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May 12, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Six Senses Zighy Bay, Oman

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Marahaba from the Sultanate of Oman! Just the name alone sounds exotic and far away, but after this trip to the Middle East I realized it's really not that remote and is well worth a trip. After leaving off last week from Dubai I traveled just two hours (120 kilometers/74 miles) to the northern Musandam Peninsula in Oman. I was there to check out Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay, which you will see is a perfect resort for a honeymoon or other once-in-a-lifetime occasion. If you don't have time to read the article, here's my three-minute professionally produced video.

P.S. Did you catch my national segment on ABC News Now?

Most guests who stay at Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay use Dubai as their hub since it's the closest major gateway. I arranged my transfer (US$300) through Zighy Bay, and an Indian driver in a new Cadillac Escalade picked me and my buddy Nicholas up from our downtown Dubai hotel. The driver wasn't very friendly at first, and he didn't speak much, but I think it was because he had a slight cold. But more importantly, he turned out to be a fantastic driver. He paid attention, didn't speed, and got us there safely and gave us chocolate covered dates and bottled water.

The drive was pretty unadventurous until we reached the very relaxed Oman border, where one of the two military guards just looked at the driver's license, my passport, and just the cover of Nicholas's. We didn't even have to get out of the car. I asked for a stamp but was denied. Just 40 yards away was a Welcome to the Sultanate of Oman sign, and we got out for a photo op. From there the flat desert topography changed drastically to rock mountains. The last 20 minutes of the ride got a bit hairy when the driver said "very dangerous" and pointed to the mountain and muttered "up-down."

"Up-down" meant we were about to go over a 2,100-meter (6,890-foot) mountain that's five kilometers (three miles) before you arrive at the resort. The driver looked nervous so my heart began to beat faster, but it turned out he wasn't scared at all, as he's made the drive over 50 times. I certainly wouldn't do it in the rain or at night, since there's no guardrails, but the good news is that it doesn't rain very often (less than 10 days a year), and you obviously can decide when you want to arrive/depart.

There are three ways to get to the resort. One is driving over the mountain. The second is to have the driver drop you off at a marina so you can avoid the "up-down" mountain by taking the resort's speedboat, which we experienced on our departure. The 15-minute ride (US$70 each way) was so worth it. The last mode is the most unique and would make even James Bond jealous.

Get this... the third way to get to the resort is to fly in tandem with the resort's very own professional paraglider, who takes one guest at a time for the grandest entrance of all. It begins high atop the 293-meter (almost a thousand-foot-high) mountain. Guests can also paraglide from noon to 4 p.m. during their stay; the glide takes just 10 minutes. It costs US$130 per person. Even though I'm terrified of heights I was going to suck it up and try it out for our video, but by the grace of God the Bulgarian expert paraglider declared it too windy. And that doesn't happen very often: Conditions here are perfect 300 days of the year. Here's a video of the paraglider entrance I found on YouTube.

For those who aren't familiar with Six Senses resorts, they are quite extraordinary. Their unique properties can be found in the Maldives, Oman, Thailand, Vietnam, Spain, and Jordan. The Six Senses core purpose is to "create innovative and enlightening experiences that rejuvenate [their] guests' love of SLOW LIFE," (made up of the first letters of the words Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, and Experiences). They currently have 15 resorts (including their Soneva & Evason brands). You might remember I stayed at Six Senses Evanson in Phuket, Thailand, back in 2008. That property is probably their least nice, and it was still pretty darn amazing.

Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay is located in a secluded fishing village and set up and designed like an indigenous Oman village but with modern amenities. The scenery is seriously breathtaking, with dramatic mountains on one side and a 1.6-kilometer (almost a mile-long) sandy beach on the other.

To be honest, our arrival experience wasn't up to the par of their usual warm welcome, but it was because we arrived at noon when they were slammed with check-outs and their resident Omani greeter, who dresses in traditional attire, was on vacation (I did get to meet him when we checked out).

My only other negative comment is that on the first day I went to the beach at 4 p.m. and all the beach chairs had used towels on them, though it was obvious the guests had left for the day. I had no place to put my camera while going for a dip. I later complained and you can bet that from there on out all the chairs were attended to. You can get offer that kind of service when you employ 325 workers, as Zighy Bay does.

After waiting a few minutes to check in, we were introduced to our butler, who alerted us that the time was one hour ahead there. I thought it was an Omani thing, but later found out that it's a Six Senses concept. They claim that this way guests can get later sunsets and do more activities during the day, and then when they return to the UAE they gain an hour. It makes sense, but it's the first resort I've ever heard of doing anything like this-how about you?

As I alluded to, each villa has a butler who coordinates all your activities and reservations. What was really cool was that mine did pop out of nowhere on more than one occasion when I needed him.

There are 82 uniquely designed villas ranging in size from 247 to 3,000 square meters; 79 of the 82 have private pools, and they're not little plunge pools, either-you can actually swim laps in them (it took me 11 strokes to swim lengthwise). The infinity-edged pools are 21 square meters (23 yards). I measured mine; it was 24 feet by 11 feet.

Since I'm starting with the best, I should mention that each villa, in addition to a pool, has a sun deck with lounge chairs and a round table. There's also a sandy backyard with an outdoor Majlis. A Majlis is a traditional Arabic summer house; the Arabic word means "a place of sitting" and is used to describe various types of special gatherings. These Majlis are open air, made with stones, thick rope an bamboo from top to bottom and filled with four colorful pillows to sit on. It's the perfect place to have drinks with a loved one (or hide from them when/if they are being nasty). I was by myself so I just chilled and checked email on my BlackBerry from my Majlis.

Speaking of email, the resort has Wi-Fi but it's on the slow side. My T-Mobile BlackBerry worked perfectly fine while connected to Oman Mobile, but unfortunately that phone provider-which also runs the hotel's phone system-went down on the second day, so everyone was cut off from the civilized world. Not a bad thing at a place like this, but I was told it was very unusual.

My villa (58) wasn't one of the 15 villas that are directly located on the beachfront. Those must've been unreal, especially the multi-bedroom villas. But I still loved the look and feel of mine, which was on the back side of the second row. The sand "street" between mine and the third row reminded me a lot of a quaint town in the south of France or Bell Island, Connecticut, in the summer time.

The only difference, besides the pavement being replaced with sand, was that there are no cars in the resort area, only a few golf carts for the staff. Each villa comes with its own bicycles -but it is a bit of a challenge to ride on the sandy paths.

The villas have a rustic chic decor. There's a living room with a flat-screen TV with satellite TV channels, a DVD player, iPod docking station, work desk, and telephones (including one cordless). In between the living room and bedroom is a closet with handmade wood hangers, a safe (I never used it), bathrobes, a flashlight, and bug repellent (I used it one of the three nights). Opposite the closet was an armoire with a stocked mini-fridge/bar, tea- and coffee-making facilities, water in glass bottles (not plastic), and a mini-wine cellar (never seen that before in a hotel room).

The doorbell is on a long cord that is strung over the beams. Twice the bell rang and when I went to the door there was no one there. It turned out the birds were just messing with me.

The bedroom has a king-size bed with luxurious sheets (the pillows were a bit too bulky for me), and the whole villa had air-conditioning and ceiling fans.

Connected to the bedroom was the bathroom. It had double vanity sinks, a separate shower, and an oversized bathtub. The best was the door that led out to the private outdoor shower area - I took most of my showers out there. Both showers have liquid soap and shampoo in ceramic jars.

One night for the turndown service they left a slice of chocolate cake wrapped up. It tasted just like my mom's Mississippi mud cake, and it was the first time I'd ever received something even remotely close to my mom's cake.

One of my favorite things was to go for a late-night swim in my private pool and just float quietly while looking up at the star-studded dark sky. It was surreal.

One complaint about the villas that I heard from guests is that the lights inside the villas are not very bright. But it's done on purpose, as Six Senses is trying to minimize the light pollution and not be an eyesore for the neighboring village.

I was there in late March and the temperature was pretty much perfect, 70-85°F. But I hear in the summer the heat is just brutal, so plan accordingly. The best time to visit is between November and mid-March.

The resort is not all inclusive, and when you look at the menu prices you'll think, Oh my gosh, the food is so cheap"-and then you'll realize that the prices are listed in Omani Rials. At press time the exchange rate was US$1=0.38 OMR (Oman Rials) and 1 OMR= US$2.59.

The food at Zighy was in fact delicious, and there are a bunch of restaurants and cuisines to choose from. The most popular and expensive is Sense on the Edge, which offers guests an unbelievable dining experience high atop the mountains near the paragliding launchpad. It's the place to dine to celebrate that special occasion. If you want to go a few steps higher up, with more privacy reserve, the Starlight Table.

Most of my meals were eaten at the Deli, which is a terrible name for the restaurant because it really looks nothing like a deli. The open-air restaurant is right next to the main pool (which is not busy since most guests have their own pools at their villas) with an extensive menu: burgers, pizza, sushi, you name it. I had "curry in a hurry " with chicken, beef, shrimp, or lamb (10 OMR); you get to choose Thai, Indian, or Omani style. I had the latter since, well, I was in Oman. It was darn good and came with rice and a salad. Other Deli favorites included the fresh fruit juices: watermelon, mango, pineapple, orange, grapefruit... They also make smoothies and mocktails. The Arabian Punch (pomegranate, apple, mint) was insane.

NOTE: At Zighy Bay they serve no meat on Tuesdays, in order to raise awareness of climate change.

The breakfast buffet (cereals, juices, dried fruit, Arabian dishes, deli meats, sushi, miso soup, pastries, jams, bread, yogurt...) was set up in the restaurant next door to the Deli (Dining on the Sand), but most guests chose to grab their goodies and eat outside at the Deli. Before each meal in any of the restaurants, the waiters bring guests chilled towels and a shot of a smoothie of the day.

Breakfast is complimentary, and in addition to all the buffet offerings they have an à la carte menu that's 10 pages long. To give you an idea, there's a whole page of varieties of eggs Benedict. There are also numerous styles of waffles (I had to try the waffles with saffron ice cream and a berry compote), pancakes, and of course there's a page dedicated to kids' meals. A must-try is the Arabian flatbread made with too much butter and drizzled with Manuka honey.

They also had the coolest thing I've ever seen at any breakfast buffet, period: a sous chef whose lone job is to peel /cut guest's favorite fruit(s). Each morning I would chose which fruit I wanted, from mango, mangosteen, rambutan, passion fruit, longan, plum, kiwi, banana... and then it was delivered. It was unreal.

One morning I had a fly buzzing around my food and I finally got sick of watching it land on the same piece of fruit and flatbread, so I took the butter knife and whacked it. One attempt was all it took, so apparently the flies in Oman are super slow, but it did make me feel like the Karate Kid.

Other restaurants included Dining on the Sand, a 68-seat restaurant with a variety of pan-Asian, Middle Eastern, and Continental flavors. Vinotheque is a wine cellar with a selection representing some of the world's best-received wine varietals and wineries. There's also a private table on top of it's tower with incredible views.

Another memorable meal I ate at Zighy Bay was at Shua Shack (52 OMR) on the beach. Every Sunday they host a beach-side dinner under an open-air tent. Most guests are barefoot, since you sit on pillows. There's just one long communal table, and guests pass the food around like they are dining with old friends and family. There are candles everywhere to set the mood. The main event is when they lift the wrapped lamb out of the ground, where it has been cooking in an earth oven for nine hours. The meat was so tender, it fell off the bone. Dessert was an Omani treat: caramel, biscuit, and cream.

Zighy Bay has a variety of excursions to choose from, and we signed up for a five-hour dhow cruise (82 OMR per person). A dhow is a fishing boat with a history of over 500 years. The resort's dhow is shaped like the originals but it has all the modern amenities, including a bathroom, TV, bar... Most of the time I spent on the top deck soaking in all the beauty of the Musandam's views and sunrays. We were in the Strait of Hormuz, which has spectacular fjord-like views; the area is known as "the Norway of the Middle East."

Besides an Indian captain and Indian first mate, there was a young South African first hand and a couple from England. We all had a great time. The highlight was going into one of the small bays, spotting sea turtles, and then jumping off the boat. We snorkeled for a good hour and there was fish and coral to see along the shoreline. Fortunately, we didn't see any jellyfish until after we were out of the water. Wet suits, snorkeling equipment, kayaks, and life preservers were all available.

We pre -ordered lunch; I had tomato mozzarella salad, chicken tikka, fresh fruit, and carrot cake.

DID YOU KNOW The whole time we went at a no-wake speed, but the captain said that by speedboat we were just two hours from Iran and two days to India-how exciting is that?!

No trip to a Six Senses resort would be complete without hitting their spa. They have a wide-ranging menu of regional and Six Senses signature treatments that focus on holistic and pampering therapies using only natural products. I had a strong full-body deep-tissue massage that combined Swedish massage with the benefits of trigger points and gentle stretches. 50 minutes cost 50 OMR. The most unique thing the spa had was an Ice Cave in the men's locker room. (They have one in the women's too). There's also a gym for those that want to stay in shape.

The rates at Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay fluctuate. You can go for just one night, but I would spend at least two. Their best deal allows you to stay seven nights for the price of five nights. It includes daily breakfast, choice of arrival experience (paraglide or speedboat), one sunset cruise, one Arabic cooking class (Lunch), one signature spa treatment, and one dhow cruise. Price starts from US$3,125 per villa per night.

Don't miss my three-minute professionally produced Oman video.

We fly back to the States on one of the world's best airlines, Emirates. Don't miss it.

*PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay

Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Leaving Dubai


Near the Oman Border


UAE/Oman Border


Welcome to Oman!


Resort Security Check


View From Top


Road Down




Speed Boat


Paying Attention


Welcome Drink


Resort Pool


Zighy Beach


Zighy Beach South


Zighy Beach North


Sandy Streets


My Butler


My Villa


Wash Your Feet


This Is How


My Door Bell


Living Room




Outdoor Shower


My Private Pool


Another Angle




Villa Bikes


Zighy Deli


Inside Zighy Deli


Great Service


"Curry in a Hurry"




Breakfast Buffet


Making Arabic Bread


Arabic Bread


The Best Fruit


Peeled/Cut to Order


Breakfast Waffles


Sense on the Edge


Shua Shack


Traditional Omani Dishes


Pool At Night


Dhow Cruise/Snorkel


Jumping Off


Cool Captains


Omani Village


Spa Welcome


Spa's Ice Cave


My Oman video


Next Week


  • Never would have thought to travel to Dubai, but after reading about your travel there, I am more interested. Jackie F - Saint Martinville, Louisiana

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  • Having experienced Dubai April 15th - 20th, I appreciate your perspective. The Burj Khalifa elevators were operational when we were there. Our budget was more economical as we stayed at an Ibis property (World Trade Center). We took the Metro when possible. Just signed up for day trips at the Hotel's activity desk. Ate amazing Schwarma as Lebanese food was the UAE's default cuisine. Thanks again for sharing. Sincerely, Tom Dothan - AL

  • Find some expats and ask them where the best place to rent a dune buggy is. Then go have a blast and beware of the camels! Ann R - Newark, NJ

  • Hope you are enjoying Dubai. I enjoy your photos. There are so many places on Earth I want to visit, but oddly, Dubai does not call me at all. M. Black - Los Angeles, CA

  • I enjoyed your description of Dubai. I assume however, that you have to tone things down about any unpleasant issues, such as homosexuality...though you did mention it. Yet maybe the two men you thought were lovers were just friends. In many Muslim countries it is normal for two straight friends to hold hands for instance. Also, one of the reasons the place is so clean is that there is a huge (about 60% of the population) underclass of South Asians who work for low wages and live in terrible conditions (so I hear). I don't know if the social and economic conditions are sustainable...which you didn't even touch on. But I understand that yours is a travel site, not social commentary. Thanks! Chris McMahon - San Francisco, California

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  • Hi Johnny, Expect to be in Dubai next May after completing a cruise and would like to stay overnight before next day flight to EWR (probably). Can you suggest best deal for flight (economy) and location to be for a reasonable hotel in respectable area of Dubai and perhaps with shuttle service to airport? Much obliged. K. Heist REPLY: Hmmm… I would spend more then one night but if you are just looking for a inexpensive hotel and flight I asked the Dubai Tourism for their advice: If the person would like a three star hotel, I recommend The Arabian Park. It is near the airport. For four stars, I recommend Media One (very fun hotel) or Traders. For airfare, Delta, United and Emirates have direct flights... So she may want to see what kind of deals there are. As you know, Etihad has direct flights from Abu Dhabi.

  • Read your news letter all time. I need a question answered...I am a senior....have 300,000 miles with not expect to be doing any long range there away to transfer my miles to where I can trade for merchandise or gift certificates? Apparently United is very limited … Thanks for any help. Bruno - REPLY: Johnny asked his FF guru Tim Winship. This is what he had to say: Unfortunately, there are no cost-effective ways to convert miles among different programs. United does offer merchandise awards, but only if you're an elite member of their program or hold a Mileage Plus Visa credit card. The annual fee for the cheapest card is $60. In this case, with so many miles in your account, it might be worth signing up, just to gain access to the expanded awards catalog. Remember, you can redeem the miles for tickets for friends and family -- the gift of travel is always appreciated. Best. Tim Winship, Editor-at-Large - ( Publisher - ( Author - Mileage Pro - The Insider's Guide to Frequent Flyer Programs

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