Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 4 July 2020

A socially distanced Dubai staycation: we check into a five-star hotel to see how the experience has changed

We went to Andaz Dubai The Palm to discover what to expect from a weekend break in 2020

The pool is, of course, closed, but Andaz's beach is open - however, loungers are distanced from each other. 
The pool is, of course, closed, but Andaz's beach is open - however, loungers are distanced from each other. 

A staycation is a different experience these days.

For some, a carefree stint at a hotel used to be a last-minute weekend plan, but it now requires more forward planning and research.

For, while Covid-19 has disrupted all sectors, its global impact on the tourism and hospitality industry has been severe and wide-ranging.

If you are discerning, there's no reason you can't feel as safe visiting a hotel during these times as you would going to a supermarket

New government guidelines issued by each emirate in the UAE mean hotels have to operate quite differently than they did pre-pandemic.

What's more, every emirate has its own rules on social distancing, increased hygiene and sanitisation practises, so what is on offer at a hotel in Dubai could be quite different to what to expect when checking in to somewhere in Fujairah.

So what do you need to be aware of if you're looking for a Dubai staycation in the near future?

We checked in to Andaz Dubai The Palm, a Hyatt hotel, ahead of the long Eid weekend to find out.

The welcome

View of the lobby area at Andaz Dubai The Palm. Pawan Singh / The National.
View of the lobby area at Andaz Dubai The Palm. Pawan Singh / The National.

As with many other UAE hotels, valet services are not currently available at Andaz, which only opened in December. We were instructed to park our car in the car park and then enter the hotel on our own accord. The car park is merely five steps away, so this isn't an inconvenience.

When we arrived, there was a man stationed at the door of the hotel, and while we weren't temperature checked as we walked in on Thursday, on Friday, we went back to observe and saw that all guests entering the hotel were having their temperatures checked.

The hotel also confirmed to The National that "one person will now be dedicated to checking guest temperatures in the lobby at all times".

When we were checking in, the only two other guests in the hotel lobby weren't wearing face masks, but each of the staff had them on.

Check-in procedures include filling in a Covid-19 document, which asks whether you've travelled in the last two weeks or if you have come into contact with anyone who may have the coronavirus.

Otherwise, the check-in process largely remains the same.

The hotel was quiet; we saw barely a dozen other guests during our entire stay.

Hygiene and sanitisation

Hand sanitisers are found throughout the hotel.
Hand sanitisers are found throughout the hotel.

There are hand sanitising stations throughout the hotel, so you won't have to look far for this.

There are also restrictions on how many people can ride the lift at the same time. The hotel says all its lifts and high-contact areas are cleaned every 30 minutes using government-approved disinfectants.

We don't actually see this happen during our stay, but the lobby and restaurant are clearly immaculate.

The scene

The hotel is on a busier part of Palm Jumeirah, right beside Club Vista Mare and several residential towers, so we were a little worried about noise.

Our worries were unfounded, however, and our stay was quiet and serene. The lack of other guests helped us feel like we were a world away from the busy city.

Social distancing

The hotel has four reception desks operating at the moment to cut down on any queuing, so there's absolutely no worries about being shoulder to shoulder with any other guests in the lobby.

You'll find these stickers throughout the hotel.
You'll find these stickers throughout the hotel.

There are also stickers on the floor throughout the hotel, as well as smaller signs near the lifts and at the beach, reminding you of the rules around social distancing.

The room

Rooms are bright and mood boosting. Pawan Singh / The National
Rooms are bright and mood boosting. Pawan Singh / The National

According to Andaz, guest rooms are left empty for at least 24 hours between each booking to give staff time to properly sanitise everything. It certainly seems like this has been followed through on, as our room was sparkling clean.

There's loads of natural sunlight thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and good views to boot, as well as colourful, contemporary Middle Eastern-inspired art. It's spacious and bright, and a good boost for the mood.

You're also able to opt out of housekeeping to avoid allowing additional people in to your room, room service can be delivered in a contactless manner and on disposable crockery if you want extra peace of mind too.

The pool and beach

The pool is, of course, closed, but Andaz's beach is open - however, loungers are distanced from each other. 
Andaz's beach

Now that hotel beaches in Dubai have reopened, guests can go for a dip in the sea – provided they adhere to social distancing guidelines. Andaz has all its sun beds set up at a planned distance from each other, and special care is made to inform sunbathers that they can't move them.

There are barely any people around regardless, we counted two other lone sunbathers when we visited.

You also have to bring your own towel from your room to the beach, and the beach-side shower facilities are temporarily closed. There is a maximum capacity of 100 people on the shoreline.

Sun beds are set up a safe distance from each other at the beach.
Sun beds are set up a safe distance from each other at the beach.

Both a security guard and a lifeguard are on hand at the beach to ensure social distancing guidelines are followed. Drinks and snacks are available, you can order them straight to your sun loungers.

The fitness centre, spa and hotel pools are all closed at the moment to comply with Dubai's safety regulations.

The restaurant

The restaurant at the hotel, The Locale, is complying with social distancing guidelines by ensuring all tables are spread out.
The restaurant at the hotel, The Locale, is complying with social distancing guidelines by ensuring all tables are spread out.

Only one of Andaz's dining options is currently open. Hanami, KnoX and The Andaz Lounge are closed, which means you have two options when you're hungry: The Locale, or in-room dining.

The Locale, the hotel's all-day dining restaurant, no longer has an extensive buffet, it is now all a-la-carte.

Tables have been rearranged to ensure maximum space between them and there’s a limit of four guests per table. A sign at the entrance of the restaurant clearly tells patrons that its maximum capacity is 66 people. All wait staff wear masks and gloves.

Restaurant menus have been removed, and in their place are smaller menus on print outs that are thrown away after each use. The menu is much smaller than what is normally on offer, but there is still a good variety of cuisine: from dumplings and curries, to grilled fish and burgers.

For breakfast the next morning, instead of a breakfast buffet, diners are once again given a printed menu of what's on offer, and you can order unlimited dishes. There's a good range, far more than just eggs, toast and cereal.

Think green shakshouka, eggs Benedict, freshly cooked pastries, and plant-based breakfasts with tofu scramble. There's also decent barista coffee.

The service is attentive and genial, with waiters keen to check in on you regularly and pop over for a chat, while keeping the recommended distance.

If you'd prefer eating in your room, there's a room service menu, and an attendant (with masks and gloves) will bring it to your door.

The verdict

If you're feeling like you're at the end of your tether after staring at the same four walls of your own home for the past few months, a staycation could be what you need, but only to a hotel where you know sensible precautions are in place, and to resorts that can be relied upon to clearly follow all government guidelines.

You'd be surprised what a dip in the ocean and a change of scene can do for your mental health. While there's an argument that you're not getting the full package of what you'd usually be paying for at a hotel (for example, facilities likes pools and spas remain closed) you can also find cheaper rates for this very reason.

If you do your research and are discerning about your staycation options, there's no reason you can't feel as safe visiting a hotel during these times as you would going to a supermarket.

Andaz Dubai The Palm's Summer Staycation offer starts from Dh550 per room, including breakfast.

Updated: May 22, 2020 03:24 PM

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