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A family-sized desert adventure at the Al Bustan Palace, Muscat, Oman

Photographer and mum of three, Karen Willie, takes her family on a desert adventure holiday in Oman, starting with a stay at a Palace


Posted: 2 February 2015
by Catherine Hudson

Muscat, Oman
The beach at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel
Lucia enjoying one of the pools
The Al Bustan Palace Hotel lobby
Pizza making skills
Chicken bento lunchboxes
Pete and the kids in the pool
Water baby

As a holiday destination, the Middle Eastern country of Oman, is relaxing and cultured yet still exotic and unique. The capital, Muscat has a spectacular coastline in both directions: pristine white sand beaches and spectacular mountains. It is a perfect destination for winter sun, as from October to March it’s has an almost Mediterranean climate and daytime temperatures are around 30°C, making it ideal for the upcoming half-term break. The hotels in and around Muscat are fantastic and many have terrific facilities for children of any age. We took our children, Alfie 10, Noah 9 and Lucia 7, to stay at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel, part of the Ritz Carlton group.

The journey

You can fly direct from Heathrow to Muscat on Oman Air which takes 7 hours 50 minutes. We combined our trip with a week in Abu Dhabi on the return leg, which actually made the flights more reasonable. 

The Al Bustan Palace Hotel is 50 minutes from the airport and will arrange a private transfer for you on request. We hired a car as we were planning on travelling around the northern area of Oman. We arrived in the middle of the night but skimmed through the deserted streets with the help of a Sat Nav, and were delighted to have sticky dates and traditional coffee give to us on arrival at reception.

The hotel

The Al Bustan is a striking modern palace which was originally built for the Sultan Qaboos on the shores of  the Arabian sea and is on the outskirts of Muscat. The rugged Hajar Mountains rise up from behind the hotel and dip down to the expansive white beach. It sits on 200 acres of beautiful grounds, big enough for endless cartwheeling and five outdoor swimming pools, including a 50-metre infinity pool, and one just for children.

As you step into the majestic reception, with its soaring ceilings and dramatic carved wooden panelling, you know you are somewhere special. The Al Bustan is refined, opulent and  luxurious but still retains an exotic sense of place that is often ironed out of five star hotels. There’s no doubt that you are in the Middle East, but it’s not flashy or covered in 'bling'. It is calm and relaxed, and (luckily for us) intent on spoiling its guests.

The brilliant staff were fantastic in accommodating our three demanding children. I imagine it’s the kind of place that if you turned up with a weasel, they would find a way to please the both of you. Lucia, Noah and Alfie were convinced that it was run by a number of secret fairies – the 'whisk your car back to you' fairy, (valet) the 'polish the desert dust off the bed' fairy (so they don’t have to), the 'marshmallow and kiwi fairy' (resupply of in-room treats)

The spacious rooms are sumptuous and well-designed. There was a flat screen TV, DVD player and iPod dock in our bedroom and we also made use of the Nespresso coffee machine. There are fantastic blackout curtains to allow extra snoozing, which is especially useful after a long flight. The minibar has a wide selection of complimentary non-alcoholic drinks, and luxury Asprey toiletries abound.

Interconnecting rooms are available, plus a range of suites. Rooms at level one that have garden views have direct access to the Lagoon pool, which is perfect for children. If you would rather have a sea view then book a room above level five.

What we ate

The main dining area is the beautiful Al Kirran Terrace with indoor and outdoor areas overlooking the turquoise sea beyond the huge infinity pool. Breakfast brings an expansive international buffet – I tried to think of something that was missing but couldn’t. There is a huge range of fruit/smoothies/patisserie/waffles/pancakes and the quality is top notch.  They are happy to make baby purees on request. Also, there’s a small soft play area within the restaurant so you can finish your morning coffee in peace.

We found the service fantastic and discreet. There’s lots of space and no queues. The willing staff will even take orders for hot chocolate and whipped cream from the small people. We also had lunch and a dinner here which were up to the same top standard, including themed dinner evenings. The children loved having lunch at Blu, the garden/pool outdoor as their chicken satay was served in chic bento boxes. There’s also the very smart Beach Bar restaurant for some of the best seafood in Oman.

What we did

As we followed our stay in Muscat with a week’s tour of the highlights of northern Oman, (including glamping in the desert and watching giant turtles lay their eggs in the moonlight), we mainly enjoyed relaxing and partaking in activities in and around our hotel.

Ritz Kidz offers a programme of activities for children ranging from sailing, kayaking and snorkelling to painting and cooking. Lucia loved the pizza making class held in the restaurant and loved decorating her chef’s hat, too. The hotel is also happy to help put together a bespoke package and can also organise babysitting. There’s a shaded playground and we ended up playing lots of volleyball amongst the palm trees.

If your children are over the age of 8, they can have a scuba diving taster session, which our children found thrilling and was a definite highlight of our visit. Pete, our instructor, is a South African who has swapped a career in London for teaching diving. Needless to say, the children were dazzled by both the diving and by Pete. For sea diving lessons children need to be at least 12.

We went on a dolphin spotting trip which was exciting and saw stacks of the glistening bottle nosed variety. It was perfect for children, as it was not too long  and the was well boat shaded.

The Al Bustan Palace is the kind of hotel that you could happily never leave, but it’s definitely worth making a trip to the Grand Mosque at least, to see the biggest chandelier in the world: all 8.5 tonnes of Swarovski crystal! And you also might like to take a trip into the hassle free Muttrah traditional souk to buy frankincense.

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Bustan Palace, Muscat, Oman, desert, family, travel, holiday, kids, sand, scuba diving, pizza making, city, beach
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