Saadiyat Island is joined to the city of Abu Dhabi by a bridge. Today, at the northwestern tip of the island, about two miles east of downtown, the Saadiyat Cultural District is the scene of frenetic construction. There, five new museums are in various stages of completion. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by architect Jean Nouvel, has been built in collaboration with the French government. It is joined by the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, by Frank Gehry; the Zayed National Museum, by Norman Foster; the Performing Arts Centre, by the late Zaha Hadid; and the Maritime Museum, by Japanese architect Tadao Ando (designer of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis).
A wide white-sand beach extends northeast along the coastline of the Persian Gulf. On my recent trip, I stayed at the 376-room St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort. Overall, the experience was disappointing. Although the standard of the accommodations was as high as you might expect from a property belonging to a major international brand, the architecture is soulless — huge open spaces, vast tracts of marble — and the staff were consistently less than obliging. On arrival, the receptionist suggested I take lunch at the Southeast Asian restaurant Sontaya, but when I got there, it was closed. I expressed my surprise, given the fact that I had been sent there not five minutes earlier by a hotel staff member, at which the manager became abruptly defensive and rude.
At lunch the following day, I complained about the state of the table at the beachfront restaurant, which was filthy, and got a response that could best be described as surly. Virtually the first question I had been asked on arrival was what time I would be leaving. I said I thought around 11 a.m. but that I wasn’t sure. To my amazement, my electronic room card stopped working precisely at 11 on the morning of my departure, even though the hotel’s official checkout time is noon.
The St. Regis seems to exist primarily for Abu Dhabi’s expatriate community, who, along with their numerous children, occupy the majority of the loungers beside the pool. I continue to recommend the nearby 306-room Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi & Villas, where the architecture is on a more human scale, the experience is more intimate, and the staff, in my experience, are much more congenial.