Not your typical staycation: a hotel review during Covid-19

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As the weeks and then months of the Covid-19 pandemic wore on, my Instagram was rapidly becoming a thing of horror.

Despite repeated warnings from the authorities to avoid gatherings, I couldn’t help but notice many of my fellow Dubai residents having a good time. Too good. Suddenly, raucous pool parties and lively hotel get-togethers seemed to be gathering steam, while social distancing concerns seemed to be withering away.

I often muttered words of disapproval to my wife as I glanced at the pictures. “You won’t see me doing any staycations until there’s a vaccine, that’s for sure.”

My concerns about heading back to a ‘normal’ Dubai hotel stay were many: would they actually enforce the rules? Would there be social distancing? Would I have to be around throngs of people who have tossed their masks aside to live their best expat lives?

As the walls of my apartment began to close in on me and restlessness and boredeom began to take hold, however, I couldn’t resist temptation. I would take the risk and spend a weekend away.

I’m glad I did. A Covid-19 staycation doesn’t have to be a scary experience. It can be a pleasure – albeit a weird one – and Atlantis The Palm showed me how it’s done the right way.

From the minute I walked through its world-famous doors, I knew there was nothing to worry about. My temperature was checked by a security guard when I entered the lobby, which had helpful social distancing guidelines marked near the check-in desks.

The masked and gloved check-in staff were also meticulously careful, sanitising everything that was handed back and forth, including my credit card.

The room itself was what you would expect of any Dubai hotel room – with a few minor adjustments. The minibar was empty, for one, and towels from the room had to be taken to the beach, rather than drawn from downstairs. Very minor tweaks, but ones that made me feel more comfortable as the weekend wore on.

Those tweaks were much more noticeable in the Atlantis’ many F&B options. Take Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen & Bar, for example.

The once constantly crowded Dubai restaurant was largely empty, with ample – perhaps even excessive – distancing between tables.

The same can be said of White Restaurant on the beach, were I was one of perhaps only four diners in a basketball court sized room.

Combined with the fact that the staff resemble masked ninjas and the plastic bags in which we’re told to put our own protective gear, a Covid-19 dining experience can be an initially eerie experience.

The food at both, however, remains impeccable. Try the crab on toast with crab mayonnaise and chilli at Bread Street, along with the signature BSK Waygu beef burger – you won’t regret it.

If seafood is more your flavour, head straight to White, where delicious salmon tartare, lobster linguini and grilled Spanish octopus await.

No trip to Atlantis is complete without heading to the beach – and this is where things got even weirder.

At one of Dubai’s most popular beach spots, I found myself on a lonely paddleboard session, staring at a deathly quiet beach, with only an expat family roasting in the sun to keep me company.

In the age of Covid-19, however, is this a bad thing? No. It proved to be as relaxing a beach experience as I’ve had in the UAE, and the solitude put my mind at ease. Although it was a weekday and things were said to pick up on Friday and Saturday, this quiet experience is unlikely to last long.

However, there’s no cause for concern – Atlantis has put in place strict social distancing protocols at both the beach and the more recently reopened pools, which will be particularly important as tourists begin to trickle back into Dubai in July.

So far, so good. But the staycation wasn’t without a few small hiccups. Some staff members, for example, were unclear as to what was open and what wasn’t, sending us to lounges and restaurants that were, at the time, still closed.

But who can blame them? Rules have been updated on a day-to-day basis throughout the pandemic, and it in no way detracted from the experience.

A staycation at Atlantis is perhaps best suited for families. If you’re looking for a party atmosphere, this certainly isn’t it – at least not yet.

It’s a place to unwind, eat good food and keep the children entertained at the Lost Chambers Aquarium. Which, even for me, was a remarkably mesmerising half hour.

In our case, a Covid-19 staycation proved that there is nothing to fear, if – and only if – the hotel does it right.

So why stay cooped up inside? Get out, have some fun, relax and be safe. But wear a mask – and stay away from me. I’m socially distancing.

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