Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, has long been one of the most aspirational Marriott Bonvoy properties among the points and miles community. And with good cause – when redeeming Marriott points for a stay at Al Maha, you’ll enjoy an all-inclusive experience, covering all meals and a range of daily activities. On top of that, you’ll also be able to kick back and relax in the comfort of your very own private Bedouin Suite with an infinity pool, offering breathtaking views of the shimmering desert. Al Maha is one of the most unique and rewarding properties that I’ve ever redeemed points for.
Situated within the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, a 225-square-kilometer nature sanctuary just a 45-minute drive from Dubai’s city center, Al Maha boasts 42 private suites providing guests a tranquil escape from the bustling pace of Dubai. Here, guests can revel in the awe-inspiring views of the surrounding desert, and observe the gazelles and oryx that roam these wind-swept landscapes.
During a recent trip through the Middle East with my dad, we had the chance to spend two days at Al Maha. Having heard so many glowing accounts of what an awesome place Al Maha is, I was bursting with anticipation to finally experience it for myself.
During our two-night stay, we indulged in a world-class dining experience, rode camels through the desert to watch the sunset, learned about the ancient art of falconry, and took an exhilarating 4×4 desert drive up and over towering dunes. If you’re looking to stretch the value of your Marriott points on a genuinely unique experience, I can’t recommend Al Maha enough. Read on for a comprehensive account of our stay and everything you need to know before you visit Al Maha.
Booking & Check-in
The Al Maha desert resort is one of the most expensive Marriott properties in the world, regardless of whether you’re paying with cash or points. The average nightly price for Al Maha typically ranges between 4,500 – 5,100 AED ($1,675 – $1,900 CAD). For our stay, I chose to utilize an 85,000-point Marriott free night certificate obtained through my American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card (US) card with a 15,000-point top-up for the first night. For the second night, I redeemed 100,000 points.
The Marriott Bonvoy program has been subject to multiple devaluations in recent years, with the most significant impact being felt by their most highly sought-after and top-tier properties. As some of you may know, Marriott abandoned their award chart in 2022, and now all properties are priced dynamically. This can make it tricky to find an award night at Al Maha under 100,000 points per night. We were traveling through the Middle East towards the tail end of summer, a period still considered the off-peak season due to the very high temperatures in the region. As a result, I was able to find two consecutive nights on the lower end of dynamic pricing.
Although the prospect of parting with 100,000-plus points per night may not be particularly appealing, the advantage of staying at Al Maha is that once you’ve redeemed those points, you won’t need to spend an extra dime for the rest of your stay if you don’t want to.
Following a delightful stay in downtown Dubai at the JW Marriott Marquis, we headed southward into the desert, watching as the city skyline slowly faded in the distance through the rearview mirror until we were surrounded by a vast desert. About 10 kilometers from the United Arab Emirates – Oman border, we came upon the highway turn-off leading to Al Maha. Immediately upon exiting the highway, we found ourselves at the outer perimeter of the Dubai Conservation Reserve. A security guard confirmed our reservation and welcomed us to the reserve while waving us through.
From this point, it’s another 9 kilometers along a dirt road through the desert as all traces of civilization begin to fade from sight. At last, the outer gates of the property came into sight, along with the unmistakable sight of the white-canopied Al Maha Bedouin suites set against a lush backdrop of Palm and Ghaf trees.
As our car rounded the last bend and the main lodge swung in view, two members of the staff, already informed of our impending arrival, were poised to welcome us. The service provided at Al Maha is exceptionally refined. The warm welcome we received was just a preview of the outstanding service we would enjoy throughout our entire stay. Both members of the staff greeted us by name and escorted us into the main lodge to complete the check-in process.
The lobby area of the main lodge serves as the meeting point for all the activities. Ample seating is available for guests to relax with a coffee while awaiting the start of their early morning activity. The Arabian-inspired artworks that adorned the lobby walls immediately caught my attention, especially the one featuring Al Maha’s namesake, the Arabian oryx.
Also within the lobby of the main lodge is the hotel gift shop and an additional social area with some comfy chairs and a flat-screen TV.
Check-in at Al Maha is conducted in separate private rooms just off the lobby of the main lodge. Upon taking our seats, we were presented with a cold towel along with a welcome beverage and introduced to Shaun, one of our field guides who would be joining us for the various activities throughout our stay.
Our field guide proceeded to provide a comprehensive overview of what we could anticipate during our stay and outlined a summary of each desert activity available on the property. I’ll cover the activities in greater detail later on.
Once the guest services agent had returned to finalize our check-in, she went on to explain the dining options at Al Maha. Regardless of whether you made a reservation using points or cash, the resort extends an all-inclusive package to all guests. This includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. Furthermore, we had the option of dining in the restaurant or ordering room service at no additional cost. Complimentary drinks include only bottled water, coffee, and tea. Additional charges will be incurred for other beverages like soda, juice, and alcohol.
In addition to all of that, light bites and drinks were available throughout the afternoon in the Hajar Terrace Bar. As well, in the lobby of the main lodge, there was freshly prepared Arabic coffee accompanied by a selection of dates and nuts.
While my Marriott Bonvoy status was acknowledged by the staff during our check-in, it’s my understanding that the property typically will only upgrade guests within the base-level room. All of the base-level suites are very large and have more than enough room for two people. Two-bedroom suites are available for families; however, it’s not possible to book anything beyond the base level room on points.
The check-in agent advised us that we had been assigned suite #16; however, due to our early arrival, the room was not ready yet. So, she invited us to have lunch in the restaurant while we waited for our room to be prepared once our check-in was complete.
Shaun advised us to pre-book all our activities before completing our check-in to guarantee our spot, as they tend to be fully booked. We finished up our check-in by selecting our four activities and headed off to have lunch while we waited for our room.
After lunch, we were picked up by a buggy to take us to our suite. During the drive to our room, our driver gave us a brief overview of the property, pointing out to us where the spa, fitness center, and main pool are located.
Al Maha is located just over 60 kilometers southwest of Dubai city center. A few days before our arrival, I received an email from one of the guest relations coordinators. The email included directions for reaching the resort if we would be arriving by taxi or Uber, or if we would like to have a car service to be arranged on our behalf. I suggest opting for either a taxi or Uber to reach Al Maha, as using the resort’s pre-arranged car service will cost approximately twice as much. However, be prepared to use the property’s car service for the return trip to Dubai, as hailing a taxi or Uber from the resort will be almost impossible due to its remote location.
The journey to the resort took about an hour and we paid a little over $50 CAD by using Uber. On our way back to Dubai, we chose the resort’s pre-arranged car service, which was charged directly to our hotel bill and came to around $100 CAD.
There is no charge to park your car at Al Maha. However, it seemed that most of the guests, including us, preferred to take an Uber or a car service to reach the property, as I only saw at most two cars in the parking lot during our stay.
Room – Two Twin Bedouin Suite with Private Pool
Accommodations at Al Maha are limited to just 42 Bedouin-inspired villas, each featuring a private pool. Every villa offers sweeping vistas of the desert, and is thoughtfully designed with utmost privacy in mind. Aside from the occasional visit from one of the resident gazelles and oryx that call Al Maha home, you’ll be completely undisturbed.
The Al Maha standard room is the Bedouin Suite, a private villa spanning over 800 square feet. All villas have a large deck, a private pool and are incredibly well-appointed. Dismiss any preconceived notions you might have about these as base-level rooms. The rooms feature huge marble bathrooms, adorned with Arabian-inspired décor, complemented by floor-to-ceiling windows and either a king-sized or two twin bed configurations.
Immediately upon entering the room is the foyer, which is where the pantry area is located. Here you’ll find the coffee maker and kettle along with a selection of coffee, teas, and several bottles of water that were all replenished daily. Opposite this, there’s an in-room refrigerator, additional larger bottles of water, and a complimentary decanter of sherry wine.
Across from the entrance to the bathroom is a vanity table with a chair and mirror.
The main living area of the suite is incredibly spacious and is meant to mimic the look of an authentic Bedouin-style tent. Two large pillars stand in the center of the room, providing support for the canopy above.
Stepping into the main living area, you’ll find a wardrobe on the left, providing ample room for hanging clothes and storing your personal items, in addition to a flat-screen TV.
Two twin beds were situated in the middle of the room, both facing the floor-to-ceiling windows that wrapped around the far side of the room.
I found the beds to provide an exceptionally comfortable sleep. The bedding was luxuriously soft, almost cloud-like, and each bed was accompanied by two generously sized pillows.
Two chaise loungers were positioned in front of the beds, with a coffee table placed between them. Upon our arrival, a welcome amenity of fresh fruit, dates, and nuts was on the coffee table.
If you’re feeling inspired to explore your artistic side, you’ll find an array of art materials, including oil pastels, pencils, and a notepad, neatly arranged on the art easel.
Transitioning to the bathroom, which is accessible from the living area, the foyer as well as an additional door leading out to the rear patio.
The bathroom features a giant soaker tub, walk-in shower, dual vanity sinks and a separate toilet chamber.
Although the villa’s interior offers ample comfort and space, it’s the breathtaking view from the outdoor patio that takes center stage. Each villa boasts a massive deck extending from the main living area, complete with two pool loungers, and an outdoor dining area with a table for two.
Of course, the standout feature of the Bedouin Suite’s rear veranda is its private infinity pool, offering a panoramic view of the expansive desert scenery.
Despite being nearly 25 years old, the suites at Al Maha, while showing some slight signs of aging, are remarkably well-maintained and remain in impeccable condition. In fact, I felt the rustic nature of the property beautifully complements the Bedouin-style desert oasis theme of the resort.
Stepping out onto our patio at Al Maha was one of those transcendent moments that strikes me from time to time. Planning and discussing a trip to a dream destination like Al Maha is one thing, but it was only when I was finally there that it truly hit me. After we finished touring our suite my dad and I shared a collective “wow”, almost in disbelief at what we were seeing.
Not that I ever needed a reminder of the power of points and miles, but staring out over the pool at our private slice of the Dubai desert gave me another level of appreciation for what’s possible.
I spent more than a few hours over the course of our stay leaning out over the infinity edge of the pool, immersing myself in the incredible views and savoring every second. I thought the gazelles that frequently visited me poolside, with their inquisitive head-tilted gaze, might be wondering what had captured my attention for so long. Nevertheless, I was simply content to share their company at that moment.
Restaurants & Bars
You’ll want to bring a big appetite with you to Al Maha, because the food and dining experience is astonishingly good. I’d go as far as to say the food I had at Al Maha included some of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. By the end of our two-and-a-half days, my dad and I had run out of superlatives to describe the quality of food and service at Al Maha. It’s just that good.
Al Diwaan Restaurant
All meals are served at Al Diwaan Restaurant, which is the only restaurant on the property. You can view the menu for Al Diwaan here.
The restaurant has both an indoor dining room and an outdoor dining space on the lower deck of the main lodge. Every guest, including my dad and I, opted to dine inside during our stay, given that daytime temperatures hovered in the mid 40s, and evenings remained in the high 30s. Thankfully, the entire property has very good air conditioning.
Al Diwaan’s operating hours are as follows:
- Breakfast: 7:00 am – 10:30 am
- Lunch: 12:30 pm – 2:30 pm
- Dinner: 7:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Breakfast consists of a buffet spread and made-to-order items off the à la carte menu.
The buffet offers a comprehensive selection of all the standard items one would expect to find at a high-quality hotel spread. This includes fruits, cereals, assorted breads, pastries, a variety of meats, cheeses, and more.
The à la carte menu offered a mix of North American and Arabic dishes including waffles, french toast, sausages, egg dishes, and shakshuka.
On both mornings, I ordered an omelette along with an item from the sweet & savory section of the menu.
Lunch at Al Maha is a three-course meal consisting of a starter, main, and dessert. Al Diwaan doesn’t compromise for a moment when it comes to quality of lunchtime fare. You’ll find items like Foie Gras, New Zealand lamb, Argentinian beef filet, and a wagyu beef burger.
We sampled a few of the starters during our stay, such as the carrot and coconut chilled soup as well as the watermelon pizza.
For my mains, I had the chicken club sandwich on the first day, and the New Zealand lamb chops on our second day. My dad had the wagyu beef burger and chicken tikka, both of which he thoroughly enjoyed.
All the desserts served at lunch and dinner were simply divine. Wanting to leave space for the upcoming 5-course dinner, we typically opted for lighter dessert options during lunch. Nevertheless, we couldn’t resist indulging in as many as we could.
As I mentioned earlier, all meals can be taken in either the restaurant or delivered to your room via the hotel room service. However, I strongly recommend dining at the restaurant for dinner to partake in the complete 5-course culinary experience.
For the dinner service, Al Maha encourages a smart casual dress code, meaning men should wear pants and collared shirts, while ladies are advised to wear an evening dress. Although, we didn’t observe this policy being enforced all that strictly. On both nights we saw more than a few people in shorts and a t-shirt.
The dinner began with a serving of oil and vinegar, accompanied by a basket of freshly baked bread. Once our orders were taken the dinner service began with an amuse bouche.
Some of the standout appetizers we tried were the Omani lobster raviolo, Omani prawns and the Arabic mezzeh.
Following the appetizers came a palate-cleansing sorbet. The sorbet varied from night-to-night and included such flavors as mango and sour cherry.
The grilled beef filet and braised beef cheeks were a couple of the memorable main courses that we had during our stay.
All of the desserts just looked and sounded so good, it was just so tough to pick just one. Though we did try to sample a new one each night. My two favorites were the banana caramel tart and the Al Maha raspberry ripple.
One thing I regret is that we didn’t have sufficient time to sample more dishes from the dinner menu. Despite the option to order unlimited items, we were too full by the end of the meal. If anything, this is a great excuse to make a return trip to Al Maha.
I’ll finish up by praising the restaurant’s service staff. The commitment to excellent service at Al Diwaan is very evident from the moment we sat down. With just a small number of guests at Al Maha, the staff is able to deliver a very personalized experience. We were looked after by the same team members for every meal, which led them to quickly learn our preferences. By the end of our first day, they already knew our preferred beverages, which were brought to us proactively for the rest of the stay. It’s little things like this that really left such a positive impression on me.
Hajar Terrace Bar
If you find yourself still in need of a midday snack, you can head over to the Hajar Terrace Bar adjacent to the main lodge’s lobby. There, you’ll find a selection of sandwiches, scones, dates, nuts, and a variety of sweets.
In this area, you’ll also find the fully-stocked and staffed hotel lounge and bar, which provides some of the best vantage points of the desert on the entire property from the outdoor patio.
Guests at Al Maha can partake in two daily activities as part of their stay. Upon check-in, our guide provided a thorough explanation of each activity, along with a printed copy of the activities menu for us to look over. The daily rate includes all activities except for horseback riding and the 4×4 desert drive, which are priced at 270 AED ($102 CAD) per person.
We arranged all of our activities during our check-in with our field guide and selected the wild life drive, falconry, camel trek and the 4×4 desert drive.
Wild Life Drive
On our first night we went out with our field guide Shaun for the wild life drive. We were picked up in front of the main lodge in one of Al Maha’s Land Cruisers for a tour of the area surrounding the resort.
Over the course of the hour-long drive, Shaun provided us with insight into the reserve’s history and the ongoing conservation efforts taking place there. We learned the Arabian oryx was hunted to extinction on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1970’s. In 1999 the reserve was established and 70 Arabian oryx were reintroduced to the Dubai desert. Today, almost 300 of these majestic animals now live within the conserve.
On our way back to the resort, Shaun took a few minutes to share with us the significance of the Ghaf tree, the national tree of the UAE, and its importance to the Bedouin tribes that once used this land. Lastly, he pointed out several of the desert critters such as lizards and snakes native to this region of the world.
The next morning, we participated in the falconry presentation, which occurs at the break of dawn due to the birds’ sensitivity to the intense desert heat.
In the presentation, we had the opportunity to see a falcon, eagle, and owl in action. The field guides explained the historical significance of falconry in the Bedouin culture and its relevance in the region. Once the birds had taken flight, the guides demonstrated how each of these birds hunted for their prey and aided the Bedouins in hunting for food.
At the conclusion of the falconry demonstration, we were given a few minutes to take some more pictures of the birds and even have a brief photo opportunity to hold one.
The camel journey sets off roughly half an hour before sunset, taking you on a 20-minute ride into the dunes to watch the sunset and raise a toast to another perfect day at Al Maha.
I’ve had the chance to ride a camel a few times previously, however, this was a first for my dad. Needless to say, he was having a blast as our convoy of camels meandered through the desert.
Once we’d arrived at the dunes, we hopped off our camels and made the short hike over a few dunes to where an Al Maha staff member was waiting to serve our sundowner drinks. From this makeshift bar in the desert, we had the choice of beer, sparkling wine or water. There was also a small selection of finger foods such as dates, nuts, and dried fruit.
With drink in hand, we all now had about 15 minutes to watch the sunset over the desert and take some pictures. Once everyone was loaded back on to their camel, it was another 20 minutes back to lodge.
Do note that the sundowner activity is the exact same as this, except you will be driven to this spot in one of the resort’s SUVs instead.
4×4 Desert Drive
On our last morning at Al Maha, we were again up early for the 4×4 desert drive. This is one of the two activities that requires an additional fee. If you’re a thrill-seeker, this is the activity for you. It’s a high-speed dune bashing drive across towering dunes with an experienced driver.
For this activity, we were riding with Sarah, another of the field guides at Al Maha. We all jumped into her Land Cruiser and made the 20-minute drive outside of the conserve and in to Dubai’s neighboring emirate of Sharjah.
Once we were outside of the reserve the fun began. The dunes in Sharjah are enormous, some hundreds of feet tall. We then spent the next 30 minutes speeding across the sand, up and over the rolling dunes.
Before we made the turn back to the resort, we took a moment to pause at the top of one of the tallest dunes to take in the views and snap a few pictures. As far as the eye could see, there stretched a rolling sea of sand in every direction. I’ve never had the chance to see the desert from this perspective, and it’s an image I won’t soon forget.
This activity was by far our favorite at Al Maha. If you crave a bit of excitement during your otherwise tranquil stay, I wholeheartedly recommend spending the extra money for it.
Be warned though, anyone that is prone to car or motion sickness will likely not do well on this drive. While my dad and I were fine, our convoy of vehicles had to pause several times to accommodate those in other vehicles struggling with the effects of the undulating terrain.
The fitness center, main swimming pool and spa facilities are all located in a separate building not far from the main lodge. The spa and fitness center open at 8:00 am, and every morning I would be there right as they opened. More often than not, I had the entire place to myself, allowing me ample time to thoroughly explore the entire facility.
The large infinity pool at Al Maha offers yet another stunning spot to gaze out over the desert vista. Surrounding the pool deck, you’ll find numerous loungers and shaded seating areas. I can’t say I was surprised, but not once did I see anyone using the main pool during our stay. Evidently, everyone was perfectly content with the private pool in their villa.
The fitness center at Al Maha is probably the weakest aspect of the luxury hotel. It is extremely small and only offered the very basics in regards to the equipment available. There were a few aerobics machines, a multipurpose weight machine, some free-weights, and that’s it. I was able to get a workout every morning, but I found it to be rather unsatisfactory overall.
However, this property never wastes an opportunity to showcase the awesome views, and the floor-to-ceiling windows in the fitness center beautifully framed the desert scenery.
The spa facilities at Al Maha are quite impressive. You’ll find the sauna, steam-room, hot tub and cold-plunge pools here. Spa treatments cost extra and are not included in the all-inclusive rate.
Additionally, there is a relaxation room where you can take a moment to unwind and enjoy some fresh fruits, water, and coffee before or after your treatment.
Since I was frequently the only person in the building in the early morning, I had the freedom to explore the entire facility undisturbed. I even had the chance to peek into a couples’ treatment room.
On the morning of our final day at Al Maha, my dad and I were discussing our thoughts on the stay and we both agreed that the two nights we were here was the ideal length. Of course, I could have stayed longer, but we found that the two nights we spent here struck a good balance of affordability and ample time to enjoy all that this place had to offer. If anything, it left me hopeful for the prospect of a future visit.
Al Maha is often mentioned in the same breath as other aspirational Marriott destinations such as Maldives and Bora Bora. However, it’s important to keep in mind that major expenses like seaplanes, boat transfers and inflated food costs not covered with points can rapidly make your “free night” quite pricey when staying at these island resorts. With all food and activities fully covered on redemptions, I think Al Maha is quite possibly the best use for a Marriott 85,000-point free night certificate. Due to the unique nature of this property, which offers a one-of-a-kind experience not readily available elsewhere, it easily solidifies its spot among the top properties within the world of points and miles.
Although the thought of dropping 100,000-plus Bonvoy points per night may sound daunting. Once we arrived at Al Maha, I didn’t give it a second thought, and I’m eagerly anticipating the chance to do it again.
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