One of the most famous hotels in the UAE capital is enjoying a new chapter.
Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental Abu Dhabi was officially rebranded and relaunched by the Hong Kong hospitality group in February.
Famed for their luxury offerings and detailed service, Mandarin Oriental has put its stamp on what is one of Abu Dhabi's most renowned properties.
The National checked in to see how things have changed at the palatial retreat.
Driving into the hotel, there’s a security check point at the main gate before guests can proceed towards the palace, where manicured gardens, a huge tiered fountain and open courtyard sets an impressive scene.
My bag is taken from me as soon as I valet park, and I’m escorted inside towering glass doors to check in. My husband – who arrives a bit later in a separate car – is first taken into a tiny airport-style security room where his luggage is scanned before being handed back to him and he's left to make his own way inside.
Reception staff are friendly and manage waiting guests well. After the paperwork is complete, I’m escorted all the way to my suite – and it’s a long way – by a member of staff, a very personalised note of service. Guests who’ve stayed at the palace before will notice several changes since Mandarin Oriental took over, including that the key cards are no longer giant golden coins, but more refined wooden cards.
Perched on the peak of Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental has an envied location with its own private beach, yachting marina and sprawling gardens. Nearby is Qasr Al Watan – the presidential palace, and the beautiful Founder's Memorial of Sheikh Zayed.
Marina Mall is also within a few minutes' drive, as is the Corniche beach, with its gardens, cafes and shops.
We’re staying in a Sea View Suite on the fifth floor and it's entirely huge – 110 square metres to be precise. Opening on to a large entranceway and guest bathroom, there's an impressive lounge with a curved sofa and full-sized dining table.
Floor-to-ceiling doors open out on to the balcony, and sliding doors lead through to the bedroom, which is equally spacious with a super king-size bed, reading chair and dressing table. A dressing room with plenty of storage, including some beautiful palm-printed robes hanging in the wardrobe, leads to the bathroom which has a humungous Jacuzzi-style bathtub, a glass-encased shower and his and hers sinks. The balcony is also accessible directly from the bedroom, and outside there are loungers and dining spaces, plus views of the Arabian Gulf in the distance.
In keeping with Mandarin Oriental's forward-thinking design, decor in the room is sleek and stylish with beautiful cream, grey and brushed gold accents. The only distraction are a few overhangs from the palace’s days as a Kempinski hotel, such as the overly elaborate patterns on the walls, ceilings, windows and bathroom cabinetry.
Staff are well located across the resort, which is needed given its labyrinthine space, and it's not hard to find someone to assist when needed. Everyone we speak to is friendly and, as we’re departing, a very helpful member of staff in full local dress comes rushing towards us to relieve us of our luggage and go to reclaim our cars from the valet.
The concierge is also entirely accommodating when I pass by the desk to ask to push back a dinner reservation. Outside, by the pool and cabanas, things are a little slower but service still comes with a smile. Security guards posted outside each of the guest wings could perhaps do a little more to assist guests with the opening of the heavy doors.
Set within endless manicured gardens and with a private 1.3km sandy beach, it’s easy to escape inside this luxury resort. Each of the wings has its own swimming pool complex, with one side boasting a lazy river and waterslides, while the other has a swim-up bar and in-water hammocks. Private cabanas on the beach are ideal for cooler months, as they come with double beds, sofas and a mini fridge stocked with drinks and snacks.
Given that we are here in the middle of summer, it's too hot to do much outdoor exploring during our stay, but the resort offers camel rides, water sports, tennis and an inflatable aqua park. Those with children can send them off to the kids' club for supervised fun.
The scale of the hotel also makes it a treasure to explore, and plenty of tourists visit just to walk around and take in the grandness. Guests staying here have access to much more of the building and there are plenty of hidden delights to come across, including a full-sized auditorium, an authentic Japanese tea house, palm-lined corridors and elaborate wall tapestries.
Recently opened, The Spa at Mandarin Orientalis entirely serene and evokes a sense of calm as soon as you step through the doors. As I arrive, I'm shown to a cosy lounge area by staff who take my shoes and replace them with comfortable spa slippers and offer me a cooling towel and refreshing welcome drink.
I complete a digital consultation form and it's nice to see it thoroughly reviewed by staff before the treatment, something that many hotel spas in this part of the world are often lax about. I’m then shown to a small lift that whisks me up to the first floor where I try the mama-to-be massage. This involves 90 minutes of blissful pampering and tension-relieving strokes, and the therapist's skilled hands have me almost falling asleep – quite an achievement during any massage, but even more so when your client is eight months pregnant.
A breakfast buffet is served in Vendome and the service is sprawling with everything from cold cuts and salads to Asian dishes, Middle Eastern fare, pastries, juices and more. As we’re staying in a club suite, we also have the option of having breakfast in the recently opened EP Club – a decidedly refined affair with an a la carte menu boasting the likes of lobster benedict, smoked salmon bagels and heirloom tomato tarts, with chefs happy to whip up off-menu dishes, too. The club also serves afternoon tea, evening canapés and sunset drinks, and is a lovely, tranquil haven to escape to and enjoy first-class service.
Across the resort, there’s a wealth of eating and drinking opportunities – we enjoy a fantastic lunch at Episodes where inventive dishes are served in a delicate setting. This is also where we try the palace’s famed gold-dusted cappuccino, one of the more opulent elements of the previous hotel that Mandarin Oriental has chosen to retain.
Dinner at the Lebanese Terrace comes with good food, although service is a little slow. At Talea by Antonio Guida, the staff go out of their way to impress and we’re served by almost every member of what feels like a 10-strong team. Recommendations include the burrata (Dh125), the ravioli (Dh160) and the beef tenderloin (Dh375). The first is a pastel-coloured delight with spring onions, crunchy roots and colourful tomatoes, all grown on-site. The ravioli is perfectly al-dente and the beef paired beautifully with a creamy artichoke sauce that packs a brilliant flavour punch.
We try to order tiramisu for dessert but are advised that it contains raw eggs – which I can’t have given that I'm pregnant. It's impressive the staff know to point that out, but it would also have been nice to have been suggested an alternative – as it is, we decide not to indulge.
Highs and lows
The EP Club is a great bonus if you’re staying in a club room – as well as having a quiet place to enjoy breakfast, afternoon tea and evening canapés, it also allows guests a dedicated space on the beach, where service is on point. The spa is another high and a welcome new addition to the property.
Given it is one of Abu Dhabi’s tourist attractions, guests should be prepared for endless streams of visitors milling around the lobby and public spaces, which can get a bit old, as can the length of time it takes to get anywhere in the sprawling property – wear flats.
The insider tip
Stop by Episodes' deli before you check out to pick up freshly baked sourdough bread, pastries and cakes – it's reasonably priced, beautifully packaged and a great memento to take home.
This Abu Dhabi stalwart has been reinvented to the extent that it's now a little more refined and a little less luxury in your face, but without losing any of the charm that makes it a hit with locals, tourists and residents. Definitely one to put on your bucket list while in the UAE capital.
The bottom line
Rates start at Dh1,581. Check-in is at 3pm, checkout at noon; www.mandarinoriental.com
This review was conducted at the invitation of the hotel and reflects standards during this time. Services may change in the future.