It’s a long story, but we were unable to get into our first choice hotel in Abu Dhabi – the Crowne Plaza at Yas Island – for the first few days of our visit so, after some tortuous conversations with our travel agent, we were booked at the Holiday Inn Downtown Abu Dhabi, formerly known – if like me you have an old city map – as ‘The Sands’. It caused Gaz (who met us at the airport) some confusion, initially he took us the other Holiday Inn.
Anyway, to ‘Downtown’ which is situated as its name suggests, in a crowded, downtown, part of the city,
We arrived fairly late, after 9pm, and were greeted warmly by reception. We were told that our room had been upgraded (due to my, shortly to expire, ‘Platinum’ status – it’s been fun) and shown to our room by the bell-boy.
The hotel is currently undergoing extensive refurbishment and rebranding over to becoming a full Holiday Inn from its previous incarnation. The 12th floor smelt of fresh emulsion paint and I suspect that our room (1217) had not been used since its refurb.
The hall décor is corporate Holiday Inn colours, while the room itself is tastefully decorated in muted mushroom and browns. Indeed the corporate ‘Holiday Inn’ branding in the public ares is almost overwhelming.
In our room the ‘king size’ bed was among the largest I’ve ever slept in, a full eight feet wide, firm and comfortable – with a warm duvet. The duvet was welcomed in the light of an intrusive and ruthlessly efficient air-conditioner that insisted on firing up every five minutes through the night.
There were two wardrobes, one with mini-safe: elsewhere a TV, kettle, easy chair with coffee table, and desk with mesh chair.
That said, I liked the idea of putting power sockets on the bedside units, ideal for charging phones, tablets and even – I suppose – smart watches. A nice touch.
The free, in-room WiFi, is pleasantly fast, 4Mbps, fast enough to stream news (or Doctor Who) from home.
After dumping our bags, we fancied a quick bar snack, so decided to try ‘Harvesters’ in the basement.
The first thing that hit us was that it was loud, the bar was showing the Arsenal game, live, on multiple TV screens. The bar is home to the Abu Dhabi branch of the Arsenal supporters club and the fans were in good voice, particularly when their win (over Everton) took them to the top of the Premier League.
The second thing that hit us was the smoke, it’s easy to forget just how much nicer English bars have become since the introduction of the smoking ban.
We found a table and settled down, waited five minutes and I then went to find a waitress and menu. I ordered chicken wings, Val cheesey chips, accompanied by a Stella Artois and a tomato juice, respectively.
The drinks came promptly, the food shortly after. The chicken wings were okay, I’ve had better, and worse, while the cheesey fries were plentiful (a huge portion) if a little stingey on the cheese.
By now the football fans were leaving and a guitarist was singing. It’s quite dark down there, but not unpleasant.
We visited again the next afternoon, and found it quiet, but that stale tobacco aura remained, so after a quick drink we ventured to the Kings Arms.
It’s worth mentioning the view from the 12th floor, over ‘downtown’ Abu Dhabi. On two evenings of our stay several blocks were closed off by the local police, filming for a new Brad Pitt movie, we understand.
Breakfast and lunches, in ‘Piazza’ on the 1st floor, were okay, if unspectacular. A reasonable buffet of cold cuts, fruit, salad, patisserie and bread, hot dishes and an egg/omelette station.
After breakfast we tried the rooftop pool, which is four flights of stairs above the 16th floor. A pleasant sun trap, we were the only guests keeping the lonely lifeguard company.
Housekeeping was efficient, we sent some items to the laundry and they were returned the same day, even though we’d sent them after the cut-off time.
All in all, it’s a pleasant enough ‘business’ hotel. Certainly we had nothing to complain about; and the ongoing refurbishment is bringing what appears to have been a tired hotel into a real 21st century hotel.