If only once in a lifetime, everyone should travel to a destination business class to experience the luxury that is achieved aboard the world’s leading airlines. Recently my wife and I set aside hard-earned savings and took our kids on the journey of a lifetime, a one-off family holiday to England with the goal to visit, amongst many things, Harry Potter World and then onwards to the continent and Euro Disney. After some consideration, we decided to stay a few nights along the way in the rapidly expanding metropolis that is Abu Dhabi, an island in the Persian Gulf.
Flying business class over the longest legs with the United Arab Emirates national airline Etihad was the plan to alleviate much of the parental anxiety anticipated with travelling with 8, 9 and 10 year-old boys. ‘Spoiled kids’ is the first thing that probably comes to mind, and you’d probably be right, except they do allow this Dad the freedom to work abroad and interstate for at least a third of the year – so I reckon they deserved it.
Sometimes it’s not about the destination, but more about the journey. This is a classic example of just how true that is. Any 20-plus hour destination needs a level of comfort and Etihad were a new experience for me, even though I have flown extensively across the world with many airlines. I had heard the name on my favourite footy stadium, I’d seen the commercials where Nicole Kidman dreamily plugs its first class experience, but I really didn’t know much more about it.
We boarded the A330, settled into large comfy seats that lay flat, and buckled in for the ride. We were also given soft blankets and pillows for a little snooze later on. Etihad have done some amazing work in the service space. There are well-trained flight attendants, service staff at check in and in their lounges reduce a lot of the stress that comes with travel. They make you feel special, the way you should feel when you spend hard-earned money. Sadly it’s my experience that not every airline can boast this, despite slick marketing campaigns. A courteous, friendly service culture that goes the extra yards to make you happy is always a pleasure.
Food is important, right? You bet it is, so try this menu out for dinner; the starter on offer was Arabic mezze, or white crab, avocado and red pepper tian with toasted quinoa. Main courses included beef fillet with red onion, baby potatoes and a rosemary jus, or roast chicken breast with potato and leek mash and roasted root vegies such as beetroot, parsnip and carrot. If you wanted to immerse yourself in a new culture, you could try the Arabic marinated fish with Egyptian rice and sautéed vegies. Of course there are also the drinks; the aperitif on leveling out, champagne on arrival, the amazing selection of world class wines with your mains, it goes on and on. The flight might be 11 hours to Abu Dhabi from Perth, but you will wish it was longer.
Abu Dhabi airport is ultra modern and seamless to transit through or depart from. The city is about 25 minutes by taxi from the airport. We had landed at 10.30pm and made it to our hotel on the edge of the CBD before midnight, a challenge I’d struggle to achieve in my home town airport on a Saturday night.
We selected the hotel Dusit Thani for our stay. It is a little out of the CBD, but the comfort and service this chain provides is worth it. We fell in love with their Phuket Laguna Beach hotel (and go back every time we are in Thailand) and have soaked up the luxury of their Bangkok hotel on several occasions, so we knew Abu Dhabi was also going to be a pleasure.
The city of Abu Dhabi is on the northeastern part of the Persian Gulf in the Arabian Peninsula. It is on an island less than 250 metres from the mainland and it is home to approximately one million people (a vast increase from less than 25 thousand in 1960).
An hour and a half’s drive away on ultra modern, well-organised and engineered freeways from Abu Dhabi is the famous city of Dubai. This city is much applauded as a progressive example of middle-eastern modern culture in a super modern city. Seven hours inland you find the ancient city of Oman, rich in Arabian history and culture dating back thousands of years.
Abu Dhabi itself is a sight for sore eyes, an ultra modern city that has boomed as a result of a state-owned oil refinery that pumps out 80,000 barrels of crude oil per day, every day of the year. Its history dates back 2,000 years, with pearl diving a major industry until the early 1900s.
The area receives less than 50mm of rainfall a year, making it very much a desert, although its climate is classed formally as dry sub-tropical. Summer is between May and September with average temperatures starting at 39.3 degrees Celsius peaking in August with an average of 42.9 degrees Celsius. June and July have experienced peak temperatures of 48.8 degrees Celsius and August had a 49.2 degrees Celsius reading. For this reason, the best time to visit is winter, with November average monthly temperatures not exceeding 31 degrees Celsius.
The resorts are amazing and it’s easy to soak up the sun on one of their beaches, but remember that unlike other destinations, this place is a Muslim country and they do not appreciate beach wear being worn away from the beach. Acts of public affection are not well considered in the streets either.
The things to do and see here are numerous and continue to grow every day as this state-of-the-art city rolls out. My top ten suggestions of things to do are as follows;
- The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an architectural masterpiece, a cultural work of art you just have to experience as it is one of the most remarkable religious buildings on the planet.
- Ferrari World is a fun park unlike any other.
- Yas Waterworld is alongside Ferrari World. Check it out, it’s great fun.
- Shopping is amazing. Yas Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall are just two places you have to see and goods are duty free/tax free here.
- The Arabian Nights Desert Adventure is something you will never forget.
- Watersports are simply brilliant here. Stunning azure blue waters surround this place, so there are plenty of things to do.
- The absolute must do is to travel the city on a double decker bus. It takes about two hours and you get to see everything there is to see.
- Sporting events are abound; the Formula 1 Grand Prix in November and the V8 Motorcar round are great for rev heads.
- The Red Bull Air Race is a visual spectacular that is attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the waterfront each year.
- The city is famous for its movie appearances, such as the Hollywood blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and there are many spots for fans to investigate.
I just can’t describe all the experiences you are going to have in Abu Dhabi in this article, but if you want a holiday with a difference, with different culture, food and experiences you will never forget in a place you feel safe and secure in, then this is it.
In planning this trip it started off all about London and Paris, but as you can see the journey is sometimes just as amazing as the destination. Getting there via business class is phenomenal (and once you have tried it you will never go back!), but Etihad economy provides a very comfortable ride too. Visit their website here for more information on flights.
About the author – Trevor Cochrane
Trevor is a born-and-bred proud West Australian who grew up on a dairy farm in Mundijong, just outside of Perth, WA. He launched the media company Guru Productions in 2002 that has since produced over 750 episodes of television telecast on Channel 9 nationally and is now seen in over 100 countries across the globe in 14 different languages. In the years since creating The Garden Gurus he has created and produced over 50 hours of international travel shows, food and wine programs, local WA food program Our State on a Plate and the Destination WA travel series. All Guru Productions projects appear on Channel 9 and WIN Television, as well as nationally on the popular digital TV channel 9 Life. Trevor’s passion for gardening has seen him write four books and regular columns for the The Sunday Times and The West Australian Newspaper.