Paradise found: Nancy Strong enjoyed the “No News, No Shoes” theme in the Maldives.
Nancy Strong of Strong Travel Services traveled to the Middle East as a member of Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ Luxury Travel Advisory Board. Here, she recounts her experiences at two St. Regis hotels in Abu Dhabi and a post-trip to the Maldives.
Abu Dhabi is modernity. It is filled with enormous energy and vitality. Having attended Starwood’s Luxury Travel Advisory Board, I had the opportunity to experience the city first hand.
I flew from Chicago on Etihad Airways in Pearl Business Class with a flat bed. It was very comfortable; there were lots of movies and very tasty food. Their private Chauffeur Service is an added plus.
Starwood’s St. Regis brand has two properties in Abu Dhabi. The city is surrounded by 22 islands. One St. Regis is located on Saadiyat Island, which is 20 minutes from the airport. This resort on the beach is spectacular. Max Wiegerinck, the general manager, was a most gracious host; our accommodations were lovely (book Room No. 376) and the butler service was the best, especially after a long flight and a suitcase of wrinkled clothes. The property is of contemporary design, complete with bespoke service. I have never seen a happier, smiling staff. This Starwood meeting felt like I was at the United Nations—lots of new international members on our board, bringing perspectives from all around the globe.
The second St. Regis Abu Dhabi property is in the city, about 10 minutes away, in the Nations Towers. It’s very opulent but tastefully done. The variety of public rooms, the Library, the Bar and the meeting rooms all lend an air of distinction to their events. Once again the Butler and Bespoke service of a St. Regis cannot be beat in this corner of the world. Oliver Key, the general manager, was our host in the city, making sure we were comfortable.
Mr. Key invited us to a Midnight Supper on the 48th Floor of the hotel, to the Abu Dhabi Suite. It was a magical evening, held in the drawing room of the suite, which is on a bridge suspended between the two buildings.
Oh my, what an experience. Of course the suite is pure indulgence, complete with its own elevator and lots of 24-carat-leaf interiors. The meal courses and wine were all carefully chosen. Actually the food at both St. Regis properties was so beautifully presented and displayed that I went into a “food coma,” it was all so good!
I visited the Mosque of Sheikh Zayed, which is acres of white marble from Macedonia, with floral designs in mother-of-pearl and lots of gold. It took 1,000 women two years to weave the carpet inside. I visited the museum area, where I saw the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (Frank Gehry’s design) and the Louvre, along with a complete community rising out of Saadiyat Island. These are exciting and dramatic times for Abu Dhabi tourism; however, it’s still a bit of a closed society with the women completely covered by black abayas and head scarves.
Abu Dhabi makes a wonderful stopover, with the finest hotels, world-class restaurants, and shopping for every taste. With its Ferrari World and Starwood’s Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, it offers something for everyone. It boasts a DNA Wellness Center that will transform healthcare in the future.
Since I had visited Dubai several years ago, I had an inkling of what another new city in the desert would be like. Abu Dhabi did not disappoint; it surpassed my expectations and now I am excited to offer it to my clients.
Pictured: The Amazing Mosque: The author is shown here in front of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
I took a little extra time and joined my colleagues, Linda Munson, Peter Carideo and Maureen Conlin to visit the Maldives. I now consider the Maldives as paradise; it’s all about privacy, and one of the most romantic places on earth. JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers arranged for us to visit the Six Senses Laamu. We flew to Male and then took a speed boat ride of 30 minutes to the resort. Just before we docked, we were handed a small canvas bag that said “No News, No Shoes”. We put our shoes in the bags and never wore them again until we left. A whole new meaning to casual! Marteyne Van Well is the first GM I ever saw with no shoes the whole time we spent with her. This beautiful over-the-water property sits on an atoll rimmed by barrier reefs. It offers every convenience and amenity you can imagine, hard to believe when you are in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Their gardens produce fresh organic food with three restaurants on the property; they have an ice cream and chocolate studio which offers 40 flavored homemade ice creams and sorbets—all properly chilled. The name of their Wine Cellar is “Chill”—it boasts 450 varieties and over 5,000 bottles of wine complete with a charcuterie and cheese deli, plus an intimate elevated private table for wine tastings. All this six meters above the ocean. There are lots of water activities, from dolphin safaris to diving, sandbar picnics and sunset cruises. The spa is created from branches of pine trees that have been soaked in water, twisted and bent to create an enclave of serenity for your treatments; very clever and appealing. Yes, it takes a bit of travel time to arrive in the Maldives, but there is a great variety of airlift available now, and once you are there, you never want to leave.
We also stopped at the Gili Lankanfushi for the day before we returned to Male and our late evening flight. This was very convenient as it is only 15 minutes by boat from Male. Steven Philips, the GM, made us very welcome, and we enjoyed lovely spa treatments. Imagine lying on the massage table while watching the sea life through the glass floor. Pure indulgence!
On our return to Abu Dhabi for our flight home, we had to overnight. We chose Starwood’s “Aloft” hotel, approximately 15 minutes from the airport. It was an excellent choice, the price was very reasonable, and it was perfect for a short stay.
A wonderful captivating experience was had by all; as a travel advisor, I am delighted to now share these luxury destinations first hand with my clients.