Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.
Last April, I enjoyed a terrific holiday with one of my best friends in one of the world’s most hauntingly beautiful countries, Oman, which offers a true taste of Arabia and an oasis of peace in a turbulent region. You can read my trip reports here:
- Trip report: British Airways B787-9 First Class London to Muscat
- Review: Shangri-La Al Husn
- Review: Alila Jabal Akhdar
- Review: Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton hotel (today)
- Review: The Chedi Muscat
- Review: InterContinental Muscat
- Trip report: Emirates A380 First Class Dubai to Amsterdam
Today (June 8, 2016): Review of Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel (Muscat, Oman).
- Location: Google Maps
- Address: Al Bustan Street, Quron Beach, Muscat 114, Oman
- Hotel website: Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Tucked away between the rugged Al Hajar mountain range and the Sea of Oman, Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a beachfront retreat set in exquisite gardens. Arab and art deco influences infuse the resort with an elegant ambiance, most notably in its majestic 38 metres (124 ft) high, domed atrium lobby. From each of the hotel’s 250 guest rooms and suites’ private balconies, guests can gaze upon magnificent mountain, sea or garden views. The hotel is located on the most beautiful stretch of beach in the Muscat area. Last year, a phenomenal Six Senses Spa was added to the hotel and built into the surrounding landscape of towering stone and rock cliffs.
Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel, features in my top 10 lists of the best luxury hotels in Oman and the most amazing hotel lobbies in the world.
In this review (more info below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Comparison with other luxury hotels in Muscat (Shangri-La & The Chedi)
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Nestled in a charming bay along the Sea of Oman with the rugged Al Hajar mountains as a dramatic backdrop, Al Bustan Palace enjoys a superb beachfront location in the vicinity of the Omani capital Muscat. It’s close enough to the city if you want to explore it, but far enough away to relax in oasis of tranquility.
- Al Bustan Palace is one of the Middle East’s most iconic properties. The hotel officially opened in 1985 to host the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit and to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Sultan Qaboos’s accession to power. In 2011, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company entered into an agreement with Oman’s Ministry of Tourism to acquire the full management of this legendary palace-turned-hotel, after it underwent a multimillion-dollar refurbishment to both its interior and exterior.
- While the massive, fort-like building is somewhat unappealing from the outside, it’s a totally different story once you step inside the majestic 38 metres (124 ft) high atrium lobby. With its gleaming marble floors, soaring pillars, domed ceiling, gold clad walls and incense scent, the lobby’s design creates an almost religious ambience, reminiscent of a cathedral or mosque. The lobby’s highlight is to be found at its center, a beautiful octagonal fountain beneath a 19 tonne chandelier, which boasts the largest amount of crystals designed into a hotel’s chandelier in the world to date.
- The hotel’s 250 sophisticated rooms and suites are spread over 3 wings and 8 floors (the 9th floor is reserved exclusively for the use of Oman’s monarch, sultan Qaboos). During my holiday, I stayed in a Deluxe Garden View room, which felt very much like how a Ritz-Carlton is supposed to be, with a classic French decor, green carpets, mahogany desks, opulent but tasteful furniture, and colorful curtains. The marble bathroom with Arabia inspired, mosaic walls featured a bathtub and one sink (with luxury Asprey bath essentials). The room also had a small terrace overlooking the gardens.
- A nice touch is that soft drinks in the room’s minibar are complementary and restocked daily. But what really impressed me was the amount of welcome snacks delivered to my room after check-in: a fruit bowl, a chocolate cake, a diversity of pralines, and coconut candies. I have never been to hotel before that served that many welcome snacks, and it definitely made me feel very welcome. I am not sure though whether this is standard practice or whether they confused me with a VIP guest :-).
- Al Bustan Palace stands proudly amidst 200 acres of exquisite gardens with immaculate manicured, English type lawns and shade-giving lines of palm trees. Plenty of sun lounges, hammocks and cabanas are spread all over the gardens, with most of them to be found on the garden’s edge along the beach.
- The beachfront, olympic sized swimming pool is filled with deliciously warm water. Although it’s unlikely that this pool will ever feel too crowded (because of its size), you can also take a refreshing dip in one of the two other pools that wrap around the hotel wings and mainly attract guests that want to escape the occasional screams of splashing children.
- If you like to be close to one of the 2 quieter swimming pool, you may consider booking one of the Lagoon Access rooms, which are quite unique as you can go straight into the pool from your private terrace.
- Al Bustan Palace presides over its own broad sweep of light-colored, sandy beach. With a length of one kilometer, this is one of Oman’s longest beaches. This is also the most scenic and best beach in the Muscat area, and an added bonus is that the beach is completely private. Walking along the beach and taking in the phenomenal views of the divinely blue waters and the dramatic mountain landscape is a pure delight.
- With three onsite restaurants and two bars, there is no need to worry about going hungry. Food is excellent (but expensive). Al Khiran is the main restaurant: each evening, a sumptuous buffet based upon a different culinary theme is offered. Fresh seafood with dining outdoors can be enjoyed at the Beach Pavilion. Serving authentic Chinese cuisine in the heart of Muscat, Al Bustan’s signature restaurant – China Mood – has claimed its position as one of the top Asian restaurants in Oman.
- I found the extensive breakfast buffet, served at al Khiran, to be the food highlight of the day. The breadth of choices and number of food stations, offering both cold and hot items (including Omani specialities) probably make this one of the most lavish hotel breakfast buffets that I have ever experienced. Another great perk is that the breakfast buffet is open until 11 am.
- The lobby serves up an excellent English afternoon tea, a perfect setting to hold quick meetings or reflect with your loved one over a cup of Earl Grey and home-made scones.
- The hotel’s ground floor features a lovely shopping arcade, where you can buy jewelry, clothes, and traditional Omani handicrafts.
Al Bustan Palace has excellent facilities for children. It has an outdoor kids playground as part of their Recreation Center. The resort’s Kids Club also offers daily activities for children, and the kids pool is located near the beachfront, behind the infinity pool.
- Besides the magnificent lobby and the unrivaled setting, I found Al Bustan Palace’s Six Senses Spa to be another highlight (and reason why this hotel should be on your bucket list when visiting Oman). Six Senses is one of my favorite luxury hotel brands in the world, but they are also famous for their phenomenal Spas which are built at more and more high-end hotels and airport lounges around the world. A five-minute walk from Al Bustan Palace, the Six Senses Spa is artfully built into the surrounding landscape of towering stone and rock cliffs of the Haijar Mountains and follows the natural progression of the wadi (valley). Reflective of traditional Omani design, it beautifully complements the hotel and features domed ceilings, elegant arched walkways and columns, falaj (water channels) reflecting pools and natural stone walls and floors. I had a terrific Balinese massage during my stay, but they offer also a wide selection of locally-inspired massages, result-driven facials, wellness therapies plus body, beauty and fitness treatments, so be sure not the miss it when you stay at the property.
- As you would expect from a hotel of its standing, the service is impeccable and the staff are very friendly, helpful and professional. They all try hard to ensure that all guests enjoy their stay, although pool service can be a little slow from time to time.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
The Al Bustan Palace Hotel has always had a legendary reputation and although she is now more than 30 years old and has to compete with several new arrivals, she is quietly retaining her status as one of Oman’s finest hotel. The gorgeous private beach, the elegant lobby, the amazing spa, and the carefully laid out gardens with immaculate pools are all undeniably first-rate but not all elements are perfect:
- Although Al Bustan Palace hotel remains an unashamedly adult environment (something which was very much appreciated by myself during my stay), the hotel lacks an adults-only, silent area, meaning that those in need of tranquility might be disappointed as they have to share the pool facilities with families with the occasional, noisy children. Given the spaciousness of the resort ground, an adults-only area with tranquility pool should definitely be considered by the hotel management.
- Although the resort is perfect for a lazy beach holiday, the hotel’s location is quite isolated and there is very little else of interest within walking distance (in terms of shops, restaurants and sightseeing). One would need to take a taxi to the city in order to visit shops, souks or indeed other tourist destinations. The good news is that the hotels provides a daily complimentary shuttle to Muscat’s old town, which needs to be prebooked.
- The hotel has been around for more than 30 years, and although is undeniably luxurious and the resort grounds are immaculately manicured, some areas (such as the decor in the rooms and restaurants) may feel a little dated and could do with a refurbishing. If a sleek and intimate design is a must for you, you are better off staying at The Chedi Muscat (although that property has a far inferior setting as compared to Al Bustan Palace, with a poor beach).
- Because of Al Bustan Palace’s secluded location, guests will spend most of their days on the resort (unless they venture out by taxi, rental car or the complimentary shuttle bus). And the hotel management is clearly aware of this as they charge premium food and beverage prices. This said, the prices are more or less in line with Al Bustan Palace’s high-end competitors in the city (The Chedi and The Shangri-La Al Husn), so the prices should not come as a surprise.
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 7/10
- Rooms: 7/10
- Food: 8/10
- Service: 9/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel (and/or receive many free perks).
- If you have enough Omani rials to shell out, I would recommend staying in the hotel’s most lavish accommodation, the Presidential Sea View Suite, which will feel like holidaying in your own Omani palace. Alternatively, the one-room suites with private pool access are perfect for you want a dip right from your terrace.
- Members of Marriott Rewards with Gold or Platinum status are well treated, with – amongst other benefits – free WiFi, complementary room upgrade (when available), early check-in or late check-out (when available), and free breakfast. You can even book a free night at the resort with your Marriott points. Click here to read my review of the Marriott Rewards program (with pros & cons).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
COMPARISON WITH OTHER LUXURY HOTELS IN MUSCAT
While Oman’s most impressive hotels – Six Senses Zighy Bay and Alila Jabal Akhdar – are located far away from the Omani capital, most travelers will spend at least a few days in Muscat. If you like to stay in luxury in Muscat, you only have 3 choices (so far):
- The Chedi Muscat is definitely the most elegant and stylish resort in the greater Muscat area (with prices to match). One of the great things about The Chedi is that the resort has 3 magnificent pools, two of them being adults only, making it a great choice for a couples gateway. In addition, The Chedi has some of the best fine dining venues of all resorts in Oman. However, The Chedi’s location is not nearly as dramatic as the one of the Al Bustan Palace and Shangri-La Al Husn, and its beach is rather unattractive. Nevertheless, if resort esthetics and exquisite food are of upmost importance to you (and chances are they are since you are following my blog), then you should not think further and book a stay here. Read my review of The Chedi here.
- Al Bustan Palace, currently managed by the Ritz-Carlton group, impresses its guests with a phenomenal lobby and spectacular resort grounds. It’s located on the most beautiful stretch of beach in and around Muscat (and far beyond), and that beach is for private use of its guests only which makes it even better. Last year, a spectacular Six Senses spa was added to the resort. However, Al Bustan Palace’s communal facilities are older, the accommodations are a bit worn, and the resort has not a separate adults only area. Still, if you are looking for a holiday in a unique setting along one of Oman’s most beautiful beaches, then Al Bustan Palace is your best choice.
- Shangri-La Al Husn somewhat combines the best elements of the The Chedi and Al Bustan Palace (although without outclassing The Chedi’s design or Al Bustan Palace’s beach setting). It enjoys a lovely coastal cliff setting, has a nice and private beach, only caters to adults (tranquility guaranteed!), has many good restaurant on site, offers nice free amenties (such as afternoon tea and predinner coctails) and features a contemporary resort design influenced by Arabian elements. Having said that, while it a definitely a 5-star resort, it still feels a tad less exclusive as compared to The Chedi. Read my review of Shangri-La Al Husn here.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MUSCAT
The best time to visit Muscat is during the winter months (October to March). The average temperature during the day is about 30 degree Celsius while the nights are cooler with the temperature dropping down to an average of 15 degree Celsius. Days are sunny most of the time (although recent years have seen an increase of the number of overcast or rainy days). Summer season (April to September) is extremely hot and humid and very unsuitable for travel. The average temperature during this season peaks up to an average of 40 degree Celsius. Sometimes the temperature can go as high as 50 degree Celsius during the day.
HOW TO GET THERE
Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, is located a 40 min drive from Muscat International Airport. Check the Wikipedia page of Muscat International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Muscat.
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