Built to capitalise on Abu Dhabi's new status as a Formula One hotel the Crown Plaza on Yas Island caters to families and business people alike.
Crowne Plaza Yas Island
Yas Island is sure to be gridlocked with drivers trying to find their way to blue or red parking this weekend as Yas Marina Circuit revs into life, but pick any other time of the year and it's a much quieter affair. Dead quiet, in fact. Turn off the E11 and up onto Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Road, following signs for South Yas, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the area around the racing circuit is yet to be opened to the public. Stop/start at nine traffic lights later and the sight of the Crowne Plaza, one of a cluster of hotels squeezed in just beyond the racetrack, is welcome. Finally, there's a sign that other life forms do exist: the man waiting to park my car.
I jump out late for Friday brunch, so I am grateful when the porter takes my bags and I'm allowed to walk straight through to the restaurant instead of checking in immediately. I practically run through the hotel lobby with its elaborate golden "bird cages" for seating, an unexpectedly stylish touch for a four-star hotel that usually caters to business travellers.
The Crowne Plaza sits cheek-by-jowl with Staybridge Suites, the US chain's own hotel-apartment brand, and Park Inn, Radisson Blu and Centro hotels; all built to capitalise on Abu Dhabi's new status as a Formula One venue. The fantastically showy Yas Hotel up the road make the five hotels crammed onto South Yas feel slightly the poor relation. A 40-minute drive from the city centre (double the time that one hotel website claims), you're effectively prisoner to what's on offer on Yas Island but, if you fancy a change of scene at the international buffet, you can always pop to the hotel next door.
There is one ace in the hole, however: the Yas Links golf course. Even if you have no intention of ever picking up a golf club, the views over the water towards Abu Dhabi from the hacienda-style clubhouse make this a lovely place to hang out.
Ranges from thoughtful and intuitive to slightly shambolic. When I take my table for brunch at Jing Asia, the hotel's main restaurant, I have some difficulty in flagging down a waiter to order drinks. Fifteen minutes later and I'm still waiting for my mocktail. It isn't until I manage to collar the somewhat harrassed waiter that he tells me the drink I had ordered is not in fact available during Friday brunches. However, when I eventually work out that a waitress is assigned to each table and find my own, the service is excellent. Generally, staff are friendly and well-intentioned: one even switches off a vacuum cleaner as I walk past so as not to offend my eardrums.
I'm shown up to a superior suite with a generously sized living area dominated by a huge desk; a separate bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides and a balcony; and a smart bathroom. The decor is too cold for my taste - white walls, white leather sofa, monochrome prints - so I grab the throw and velvet cushions off the bed to try to make the sofa area feel more cosy. Once in bed, however, I'm very comfortable: the duvet is light but warm, the air-conditioning responsive and my pillows are very soft but comfortable. The pamphlet next to my bed telling me how to get a restful night's sleep and accompanying This Works products (two miniature phials of scent) are thankfully unnecessary.
Friday's brunch is a busy and noisy affair with families and groups of friends tucking in at the buffet that costs a very reasonable Dh110 (including non-alcoholic drinks and taxes). The food is tasty and there's a wide selection on offer from Japanese to Mexican, Italian, Arabic and European. The hand-made sushi and spicy Mexican fajitas are excellent but the layout is rather confusing. Crispy noodles sit next to salmon in a white sauce, and the Mexican table plays host to a vat of mashed potato. Serving myself a balanced meal is a challenge so I make do with numerous trips and small plates of food.
Families and business types will feel most at home here. At Friday's brunch there is a games area set aside for children and a friendly chef making candyfloss for queues of small, eager customers. Later that evening, the hotel's Lebanese restaurant, Barouk, is packed out and Stills, a European-style gastro pub, serving a superior menu of light meals, is busy with engineers and the like, relaxing after work.
Clinging to the edge of the pool, admiring the skyscrapers on the mainland, with the sand and shoreline in between. Enjoying the sea breeze, I finally discover how the Yas Island location pays dividends.
The thin cotton bathrobes in my room somehow stay damp for ages. The desk overloaded with Crowne Plaza stationery is at odds with the designer touches elsewhere: the hotel seems torn between loyalty to its business customers and trying to compete on Abu Dhabi's luxury hotel scene.
A welcoming, well-priced four-star hotel that will become home-from-home for golfers. For the rest of us, lying by the pool when it's too hot to move and feeling the fresh sea air is the real draw.
The bottom line
A double room costs from Dh585 per night including taxes and breakfast. Crowne Plaza Yas Island, Golf Plaza, Yas Island (www.crowneplaza.com; 02 656 3172).