Oman is known as the Oasis of the Middle East. The country with the natural beauty, hidden treasures, and the great thing is that it’s not quite the tourist ‘hotspot’ yet. Having done many resort holidays whilst our children were babies, we were ready to take on more exploring, and we are a family who love adventures, nature and wildlife! Muscat provided us with all of this.
Also, the locals here are very welcoming, friendly and humble, from immigration officers to the cab drivers. There was a sense of comfort and warmth from the people.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Shangri-la Barr Al Jissah, and it did not disappoint! We have stayed at the Shangri-la in Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur previously, and they were superb in service, food and atmosphere. The same can be said here. The resort includes 3 hotels:
The most kid friendly resort with water slides, kids club and the children’s pools/water play areas.
Kid friendly, but also business friendly. This also has its own swimming pools, but we didn’t venture there. This resort felt more luxurious than Al Waha, and had better food options.
The adult resort. As we had our kids, we only visited here for our ‘date night’ when we left the kids at the kids club for an hour and a half!
There is a cool and calm lazy river which goes through Al Bandar and Al Waha, my kids and I enjoyed lounging on the dinghies as the water floated us through.
The sandy beach runs along both the kid friendly resorts, and with the mountain views, is quite a sight to see.
The hotel also gives you access to a WhatsApp group which lets you get updates of activities happening, so you don’t miss out – great idea!
The grandeur of Dubai and Abu Dhabi is felt in Muscat too, but in a modest and natural setting. We were greeted with the captivating smell of Oud (a Middle Eastern woody scent), as well as offered Kawa (the Arabic strong coffee) and dates as we entered the resort. The staff at concierge and reception were friendly and service was second to none. We were provided with early check in passes as we arrived in the morning, so we had access to the full resort.
My surprise at this resort was how the waiters (especially those who did not serve you) knew what drink you had ordered the day before, and exactly what you liked – mine was English breakfast tea, lightly brewed with extra hot water and hot milk on the side. This was absolutely delightful service.
Based on the service, ambience, decor, and class of the resort,
I give it an 8.5 out of 10.
We went for half board at the resort, which meant we had breakfast and dinner paid for. The girls would have lunch, and we may have a few nibbles in the afternoon. Half board worked well for us than all inclusive.
Samba buffet breakfast
This is where we had breakfast everyday. The breakfast includes international cuisine, with English breakfast, Indian food and an array of fruit, pastries, pancakes and waffles.
Bait Al Bahr
This restaurant offers fresh Omani style seafood.
Offering American salads, burgers and sandwiches.
We enjoyed some snacks, lunch and drinks by the poolside.
Our favourite buffet place. The food here is exceptionally tasty and so fresh, and the decor and ambience is stylish yet classic. Thursday night they serve indian cuisine, which was our favourite.
We sneaked a date night dinner whilst the kids were at kids club. Shahrazad is a striking and elegant Omani, Lebanese and Moroccan restaurant, with stunning views of Muscat’s mountainous beach. We tried the traditional Omani dish called Shewa, a really tender slow cooked shoulder of lamb served with fragrant rice. The meat was so tender, and the rice very flavoursome. It’s a pricey dish, but I would recommend trying it whilst you’re there.
Resort food rating – 8 out of 10.
What to do
The resort covered family activities, fitness and wellness adult activities, as well as the cool zone kids club activities.
The kids club activities were very simple, I was expecting more from the resort from its kids club. The staff were attentive, but it felt more as a baby sitting service, with the staff watching over the kids more so than doing fun, interactive activities. Our girls had henna tattoos, they did a bit of arts and crafts and lego making at the club. A lot of movies and TV was being watched here, but the kids didn’t spend too much time at the club.
Cool zone kids club rating – 6 out of 10.
Other activities included:
- Camel riding
- Horse riding
- Beach toys
- Kids water play area
- Cookie and cup cake decorating (this is not part of the kids club, but was advertised on one of the banner around the resort – it’s worth getting the kids to do, they loved it)
Activity rating – 7 out of 10
What to do in Muscat
Dolphin and snorkelling tour, via Zaharia tour
This was my favourite exploring part of the trip. The trip was a half day boat tour which included dolphin watching and snorkelling. We arrived at the harbour where we then made our way to a 14 seater speed boat. Our journey was on extremely choppy waters. My 2 year old was very much scared, but the movement put her to sleep thankfully! 1 hour in, we arrived to see the beautiful dolphins – what a sight! There are a few tourist boats around, but it does not waver the dolphins jumping gracefully in and out of the ocean.
We then had a half an hour ride to the snorkelling area. The water is a bit murky, but we still saw all kinds of fish and turtles, it was stunning. The girls fed the fish from the boat too. On our way back (which was much less choppy), we saw various caves and colourful mountains which overlay the natural beauty of Oman. The tour guide took us through some of the wonderful caves and cut through the rocky mountains – the scene was breath-taking.
Museum of illusions
We visited the Museum of illusions which is totally worth a visit – it’s the no1 rated fun and games activity in Muscat via tripadvisor. The museum is about a 35 minute taxi drive from the resort, and is located in the Muscat grand mall. There is a guide who goes around with you explaining the illusions played on your eyes. They were pretty interesting for kids and grown ups alike! Oh and whilst you’re there, you can pay a visit to Five Guys for lunch, burgers anyone???
Sultan Qaboos Grand mosque
What a magnificent sight. The architecture, craftsmanship, and the beauty of the towering chandeliers is spectacular. You will need to be covered and wear a headscarf (for women) if you are to enter the site. Muslims of course can come in to pray, however, to our surprise, any child under 10 is not allowed inside the mosque. We then took turns for prayer so that we had an adult looking after the kids.
You can travel to the souk via a complimentary shuttle bus from the resort. The souk is deceptively large. You can easily get lost in the maze of shops and antiques. You will find traditional clothes, lots of souvenirs, jewellery, food, and arts and crafts. It’s very easy to buy things you don’t need, so watch out! The shop keepers are not pushy, and it’s worth a short visit.
The corniche near the souk is not the most beautiful, a 2 minute wander and then you’re done. Their is a fort nearby called Al Jalali fort which you can view from the outside. We had a quick glimpse from our walk down the corniche, but it is possible to get closer. One for us to do on our next trip.
There was more to see!
We did not get a chance to do the wadi shab, wadi ghul (Oman’s Grand Canyon), Nizwa fort, dune bashing, desert safari, or one night camping in the desert. All exciting things to do once the kids get older.
How to travel
You can fly direct to Muscat from London, Heathrow, which with a family, is a need in my opinion for a relatively easier journey. Muscat is easily accessible from many destinations.
We flew with Oman air. This airline provided good food, good service, and children’s travel packs including a puzzle book, sharpener, colouring pencils and stickers. That was good enough to keep them busy for a while. I quite liked their on board entertainment which had great movies and music for myself and hubby, and kids games and movies for my little ones. The disadvantage with the airline was lack of snacks (which I found Emirates and Etihad were better with). My children are snackers and they only had limited fruit available for kids. The crisps they had were only chilli flavoured which wasn’t great for them. The cabin crew were friendly and helpful.
Overall, my rating was 7/10 for flight.
I found Oman enchanting, exciting, full of natural beauty and totally worth exploring. I would come here again once my kids are older to explore the things I missed.