There are many downsides to living in Abu Dhabi. It’s pretty hot. It’s waaaay far away from friends and family. Seahawks games are in the middle of the night. Spotify doesn’t work here. You can only buy imitation vanilla extract.
But, um, life is also pretty darn luxurious over here. NYUAD flew us business class. That was awesome. They pay for our housing, our transportation, our kids’ education, cable, furniture, and a whole host of community events. To top it all off, they gave us a vacation at the Ritz Carlton for four days. Okay, truthfully, the had to move us off campus, because they were switching the electricity from temporary generators to the new power grid on Saadiyat Island. But they probably didn’t have to pick the Ritz…and they happily gave us two rooms instead of squeezing us with the kids into one, and they provided all meals.
I was not especially looking forward to living in a hotel for a few days, because it’s sadly not very fun when you have young kids. They’re thrown off their schedules, they’re not sleeping in their own beds, they don’t have their usual toys, we can’t cook what we know they like, etc. But we decided to think of it as an opportunity to get to know a part of the city that we haven’t yet explored. Saadiyat Island, where the NYUAD campus is, is NE of downtown Abu Dhabi. The Ritz is in the SW corner, and it’s in the city proper, instead of off on an island. I nerdily prepared a document with all the nearby sights I wanted to see, including the Grand Mosque, a couple of souks, and Ferrari World.
We decided to drive to the hotel instead of taking the university’s shuttle, because we wanted to have use of our car while we were there. However, we don’t have GPS in the car or data on our cell phones and we got very, very lost. First of all, streets in Abu Dhabi have no one name. They have about four different names – one invariably named for a sheikh, two colloquial names, and one random number name. And they’re unnumbered, so you don’t go by addresses, you have to navigate by landmark. Please, please, please just take a quick look at this so you can begin to understand what we’re dealing with here. To add insult to injury, if you miss your turn, you have to go about half an hour in the wrong direction before you can turn around. We checked-in a full two hours after we thought we were going to. Poor Jeff was almost in tears. But would he stop and ask for directions? Haha, no.
We arrived at the hotel so stressed out, but, ahhhhhhh, the Ritz did its best to soooooothe us.
It is a lovely place. Not take-your-breath-away opulent, but that wouldn’t have been so great, because then I would have felt a little weird with kids in Star Wars t-shirts or wet bathing suits in the lobby. The hotel was actually very child friendly. Women in Venetian “princess” dresses greeted us at the door and offered us all pineapple orange juice and bags of toys for Adele and May while Jeff checked-in. We were led to our rooms and were really happy with the set-up; our two rooms were separate, but connected with an interior door. This was great for noise control and gave us two of everything! Two bathrooms. Two bathrooms’ worth of toiletries to steal! Extra slippers and robes. Extra turn-down chocolates!
Here is Adele luxuriating in her own bed:
That’s a window into the bathroom, so you can watch tv from the tub, of course. And here is May’s favorite part of her room:
Seriously, the bidet kept her entertained for hours everyday.
We got settled into our rooms and then decided to go check out the splash park and pool.
The splash park wasn’t much to May’s liking, so we moved on to the pool. I thought we would just test it out for a little bit, but we ended up staying there until the sun went down. And wow, what a moon there was that night!
This picture doesn’t do it justice (the size of the moon is frustratingly hard to capture on film), but this picture is so funny. I’m the cutest (as always), May is upset I took her out of the pool, and Adele is making her ridiculous camera face. Here’s a better photo of just Adele and the moon:
The girls were already up well past their normal 6:30 bedtime. There were free buffet meals every day, but they were at set times that didn’t really correspond to when we normally eat and sleep. For example, dinner didn’t start until 7:00. We just had to go with the flow! Adele’s attitude this day definitely reflected the disruption to her schedule (and the fact that she had/has a long-lingering cold), but thankfully, her attitude did improve with each day. And a chocolate fountain doesn’t hurt either!
That first night’s dinner was WOW. Wednesday nights at Giornotte, one of the restaurants in the hotel, are Bistro Nights, and the feast was especially decadent. I mean, there was probably every kind of food I could think of. Seafood, fresh, raw, and cooked, all kinds of meat, including wagyu beef and duck and veal, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese specialties, a whole wall of different salads, and another whole wall of desserts. Oh, and cheese and pâté! How could I forget that? There were like ten different terrines and every variation of cheese. And it was all free to us.
Breakfast and lunch were similarly sumptuous, though a tad more scaled back (just barely). The hotel caters to guests from all over the world, so there wasn’t just a continental or “American” breakfast; there was mezze, dim sum, meats, cheeses, and every bread product imaginable along with a fruit coulis-bar, as well as a whole honeycomb and chocolate and caramel drizzles in case your pain au chocolat weren’t already chocolately enough. Oh, and to drink:
Fresh coconuts. Yep. Also, coffee (including the first actually good espresso that we’ve found in Abu Dhabi) and juice for the kids. A waitress asked Adele what she wanted to drink. Adele was a little shy, so I suggested she get a juice. She asked me what kind they had and I told her she could probably think of any fruit and they would have it. She went with an easy one: apple juice. The waitress then asked whether she wanted red apple or green apple! That was a new one to me! Adele opted for the green and it was freshly pressed and tasted exactly like biting into a juicy apple. Good choice, Adele!
After breakfast we went to the pool. Adele and may wore their matching bikinis handmade by their Nonnie! Strike a pose, girls!
We splashed in the pool all morning, then ate lunch. I started honing my buffet skills. The tyranny of choice is a real problem folks, so I decided to focus on one thing each time. For lunch, curry:
Afterwards, we took a family nap:
And went back to the pool and stayed until it got dark again:
And we went to dinner and I had that delicious apple juice that Adele introduced me to:
I think by this time, we had really settled into life at the hotel. Just call me Eloise! I mean, call Adele Eloise. I’m too old.
You know those big plans I had for all the touristy sightseeing we were going to do? Ha. We didn’t want to leave the hotel. We were perfectly content with our little routine of stuff-your-face, pool, stuff-your-face, sleep, pool, stuff-your-face, sleep. I’ve condensed the pictures for you:
The Ritz pool was really fantastic for the girls. The entire first half of it was very, very shallow, and separated by an underwater wall, so the littlest kids couldn’t mistakenly float into the deeper end, and shaded from the sun. There were also tons of pool noodles and flotation devices to play with. May was happy to stay in the shallow end and loved sitting and splashing or kicking her feet, whereas Adele enjoyed real swimming out in the deep end. Because our entire building was staying at the hotel with us, there was a real camp atmosphere. All the families with kids were in the pool at the same time and ate at the same time.
Even when Ryan came, we mostly just wanted to stay by the pool!
Ryan (Jeff’s best friend from college, for those of you who do not know) is now the State Department’s country officer for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. On his way to Colombo, he had a one-day stopover in Abu Dhabi (and he’ll have another one in a week on his way back to DC) so we spent the day together. Again, we had big plans, but Adele was still a little under the weather and so we decided to take it easy. That meant pool lounging and room service for lunch on our balcony, but Jeff and Ryan did take off during naptime to take a driving tour of the city.
That night, Friday, was our last night in the Ritz. For dinner, we decided to live it up, so we sat outside. We can do that now! It’s not one million degrees anymore! I was happy to discover that they had foie gras-stuffed éclairs as an hors d’oeuvres. I told everyone to try one, but I kept eating them, so I think they ran out.
Jeff and Adele had their own food fun:
Jeff took the girls upstairs to start getting ready for bed and I walked around the hotel to take a few quick snaps:
We meant to squeeze even more pool time into Saturday morning before our noon checkout, but we were moving a bit too slowly that day. (Too much pâté perhaps? Hmm? Impossible. No such thing as too much pâté.) We did find enough time to go to the Ritz Kids Club where Adele had some henna painted on her hands:
Then we left and went home to our apartment on campus. The power was working, There were no major disasters while we were away. We didn’t have hot water for a stretch of time, but we were too tired to bathe anyway. It sure was nice having all the cooking done for us. And the wait staff were so kind and accommodating. Why aren’t there little chocolates on my bed in the afternoon? Wait, I have to move my own slippers to where I want them? (Oh, by the way, I totally stole the slippers. I’m wearing them right now.)
In case you have been wondering what kind of car we ended up renting, it’s this:
Just kidding. But does Adele have a future in car modeling or what?!