Abu Dhabi: Where East Meets West


Dream Destination: Abu Dhabi 

Where East Meets West

By David Duran

Global Living Magazine – Issue 10 | January/February 2014

Choosing to travel across the world for an adventure, relaxing luxury vacation, or hopefully a combination of both, isn’t an easy decision. We all have our dream destinations or places that rank high on our bucket list. For some of us, the forbidden lands of the East call out to us. But when you think of the Middle East, it’s easy to focus more on perceptions of what you read in the magazines or see on television and, in all fairness any concerns one may have about traveling to that region of the world can mostly be validated. But at the same time, there is one region within the Middle East that is extremely welcoming to foreign travelers while still providing a real world view of what it’s like to visit a Muslim country – and you might be shocked at just how progressive it truly is. And getting there isn’t as hard as you may think; for me, my opulent adventure began the moment I checked in at the Etihad Airways airport counter.

The world’s most luxurious airline that most have never heard of is doing everything it can to impress their customers. Pearl Business and Diamond First class passengers are greeted at the airport counter and privately escorted through security, all the way to the airport lounge. I was headed to Abu Dhabi, a destination mostly overlooked by its much smaller in land size, and neighboring competitor, Dubai, both which are located within the United Arab Emirates. Etihad Airway is the premier airline for all flights in and out of Abu Dhabi. With direct flights from NYC and recently announced Los Angeles, with more to come, the company is making sure that they stand out above the rest, providing a level of service that is incomparable to others.

The Coral economy class offers personal in-flight entertainment systems for each passenger as well as superior cabin service. Within the free services offered to all guests is the new in-flight nanny service. You read right, a nanny service onboard their flights. The nanny is there to ensure an enjoyable flight for any children on the flight as well as the rest of the passengers. Making sure kids eat first, and providing games and assistance to parents helps make this possible. Pearl Business passengers enjoy lay-flat seats with dedicated cabin attendants that anticipate any needs one may have. The food menu allows passengers to select from a specially-created menu, which is frequently rotated, as well as offering an ‘order anytime’ menu for guests who might want an extra bite during their flight.

For travelers looking for something even more impressive than Pearl Business, the Diamond First Class cabin on Etihad is a one-of-a-kind experience. With private individual suites boasting 6-foot-8-inch extra wide, lay-flat beds, as well as 23-inch cinematic widescreen televisions, the Diamond experience has taken luxury air travel to a place that most only dream of. The leather seats are upholstered in Poltrona Frau leather, the same leather found inside Ferrari cars. The amenity kits offered to passengers include pajamas decorated with Swarovski crystals. It’s an unnecessary abundance of pure extravagance, which any Diamond passenger fully deserves. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Etihad has added a personal chef on each flight to attend to Diamond guests. All meals are prepared to order. Both Pearl and Diamond classes also have special dedicated Etihad lounges within certain airports, which offer free massages in addition to standard lounge services.

Image courtesy of Etihad Airway

Image courtesy of Etihad Airway

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, the largest of seven member Emirates, and the second largest in population of the seven, in addition to being the financial capital of the Emirates. It has modern buildings and surroundings similar to Dubai, but at a much smaller and more controlled level. Within all the modernization still exists a very apparent and proud culture, most of what you won’t any longer experience in Dubai. The perfect balance between new and old world creates a tourist-friendly blend that permits visitors to feel as if they have been transported to a storybook land, while still having all the modern conveniences of high-end luxury surrounding them.

During my visit, I stayed at the brand new Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. This luxury beach resort overlooks the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the most visited destinations within the UAE. Like everything else in this grand city, the Ritz didn’t hold back when building the 447 guest rooms and suites, in addition to the 85 private villas. This massive 17th-century Renaissance-style structure dominates the coast and provides stunning views from each room. Every culinary option is available for resort guests within the 10 on-site restaurants and lounges. Internationally-based interior design firm, Super Potato, famous for making architectural art, designed three of the signature restaurants. Among my standouts was Dolce, an Italian-style café offering fine coffee, desserts and homemade gelato, with one of the most impressive dessert buffets you will ever see, during their brunch services. The Ritz Carlton brand is known for a standard of excellence that is unparalleled by others, and this new property exceeds this level and makes guests feel more than welcomed.

On the other side of Abu Dhabi is where I found myself for a separate stay at the world-renowned Emirates Palace. It’s almost impossible to describe the size of this property that looks unreal at first sight. The abundance of gold and eagerness to please guests exudes at every corner of the property, and at every curve of each perfectly-rounded overhead dome. It’s almost overwhelming how massive this place is, but it’s definitely a must-see when visiting. There isn’t anything that this property can’t offer you, and if you need anything during your stay, your personal butler is anxiously awaiting your commands at the push of a button. This is truly a place that will have you walking around with your jaw dropped to the floor, even after a few days of staying there.

Image Courtesy of Emirates Palace.

Image Courtesy of Emirates Palace.

After all the luxury of my trip, I opted for a more rugged outdoor experience at the Arabian Nights Village. This beautiful property located in the middle of the desert and surrounded by nothing more than sand dunes, offers cozy, private stand-alone rooms that make desert camping a bit more tolerable. This is the place to escape to for a couple nights during your Abu Dhabi adventure. This is also the place where you can ride camels, try your luck at sand surfing, and grip for your life during some dune bashing with expert drivers in luxury Land Cruisers.

Abu Dhabi is a magical destination with elements of both East and West. It’s a place to indulge and be spoiled – a place to explore and discover a rich history, while learning the beauty of a culture that, although it can appear off-putting, is actually quite sweet and welcoming. World-class golfing, shopping and spectacular one-of-a-kind locations such as Ferrari World, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, make Abu Dhabi exceptionally unique. As long as travelers go with an open mind and a respect for customs and traditions, a once-in-a-lifetime experience is guaranteed.

Image courtesy of David Duran

Image courtesy of David Duran


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