Listen, if this last year and a half (heck these last 2 months for me) hasn’t taught us anything else, it has certainly made clear that we must live life to the absolute fullest. Now yeah yeah yeah I know what you’re thinking- “that is such a cliche” or “everyone says that“. However this has never been more true for me than has been now especially with 35 approaching.
And this year, we decided to kick off my birthday in style, with a special thanks to the staff of Zaya Nurai (pronounced Za-I-uh Nu-ra-I) for an incredible stay.
Now if you have kept up with my minimal adventures this first half of 2021, then you would note that back in March, I was the featured “Amateur Chef” for their Annual Women’s Month celebration. Check out that recap here!
And one of the beautiful blessings that came from that experience was not only the incredible people I got to meet and the awesomely unique event that I was able to host, but the gift of a complimentary stay in one of their lavishly luxurious Beach Side Villas located on this peaceful private island.
And what better time to redeem my stay than during my birth month of June.
So the husband and I packed our bags and decided we would make this a birthday even better by staying over for the entire weekend!
Because it is a private island resort- you can only arrive one of two ways- by chartered boat or by helicopter (yes they have a helipad on site) and since we are definitely not living the private heli lifestyle at this moment- (oh but one day my good people one day), we opted for boat transfer.
So we arrived at the Zaya Nurai Welcome Centre located on the cusp of the beautiful Saadiyat Island of Abu Dhabi, and the luxury experience immediately began. The on staff porters ensured that we didn’t lift a finger in the transporting of our bags.
We were greeted by their friendly staff and after check in offered two complimentary glasses of my favorite champagne- Veuve Clicquot while we awaited the arrival of the boat.
We elected to catch the 5:30 transfer allowing us to take in the beautiful scenery and catch the sun as it prepared to set and once we arrived at the docks we were greeted by the on island staff who had branded carts ready to whisk us away to our villa, but not before a grand tour of the property.
Our driver Ronan, was so kind and patient even as he perspired in the heat from the glaring sun by explaining everything to us in as much detail as possible from dining times and reservations to the afforded amenities of our stay. And while this wasn’t my first time visiting the island, I was thoroughly impressed with how each of the staff members withstood these often brutal Summer temperatures and do so with a smile.
Once we arrived at Villa 123, he continued with the tour of the property, informing us on how to set the room temperature, order room service and even had us dip our toes in our private pool to ensure that he had it set at the perfect degree. There was no detail that went unchecked. And this villa was ammmmmazing.
I mean fitted with full entry way, floor to ceiling front door mirror for my ladies who like to capture their entire look, living space with beautiful black, white and gold accent decor.
Also and her wardrobes, a bar and mini fridge, snacks and enough counter space to make whatever cocktail you needed. Not to mention the gorgeous lighted entry way
Not to mention the king size bed facing the front French doors that led to the most pristine private pool laced with a two sided stone water walk way, and 4 separate seating/lounge areas that allowed open access to the private beach.
So after taking in all of the luxurious ambiance, we begin to unpack- well at least I did. My husband just grabbed his swim trunks and the next thing I knew he was making a splash like the true water baby he was born to be.
Our original plan was to swim until sunset and then dip off to one of the local dining spaces for some eats, but we quickly realized that the peace of the villa was all we needed for the evening.
Well that and pizza of course- and that’s what we ordered. Because we all know that after a good swim nothing beats a fresh hot pizza. We opted for the Diavola, some mixers for cocktails and sat out on the patio and as we watched the sunset. All of this and more could be ordered via the QR code in the room which makes selecting your options so easy.
But if exploring is your thing- there are property maps and amenities available in your villa to learn more about the offerings. From weekly activities like boat rentals, fishing trips, spa visits including an ICE MASSAGE, water sports and more
After our comforting dinner, I winded down with a bubble bath in their beautiful free standing garden tub which was big enough for the both of us.
Side Note: I have become some what of a bathroom snob as it relates to travel. The bed can be hard as bricks but the bathroom must be perfect and this villa did not disappoint. From the his and her sinks, to the tiny table to hold my drinks and the extra tough loofah with just enough give to exfoliate all of the day away. Then there was the massive free handed shower with more than enough space for the both of us and even the rain style shower head that set directly above our extra tall heads and of course the separate enclosed toilet area with the double bidet which has become signature to our needs especially living in the UAE. Again they thought of every detail.
But the piece de resistance was the bathtub overlooking the beauty of the outside of the villa once you peeled back the curtains and it made for the most relaxing evening along with the Hermes (yes that Hermes) branded toiletries which smelled divine.
The scent of fresh French oranges in spring filled the bubbles in the tub as well as the air and set the atmosphere of the night while I took in the apothecary aroma with every breath.
Definitely one of the best bubble bath experiences I have had in our travels. And to add to the ambiance, my handsome hubby who was partial to the peace from the rain shower played bartender and kept my cucumber, lime and Patron cocktails coming while I laid back and relaxed.
By that time we were definitely hungry again and this time we opted for the fried calamari and their delicious homemade fried chicken burger. Now let me say this- typically at luxury resorts, the room service can be pretty sucky. Filling but sucky, however this was not the case. I think succulent is a much better word to describe the food. When it arrived, not only was it well seasoned, but freshly hot, the chicken was tender and the burger was not dry as we HATE DRY CHICKEN and more than enough for the two of us. Plus it came with my favorite on the side, tiny little Tabascos (thank you for whomever thought of this), because to know me is to know I eat it on everything.
After our wind down of dinner and drinks, we crashed on the living room couch and passed out until the next morning, well Carlos did.
I’m not gonna lie- I didn’t rest much from the excitement of exploration of the island. So I awoke around 5:45am that morning and took a quiet stroll along the beach to catch the sunrise.
Then Carlos got up and got dressed for breakfast which is held daily until 10:30am at their beachfront restaurant- Frangipani. I opted for a printed floral coordinate set which I wore two ways.
The white blouse with shorts was worn upon arrival to the island and the floral blouse and orange short was worn the next day.
But not before a bike lesson around the villa. That’s right- they provide bikes around the property for travel and yours truly cannot ride a bike.
Don’t ask why- yes I know I suck but I am willing to learn and so Carlos took some time that morning to give me a 20 minute lesson before it got too hot and I got too “hangry”. And I think once I get the hang of it, it may become my new go to workout. Each villa comes equipped with a minimum of 2 bikes or enough bikes to accompany the guests occupying the villa at the time.
Plus I must add that this island paradise is filled with so much luscious greenland as a reminder of the beauty of God and a break away from the desert sand.
Additionally the blueness of the water in the morning was unreal! Photos do it no justice!
Once we arrived at breakfast, we were greeted by staff and a buffet style breakfast, but don’t get too excited- COVID is still very real and so they had servers on hand to provide you with whatever you would like. In addition to the spread, you could order eggs any kind of way along with fresh toast and other pastries.
Hands down my favorites were the fresh blueberry danish bursting with a beautiful vanilla bean custard and a flaky finish, the sundried tomato with smoked salmon, the fig and goat cheese crostini and a made to order mixed vegetable omelette topped of course with Tabasco and then washed down with freshly chilled watermelon and orange juice.
It was also during breakfast that we ran into Executive Chef extraordinaire- Marc Abed who was as always considerate and kind offering to provide us with anything we needed on island. A special congratulations to him on the birth of his new baby girl.
Breakfast on island isn’t complete without mention of the gorgeous view in which I’m sure is even more enjoyable for outside dining during the cooler months.
After breakfast, we returned to the villa for more of the private amenities including the pool, beach and sun loungers. Upon return, we were greeted with a warm drawn rose filled bubble bath and adorable “Good Morning” from housekeeping- talk about thoughtful.
We brought along our own small outdoor speaker and Carlos aka my cabana boy allowed me play dj all afternoon long while he of course broke out his best bartending skills.
We swam until we passed out for a slight afternoon siesta but not before taking a spin on Miss Fabulous- my pink flamingo floaty. Yes each villa comes equipped with pink flamingo for your fun and entertainment.
But also let me shout out to my new pescavegan lifestyle (I made that up) for the birthday BAWDY (body) and this swimsuit for 10 AED, that’s approximately $3 from WearMart as well as my $4 shades from Shein!
By this time it was approximately 5pm and we decided we wanted to not only grab dinner on site but also partake in the Happy Hour at Frangipani in which select cocktails were on a 2 for 1 special.
So we got dressed- I in my fun and flirty island floral printed dress from Shein, paired with some red fringed heeled sandals from Steve Madden seasons past and a pair of fringed earrings that I have had for well over 15 years.
I am talking since undergraduate and accented with a little Mac Ruby Woo Matte on the lippie and a simple beat on the face and I was ready to roll.
The hubby opted for a crisp and airy lightweight striped linen shirt from his new favorite store- Massimo Dutti (he can thank his personal stylist *wink wink* for that introduction) and some casual lightweight shorts and sandals.
Being that I had been on clear all day- those who like a little libation understand what I mean, I opted for the gin based cocktail which tasted like an island vacation in a glass and I turned Carlos on to my absolute favorite cocktail on the entire island- known as the Magnolia Punch.
Again if you read my Amateur Chef recap then you know how much I looooove Magnolia Punch. Needless to say he was hooked. It has just the perfect amount of sweetness mixed with a sour bite and the brown whiskey liquor brings its all together. Not to mention the presentation is just outstanding.
What I also loved were the little details throughout the evening, like this reserved sign for tables. You know I am all about the details.
This happy hour was what we needed to end the day but also began the night with a beautiful sunset to boot.
What we truly appreciated again was the customer service, as the young lady named Grace (very befitting) who waited on us at breakfast was still on staff to serve during happy hour. Talk about a hard worker. She was always so kind and helpful and when she departed-Mohib, was the gentleman who arrived and assisted us in making last minute reservations at HOOKED restaurant. He managed to get us the last table available inside and away from the humidity.
Now for HOOKED- this is the Lebanese and seafood restaurant that also specializes in shisha and is operated by the friendly Mr. Fadi. Approximately 4 years ago, when the island first opened, Carlos surprised me with a day visit for my 31st birthday and because of he and Mr. Fadi, it was definitely one to remember. He struck up a conversation with my ever so charming Carlos and then spoiled me by bringing out all the best sellers on the menu for me to try on the house in celebration of my birthday. Bar none one of the most memorable times, I have spent abroad.
So this time, we returned for dinner which was so delicious. They began with a traditional mezze platter of pickled vegetables, bread and beautifully flavored pistachio encrusted cheese to start while we perused the menu via QR Code under COVID measures.
I opted for the chicken livers and the ras asfour which was a beautifully tender cubed beef tenderloin coated in pomegranate molasses and pine seeds giving it the perfect amount of sweetness balanced with acid.
Carlos opted for the full fillet salted fish and rice and it was so delicious. Unfortunately they were out of chicken livers, which was probably for the best as I was more than full after indulging in the beef, starters and his fish.
When the fish arrived it was not only massive but the entire thing was encrusted in salt but soooo good. I couldn’t even bear to order dessert. And the process of preparation requires the breaking of the salted shell
After dinner, we headed back to our villa for a midnight swim and it was everything. Tranquil and peaceful, allowing us to take in moments of quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Afterwards we relaxed in the beachside loungers and listened to the waves roll in as we made cocktails and just enjoyed each other’s company before winding down for the evening.
The next day we awoke and headed back to breakfast and to map out what we wanted to do for the day. I stuck to the script of blueberry danish, omelette, sundried tomato and smoked salmon along with fig toastie because as the saying goes- if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
I also threw on a maxi dress- for two reasons, 1) because summers were made for the maxi and 2) this was the very dress that caught the attention of Carlos approximately 8 years ago on a “coffee”/Starbucks date. You gotta remind them sometimes that YOU ARE THE PRIZE!
After breakfast, I walked along with the beach and then we decided to return to our villa for a final swim before it was time to pack up. But not before a bit of photo fun of course
Afterwards, I hopped on Miss Fabulous the flamingo one last time and basked in the beauty of the sun with some Beyonce in the background all morning long.
And what’s a pink flamingo without a matching pink swimsuit to boot (this was purely coincidence) and available on Shein as well coverup from Splash Fashions and oversized limited edition rose pink sunnies by Gucci.
Once our bags were picked up, we were given the option to stick around for the rest of the day and enjoy the remainder of the island which we did. We started at the Ginger Mermaid pool and beach located across from Frangipani which was not busy by any means.
Now this was Saturday, but please keep in mind Friday is another story as it is typically packed with people taking advantage of the brunch and day pass package, so we definitely were not complaining. We found our spot beneath the trees and were greeted by my good girlfriend and server- Gamu from Zimbabwe, a petite little thing with a heart of gold, who has earned a very special place in my heart and the heart of my friends who too visit the island.
She ensured that our poolside drinks kept flowing. This time I started with a very potent rum punch style of drink but then I tried the Very Berry and I was addicted. Imagine if tequila and grape kool aid were kicking it one night and had a baby- then yes this is the drink for you.
I loved everything about it and definitely ordered my fair share. Carlos said it reminded him of a nighttime spot back home I used to frequent called Midtown and so needless to say I was hooked. I mean who doesn’t love when something reminds me them of home.
We lounged in the pool for most of the afternoon and then went for a brief walk along the beach to the rocky top loungers where you could catch the most tranquil view of the gulf.
Afterwards, Gamu called for a cart to transport us to Smoking Pineapple- their second beach. We were picked up by on site intern- Camille from Guadeluope who I just gushed over because not only was she kind but she spoke French and we laughed and shared of our experiences in the region. Wishing her much success as she continues to explore the field of hospitality.
Once we arrived at Smoking Pineapple, we planted ourselves on a lounger and went in for a dip. The water was actually a nice temperature and the area was quiet.
There you have a beach, a variety of loungers and seating areas including oversized tepees or you can partake in their variety of water sports from banana boats to jet skis.
You can also book a beach view massage, however I am not sure how peaceful that would be with the sound of watersports in the background but hey to each its own.
And they even have a champagne trolley :).
After our swim, we ordered up a pizza and some very saucy wings and of course some cocktails and lounged until the sun begin to set.
We returned to the docks for the 6:30 boat and again the staff unloaded everything from the boat and into our Uber.
Honorable Mention- there is also a “Book Cellar” on site that has tons of table books for your reading leisure, a full size meeting table and on site business center complete with desktops so that you don’t have to miss out on your daily duties. And all while sipping on their selection of wines and champagnes from all around the world.
How appropriate that the featured book be one of the most foremost known Muslims of our time- Muhummad Ali.
And if you fancy some table tennis you can enjoy that too.
There is also a private outdoor movie theatre for rent complete with giant screen and popcorn machine if you want a night out on the stars with your favorite film or the Nurai Spa filled with options for rest and relaxation.
And even a tennis court near Smoking Pineapple
If a weekend stay is not quite your thing, you can join them for Friday brunch, specialty yoga classes and retreats and even Afternoon Tea in the Winter. Check out their ever evolving offers on their site for more details.
All in all- this weekend was the perfect kickoff to my next chapter of life and I look forward to a return visit to this incredible island. It represented not only a new chapter but an opportunity for my husband and I to reconnect, re-align and time away to reflect on how we want to better our relationship both personally and professionally as business partners. I strongly advocate for time away from the outside world to have conversations in relaxing environments with your spouse, so that you have time to truly communicate your feelings in a calm space and Zaya Nurai provides just that, along with a place to aspire to return to.
Thank you again to the entire Zaya Nurai staff for their hospitality and ensuring we had the most enjoyable and relaxing stay. I think next time I’ll take the spa for a spin.