Friday, 11 November 2016

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, Muscat.


I try not to write negative reviews on Lux Life as I want it to be a place of positivity and the best things I've experienced. However I feel like this one needs to be written as I really don't want anyone else making the same mistake I did, and my experience at the 5* Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah in Muscat, Oman, was possibly one of the worst hotel experiences I've ever had. Staying there is my biggest regret of my entire 10 day trip to the Middle East.

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, Muscat


Oman is somewhere I'd wanted to visit for a long time, I've been obsessed with the Middle East for as long as I can remember, and I kept having to pinch myself when I finally booked my big Middle East adventure as I still couldn't quite believe I was finally doing it. The response I got to my trip was a mixed one, especially when friends and family members heard that I was visiting Oman by myself. Most would give me looks of shock and comments along the lines of "but is that safe?!", only a few said the more cheery "You're going to have the best time!". 

The fact is Oman is one of the safest and most liberal countries in the Middle East. They're the Sweden of Arabia. They're not involved in any wars, they keep themselves to themselves, and they're a very friendly bunch! They're also a very progressive country, and for the most part I felt completely safe while I was there and everyone I met was perfectly lovely. Except the staff at Shangri-La. 

I'd booked myself into the Shangri-La after much contemplation between that and the Ritz-Carlton Al Bustan Palace down the road. Both are around the same price, but in the end the Shangri-La won because of how much I love the hotel brand, and because I'm a Jade member with their loyalty scheme, so I get free upgrades and free breaky and other nice perks like that. Not only that, but they also have a lazy river, and let's face it...how can you say no to a hotel with a lazy river!? 

Now, the resort is split into three different hotels; Al Waha, Al Bandar, and Al Husn. Al Waha is the cheapest, Al Bandar is mid-range, and Al Husn is the ultra-luxury adults only hotel. I'm going to be very upfront and say for two nights in the cheapest room in Al Waha, it was costing me £450. Hotels in Muscat are very expensive, and there aren't many of them, which is partly why I was only there for two nights. 

I'd worked really hard leading up to my trip, and saved a lot so I could have 10 days of pure luxury and not worrying too much about budgeting etc, but £450 for two nights is still a lot of money (especially when you're travelling alone so paying that full amount by yourself), so I was expecting a pretty special experience from the hotel.

I can't even express how excited I was to be staying at the Shangri-La, it looked amazing, I'd heard amazing things from so many people who'd stayed there already, and everywhere I went in Dubai and Doha people would tell me how incredible it was. Sadly, I didn't get that experience, or the typical outstanding Shangri-La treatment I get at every other Shangri-La hotel, and I honestly think it's down to me being a single female travelling alone.

I'd arrived in Muscat in the early afternoon, but my luggage was lost at the airport and I had to wait hours for them to find it for me (it was being loaded onto a flight to India!). Coupled with this stress, I wasn't feeling well at all and felt really flu-y and sick, and I just wanted to get to the hotel and sleep. 

I eventually got to the hotel after a 45min taxi ride from the airport, tired and worn out and feeling horrible, and stepped into Al Waha and just felt so relieved to be there. I went to check in expecting the usual quick Shangri-La check in, and instead the lady started her aggresive upsell; "Al Waha is a family resort, so you are not really suited here. As a young woman travelling alone you would be more comfortable in Al Husn. As you are a Jade member we can give you an upgrade for just 30OR per night".  (60OR for 2 nights is around £150)

I was tired, not feeling well, and just wanted to get to my room. I said I was OK to just stay at Al Waha, and she then said that if I upgrade to Al Husn I will get a complimentary mini bar, as well as a complimentary dinner and drinks one evening. I was fed up and tired and just wanted to get to a room and be left alone, so I said OK fine, and figured that at least I would get dinner included and be in the nicer hotel, so she upgraded me and then shuttled me over to Al Husn.



As soon as I entered Al Husn I wondered where on earth everyone was. There was no one there to open the door for me, greet me, take my bags off me, or tell me where to go. I walked in with all my luggage and looked around aimlessly before walking over to the check-in desk at the side.

I also noticed that Al Husn doesn't have the same refreshing smell that every other Shangri-La hotel has, instead it smelt strongly of incense, which always makes me feel like vomiting after it made me faint in the middle of church years ago (not even kidding, the combination of the heat from the heaters in church and a hot room full of incense did not have a good effect on me).

The lady at the Al Husn check-in then took me to my room, and as we walked there I noticed how stained the carpets in the hallways were. They were like the below photo all the way along every single corridor I walked down. Not a great first impression.



We  eventually got to the room (1013), and after a quick show around she told me there was a private pool (to be fair this pool was absolutely beautiful). I asked her how I get to the other hotel's pools, and she refused to tell me.



She told me that I had no need to visit the other hotel pools, as the Al Husn pool is better as it has no children. I'm not entirely sure why the staff kept insisting I stay away from the children and families in the resort, I'm not sure who they thought I was or what I was, but all I wanted to do was go on the bloody lazy river! I eventually found my own way there after she refused to tell me how to get there.



I had a look around the room and on first glance everything looked great; it was comfortable, large, had a lovely balcony with a great view, and had everything you need.


However on closer inspection throughout the duration of my stay I actually noticed how old and tired everything was. Over the two nights that I stayed there I also discovered that both bath towels in the bathroom were completely threadbare and broken all along the bottom. They literally had threads coming off them at the bottom and looked as though someone had cut along them with scissors. When you're paying £300 per night, this is not good enough.



On  my second night there I returned from my day trip around 7pm, and asked on the desk about the 'complimentary dinner' I was told about during the upsell. The lady laughed at me and told me it was 'pre dinner drinks'. So no dinner.  I felt pretty humiliated and could feel my face flushing red as she stood there and smirked at me. As the 60OR (£150) I had budgeted for food had gone on the upgraded room due to me thinking it included a complimentary dinner, my dinner that night consisted of the tub of pringles from the mini bar, and the fruit bowl, while I tried to browse my emails, except the wifi was so slow the pages wouldn't load. 

My Golden Circle amenities and welcome letter had arrived by this point, but as I had been out all day and was leaving early the next day to fly back to Dubai I didn't have any time to take advantage of any of it. I then tried to call reception to book a taxi to take me to the airport the next morning, but my phone wasn't working. It was completely dead. So I had to get changed out of my pyjamas and walk all the way up to reception (and wait ages for the constantly slow elevator), to ask them to book me one for 7:30am.

This proved a waste of time however, as the next morning I checked out at around 7:20am (and to add insult to injury noticed that they had charged an extra tax for upselling the room to me), and when I asked about my taxi at 7:30am she said it hadn't been booked. The lady called another one for me, which eventually showed up around 7:45am. The only upside was that I had the nicest taxi driver ever who made my last half an hour in Oman a wonderful one with his knowledge of Omani history. 

The whole time I was staying at Al Husn I noticed that there was never anyone outside the door to open it and greet guests, instead the staff would hover around inside the lobby and every time I walked through the lobby or public areas by myself they would look at me suspiciously as if I shouldn't be there. They would look at me and hover as though they wanted to approach me and ask me if I was in the right hotel, but then had second thoughts about it. It made me feel uncomfortable every time I left my room, as though I shouldn't be there, when I had the same right as everyone else to be there and was certainly paying enough for the privilege. 

When you're paying over £300 per night for a room at a five star hotel, this service is not good enough. That week I'd also stayed at the Four Seasons in Dubai, and the Shangri-La in Doha, and both of those hotels blew me away with the high quality of their service. Both of those hotels had people on the doors who would open them for you, help you with your luggage, and welcome you back every time by name. Heck, as soon as I got out of the taxi at the Four Seasons, before I had even checked in, the doorman opened the taxi door and instantly said 'Welcome to the Four Seasons Ms Lux'. Now that is service! 

If the staff can't even remember their guests and make them feel welcome each time they enter the hotel, they should not be branding themselves as a luxury hotel and charging a luxury price. I don't mind paying a high price for a luxury hotel if it is actually luxury, with a high quality of service and a high standard of rooms, but Al Husn certainly didn't provide that service, and I honestly think the staff at the Shangri-La Muscat need some serious training on how to treat guests.

To be fair to them, I spoke to the general manager of the Shangri-La when I landed in Australia (he has no idea I'm a travel blogger or that I was planning on writing a review), and he apologised profusely and refunded me the extra £150 I'd paid for the Al Husn upgrade. However, I still think my experience needs to be put out there. If I were ever to visit Muscat again I'd stay at the Ritz-Carlton Al Bustan Palace, and I'll tell everyone who asks for my advice to stay there too. I really really regret choosing the Shangri-La, and it's made me seriously question my loyalty to them.

The way I was treated and the awful service coupled with the tiredness of the hotel means my trust in Shangri-La has disappeared, and I just feel really disappointed. What should have been a special stay to celebrate my new life and all the hard work I've put in over the past few years, turned out to be one full of stress and feeling like I wasn't good enough. And that's just not OK for a luxury hotel. 

Take a look at my room tour and thoughts below...




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20 comments

  1. I didn't like this place, no personality. Shangri La is normally simpering service to the point of uncomfortable but they are missing a trick here in a country with few hotels where they could thus be amazing

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  2. Completely agree Anna! The staff just had no idea what to do or how to treat guests, and it didn't feel like a Shangri-La at all.

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  3. Haha, that's ok ;) loads of people recommended it, and honestly it was my loyalty to Shangri-La that made me make the decision. That's the thing, I think if you're by yourself you aren't distracted by someone else; you're not having a conversation with someone as you walk through doors, you don't have a companion to carry your heavy bag instead of you struggling to drag it along the soft carpet (Nige was awesome and carried mine for me while we were in Doha), and you don't have anyone to keep you company while you try and laugh the minor mistakes off. Instead all these things build up and eat away at you and make what should have been a relaxing time by yourself, a time of stress and frustration.

    Ah well, maybe one day I'll get an opportunity to return to Muscat and have a nicer experience there! :)

    C x

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  4. Totally agree, it feels like such a waste of time and money when such a large part of it is spent worrying and stressed. I just don't understand how they can charge that amount when they're not providing the level of service required for that sort of cost.

    C x

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  5. Oh no what a letdown- I definitely think if that's what they're charging, they need to be providing services to match. I've got a bit wary of upgrades with extras thrown in as I've had a similar experience where suddenly they never materialise or the free bonus gets charged for and it's impossible to prove what was promised. Oman is somewhere I'd love to visit so keeping this in mind.

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  6. Oh god, this is awful! I wonder why they were treating you like that?? Why would they be so suspicious of a single female traveller to the point of keeping her away from the families? It doesn't make any sense. As for the upgrade, if they're going to be so insistent about you taking it then they should offer it for free. Sounds like such a disappointment, I hope you at least had a nice time relaxing in the pools! xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua | Life, Travel, Italy

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  7. I loved reading the review - I am just sorry you had an awful time (and I can see why you did - I would be the same!). I also love a lazy river :-)

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  8. I'm genuinely gutted for you Catherine. That sounds like the worst experience ever. I think even a 4* hotel would have given better service. Such a shame... I'm glad the GM gave you your £150 back, but that doesn't take back the night you went without food. :-(

    Ritz-Carlton all the way...

    A x

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  9. This is such, such a shame!

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  10. Wow I completely understand your disasppointment - so weird that they kept you away from families, surely a single female traveller would be made to feel more comfortable there? x

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  11. Kelly Michelle12/11/2016, 22:04

    Catherine, I'm so sorry to hear about your bad experience here - we had such a great stay when we visited 6 years ago and loved the hotel. The hotel was fresh, the service was exceptional (it was half term break and the hotel was at full capacity) and we didn't have one complaint - we were looked after so well. You can see from the photos of the room that they need updating now (and don't get me started on that hallway photo...why on earth has that not being sorted out?!?!), you can't charge high prices and not refresh rooms.

    Weirdly, I know quite a few people that have stayed at the hotel over the past 12 months and absolutely loved it.

    I know this is not an excuse however it might explain a few things (as with all hotels in muscat) - I was told when we visited that they send home half the staff from easter till the end of october as it's their low season and the hotel isn't running anywhere near full capacity due to the heat (perfect time to refresh that hallway right!?!)...I'm wondering if you fell foul of this on your visit.

    If it makes you feel any better, we had afternoon tea at Ritz-Carlton Al Bustan Palace when we visited Oman and the service was really crap! And thankfully The Chedi is now finished as it looked like a building site when we popped in 6 years ago.

    I think a number of hotels are resting on their brand name these days...we weren't impressed with the Shangri-La in London and we've never being impressed enough with the service at a Four Seasons Hotel to want to ever stay at their horrendous prices.

    Hope Australia is treating you well!

    xx

    P.S. Sorry for the essay...

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  12. Haha no worries! So true - you can't just leave everything for over 6 years and charge people the same (or more) when everything is more worn. Like you though, I know people who have stayed recently and loved it, and others who haven't. I guess it all comes down to the service you receive.

    Hmm maybe! I visited beginning of October so maybe I was just unlucky in my timing (although if that's the price they charge in low season I'd hate to see the peak season pricing)!

    Haha, that definitely makes me feel better ;) a crap afternoon tea is never a good thing.

    I was really impressed with the Four Seasons in Dubai, and thought it was well worth the money. It was my first time at a Four Seasons and I was literally blown away with how incredible it was!

    C x

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  13. Hehe glad I'm not the only one who loves them ;) x

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  14. Definitely! Oh man, that's rubbish! It was the first time I've ever paid to upgrade, and I was just shocked at how bad the whole experience was.

    You MUST visit Oman! It's so beautiful - I have my '48 Hours in Muscat' post going live later so make sure you have a read :)

    C x

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  15. Exactly, I've stayed at 4* hotels that have provided a far better service and experience (and were a third of the price)!

    C x

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  16. That's what I couldn't understand! They kept emphasizing that as I'm a young female travelling alone I should stay in the adults only hotel, and all I could think was "why do you want to keep me away from families so badly!? Do you not want them to know that solo travellers stay here too?" For all they know I could have been there on business!

    And totally agree, if they didn't want me in the family hotel they should have upgraded for free instead of making me feel unwanted and charging me for the pleasure of being made to feel like that.

    C x

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  17. Exactly! You have to wonder what exactly they were thinking... is there something shameful about young women travelling alone in their culture perhaps? Or do they think that women paying for expensive hotel rooms alone must be escorts or something? I'd be really interested to hear whether other solo female travellers have had similar experiences in other parts of Oman xxx

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  18. Feel so bad for you, Catherine - when you're paying such a premium you expect the highest quality service! Those carpets are awful and it sounds like they treated you very callously - can't believe they promised dinner and drinks only to rescind that offer later, that's outrageous! Good on you for writing an honest review - I can only hope lots of would-be guests will read this and think twice before booking. x

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  19. Oh that's such a shame! If customer service isn't on point, i think it ruins the experience wherever you are. Especially when you're paying so much a night! How weird that they kept trying to keep you away from families! xx

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