A night on Sir Bani Yas Island: Desert Islands Resort and Spa by Anantara - Hotel Insider

With epic safari drives and free-roaming wildlife, the reopened property offers an island escape for the whole family

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The first hotel to welcome overnight guests to Sir Bani Yas Island has reopened after being closed for almost a year during the pandemic.

Desert Islands Resort and Spa by Anantara promises a family-friendly stay on an island that is also a protected animal reserve, giving visitors the chance to get up close and personal with more than 10,000 animals including oryx, gazelles, giraffes, ostriches, mountain goats and more.

The National headed out there to discover exactly what it's like to spend the night on this island sanctuary.

The welcome

The reception area of the Desert Islands Resort and Spa. Courtesy Anantara

Getting to the resort involves a ferry crossing from Jebel Dhanna. From here, Anantara staff welcome us, help with luggage and direct us to where to park our cars for the duration of our stay. We take a 20-minute boat ride to the island, and upon arrive at the resot, friendly staff are on hand to greet visitors with a smile. Depending on which resort you're staying at (there are three hotels on the island), you're allocated a bus which takes you on a short ride to your hotel. To Desert Islands Resort and Spa, the journey is about 10 minutes. The drive gives excited children a taste of what's to come, with giraffes and gazelles spotted en route.

The neighbourhood

Sir Bani Yas Island is located off the coast of Abu Dhabi in the Dhafra region, and getting there involves a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the city on the E11. The journey takes you through Ruwais towards Jebel Dhanna, where the ferry port is located. There are a few other hotels in this region, too, if you're looking to include a stay on Sir Bani Yas Island as part of a wider road-trip itinerary – Shipwreck Beach and Shuweihat Island are also close by.

Once on the island, there are three Anantara Resorts: Desert Islands, Al Yamm Villa Resort and Al Sahel Villas. Guests can use the facilities at all of the properties with free shuttle services operating between them.

The safety measures

Inside Desert Islands Resort and Spa by Anantara. Courtesy Samia Badih

Staying on an island in the middle of a global pandemic almost gives you an added sense of safety as you know you're already in a place where there's a limit on the number of people that can be there. Anantara's safety measures are also reassuring. Social-distancing measures are followed carefully and, during our two-night visit, we never felt unsafe. Staff wore their masks at all times and adhered to precautionary rules and regulations, rooms were sanitised and tables at all dining venues well-spaced.

The room

Rooms are spacious and offer views overlooking the pool and the beach

The rooms in this beachfront property are spacious and designed to reflect the surrounding environment with sand and earth-coloured tones. Artwork in the rooms, corridors and lobby pay homage to the animals that also call the island home. As a family of five, we stayed in two connecting rooms, with views overlooking the pool area, and down to the beach. Each room has its own balcony, work station, television set, sofa and coffee station. The spacious bathrooms are luxurious, with a separate shower and a tub.

The service

All of the staff were extremely polite and helpful. When driving from one property to the other, the drivers were courteous and confidently answered any questions about the island and its inhabitants. My children were in awe of our tour guide, Hannah, who told us all about the animals we encountered on our wildlife drive. Even when we ran into each other later in the day, she stopped to ask the children how their day was going. There's a real sense of camaraderie between staff, possibly because they all work and live on the island, and the warm energy was catching. Staff were also very accommodating when we needed to change some of our plans, such as moving activity timings or dining set-ups.

The scene

A real sense of escapism is in the air when visiting Sir Bani Yas Island and everyone seemed ready to enjoy these new surroundings. If you do only one activity when here, make sure it's the wildlife drive. Hurtling across the plains in an open-roof safari vehicle spotting roaming animals really made us feel like you we could have been somewhere in Afrcia. The drive is about two-hours long, so we had plenty of time to see all of the animals and learn more about them. We were particularly enamoured by a story about a cheetah called Cuba, who had taken on the responsibility of helping to rewild other cheetahs on the island. Our encounters with the giraffes, specifically one named George (our guide could tell which giraffe it was by the shape of his ears), and the ostriches were also a delight.

Samia Badih partakes in archery on Sir Bani Yas Island with her children. Courtesy Samia Badih

Wildlife aside, there are plenty of activities to choose from, including archery, mountain biking, kayaking and horse riding. Visitors can also go on a culture and history tour to see the island's landscape and learn more about the fascinating history – it's home to a monastery dating back to the seventh century.

The hotel also has a huge free-form swimming pool overlooking the Arabian Gulf, and a beautiful spa with a wide range of therapies on offer if you're after some downtime.

The food

The ability to go freely between three different hotels on the island means there's no shortage of dining options. We had daily breakfast at The Palm restaurant at Desert Islands Resort and Spa, where the breakfast buffet was served up by staff as part of Covid-19 safety measures. There was lots to keep everyone happy with everything from omelettes to ful medames. The all-day dining restaurant also serves themed buffet dinners throughout the week.

Our favourite dining experience was at Savannah Grill & Lounge, located at Al Sahel Villa Resort. Set outdoors with tables surrounding a bonfire and pots kept warm with burning coal, the South African barbecue night (Dh360 for adults including soft drinks, Dh180 for children) gave us a memorable evening under the stars. Traditional dishes such as boerewors and South African mielie pap, plus plenty of meats on the braai as well as a good selection of vegetarian dishes and a children's corner meant the entire family was happy.

The highs and lows

One of the giraffes living on Sir Bani Yas Island. Courtesy Samia Badih

Sir Bani Yas is a great place to visit if you're looking for a getaway but don't want to travel outside the country. There's a good mix of places to stay for couples, families or groups of friends, with Desert Islands Resort and Spa the best choice for families. The wildlife drive was without a doubt the highlight of our visit. The downside was that getting to the island. Factoring in the drive, the boat and the bus rides requires a heavy investment of time, so it's probably not the best choice for a one-night stay unless you're visiting other places in the region.

The insider tip

Try to book your activities on different days so that they are nicely spread out. This way, you can enjoy the rest of each day by the beach or spending time at the pool.

The verdict

Sir Bani Yas is a wildlife reserve with an ongoing animal conservation programme

Desert Islands Resort and Spa by Anantara is a great choice for anyone with children looking to really escape the city. Family-friendly and with plenty of activities on offer, it's easy to head here and have a wildlife-centric adventure that you simply can't get anywhere else in the country.

The bottom line

An all-inclusive full-board offer is currently available with rates from Dh1,999 ($544) per night, excluding taxes. It includes breakfast, lunch and dinner for two, a complimentary stay for two children up to 12 years old, with breakfast, and one complimentary activity per adult, per stay. Standard check-in is from 2pm and checkout is at noon. Desert Islands Resort and Spa, Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi; www.anantara.com/en/desert-islands-sir-bani-yas

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