Back in 2009, Yas Island was Abu Dhabi's newest gem. To coincide with the first Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a cluster of shiny new hotels opened at Yas Plaza, bringing with them a variety of staycation options and F&B outlets.
Since then, there's been new restaurants, theme parks, shops and malls in the area, plus a rebranding of a few of the original hotels, but in 12 years, no new-build hotel has opened on Yas Island – until now.
The new five-star Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island has opened its doors to guests, and promises a family-friendly experience at the island's Yas Bay area, right next to Etihad Arena.
The National was invited for an exclusive first media review of the property, and here's what we discovered.
Arriving at Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island to a large valet parking area, the staff promptly take our vehicle and luggage while a smiling doorman in a spiffing ivory uniform – reminiscent of one you'd expect at one of New York City's better residences – leads us inside.
The glass entranceway has two water features on either side, something we always think of as a soothing way to mark the transition from daily life to vacation mode.
Check-in is a little slow, possibly because there's additional admin due owing to Covid-19 and the hotel's inclusive theme park access policy (more about that later), but staff are friendly and knowledgeable.
Located right next to Etihad Arena, the Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island is going to be popular with anyone attending future concerts, events and exhibitions at the capital's multipurpose indoor venue.
It's also the first hotel to open at Yas Bay, a brand-new destination that's set to be home to a waterfront promenade filled with nightlife and dining outlets. While some of this is still under construction, there's no real noise from the ongoing works and the entire neighbourhood – from the-ultra smooth roads to the perfectly landscaped sidewalks – feels box-fresh.
The hotel is within easy reach of Yas Island's theme parks: Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi. Yas Mall and Yas Marina are also just a 10-minute drive away.
The safety measures
Having opened during the Covid-19 pandemic, the hotel has safety measures down to a fine art. Plastic screens surround each of the reception desks, there are social distancing markers in public spaces, room keys can be made contactless via guests' phones and there are visible sanitising stations throughout the hotel.
In each room, doors are sealed after being cleaned and guests have the satisfaction of breaking that seal when they first arrive. There's also a handy pack of face masks, hand sanitiser and disinfecting wipes in each room.
The hotel's sprawling grounds make for easy social distancing – sunbeds are spaced well apart and the main restaurants, Graphos and Capila, have plenty of floor space for diners to be easily separated. There's also a one-way system in place for the buffet service.
Staff wear face masks at all times – and gloves where appropriate – and are not afraid to remind guests of social-distancing rules when required, which is reassuring.
As a Hilton property, the brand's CleanStay programme is in place, which includes increased scheduled cleaning of public spaces and disinfection of high-touch areas in all guest rooms, as well as several other hygiene-focused points.
We’re staying in a King Deluxe one-bedroom suite. Located on the fifth floor, it's huge – 81 square metres to be precise – and sleeps up to four.
The modern lounge has a separate dining area and kitchen counter space that makes us feel right at home. The master bedroom is beautifully designed and has a comfortable king-sized bed, a lounging sofa, large TV and a stunning bathroom with grey granite walls and graduated sea blue tiles, his and hers sinks, a large soaking tub and illuminated round mirrors. The wardrobes have been cleverly concealed inside one of the walls in the bathroom.
For families, the lounge sofa pulls out into a comfy bed, and there's a separate guest bathroom, too. Sliding doors between the bedroom and lounge, coupled with access to the balcony from three different points, allow adults to put children to bed, slide the door closed and not have to remain too hushed in the master suite.
A massive wraparound balcony is set across two planes – so you can choose sun or shade at any time of the day, and have prime viewing of sunrise across the water, or sunset in the evening.
Staff are friendly, talkative and, on the whole, have a lot more to offer than the standard greetings often rolled out at hotels in the UAE. Time will tell whether the enthusiasm is down to the hotel being new or if it's here to stay, but for now, it's definitely working.
From bonding with Suheb over a shared love of dogs to Ajay's super-efficient waiting service and Christine's delicious culinary creations, we were impressed. Even the lifeguards – many of whom are female (which was also nice to see) – seem to be quite happy at work despite being in the heat for hours on end.
The only slip-up was when a member of staff (who shall remain nameless) looked enraged when we asked if our egg dish could be exchanged for the dish we had actually ordered in the first place. Thankfully, Ajay was on the case for us within seconds.
At the centre of the resort is a 27-metre-long tuning-fork shaped swimming pool. Decked out in stylish grey-blue tiles, it is 22-metres wide, making it one of the largest we've seen in the city.
A cleverly designed water-feature fountain in the shallow end doubles as a place for children to play and wide steps around the circumference are great for anyone who wants to sit half submerged in the water. Slate-blue loungers and cream umbrellas are dotted all around the pool, and staff helpfully suggest one side of the pool for families, and the other for those without children.
The adjacent children's club has a shaded splash pool, water jets, balance beams and stepping stones outside, and will have a fully equipped indoor play area when Covid-19 regulations allow it to open.
Grassy lawns around the hotel grounds are used by those looking to relax away from the pool action, as well as by children burning off energy by playing tag and touch rugby.
There's a state-of-the-art fitness suite on the first floor or guests can slow down the pace at the eforea pa. With separate male and female facilities and a wide array of treatments, it's a tranquil haven. The relaxing magnesium couples' massage that takes place in the dedicated couples' suite comes recommended.
One of the big draws of this hotel is the complimentary theme park access. Valid for stays in any room category, for each night of a reservation all guests in that room get access to either Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi or Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi.
If you're staying more than one night, you can visit a different theme park on different days. This seems to work well for families who breakfast early, spend a few hours by the pool then head off to the indoor theme parks before returning to the pool in the late afternoon. Couples also benefit as it means the pool is quite tranquil in the afternoon, perfect for lazy sunbathing days.
The hotel has three main eateries. Graphos is the beautifully designed all-day dining restaurant where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. Capilas is the poolside eatery that serves a modern menu of ceviche, tataki and anticucho, plus some inventive beverages.
Osmo – Lounge & Bar is a coffee bar by day, and cocktail lounge overlooking the water by night. It's also where afternoon tea (Dh180) is served daily from 2pm to 6pm.
The tasting menu at Graphos (Dh599) is well worth the splurge for a foodie-orientated experience. Featuring a creative four-course menu with drink pairings, we feasted on "green cappuccino" soup, burrata, rib-eye and prawns, and finished with a tangy hibiscus tea-infused berry salad.
The breakfast buffet at Graphos (Dh110) has a lot more on offer than standard buffet spreads and chefs stand behind protective screens at each cooking station ready to pile your plate with saj, pastries, fruit, cereals, meats, cheeses and more.
Friday dinners are also served up buffet-style in Graphos with an East-to-West concept that spans a variety of dishes, but we couldn't help notice that main course options were very limited for vegan or vegetarian guests.
Highs and lows
Staff that let their personality shine while delivering impeccable service are always a welcome find and Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island ticks this box. The waterfront views overlooking Al Raha Creek and marina are special, as it's one that isn't really visible from anywhere else in the capital. The inclusive theme park tickets also make a stay here excellent value for money.
The only low we can think of is that the swimming pool closes at sunset, so evening dips are not on the cards.
The insider tip
For the best balcony views, go for a corner suite where you'll have a wraparound terrace that gives you the perfect place to enjoy both sunrise and sunset from different vantage points. Those staying with young children should ask for a ground-floor room for the easiest access to the lawns and swimming pool.
It's been a long time since a new hotel opened on Yas Island and Hilton's first property is a welcome addition. It has a sense of luxury and modernism, but doesn't take itself too seriously. Guests are free to craft their stay here into whatever kind of escape they want – whether that means a civilised afternoon tea and getting dressed up for a la carte dining and drinks on the terrace, or chasing children barefoot around the garden and discovering the thrills of the theme parks, anything goes.
The bottom line
Rooms are from Dh495 ($134) excluding taxes, inclusive of theme park access. Check-in is from 3pm and standard checkout is at 11am. Flexible booking policies allow you to cancel or change your reservation up to one day before arrival without a fee; hilton.com