A blissful retreat at Banyan Tree Dubai on Bluewaters Island - Hotel Insider

Serenity and sophistication with a host of creative dining options have revitalised this waterfront destination

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Having taken over from Caesars Palace on Bluewaters Island, Banyan Tree Dubai is the newest property on the island best known for being home to Ain Dubai, the world's highest tallest observation wheel.

With a private beach and palm tree-surrounded gardens, the five-star resort is well located for guests wanting to escape the city hustle while still staying close to the action.

The Singapore-owned Banyan Tree brand is known for its high-end properties around the world, as well as its ecologically sensitive hospitality, which is a bit of a departure from the buzzy entertainment-centric ethos of its predecessor on Bluewaters. The National checked in to see what's changed at this beachfront retreat.

The welcome

Valet staff are quick to appear and whisk away our luggage as we disembark and head into the lobby where serenity immediately envelops us. Soothing dark tones and water features set the scene for a relaxing stay, and we’re shown directly to a reception desk, where we're offered a seat, cold towels and a refreshing welcome drink while we complete check-in formalities – it's all very civilised.

My husband and I are each given a small beaded bracelet with a silver turtle charm on it, something that the hotel is offering to guests in a bid to highlight turtle conservation in the Emirates. We’re also given a tiny cerise pink bracelet for my seven-month-old daughter, which is a very cute touch.

The neighbourhood

On Bluewaters Island, Banyan Tree Dubai has front-row views of Ain Dubai, which was recently seen turning again after being closed for more than a year.

Within walking distance there are several bars and restaurants including the popular Din Tai Fung, Mitts and Trays and Brass Monkey. There's entertainment within easy walking distance, too, including waxwork fun at the Middle East's first Madame Tussauds and Tr88House Bluewaters Island, for mini golf, laser games and soft play. Bluewaters is also home to more than 100 retail outlets if shopping is on your to-do list.

The room

The hotel has 178 rooms and suites with accommodations from a “bliss room” to the sprawling four-bedroom villa with a private pool. We’re staying in a Serenity Gulf-view guest room, which is all clean lines and contemporary Asian influences. There's a small entrance vestibule with a minibar, coffee-making facilities and a wardrobe. The bedroom has a gigantic double bed and elegant wooden slatted headboard, television and spacious seating area with a coffee table in front of the floor-to-ceiling balcony doors. Electronic controls operate the lights, air conditioning, blinds and curtains, and there are plenty of power sockets dotted throughout the room.

The spacious bathroom is a highlight with his-and-hers vanity, an indoor shower and stand-alone soaking tub in front of the window so that guests can take a dip while enjoying views across the water. There’s also a long bench running along the wall, which comes in handy as a place to unpack our luggage – much better than the slightly impractical old-fashioned luggage racks that most hotels still use. The balcony has a lounging sofa and table and is accessible from both the bedroom and the bathroom.

In keeping with Banyan Tree's eco kudos, there’s an obvious commitment to sustainability with refillable water bottles from the hotel's own bottling plant, bamboo toothbrushes and refillable toiletries.

The service

Unobtrusive and polite, service is largely on-point. We want for nothing but don't feel as if we're being over-served. At the swimming pool, an ice box full of water and a fruit platter are delivered to our cabana without us having to ask for it, and we're looked after with plenty of top-ups. When we dine at Demon Duck, we're given a full run-through of the menu and the story behind many of the drinks and dishes, which really helps set the scene for a memorable meal.

The only place where it falls a little short is at Tocha, where our order seems to get a bit jumbled and staff don't seem too clear on what's included in the afternoon tea. Thankfully, check-out is painless and pleasant, ensuring we leave with a positive impression.

The scene

Banyan Tree has done a fantastic job of erasing the sometimes rather outlandish elements of the hotel that existed here before it, so much so that you’d never know it had previously been a different property. It's soothing, serene, sophisticated and offers a real sense of escapism thanks to beautifully kept gardens, meandering paths and 500 metres of pristine coastline.

During our visit, the spa is not yet open, which is a shame as it would definitely add to that sense of serenity, but we're happy enough lounging in a cabana by one of the two outdoor swimming pools. There's a supervised kids club, which also has an outdoor shaded pool and splashpad. A well-equipped fitness centre looks out on to the hotel gardens for those keen on fitting in a workout.

The crowd here is mixed with families and couples on staycations, as well as holidaymakers enjoying a coastal retreat.

The food

Diners have a choice of five restaurants including all-day dining Alizee where breakfast is served; Alizee Pool and Beach restaurant; Japanese tea house Tocha, with a gorgeous outdoor terrace; upscale venue Takahisa; and Demon Duck by Alvin Leung.

We dine in the tree-filled terrace of Demon Duck, brought from Hong Kong to Dubai by celebrity chef Alvin Leung. A giant duck sculpture outside the restaurant sets the scene for the evening, where dishes are bold and playful, and each has a story behind it. The Daisy Duck drink, for example, is an intense cyan blue that's served with a toasted marshmallow inside – representing the colour and chaos of Hong Kong's party scene – and it's delicious.

To eat, we start with the sharing tower (Dh250), which allows us to choose three dishes from the starter menu, served on a tree-style platter and accompanied by a large bowl of chop suey, which is mixed tableside. The hokkaido scallop ceviche is a standout, with its spicy Sichuan green pepper drizzle adding just a hint of spice. For mains, the 14-day slow-roasted demon duck is the signature, but we shy away from the Dh690 price tag. Instead, we go for the 48-hour short ribs (Dh230) served with crispy cauliflower and a tangy garlic sauce and the black cod (Dh225), which is served with a pleasant umami miso sauce. Dessert impresses via a chocolate and matcha fondant (Dh75) with a meltingly soft centre.

Highs and lows

Lounging by the cabana-lined pool is delightful. The beds are comfortable, well-shaded and there's an adjoining dining area where you can tuck into a tasty poolside lunch. The sense of serenity throughout the resort, despite being so close to the city, is also a joy.

It's quite bright in the room at night so the electronically operated blinds need to be lowered to set the scene for bedtime. However, if you're putting a baby or young child to sleep, you'll discover it's impossible to open them again quietly to go and sit out on the balcony. After three failed attempts, we give up – and instead of enjoying our view, spend most of the evening on the bench in the bathroom. Obviously, this won't affect everyone, but it's worth keeping in mind if you're travelling with an infant.

The insider tip

Book a stay here during special occasions like Eid and the Shopping Festival, and you'll have front-row seats to Dubai's firework displays.

The verdict

An urban retreat that prioritises serenity and has a great waterfront location, while offering plenty to do within easy walking distance.

The bottom line

Room rates are from Dh1,048; check-in from 3pm and check-out until noon; www.banyantree.com

This review was conducted at the invitation of the hotel and reflects hotel standards during this time. Services may change in the future.

Updated: May 03, 2024, 6:02 PM