My experience with local desert safaris has been limited to the cheap, run-of-the-mill tourist packages based out of Dubai. To a newcomer who isn’t seeking the romanticized ambience I had envisioned, these fit the bill nicely. Escape the bustling city, bash some dunes, and feast under the stars. But personally, it went downhill from there and hit a low point when the whirling dervish lit up like a Christmas tree and thudding techno obliterated any sense of serenity of the desert night sky.
This changed last weekend, when my idealistic vision of an enchanted desert experience was realized. There was a marked difference from the moment we were picked up in a private Land Cruiser and chauffeured out to Al Ain. Veering off-road and into the open desert, we were treated to multiple sightings of camels wandering the dunes, creating postcard perfect scenes as single-file caravans ambled along the crests.
Upon arrival we were treated to a warm personal greeting at the reception desk, which is housed in an Emirati-style fort watchtower. We had selected a wood and stone bungalow from the three available room types that included Bedouin-style tents and traditional grass structures. The interior was stunning, yet simple and warm with tasteful local accents, and a private deck that boasted breathtaking views of the never-ending desert. As the resort does not provide televisions, landlines, or even Wi-Fi, it was a welcome change of pace to spend our evening on the deck, relaxing to nothing but the soft trickling sound of a distant fountain.
After sunset dune bashing and a quick bungalow siesta, we made our way to the outdoor dinner buffet. Honestly, I was dreading the entertainment; afraid it would stain an otherwise flawless experience thus far. The setup was comparable in form to previous experiences, but that’s where the similarities ended. Rich tapestries adorned the tables and the majlis-style floor cushions were substantial enough for a full evening of seated comfort. Although the food selection was relatively limited, it was tasty and complemented by the subtle tones of a traditional oud player. True to safari model, there was a belly dancer but the performance was as tasteful as one could be.
The highlight of the evening came with the announcement that the lights would be switched off to appreciate the surrounding desert. The celestial show that was revealed in the true darkness was nothing short of awe-inspiring as we sat in muted silence, contemplating the heavens above. To me, this demonstrated that Arabian Nights truly aimed to provide a small taste of desert life, and not simply satisfy modern expectations of entertainment.
We will certainly return, and look forward to taking guests who want to complement their UAE stay with a trip to the desert.