Hotel Review: The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal

The shiny and bustling Abu Dhabi metropolis is one of the world’s most ideal locations for both local and international luxury hotel and resort chains as it is the seat of the United Arab Emirates government and the country’s center for industry and commerce. After going through the dizzying amount of luxury hotel options to the Emirates, we settled for The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal.

The hotel is comprised of 57 acres of gardens, pools, and leisure facilities like majlis, event spaces, and spas. It is also 20 minutes from the airport, so getting there wasn't a hassle.

However, as you will read throughout the review, we found that our experience with the hotel was a bit disappointing. Let me explain its basic offerings first before getting to the fine details.

Rooms, Suites & Villas

The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal has five types of accommodations, broken down into the following categories: five suites, one villa, one room, and two Venetian-village style accommodations. It also has residential living types for bigger crowds or guests that want a cozier atmosphere. I/We highlighted the defining characteristics of each room type. The hotel website also provides video previews for each.

Venetian-Village Style Accomodation

• Venetian Room - 645 sqft; with Venetian Village view; with access to the Venetian Village complex; with access to the beach, pool, and main building
• Venetian Suite - 861 sqft; with Venetian Village view; with access to the Venetian Village complex; with access to the beach, pool, and main building; with living room

Hotel Rooms

• Deluxe Guest Room - 452 sqft; with garden, pool, and water view; with options for one king or two double beds

Hotel Suites

• Executive Suite - 907 sqft; with garden, pool, and water view
• Garden Suite - 969 sqft; with garden view; with terrace and outdoor area; with butler
• Garden House - 1,400 sqft; with garden view; two-bedroom with terrace; with butler
• The Ritz-Carlton Suite - 1,356 sqft; with pool and water view; with living room, dining room, and kitchenette; with Club Lounge access
• Royal Suite - 2,691 sqft; with pool and water view; two-bedroom; with floor security and secured room; with Club Lounge access

Hotel Villas

• Two-Bedroom Villa with Plunge Pool - 1,400 sqft; with canal view, two-bedroom with terrace

Residential Living

• Garden Suite - 969 sqft; with garden view; with terrace and outdoor area; with butler
• Garden House - 1,400 sqft; with garden view; two-bedroom suite with terrace; with butler

Restaurants and Bars

The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal has eight diverse restaurants and bars in the vicinity that represent the staple cuisine traditions of luxury hotels around the world.
Li Jiang serves Southeast Asian cuisine and the spectacle of an open kitchen preparing noodle and rice dishes. The Forge is the hotel's local steakhouse for global premium meat cuts. Mijana serves regional and Lebanese cuisine as well as some good shisha and traditional tea.
Mediterranean cuisine can be found at Giornotte, which features a la carte options and a Friday brunch with seafood and breads. Dining offerings won't be complete without Italian cuisine, which is taken care of by the café Dolce.
Other specialised dining areas include the pool- and beachside Al Fresco restaurant; the lobby lounge, Alba, for light meals and the signature Afternoon Tea; and the high-end sports bar Sorso.

Spa

The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal's spa stands out as it features the traditional Hammam which is based on the Bedouin culture. Services are offered at a 21,500 sqft property with 16 treatment rooms and separate relaxation areas for ladies and gentlemen.
Popular treatments include the 60-minute inner calm massage which features aromatherapy and rose quartz crystals for the scalp, as well as the two-hour oasis ritual which features a Hammam scrub for the feet and the body.

Leisure Facilities

The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal could be considered a destination itself for the features it has for its guests, which includes its own Venetian Village, a massive swimming pool, stand-alone spa facilities, fitness gym, beach, kids club, etc. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the world's largest, is also near the property.

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HAPPINESS SCORE

Resort Location: 10 / 10

Location is one of the important factors that we consider whenever we choose a hotel. The Ritz-Carlton has one of the best locations in Abu Dhabi, since it’s right in the middle of the main island. It’s also close to the central business district.
It is within easy reach of International Airport and major tourist attractions like Louvre Museum, Zayed National Museum, Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Performing Arts Centre, Maritime Museum. It’s also near Ferrari World, Marina, The Corniche, and The Grand Mosque.

Aesthetic Design: 9 / 10

The hotel was inspired by the Venetian architecture. It also wonderfully combines the Byzantine and Islamic styles. It boasts of an elaborate water feature, manicured gardens, and mesmerizing views of the Grand Mosque and Grand Canal on the opposite side.

The lobby has a grandiose staircase, beautiful marble floors, sparkling chandeliers, and comfortable furnishings. Islamic influences, such as the use of floral and leaf patterns, are also evident in the design of the hotel.

The hotel looks beautiful both day and night. We especially enjoyed taking pictures around the hotel.

Pre-Arrival: 6.5 / 10

We found that the pre-arrival service disappointed our expectations, especially given the fact that we already experienced a top-notch Ritz-Carlton service before.

After booking our hotel room, we were contacted through email by the Guest Relations Agent for the pre-arrival planning. We were offered assistance regarding our upcoming stay and encouraged to make arrangements in advance to ensure that our preferences are available during our stay.

We were also linked to the membership benefits website so we could see the privileges and benefits that we are entitled to as Loyalty Members. We communicated to the staff our requests and we were assured that everything was noted and they will try their best to ensure that we will have a wonderful stay with them.

To our disappointment, during arrival, not all our requests were fulfilled. We still had to follow up to them our requests before they were granted to us. This was a “miss” for the hotel since the concierge team is typically the first point of contact before and during the arrival of the guests.

Arrival: 5 / 10

Sadly, we couldn’t say any better about the hotel’s treatment during our arrival.

The valet staff did not open the car’s right side passenger door where I was sitting. Instead, he went to the left side and waited for Rock Licker to egress the car.

Thankfully, some of the arrival details were smooth. The bellman retrieved our luggage from the compartment and placed them in the cart. When we reached the lobby, a charming welcome staff wearing a traditional Venetian dress greeted us and served us welcome towels and drinks.

During our check-in, the staff at the front desk greeted us. We told him we’re checking in and we showed him our printed booking confirmation. He took our passports and asked us to fill out the arrival form.

After entering all our details in the system, he gave us our room key and turned us over to the guest service staff. The guest service staff escorted us to our suite.

On our way to the suite, she explained to us all the hotel information. The suite that was given to us was located at the extension building which is at the very left end of the hotel. We found it too far, so we asked the staff to check other suites of same category that are located in the main building.

The guest service staff, Rock Licker, and I had to walk back to front desk to get the keys to other suites. We looked at two suites, but we did not like any of them because the views are partially blocked by walls. In the end, we decided to settle for the suite that was initially assigned to us.

We walked back to front desk again to tell the staff who did our check-in to give us a call once there is an available suite with a better view in the main building so that we can move.

On our way back to the suite, we encountered a security guard who we assumed was doing his rounds. He was waiting outside the elevator, and when it opened, he did not prioritize the guests that need to enter the elevator. Rock Licker even sarcastically asked him if we can join him in the lift.

When we arrived in our suite, there were no welcome treats nor welcome letter, except for the greeting in the TV which we find very impersonal, considering that we stayed in the hotel primarily for leisure. Moreover, a fruit platter was only given to us on our second day.

We stayed in the hotel for seven days / six nights.

Executive Suite #2493: 9 / 10

Our Executive Suite was located at the fourth floor of the extension building.

Even if we hated the location of our suite, we liked that it showcased a well-thought out design encompassing a cozy bedroom, comfortable bathroom, huge balcony, simple and clean powder room, well-defined workspace, and spacious living area for relaxation, entertainment, and private meetings.

Here are the amenities that we enjoyed:

  • Bed & bath

  • Feather beds, down comforter with duvet

  • 400 thread count Egyptian cotton linen

  • Plush, terry bathrobes, and slippers

  • Asprey branded bath products

  • Lighted makeup mirror and hair dryer

  • His and her wash basins

Here are the room features we liked:

  • In-room coffee and tea making facilities (Illy coffee and Damman Tea)

  • In-room safe with outlet to recharge laptop computers and portable telephones

  • Fully-stocked mini refreshment bar

  • Full-size ironing board and iron

  • Complimentary overnight shoeshine

  • Housekeeping attention twice daily

We also liked the entertainment facilities:

  • 42” LCD TVs showing a mix of local and international channels

  • High-speed wired and wireless Internet access

These are the things worth noting:

  • Shortage of and poor placement of electrical power sockets and control light panel in the bedroom

  • Bathroom amenities and coffee & tea not refilled the night before our check-out day

  • Extension building takes about 10 minutes walk and 2-elevator rides away from the hotel main lobby door #toofar

Food & Beverage: 8 / 10

For our second night, Rock Licker and I had dinner at Li Jiang, the Asian restaurant. Our servers Sami and Leonardo were very professional and personable and made the whole experience very special.

We sat at the outdoor terrace which has a pleasant ambiance. We were surrounded with olive groves and the beautiful view of The Grand Mosque.

The restaurant also boasts a wine cellar that was fully-stocked and with vast selection of wine.

The service, ambiance, and food made the experience one to remember. Overall, you won’t be disappointed!

On most days, we ate our breakfast at Giornotte, which served a buffet in a spread that included everything we possibly desired. We had eggs cooked to our liking. The bacon and sausages were also cooked to perfection. There were also breads, cereals, yogurts, fresh fruit, and fresh juices.

We had a taste of Indonesian noodles which was prepared for us by our favorite Indonesian Chef Wayan.

We also tried the Friday Brunch at the restaurant. We were quite pleasantly surprised by the spread of the food, which is diverse and delicious.

There was also live music! This service stood out in particular as it made creative efforts for guests to feel included; guests can request a song.

If there is just one thing that the restaurant could improve upon, it has to be the consistency of service. When we were having our Friday Brunch at Giornotte, the wait staff took my plate even if I wasn’t finished yet. My spoon and fork were not even in the 5 o’clock position.

One of the staff assisted Rock Licker with the chair and offered him drinks a couple of times but forgot to offer the same courtesy to me.

Leisure Facilities: 7 / 10

We used the dedicated adult pool near the villas, the main pool (a shared pool for kids and adults), the steam and sauna at the fitness center, the spa, and the beach.

The staff at the swimming pools were extremely kind and helpful, except for one insensitive staff who approached me and started asking questions while I still have my earphones on.

The steam, sauna and men and women’s changing room and shower facilities were consistently clean, well-staffed and not crowded.

However, I found it very surprising that for the last four days that I used the sauna, not even one of the cleaners noticed and reported the broken hour glass there. The sands in the hour glass couldn’t come down when it is flipped.

To add, we have never seen a changing room without a wall clock and a five-star hotel without a jacuzzi. ONLY in The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal!

ESPA: 9.9 / 10

Thankfully, our overall spa experience at ESPA was heavenly. The staff were extremely helpful and kind. Both wet and dry facilities were very well-maintained, clean, and well-equipped that we enjoyed using them.

In line with The Ritz-Carlton standards, the massage was perfect. The Ritz-Carlton spas consistently deliver the best massage experience. We haven’t been to any Ritz-Carlton that did otherwise.

The only thing we did not like was the late pick-up. ESPA operates its own buggy and is separated from the hotel, because it has its own building.

Even if our ESPA buggy was pre-arranged and confirmed the day before our treatment, the staff had kept us waiting for 20 minutes. To be fair, they admitted that there was some miscommunication on their part.

Cleanliness: 9.5 / 10

The hotel was generally clean and tidy. We observed this even in the minute details in the main lobby, restaurants and our suite. Few exceptions include the dirty floor in front of the pool entrance, dirty welcome mat bearing The Ritz-Carlton logo, browned and stained pool bed umbrella and the cheap looking plastic edging in the lawns near the villa area. (See photos below)

We also found a stray cat sitting on the couch in front of the restaurant, The Forge. Even if the cat looks cute, having it staying there doesn’t adhere to the hotel’s “no pets allowed” policy. Had we known that the hotel is not too strict about having pets inside their premises, we should have brought our cat to keep us company during our 7 days stay in the hotel.

Customer Service: 4 / 10

We had another unfortunate experience on our second night at the hotel that summed up the whole customer experience.

We were in the lobby looking for the Guest Relations manager so that we could talk about our experience for the last 24 hours. We approached a female Guest Relations staff and Rock Licker asked her who can we talk to for our feedback. She answered “Me!!!” accompanied with a sarcastic look.

It was also Rock Licker who asked that we sit somewhere private to have the discussion, instead of her. Because we were not happy with her attitude, we asked her to call the manager. She introduced us to the Duty Manager.

After reporting our issues on the second night, we observed slight improvements in the overall hotel service for the following days. Still, the hotel’s inconsistency remained as our main concern. It was disappointing to experience all of these in The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. Good thing, we are not the type of guests who are easily bothered by poor service. We carried on and were still able to enjoy the rest of our stay in the hotel.

Security: 9.9 / 10

Overall, we felt secured and safe during our stay. However, our negative experience with the rude security staff during our first day in the hotel really stood out. It would be great if the hotel’s gold standards were strictly applied to this aspect of the overall service.

Client Profile: 10 / 10

The Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal has one of the most diverse clients we’ve seen. This is probably due to the big international conferences held in the hotel.

It feels wonderful to see a lot of people of different nationalities gathered in one place. Personally, I found this image to be beautiful and inspiring during the stay.

CONCLUSION

Our benchmark for The Ritz-Carlton’s service has been set very high due to our previous stays in other Ritz-Carlton hotels. Frankly, the customer service at The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal is just not “Ritz Carlton” standard. We did NOT see CONSISTENTLY The Ritz-Carlton’s Gold Standard of “Ladies and Gentlemen serving the Ladies and Gentlemen”.

Additionally, our experience at The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal was a bit contrasting to the UAE’s campaign “Happiness in UAE'“ and our stay at the hotel definitely did not resonate with the UAE’s respectful, welcoming and friendly culture.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Ritz-Carlton is an international luxury hotel chain and Abu Dhabi is home to a vast number of expats from all over the world.

We did consider that it was the peak season during our stay, when group tours, conferences, and other events occur more than usual and drive a huge part of the revenue. But we hope that the hotel management finds a balance in providing good customer service both to corporate and leisure guests.

Based on our experience, the weekdays during peak season are very busy, while weekends are relaxed. Our advice at this point is to avoid booking during the weekdays of peak season as there are lots of conferences and events in the hotel. If you are someone who’s very particular with services, prepare yourself for some disappointments.

All things considered, we highly doubt that we will come back to The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal anytime soon to have another inferior hotel experience. Don’t get us wrong, we are very loyal to the Ritz-Carlton brand. We just felt that our experience with this hotel was an outlier.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Pool at night (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
View from our balcony (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
View from our balcony (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Junior Suite #2493 (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Junior Suite #2493 (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Junior Suite #2493 (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Junior Suite #2493 (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Junior Suite #2493 (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Grand Staircase (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Just happy! (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
ESPA Rainshower (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
ESPA Dry Sauna (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
ESPA Ladies Powder Room (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Beautiful landscaped garden (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
View of Sheikh Zayed Mosque (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Friday Brunch at Giornotte (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Friday Brunch at Giornotte (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Friday Brunch at Giornotte (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Friday Brunch at Giornotte (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Friday Brunch at Giornotte (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Friday Brunch at Giornotte (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Friday Brunch at Giornotte (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Friday Brunch at Giornotte (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Delicious Asian Food at Li Jiang (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Brown and stained pool umbrella (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Cheap looking plastic edging (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Cheap looking plastic edging (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Cheap looking plastic edging (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Stray cat in front of The Forge Restaurant (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)
Dirty floor (The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi)