Best for… Detox
Six Senses Zighy Bay
Location Situated in the Musandam Pennisula in Oman, Six Senses Zighy Bay is a two-hour drive from Dubai. From the main gate you'll need a 4x4 to drive the final leg of the journey over the mountain and down to the resort. If you don't have one, you can leave your car and enjoy the views from the back seat of the chauffeur-driven 4x4's provided by the resort.
Why we love it It's easy to hole yourself up in this romantic hideaway, which is made up of 79 villas offering complete privacy, each with their own pool, but if you're looking for more than lazing by the pool, then check out Zighy Bay's ‘Sense' packages this summer. The Sense of Functional Fitness and Sense of Adventure are both action-packed options if your idea of taking a break is sweating it out with a personal trainer. I opted for something a little less active, and booked in for the easy-going Sense of Detox option. There's also a Sense of De-stress package if you really want to unwind.
Sense of Detox is offered over three, five or seven nights, but however long you stay, your trip will always start with a wellness consultation with resident holistic practitioner Steve Harvey. An hour-long session with Steve helps pinpoint any stresses you have and exactly what you want to achieve on your trip. Steve then sets about creating a bespoke programme, which includes several spa treatments, a nutrition and exercise plan. What's great about this package is that you can tailor make it exactly how you want. If you're looking for a hardcore detox plan, there's a wide choice of fresh juices and a tasty spa menu. Alternatively, you can create a plan that still allows you to enjoy guilt-free dinners at the resort's tempting restaurants. Daily spa treatments include massages, scrubs and steams, again these are tailor made to suit you. As part of the programme, you can also enjoy a long list of daily activities, which include early morning aqua aerobics and sunset yoga.
Highlights On top of your detox program you can enjoy all the five-star luxuries the resort has to offer - your own personal butler service, private pool and personal bicycles to ride around on. Even the smallest villa is spacious with both a huge bath tub and outdoor rain shower.
Details For a three-day Sense of Detox package, staying in a Pool Villa, costs Dh7,215 based on single occupancy, or Dh11,225 for double occupancy. For more information visit www.sixsenses.com/sixsenseszighybay
Best for… Feeling like an adult: St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi
Location In the heart of what will eventually become Abu Dhabi's cultural centre, iconic luxury brand St Regis has set up shop on Saadiyat island. Close to the city centre, 20 minutes from the airport and an easy ride from Dubai, this is a retreat that's easily accessible.
Why we love it... The St Regis is renowned all over the world for putting the sir into service and making you feel like a VIP. As a family destination, this is a superior experience not just for the kids but for the parents, too. All too often mum and dad have to compromise their hotel experience for the sake of the brood baggage, but not so with the St Regis. There is a cracking kids club complete with outdoor water play area as well as separate indoor areas for age-appropriate activities ranging from teddy bears for toddlers to table tennis for pre-teens.
With the kids safely ensconced, adults can laze around the labyrinthine infinity pools (the hotel has six pools in total, including one indoor) or bask on the beach. And if you want the youngsters both out of sight and mind, head to the adult-only pool resplendent with in-pool recliners, swaying hammocks and a welcome bar. The silence here really is golden.
The grounds are cleverly laid out, offering the right degree of privacy for all while never being more than a minute or two away from all the action. Calming gardens are boosted by the neighbouring golf course. With one green hugging the hotel's beach, it's ironic to see golf carts being used for their intended purpose. The Middle East's only links-style course looks in fine fettle and is a must for anyone keen to spoil a walk. Failing that, indulge yourself in the exclusive Iridium Spa.
And if you feel like you've reclaimed your adult life by day, prepare to be blown away by the restaurants. Retire to your colonial-era influenced room for a night of superlative slumber, and don't forget to tip the babysitter.
The highlights: The kids club, boasting its own cave for adventure seekers, looked so much fun, I was (almost) tempted to stay. The 55&5th, The Grill has a stunning grand interior, topped only by the quality of the cuisine. Think it can't get any better? Wrong. And this is where the kids prove their worth. Wake up at the crack of dawn and head down to the beach to catch dolphins leaping out of the wide, flat waters. Pinching yourself optional.
Details: The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi has a number of special ‘experience' packages available, from golf to spa. Special summer room rates start from Dh800 for a superior room, including a buffet breakfast at Olea. Try the Spa Package, Dh1,650, including overnight stay for two, 60-minute spa treatment and 30-minute facial. Visit www.starwoodhotels.com/stregis
Best for... Unpretentious family time: Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa - Al Aqah Beach
Location For a getaway that's far enough (from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, at least) to feel special but close enough to beat road-trip blues, Al Aqah on the east coast of the UAE - 90 minutes from Dubai - is an old favourite that demands a revisit.
Why we love it Few do family time better in the UAE than Rotana, and the Fujairah property ticks more boxes than, well, a man whose job it is to put ticks in boxes all day. Nestled between the Indian Ocean and the craggy Hajar mountains, this five-star resort really does have everything you could want in one bumper package, with all the bells and whistles but little of the pomp and ceremony that can get in the way of a relaxing family break.
Kids will love the huge swimming pool (hotels take note: shallow areas in kids and adult area, a good thing), with its fun slide and volleyball net, as well as frolicking on the beach, while older children also have a good selection of water sports to choose from - from snorkelling to kayaking to donut rides. The Flipper Kid's Club caters for 4 to 12-year-olds with indoor and outdoor activities, and a daily programme of events, from 9am-7pm, while squash, tennis, table tennis and table football all provide welcome distractions for active adults and teens alike.
If you're lucky enough to bag one of the ground floor garden rooms (the hotel has 250 rooms and suites) you will have a good patio area to chill in as well as great and easy access to the beach and pool, but all rooms are Indian Ocean-facing with a balcony or terrace. Catering to large families, take a premium room for a family of six.
With pool, beach and activities boxes duly ticked, next on the priority list has to be food - and here the Rotana really comes into its own. Far from being stuck in the same all-day-buffet bunfight for the duration of your stay, guests can choose from a variety of outlets. Chill with chips on the beach at Sharkeys, a favourite hangout, or pull up in little more than your two-piece at Tropicana (where drinks, contrary to popular music belief, are not free).
On Thursday/Friday evenings, it's a must to head to atmospheric Waves beachfront restaurant for Fish Market night. Serving the very best fresh fish sold by weight (from king prawns and lobster to sultan ibrahim and hammour) and cooked to your exacting demands, this is a culinary feast where you take control - dine like kings and queens under the stars. Or, if you're there on a Thursday, enjoy the Arabian Night buffet in all-day dining restaurant Mozaique. In fact, pretty much every night, there's a themed cuisine night, a beach party or a BBQ night.
If pampering is on your itinerary, then The Zen spa has a range of revitalising treatments, including eleven massages (there's even one that uses sea shells); Black Soap Rituals, Hydrotherapy treatments and body scrubs and wraps, all preceded by its Hot and Cold ritual (think hydro jets, wet and dry hammams and ice cave) accompanied by a lighter food menu for the health-conscious guest. Fun, chilled and with options for all the family, it's little surprise to hear the only downside can be the weekend stampede, so try for a midweek slot if you can.
Highlights The neverending flow of organised activities, not unlike a Hi-De-Hi holiday camp (tacky for some, but great fun if you get into the spirit of it) - think throwing of water balloons poolside and five-a-side footie on the beach. A more refined experience can be had with a private pulled-curtain affair of massage in a cabana on the beach. If you're there for a few days, the concierge can book you on a day trip - including a Musandam dhow trip, a desert safari or mountain biking trip. The kids' disco every Friday evening for an hour means an adult cocktail in the funky Tabu Bar, or push the boat out for a few hours by hiring a babysitter (Dh60 per hour until 10pm).
Details: For more information, visit www.rotana.com
Best for... busy families: Kempsinki, Mall of the Emirates
Location Smack bang in the heart of the new end of the city on Sheikh Zayed Road and a 30-second walk from the Mall of the Emirates metro station, the Kempinski is conveniently located for the beach, Burj Khalifa, Madinat Jumeirah, Palm Jumeirah.
Why we love it Staying in a hotel in a mall may seem as dangerous as putting your fridge in your bedroom but, when you stop to consider the facilities at Mall of the Emirates for families it makes sense - especially during the summer when the least amount of time spent outside, bustling between attractions and activities, the better.
SkiDubai offers, not only skiing and snowboarding lessons for kids and adults, but also the exciting snowpark with rides, ski lifts, slopes and now real-life penguins, which you can meet, cuddle and feed. When fingers start to freeze, head back to the warmer climes of the mall, wander the shops, or catch a film at Vox Cinemas (Gold Class is like business class on a plane), or let the kids go crazy at Magic Planet for a few hours, with arcade games and adrenaline-surging rides.
Once all funned out, head back hotel-side and chill by the lovely infinity pool with its swim-up bar, exclusively for hotel guests; chill out in the spa; rev up in the K Wellness Health Club; or sample an Afternoon Tea at Aspen Café. In the evening, the KGrill restaurant is the perfect venue for a family meal, with a delicious buffet selection to suit even the fussiest of eaters. Thursday night is the BBQ where you can opt for lamb chops, chicken kebabs, salmon fillet, tuna steak, and beef steak, while on Friday nights, KGrill goes Asian with their Indian Delights curry night. The breakfast runs from 7am until 12 noon and can be eaten al fresco, if the weather permits, by the pool.
As far as Dubai-based city-break venues go, I was pleasantly surprised by the Kempinski. Not only was the hotel room luxurious yet home-like, not always an easy combination to create, but the staff were delightful (and they offer a babysitting service), the food was commendable and the entertainment options were never-ending. I'm not much of a shopper, but I could easily lose an entire weekend at the Kempinski with my children. If you're getting cabin fever over the summer and need a break from your own four walls, or live in another emirate and fancy a weekend in the bright lights of the big city, there is no better place to do it than this.
Highlights The fact that SkiDubai entrance, Magic Planet cards, cinema tickets and a shopping voucher are all included in the price of the room meant that there were no hidden costs as far as making the most of the entertainment on offer.
Details The ‘We Are Family' package costs Dh1,750 per night for two adults and two children in a Grand Deluxe Room (separate bedroom and living room area), when you stay for a minimum of three nights. Included in the price of the room is two tickets to SkiDubai's snow park; two Magic Planet cards, credited to Dh30; two Gold Tickets for VOX Cinema; and a Mall of the Emirates Shopping voucher worth Dh500. Visit www.kempinski.com or call 04-3410000.
Best for... relaxation: Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa
Location In the desert, 40 minutes outside of Dubai. Head out on the road that goes between Arabian Ranches and Motorcity and follow the signs to Bab Al Shams.
Why we love it Bab Al Shams has such a good reputation and it didn't disappoint. A calm ambience from the moment you walk through the huge wooden doors, candles flickering in all the little nooks and crannies of the authentic-looking Arabian-style villas, a kind, smiling helpfulness from all members of staff - Bab Al Shams is a well-oiled machine churning out decadence, tranquility and relaxation.
We arrived on a Thursday evening, still buzzing from the hectic speed of city-life. However, once we stepped into our private garden terrace, we felt a million miles away from the daily grind - it was unbelievably silent. In the room, there was a vast double bed which, wider than it was long, and a bathroom with a huge, deep bath. Staff were more than happy to set up cot beds for the children and the sofa converted easily into another single child-sized bed, good to know if taking little ones.
For dinner, we ventured down to Al Hadheerah, a poshed-up version of the desert safari camps, delivering a fabulous buffet of everything from kebabs, homous and shwarmas, to lentil soup, biryani and baklava. There's a small heritage village here where tourists can buy trinkets, take camel and pony rides, watch singers, belly-dancers and lots more. It is definitely catering to guests from abroad who want an ‘authentic' Arabian experience, but fun none-the-less, great for kids, and makes a nice change from a Thursday night at home.
In the morning, a fab breakfast with everything on offer out by the grass gardens, where guests were enjoying yoga and archery lessons, and then a laze about in the various pools (children's pools, adult pools, rain showers and more).
We were happy zen-ing in the room and the pool, but for more active types, there's horse riding, table tennis, mini golf, sunset camel rides. There is also a kids club, a spa and wellness club, and romantic dinner options for couples who want some privacy. Bab Al Shams is great for those who want a total break from the city, but don't want to drive too far to get it. Also, while its luxurious rooms and private terraces are great for couples on a romantic break, the hotel is also extremely child-friendly, making it a good getaway, with plenty of active options, for families looking for some chill time.
Highlights The enormous bed was large enough to easily accommodate two adults and two children (if not more) for a chilled-out movie session. It made it very difficult to leave the room and explore the rest of the hotel.
Details Bab Al Shams is offering UAE residents a special summer rate of Dh829 for a double room and breakfast for two. Visit www.meydanhotels.com or call 04-8096232.