didn’t feel like those prices were justified and it sadly did take a bit of the shine off our holiday. Would I go back? Yes if I knew I had the money set aside for food + drink (or better still if someone else was paying) but given the choice again I’d probably travel further afield and look at staying somewhere with a proper half-board or all-inclusive package just for the comfort of knowing that your food and drink budget is taken care of up-front.