Transiting through Jeddah on my way to Afghanistan, I had about 23 hours in Saudi Arabia between Saudia flights. A transit visa had been granted by the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC and without even looking at other properties, I reserved a room at the Park Hyatt Jeddah.
This isn't the proper venue to delve into Saudi Arabian culture and politics, but let me first say Saudi Arabia was not what I expected. Admittedly, Jeddah is by all accounts a liberal enclave of the Kingdom, but I still expected a very closed society in which I would not be allowed to take pictures or even walk freely in public.
This (wholly misplaced) anxiety moved me to use the hotels' airport pick-up and drop-off service rather than a taxi or bus (public transportation is very limited, but I did toy with the idea). Immigration was very slow and I emerged outside immigration and customs about an hour late, but the driver was waiting patiently for me with a sign simply stating "Park Hyatt Jeddah". He grabbed my bag and led me to a Mercedes S-Class, where he then presented me with a cold towel and a bottle of water.
As we made our way from the airport, through Jeddah, and to the hotel (a journey that took less than 20 minutes), my preconceived notions of the Kingdom were immediately jettisoned. Shopping malls, luxury car dealers, and American restaurant chains dotted the city. While not as "American-feeling" as the United Arab Emirates, I chuckled that Saudi Arabia felt more like being at home than did Germany.
The hotel is located along the water, adjacent to King Fahd's fountain, and is a rather sprawling resort property. After being waived through the barricaded entrance, we pulled up to lobby and I was escorted inside where there was a short line to check in. Large pictures of the royal family were prominently displayed, but the lobby was spacious and per a very recent change in Saudi law, smoke free.
Room rates are in the $450 range or you can use 18,000 Hyatt points per night for a standard room.
My room was quite a hike from the lobby, but worthwhile for the view (see below). Unlike my last Park Hyatt stay in Istanbul, the room was very modern and bright. The room was also large and the white walls and white marble floors gave the room an even more spacious appearance.
My corner room overlooked the Red Sea and the lush resort grounds:
For Islamic guests, the room also included a prayer rug and a marker (called a mihrab) on the ceiling pointing to the Qibla (direction) of Mecca.
When I walked into the room I noticed a bottle of what looked like champagne chilling on the desk—comprising the Diamond welcome amenity along with a box of exquisite dates—and thought, "Ha! So they do have liquor here!" But it wasn't champagne—it was something called "Apple and Date Dhibs Drink" which turned out to be a non-alcoholic sparkling cider, similar to Martinelli's in the States or Apfelschorle in Germany but with dates (dhibs is the syrup of pressed, ripe dates). It was quite refreshing on a hot afternoon—I finished the bottle…
For dinner, I had wanted to try the hotel's Moroccan/Andalusian restaurant called Andalusia, but a large private party meant the whole restaurant was reserved so I had dinner instead at Nafoura, the hotel's Mediterranean restaurant. Perhaps that was a good thing. Both properties had buffets (Andalusia is exclusively buffet style and Nafoura has a seafood buffet on Thursday) but I was actually not all that hungry. I ordered a la carte instead—just rack of lamb. The cost was about $40 and served with a small side of horseradish-mashed potatoes and a few cooked tomatoes. It was succulent.
After spending some time walking around Jeddah, I retired late, sleeping soundly for about eight hours with the blackout curtains down. I have a tendency to oversleep, so I requested a 9am wake-up call to help get my day going—it was promptly delivered. The room was dark but I loved the way the morning rays of sunlight seeped through the curtain:
Breakfast—also in Nafoura —was great. You know if you've read my other hotel reviews that I eat the same thing every morning if possible. Bircher muesli, fresh squeezed orange juice, berries, yogurt, an omelet, and waffles or French toast. All of my favorites were available here and even a few extras—a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, more delicious dates, and regional dishes like mutton soup—which well, at least I tired it…Fruit juices are big in the Kingdom and the selection of fresh-squeezed juices (I particularly loved the watermelon juice) added to the breakfast.
As you can see, breakfast was quite substantive so I put off plans to visit the hotel's gym and spa immediately after breakfast and took a walk around the property instead. I mentioned the facilities are expansive but take a look at these pictures.
In addition to Nafoura and Andalusia, the lobby lounge offers drinks and a light food menu. Venture out onto the marina and you can relax in plush couches and smoke Sisha. Speaking of smoking, the hotel also offers a cigar lounge off of the lobby.
The Lobby Lounge
Conference rooms and banquet halls of varying sizes are also available—it appears the hotel hosts many weddings. What I noticed about this hotel more than others I've stayed at is the number of locals who were on the premises. Jeddah is a decent sized town, as I mentioned, and restaurants with family dinner rooms (as opposed to separate dining rooms for ladies and men) are increasingly common. In the evening, the marina was filled with locals—mixed groups—enjoying intense conversations and hearty laughter over flickering candles in the twilight.
A few hours after breakfast I finally made it to the spa/fitness center. There is a separate facility for men and women and though I was not permitted inside the womens' facility, I learned that it houses the only outdoor ladies' pool in the Kingdom. The men's facility is spacious and has an elaborate gym, indoor swimming pool, and indoor thermal-type pool available for an additional fee. Spa services are also available. Membership is open to those outside the hotel, but the men's facility was not at all crowded when I was there.
I had booked the round-trip car service to the airport, so when it came time to check out I saw that my same driver was waiting in the lobby to take me back to the airport. After checking out—and being warmly thanked by name as I presented myself at the front desk—I was whisked back to the airport with ample time to catch my connecting flight.
My transit through Saudi Arabia left me wanting more—more of the Kingdom and more of this amazing property. Whatever pretenses you may have about Saudi Arabia, I can tell you that I had a wonderful stay, found the people to be hospitable and friendly, never once feared for my safety, and had a flawless experience at a superior Park Hyatt property.