Oompah has lost their luster. As millions have begun to think about taking a winter holiday, huge swathes Europe suddenly seem to be on the verge of being removed from the festive menu.

Fortunately, options for much-needed sun farther afield remain open — and given all the doom and gloom of last Christmas, has the idea ever seemed quite so appealing?

This will bring back memories of the United Arab Emirates for thousands of British tourists.

Glowing: Desert sands in Abu Dhabi, UAE, which Robert says is a 'tried-and-tested winter pleaser'

Glowing Desert Sands Abu Dhabi UAE Robert calls a winter-pleaser. 

The Hardmans (pictured) stayed at the Saadiyat Rotana Resort in Abu Dhabi

The Hardmans (pictured above) stayed in Abu Dhabi at Saadiyat Rotana Resort. 

You won’t find many destinations that offer more flights or shorter travel times with better weather chances at each end. 

And while many people will automatically gravitate to Dubai, an increasing number of Britons are starting to look for family fun in the larger, more powerful member of the UAE confederation — Abu Dhabi.

I know this because I did it shortly before the pandemic.

This place has all you need to enjoy Dubai’s facilities, with an added bonus: it offers space. It is abundant.

It’s the first thing that hits you when you sit up from your sunbed on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi’s main holiday coastal strip. 

You will see only sand and the sea instead of cranes or high-rise buildings. 

Abu Dhabi intends to preserve it this way. 

Our stay was at Saadiyatrotana resort, which is a low-lying Emirati residence with an atrium and large pool.

Blue horizon: The view from a hotel on Saadiyat island, where - according to Robert - 'you see nothing at all except sand and sea'

Blue Horizon: This is the view from a Saadiyat Island hotel. Robert says that there’s nothing but sand and water.

All You Need To Know 

  • All visitors must register their vaccination status via the ICA Smart App (smartservices.ica.gov.ae) prior to travel and take a PCR test no more than 48 hours before departure (children under 16 exempt).
  • The PCR test is free for all travelers who arrive at an airport. You don’t need to wait for your results. Children younger than 12 years old are not eligible.
  • Travellers aged 16 or older must install the Al Hosn app on their mobile phones (alhosnapp.ae), and submit proof of current vaccination status. App will automatically update the result from the airport’s PCR test. If it is negative, the app will show ‘green’, which enables tourists to have full access to sites, bars and restaurants.
  • Visitors who have not been vaccinated are required to take a DNA test at arrival.
  • Visitabudhabi.ae for more information.


You don’t sense that there are actually 327 rooms (and 11 villas), as the hotel building meanders through lawns and gardens alongside a third of a mile of near-empty beach. The hotel opened its doors in 2018 and already attracts many international visitors, including some British.

It is amazing how much attention was paid to details. The family room feels more like a Presidential Suite, as it has two large rooms, each ensuite. They are connected via a hallway and not a door in the wall. The large beds were huge and the blinds impenetrable, which allowed us to sleep like we were babies.

There are plenty of sunbeds scattered around the pool. The boardwalk runs along the beach and you will find loungers all over. We felt that although the beach was full at times, it wasn’t overcrowded.

It might be just half an hour from the international airport but, from March to midsummer, this is a hatchery for Abu Dhabi’s endangered hawksbill turtle. Because Rotana prides itself in its turtles, it has Turtle Bay Restaurant.

Half-board guests are free to select from many restaurants. However, our group of twelve (then aged ten, ten, and eight years old) chose the poolside Brasserie due to its excellent fish, steaks, and crème brulee. I found the tuna ceviche recipe and cauliflower popcorn on my list and ordered it again tomorrow. Now and then, we would follow the waft of home-made dough to the hotel’s excellent Italian restaurant, Si.

For those who cannot bear to miss the sporting action at home (or anywhere else), Hamilton’s gastropub has all the usual sports bar options on offer, beneath jumbo screens beaming in every major fixture on the planet.

The most popular and admired of all the productions was probably the weekly Market Brunch at Sim-Sim, which was much loved by expats. It is the only time in my life when anyone has ever said to me: ‘How many lobsters would you like, Sir?’

There is a well-staffed children’s club operation — both indoor and out — but after a couple of days we wanted to explore. If Dubai prides itself on skyscrapers and sporting events, Abu Dhabi’s forte is culture and theme parks, with plenty of both within a 20-minute cab ride.

Yas Waterworld in Middle East is one of largest Aquaparks. They have more slides and chutes here than anywhere else, as well as a rollercoaster, which takes you through the 30 acres in your bathers.

The Warner Bros World is located nearby. This multi-billion-dollar investment does the same for Batman and Scooby-Doo what Disneyland did for Mickey Mouse. The creators have instead put all of it inside an indoor air-conditioned building the same size as an airport with impressive special effects.

After arriving in the morning, we had to take the children with us at 7pm. Now fully reopened and Covid-compliant, it costs £60 a head and the add-ons are reasonably priced — e.g. £8 for a pizza.

Describing Abu Dhabi, pictured, Robert says: 'Here is a place with all the facilities and the good stuff you expect of Dubai but with one added attraction: space'

Robert describes Abu Dhabi in the following image: “Here’s a place that has all of the amenities and the great stuff you would expect from Dubai, but also with one additional attraction: Space.”

Robert paid a visit to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, pictured, which was built in partnership with its Parisian namesake

Robert paid a visit at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Travel Facts

Doubles B&B at Saadiyat Rotana Resort from £229 per night (rotana.com). 

London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi returns with Etihad from £376 (Etihad.com)

Arabian Nights Village desert experiences from £21.50 (arabiannightsvillage.com).

A complete switch of scenery was provided by a visit at the Sheikh Zayed grand mosque, which was constructed by the founder of UAE, who is also buried there. It is a marvellous structure, filled with serene fountains, geometric pools and powerful minarets. The main prayer hall is covered by the largest carpet in the world, hand-made by 1,200 Iranian weavers, which lies beneath what was (until recently) the world’s largest chandelier.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is also a relaxing option. It was created in partnership with Parisian ancestor. During our visit, a Picasso/Chagall show was displayed.

It was also impressive in its own right, which looked like a floating domed structure rising from the ocean with sun dappled through a latticework roofing inspired by a palm tree.

You can’t come all this way without a trip to the desert. Our Arabian Nights Desert Safari took us from our doorstep to the middle and back for camel rides, dune tours, and stopping to admire the scenery change as the sun sets.

We finally made our way to the carpeted oasis where we enjoyed plates of lamb and chicken flame-grilled before a belly-dancer, who quickly had all three of us up on the stage.

All it felt at the time was a vision of another universe. This winter, it is possible.