Review: Intercontinental Hotel Club, Qatar

It’s lousy to be away from home during Christmas! So, what’s the next best thing I can compensate myself? How about a hide-away in a luxury hotel, sit by the beach and pool and gorge myself silly on good food?

Decision made. Next, to look up a hotel. This is a no-brainer…I have a free Hotel Intercontinental Hotel voucher set to expire on Christmas Day itself..so the choice was unanimous – Hotel Intercontinental, Qatar. Date: 24 December 2009.

Hotel Intercontinental, Qatar is not the newest hotel in Qatar. In fact, it seems to have been around for a while. The outer facade does not look new, the rooms are well decorated and furnished but you can tell it’s slightly aging, and the restaurants does not serve exciting cuisine. However, it seems to be packed with expats and local alike – much more than some of the newer and grander hotels around.

I think the reason is simply this – once you step past the lobby of the hotel and enter past the pool area – you’re in a oasis of your own. The hotel has a grand pool, health and fitness club and beach area and while not exactly letting your hair down, you can relax and let go some of the inhibition you have while residing and living in conservative Qatar.

I like the fact that the health club has 2 squash courts. I have not played squash for a while and enjoy slamming away at the squash court. The courts are also used for ‘spinning’ – a sort of stationery bike aerobics group exercise – and a group of lady expatriates were cycling away to some hot and pulsating music.

The pool area is large with a swim-up bar. Alcohol is served and bikinis are in abundance. Deck chairs surround the pool and continue on to the large beach area. Once you sink into a deck chair, sip a beer, close your eyes, dig your feet into sand and listen to the waves, you’ll never imagine you’re in Qatar!

Hotel Intercontinental - as viewed from beach
Hotel Intercontinental – as viewed from beach

Large Swimming pool area
Large Swimming pool area

Relax by the sandy beach
Relax by the sandy beach

For those with children, there is a kid’s playground and a shallow wading pool. For those with older children, a beach club cater for kayaks, water-scooters and sailboats for rental.

And when hunger or thirst strikes, there are numerous restaurants dotting the pool area or within the hotel itself. There is a large international buffet restaurant, a cafe, a Mediterranean restaurant, a Mexican restaurant cum bar and a large Lebanese seafood restaurant.

I do have to admit that restaurant prices are on the high side, especially with the galore of Christmas meals, and I couldn’t have as many meals as I wanted in the hotel. Luckily, there are hourly shuttle bus service to the nearest shopping mall and I was able to settle a couple of meals at the mall and back without having to burn a hole in my wallet. Nor face the stress of driving in Doha’s traffic on my day off.

There is a spa at the health club but prices are a bit scary. There is also a Chinese massage and acupuncture clinic at the 2nd level but having visited their sister outlet at Sheraton hotel, I wasn’t too keen either.  (Read here)

But you don’t really need a massage here to have a good time at the hotel. To be able to enjoy the sound of the waves and be able to drink the occasional beer had already made my day. I now understand why this hotel is a top favourite with expats despite being slightly out of the way and not being the newest nor the grandest!

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Health Club at Ritz Carlton Hotel, Doha, Qatar

Indoor tennis courts
Indoor air-conditioned tennis courts

Health clubs in hotels are expensive in Qatar. They usually cost above US$6000 a year in membership fees. Despite the hefty prices, memberships are still extremely popular as it provides a useful getaway for a day of sporting activity, spa treatment, relaxation and some good food and wine for expatriates who are able to afford the fees.

A friend of mine is a member of the health spa club in Ritz Carlton Hotel, Qatar. One day, she invited me to spend a weekend day with her at the club. I was glad to accept her invitation without hesitation.

The Ritz Carlton Hotel is located at the edge of Doha, the main city of Qatar. It is located very close to The Pearl, a spectacular luxury residential, commercial and marina development that has recently risen out of the Persian Gulf in the shape of a palm leaf . The spa club is located on the ground floor the Ritz Carlton hotel.

We first registered at the reception counter and then made our way to the changing room. Located within the changing room is a sauna, steam room and relaxation corner. We then made our way out and my friend offered to show me the various sporting facilities.

There is an indoor squash court, 2 indoor tennis courts and a fully equipped gym – all in air-conditioned comfort. I’m really impressed… many health clubs in the hotels in Qatar has good facilities but I believe Ritz Carlton has the best sporting facilities. I believe they are very popular because the whole time I was there, the courts were fully occupied.

We then made our way to the indoor, temperature-controlled swimming pool.

I really like the pool. Most hotel pools in Qatar are free-form pools but this pool is a full 25m lap pool. It even has lane markers so one can swim laps in peace and not be knocked into by casual swimmers or kids all the time. We spent sometime doing laps in the pool.

We then made our way to the outdoor free-form pool which is located just beside the indoor pool to sun-tan and enjoy some beverages. As a member, we are entitled to a 10% discount.

We were deliberating to ourselves whether we should get a massage. The spa has a good choice of facial and massage treatments and as a member, we are again entitled to a 10% discount on massage treatments. Before we could decide, a call came in and we were invited for dinner with friends and massage plans will have to be postponed.

I can see why health clubs in hotels are popular. There are not much leisure activities in Qatar and the hot weather prevent one from spending a lot of time outdoors. One cannot simply spend time in shopping malls all the time and health clubs in hotels are really an oasis of sporting and leisure activity to escape from the outside busy traffic, harsh heat and fine sand.

I think I’ll really need to examine my budget and see if I can find a budget-price health club membership if I need to spend any more time in Qatar. Otherwise, I may need to talk to my boss about a pay increment…

Pix credit: http://hotels.lonelyplanet.com

Location of Ritz Carlton Health Spa Club PO Box 23400, Doha, Qatar
Size: Large indoor club
Facilities: Sauna and steam rooms, private massage treatment rooms, tennis and squash courts, indoor and outdoor pool, gymnasium, workout studio
Friendliness: Polite and helpful
Pricing: Annual membership starts at US$5500

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Senso Wellness Centre@Radisson SAS Hotel, Dubai, UAE

I stayed in 2 different hotels when I was in Dubai, UAE recently. One of the two hotels was the Radisson SAS Hotel and the other was the Arabian Courtyard, which I reviewed in an earlier article.

There are at least 3 Radisson SAS hotel in Dubai, so you have to be careful, so as not to confuse yourself or your taxi driver. The oldest Radisson SAS is near the Creek, the newer one near the Media city and the latest, near the Marina area. (I believe Radisson SAS was changed to Radisson Blue recently)

I was in Dubai for some work related meeting and hence stayed at the Radisson SAS hotel near Media City.  This hotel is conveniently located near the Media and Internet City of Dubai, where most of the world’s top IT and Media companies have their offices and these include Nokia, Oracle, Microsoft, Dell, IBM, HP, Canon, CNN, BBC, Reuters, CNBC etc

Hence, Radisson SAS is an extremely convenient hotel if you need to do business with any of these companies. The hotel is a short walking distance for many of these companies and is the top corporate hotel choice for them as well. However, convenience for working with these companies translate into inconveniences for non-work choices.

There are simply no facilities once you step out of the hotel. The entire place becomes a dead town at night or over the weekend and you have no place to eat or shop other than the hotel within a 30 minutes walking radius ie if you have not succumbed from the heat. Your nearest food, shopping or entertainment facility is at least a taxi ride away. In fact, to travel to Dubai city centre is at least 30 minutes via taxi in smooth traffic. Much longer if traffic is bad… which can be common in Dubai.

Hence, if you do not intend to go out far, your only source of amusement is within the hotel. This is where the hotel’s spa, Senso Wellness Centre comes in useful. The Senso is located near the hotel’s swimming pool and gymnasium and boasts of 6 treatment rooms which is done up individually in stylish Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Indonesian decor.

Massage room in Indian decor
Treatment Room done in Indian decor

The Senso Spa offers facial treatments, body treatments and body massages. A face hydrating treatment starts at 420 AED (@US$115), a body polish at 220 AED (@US$65) and a 60 mins Swedish massage starts at 300 AED (@US$82). Hotel guest who takes up at least 2 body massage treatments can get a 20% discount.

I was given a tour of the spa, gym and swimming pool by the spa receptionist. The spa is managed and manned by a mixture of Lebanese and Filipino staff. I understand that the masseurs are Filipino and Indonesian.

Although I stayed at the hotel for a week, I did not end up using any of the spa or fitness facilities. The swimming pool and sun deck area is small and the small gym consist mostly of older gym equipments.

I find the spa prices a bit high and I simply dislike it’s location. The treatment rooms are just next to a elevator zone where people and luggage are coming in and out all the time and I find it simply too distracting.

Despite the hotel touting the spa and pool as one of the highlights of the hotel, I find the awkward location and small size of the pool, spa and gym more like a design after-thought of the architects of the hotel than being the highlight that it has been credited with.

Unless you are stuck in the hotel for weeks and weeks, you may be better off taking a taxi and exploring other parts of Dubai which can be more entertaining than what the hotel and spa alone can offer.

Location of Senso Wellness Centre@ Radisson SAS Hotel PO Box 211723 Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Size: Small spa with private rooms and facial treatment rooms. Hydro-massage bath and jacuzzi available in some of the rooms.
Facilities:
None
Friendliness: Polite staff and mostly Filipino massage therapists.
Pricing: Starts from US$65 for a facial, wrap or bath. US$82 for Body massage. Various spa and beauty packages available and starts from US$150.

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Review: VenetianMacao Casino Hotel, Macau

Most people would expect a overwhelming good review of a 6-star resort hotel. Well, this will be one of the worst review I would have given any hotel, 6-star or otherwise!

Venetian Hotel, MacauVenetian Macao hotel is a hot 6-star shopping mall cum casino and hotel launched in Macau(or Macao) about a year ago in August 28, 2007. The Venetian Macao include 3,000 luxury suites in a 32-story tower – recreating the beauty of baroque Venice complete with canals, gondolas, singing gondoliers and other legendary Venetian icons.

(As I understand it, the resort belongs to the Sands Group. There is already a Sands Hotel/Casino in Macau and these sister hotels run a regular shuttle service between the two).

The Venetian Macao is modeled after it’s namesake resort in Las Vegas, USA and retain a similar grandeur and opulence that it’s flagship resort in Las Vegas is supposed to have.

I recently checked into the Venetian in Macau after spending a busy working week in Hong Kong. I was expecting a weekend of fun, relaxation and discovery but ended the weekend swearing that I’ll never want to set foot into this hotel again. Let me give you a blow-by-blow account of what had me so cranking mad with this hotel.

Macau can be reached from Hong Kong via fast-ferries that ply between the two countries every half-hourly. It takes only 40 minutes to reach Macau from Hong Kong. Once you land in Macau, that’s where the nightmare starts!

The VenetianMacao Casino Resort is on a nearby island of Taipa which is about 15 minutes away from the Macau ferry terminal via a car or coach. There is a coach pick-up point at the Macau ferry for visitors to the Venetian Macao – but this pick-up coach is a general one where anyone who wants to go to Venetian Macao can simply hop on for free.

So, here you are, having paid almost US$400 for a room, now need to join a snaking queue for 15-20 minutes together with hundreds of day-trippers, casual visitors, beady gamblers, curious shoppers or bored locals who are mostly not paying guests of the hotel.

After scrambling up the coach, and a 15 minutes coach ride, you are again disgorged with hundreds of visitors, into the small hotel lobby which is milling with hundreds of curious, puzzled, dis-interested people. You then need to find your own way to the check-in counter only to find that there are hundreds of hotel guests like yourself ahead.Among the mess, noise and general bedlam, a hotel staff comes along, and offer to bring you and other checking-in guests to another check-in lobby to expedite the check-in process.

Gladly, off you and some other guests go, despite no offer of help with your luggage, only to find that the next check-in counter is not some 10 meters away but some 200 meters away! Imagine the misery of checking into a 6-star hotel to find that you have to lug your luggage and bags, up a escalator, across a busy shopping mall, through a smoky and crowded casino hall, before reaching the other check-in counter.

The misery does not end here because after checking in, you now need to repeat the same process of lugging your luggage, wade through the casino crowd, before arriving at the right lift lobby. The hotel is so massive that it has 3,000 suites, 2 check-in counters and 4 hotel lift lobbies. Go to the wrong lift lobby and you repeat your misery all over again.

The hotel suite may be big and gorgeous but you have totally lost the mood to appreciate anything by then.

Only hardcore gamblers or shoppers would appreciate anything about Venetian Macao after that tedious checking in process because only the casino and shopping mall are conveniently located. The rest of the hotel facilities remain a treasure hunt. Try going to the swimming pool, gym, spa or indoor golf putting range and you risk going through a confusing labyrinth of corridors, lifts and lobbies again.

Don’t expect quality family or retreat time here either. The swimming pools are not heated despite the cold of a late November. There is only a small gym with only a few gym equipments. The Spa is small and has no other facilities (i.e. jacuzzi, steam room & sauna) and everything in the spa menu cost double the price of typical hotel prices.

The shops in the ultra-large shopping mall are of the ultra-upmarket brands that it seems so pathetic because most of these luxury shops remain empty despite large throngs of people along the mall’s corridors.

There is a good variety of cafes and restaurants within the shopping mall but they tend to be expensive. The foodcourt also sell a great variety of food but it tends to be crowded all day. Although it is technically a food court, be warned that prices are not cheap either.

The other saving grace for the resort is the indoor gondola ride that stretches to a large part of the mall. The boatmen seems to be genuine Venetians who were not shy of showing off their singing prowess and hence, a large part of the mall resonate with their powerful voice. (I’ve seen a similar gondola ride in a large shopping mall in Doha, Qatar but the boatmen were mostly quiet).

Will I come back again? No. Will I recommend anyone to this hotel? Only if you are a hardcore gambler or shopper – otherwise, no. You have been warned…

Location of VenetianMacao Casino Hotel
Estrada da Baía de N. Senhora da Esperança, s/n,
Taipa, Macao SAR, P.R. China
Size: 32stories with 3000 over rooms
Facilities: Shopping Mall, Casino, Restaurants, Swimming Pools, Childcare Centre, Golf Putting Green, Spa, Gym, Performance Theatre, Gondola Rides

Friendliness: Polite staff. Some staff have English problems.
Pricing: Starts from US$400 per suite

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