Zaya Nurai Island was supposed to be an idyllic private island retreat. An experience of a lifetime with a price tag to match. Did it live up to the hype? Read my review of Zaya Nurai Island Abu Dhabi to find out…


Zaya Nurai Island is marketed as a private paradise island. It sits just off the coast of Abu Dhabi and is only accessible by boat or helicopter. (There are no fewer than ten helicopter landing spots, although I didn’t see any of them being used!) Boats take just 15 minutes to get from the Welcome Centre to the island.

First Impressions

First port of call was the Zaya Nurai Island Welcome Centre on the mainland. And I’m sad to say that Welcome Centre wasn’t what I’d describe as welcoming.

Having seen the glam website and paid top dollar, I was surprised to arrive at what can only be described as a rundown fish shack of a building in the middle of a construction site. Dust, dirt, lorries, cranes – not what I had in mind.

I was already pondering whether I had spent my cash wisely when a girl walked up to me and asked if I was checking-in. She wasn’t wearing a Zaya Nurai Island uniform and had none of the professional air you’d expect from your first contact at a five star establishment. So I actually had a few misgivings about handing over my passport.

Nevertheless, she took my docs, headed behind a desk and tinkered around on an iPad to note my arrival. Next, she told me that there would be a half hour wait for the boat. And I needed to pay £25 in tourist tax and an extra £30 for the boat ride.

I learned that after this initial boat payment, I could use boats freely for the duration of my stay. Thank you very much, I’m sure. But the confusing Welcome Centre set up along with the request for dosh made for a terrible first impression.

Maybe not so private island…

As I made my way onto the boat, it soon became apparent that Zaya Nurai (private) Island isn’t actually very private. Anyone who is happy to buy a day pass can hop onto a boat and enjoy the communal areas of the resort. So that’s swimming pools, beaches and restaurants.

And it seems to be something that the resort are actively promoting. Which didn’t sit well with me. When you’re marketing a place as exclusive, you can’t open it up to every Tom, Dick and Harry and expect the vibe to be the same.  

Second Impressions

I arrived to the island – sea-drenched luggage and all – to be greeted by a lady, a golf buggy and some hand towels. She whisked me away to my rented property and gave the impression of someone who actually knew their way around a five star resort. Winner!

It was a massive improvement on how things had started. But I was left feeling confused at how disjointed everything was. Not the kind of seamless, top drawer affair I’d been expecting.

The Villa

Finally, having reached the villa, I found the five star offering I’d been hoping for. It was a detached, open plan space with a bedroom, bathroom, living area and kitchenette. Tall ceilings, huge glass windows and stunning Arabian Sea views.

Outside, I had my own private plunge pool, a few little dining areas and sun loungers. And beyond the pool, just white sand and the sea.

One of my favourite things during my stay at Zaya Nurai Island Abu Dhabi was waking up, pressing a button to open the electric curtains and soaking in that floor to ceiling view from my king size bed. One of those moments when life really ain’t so bad.

How much for a pizza…???

So, you’re kinda stuck on an island. You can take a boat to the mainland and get a taxi from the Welcome Centre construction site and find other food and drink offerings.

But really you’re a captive market. And those friendly folks at Zaya Nurai Island aren’t afraid to take advantage.

The prices for food and drink at Zaya Nurai Island Abu Dhabi. OMG. In all my premium-hotel-staying-life, I’ve never seen anything like it.

£14 for a bottle of water. £24 for a simple margherita pizza. And that’s before I even get started on the booze.

Adding insult to injury, there are actually notices up around the resort saying that people aren’t allowed to bring their own food onto the island. So ripped off guests have very little option but to max out the plastic.

But you know what? I’m happy to pay premium prices for premium quality food. This is a full English breakfast for £20. What do you think?

Ghost town vibes…

There are five distinct food and drink venues at Zaya Nurai Island. I had dinner at two of them. But every night, every single restaurant was strangely empty.

In fact, heading off on my villa bicycle around the island, I discovered that people weren’t just chilling out with the room service. There were barely any guests on the island at all.

Which gave the whole place a slightly creepy feel. Everything was a little bit rundown. And it didn’t make an awful lot of sense.

Like how many staff there were considering there were so few guests. And like how thumping trance music played out of speakers by the beach when just a couple of families were hanging out playing on the sand.

The place felt past its prime, completely misbranded and ludicrously mismanaged. Looking at their website you get a sense of what used to be but is no more.

Was it worth the money?

Needless to say, with Standard Villas coming in at a hefty £650 per night, expectations were high. I loved the villa. And the island location. Days spent on the beach (pretty much alone) were blissful.

But I couldn’t get my head around the rest of the resort. Patchy service, a feeling that no one was really looking after the place and the fact that they wanted to raid your wallet at every turn couldn’t help but sour the mood.  

If I’ve learned anything from many years of globetrotting, it’s each to their own. But I certainly didn’t feel this place was worth the price tag.

The Globetrotter Verdict

Zaya Nurai Island feels like a resort that’s fallen on hard times. And is trying its utmost to squeeze as much cash as possible out of each and every single guest. Anyone looking for truly five star service should probably look elsewhere.

I hope you enjoyed reading my review of Zaya Nurai Island Abu Dhabi, even if my stay there wasn’t the best. Click here to read more luxe hotel reviews (NB, most of them are better than this one).

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