Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi opened its doors in December 2001. The hotel instantly became a landmark not just for Abu Dhabi but for the world. The property stands testimony for the incredible evolution and development of the United Arab Emirates – a symbol of success and pride, which regardless of aesthetic choices or preferences, cannot be ignored. The building resembles a true Royal Palace, occupying lush grounds, with swimming pools, gardens and a superb private beach.
The design of the hotel is a mix of Islamic architectural elements such as balance, geometry, proportion, rhythm and hierarchical emphasis alongside modern methods of design and construction. The central dome features elaborate geometrical patterns and 114 smaller domes are spread over the building. The colour of the building was inspired by different shades of sands found in the Arabian Desert. The construction costs were around 3 billion USD (11.02 billion AED) making it the third most expensive hotel ever built
Emirates Palace consists of 394 residences, including 92 suites and 22 residential suites. The residences are spread over two wings as well as a primary central building. The majority of the suites are furnished in gold and marble. The main primary building houses an expansive marble floor and a large patterned dome above, picked out in gold. The penthouse floor has six Rulers’ Suites which are reserved exclusively for dignitaries, such as royalty.
There are no less than 7 dining venues including: BBQ Al Qasr (beach side dining with grill specialities), Cascades (Beach side restaurant), Mezlai (Lebanese), Le Vendôme (all-day dining), Sayad (Mediterranean cuisine) and Le Café. There are 40 meeting rooms and a ballroom that accommodates up to 2500 people.
The facilities include a stand alone dedicated Spa building on 2 floors with one of the finest hammams in the Middle East. The 1,500 sqm Emirates Palace Spa features a traditional Moroccan hammam that is well appointed with two Jacuzzis, two steam rooms, heated marble and an ice cave. There is also a state of the art barber and a hair salon.
There are two outdoor temperature controlled pools (including facilities for children), 1.3 km long beach (natural sand), outdoor football ground, air-conditioned tents for tennis and football, a marina, 2 helicopter landing pads and floating playground for kids on the sea, meters from the sandy beach.
While equally welcoming and catering to leisure and corporate guests, couples and children, Emirates Palace has one-of-kind offering of sports activities on its premises, such as football, cricket, yoga and beach volleyball. Water sports include: sailing, sea kayaking, paddle boarding, wind surfing, wake-boarding, waterskiing.
When taking on this hugely complex task, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group ensured that the rebranding will be implemented once extensive renovations will have been completed. The renovations were underway when I visited mid October with an entire wing of the hotel closed for works. Mandarin Oriental is orchestrating the project with the help of many of its most experienced executives actively involved which have been flown in from other properties.
The building is an impressive ”machine” which was built to the highest standards with the aim of ultimate comfort and functionality – the bathrooms of most accommodation are literally private Spas (water pressure is instant), perfect soundproofing, AC cools the largest of suites in minutes,
I was most impressed by the discreetness, humbleness and humility of Mandarin Oriental’s approach towards Emirates Palace. There are hardly any visible references to MO throughout the entire property and I was told this will be the case until they are ready. I have also felt a deep sense of respect from MO, who are very well aware of how loved the property is but also that no similar building of such calibre will be built any time soon. Emirates Palace has been attracting but locals (including expats, diplomats working in Abu Dhabi) and foreign travellers.
There are already generations who have grown up with the Emirates Palace – some celebrated a birthday or their wedding. Some only had a coffee or attended an event, while others would spend a holiday break, the hotel being the ultimate luxury urban resort. Food has always been regarded as flawless and even during my stay, I could not help but admire the prestige and glamour exerted by those dining by the sea. These moments will forever remain.
At the heart of Mandarin Oriental’s undertaking will be to enhance service to the highest standards and ensure maximum consistency. With newly hired staff but also staff who have been with the hotel for years, training and instilling motivation will be crucial – although this is one of the major strengths of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group as a luxury operator. Ensuring individualised and bespoke service will be yet another challenge given the sheer size of the property.
All in all, the potential of Emirates Palace is tremendous and the property is undoubtedly in good hands. It is only a matter of time for the property to shine through once again. I am confident that with the renovation and reconceptualisation, Mandarin Oriental has also understood the importance of identifying once again the relevance of the property and what would make it once desirable, including reaching out to a younger audience but also to make the property more welcoming and less intimidating.
Humbleness and care will go far and earn the respect which Mandarin Oriental deserves
Oliver Petcu in Abu Dhabi
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