Ryan Young dons a neckerchief and hits the E311 north of Dubai for a tailor-made gentleman’s weekend away at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah.
When it comes to weekend escapes in the UAE, girls – as Cyndi Lauper would no doubt attest – just want to have fun. But what about the guys? While it’s not uncommon for groups of the fairer gender to saddle up for a weekend of pampering and pooling in some far-flung emirate, often without any good excuse beyond a good deal on Groupon, guys typically need an iron-clad excuse to gallivant off on an indulgent weekend of bromance – namely, a stag do.
It may be because of that time-honoured tradition that the concierge at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah booked me and five other distinguished gents in for a weekend that can also be described as an upmarket take on a lads’ weekend. The concept is really rather simple. Inform the hotel who’s going and why, and they’ll come back to you with a bespoke itinerary of activities and attractions to suit the occasion.
And so it was that I found myself riding a jet ski, hitting a driving range, meeting a hair consultant and taking a cigar-tasting class, all within 48 hours. Beats checking in and crashing brain-dead by the pool for hours on end.
We clocked off from work early on a Thursday afternoon and headed down the E311, ticking off Sharjah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain in no time, before arriving in Ras Al Khaimah, apparently named after the Arabic for ‘top of the tent’.
RAK is a far cry from Abu Dhabi, but things are changing fast at the UAE’s northernmost emirate, largely due to the sudden explosion of development on Marjan Island, an artificial archipelago which first made headlines after Real Madrid once announced plans to build a $1 billion (Dhs3.67 billion) resort on the land. However, in the past 12 months the island has come alive with a handful of new luxury resort openings, designed to tempt tourists north with (at times perhaps slightly fanciful) talk of a 50-minute commute from Dubai International Airport.
There is a seemingly thriving new development of expat homes dotted around the island. I was curious to learn whether these were people working in Dubai enjoying luxury villas at a fraction of the price, or expats employed locally within the emirate. After checking into the hotel, another distinguished gent and I beelined for the nearby English Pub – which coincidently happened to be hosting RAK’s apparent first-ever comedy night. While the quality of the stand-up gags were scattershot to say the least, we were left giggling all the same.
But onto grander things – and back to the prepared timetable – we celebrated the first night of our trip with a fantastic meal at the hotel’s signature Japanese restaurant Umi (which means the sea).
Whatever itinerary you might be planning at this resort, we’d recommend setting an evening aside to dine here – the teppanyaki was sublime and the range of accompanying Japanese beverages needs to be seen to be believed. The night still young, in our masculine minds at least, we raise the stakes with a round at the top-floor lounge-club 17Squared. The venue seems to attract a slightly bewildering cross-section of local expats out for a big Thursday night on the town.
The festivities had to be cut short because we had a round of golf to tackle early the next morning. Not having held a golf club since a few Sunday afternoon lessons as a kid, it was a revelation to learn just what unadulterated fun a driving range can offer. With a friendly instructor on hand to offer personalised advice on my swing, I was sending balls soaring down the fairway with my drivers in no time at all.
All that strenuous exercise on the course meant we collectively deserved some R’n’R for our weary muscles, so we hit the hotel’s trendy pool bar for lunch and snagged an appointment at the hotel’s spa – the head, neck and shoulder massage was just what the doctor ordered. I was intrigued to learn that the hotel had just launched its own Toni & Guy salon, which was fast becoming talk of the town. While the outlet is currently set up for ladies only, the salon offers personalised room visits, and with a big night ahead, what better excuse for a trim? After my first-ever ‘hair consultation’ with a Toni & Guy expert, I walked away from the swanky salon feeling like a new man, with a fresh new hairdo to boot.
Having been plucked and pruned, we sat down to a hearty customised feast at steakhouse Lexington Grill, with a set meal carefully crafted for our group. The meal featured the highlights from the impressive menu, including the signature ribs, seafood, and – of course – steak. Performing well at a guess-the-grape pairing competition also did much to enhance our group’s gentlemanly credentials. However, it was the after dinner cigar and Scottish beverage tasting session that really sorted the men from the boys.
Bloated and bewildered, there was little chance an early morning trip to take part in a watersports session was going to go well. There was some incredible and futuristic looking gear on show, including the flyboard – a hover board that allows you to rise up from the water Iron Man-style. Lacking adventure and feeling a lot less brave than Tony Stark, I hopped aboard a more familiar looking jet ski, channelling my inner Bond villain as I cruised somewhat tentatively through the waves.
Given that my previous experiences of lads’ getaways have always amounted to little more than a football match or a rock concert bookended by a frustratingly conceptualised bar crawl, this weekend was an eye opening experience – from cigars to jet skis, there was plenty for us to tick off the bucket list.
Reflecting on the weekend, it’s hard to believe all the above occurred in less than 48 hours. If time is tight and money is little issue, a personalised package at the Waldorf is a sure-fire hit to get a luxury weekend the way you want it, without setting foot anywhere near an airport.
Need to know
One night stay at hotel on a Friday in January from Dhs1,780 (plus tax).
One hour golf lesson from Dhs180 (non-members).
15 minutes on a flyboard Dhs190.
‘Drift Away’ one hour massage treatment Dhs605.
Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah (07 203 5555).