First, our hotel. At first, I was a bit reticent about such a large resort, with Barr Al-Jissah boasting not one but three different hotels catering to different customer bases on the same grounds, and yet we loved it. We stayed in Al-Waha, which is family friendly of course, and includes the Splash Pad which Little Monsieur adored cooling off in, as well as the Lazy River, a canal where he could hop on a giant floating ring and let the current take him (and us of course, his fateful helicopter parents...) around the resort. One of my colleagues had advised taking our breakfasts at the next-door hotel (Al-Bandar), which is included in the B&B package anyways, and we followed his advice: a gentle stroll away from our sea-view room, we found a breakfast that was far more diverse and delicious, not to mention quiet, than the one in Al-Waha.
The beach is really the highlight at the Barr Al-Jissah resort. White sand covered with a little carpet runway to avoid burning little (and big!) feet, turquoise water at a perfect warm temperature inviting you to linger in... and, not 100 meters from the beach, a gorgeous sea bed filled with the most colourful fish and a couple of resident sea turtles, which don't really mind you snorkelling behind them.
One of the big advantages of a big resort is that you can't get bored easily. From the multiple restaurants (we loved the Lebanese and the Fish restaurants) to the Hammam spa and the kids play zones, we had a great long week.
And, for that extra magic touch, the beach just happens to be a favourite nesting area for sea turtles, so on both Saturday afternoons of our holiday at Barr Al-Jissah, we got to witness the beautiful hatching of little eggs and the race to the sea of tens of little baby sea turtles. This, is right up there in my memories book with seeing a family of elephants right outside the door of our banda during our honeymoon in Tanzania.
We did venture out a few times of course... First to the Muscat market. Think colourful potteries, opulent incenses, iridiscent lamps, and of course, the world famous gold market (I might have succumbed to the temptation of a little sparkly trinket, ahem). It's just a little drive away from the hotel and a really lovely way to get away from the afternoon sun. And that's where the other amazing discovery about our Omani holiday: the locals are impossibly nice and charming, genuinely so, quite unlike some of my previouos experiences in the Middle East. Everywhere we went, people were lovely, even more so around Little Monsieur.
One morning, we took a speedboat to go see the dolphins, and our captain was the nicest possible man. After following a pod of dolphins and admiring their somersaults for quite a while, Little Monsieur proclaimed he had had enough (whereas I would have been very happy to stay all day!), so our captain took us closer to the coast for a sea tour, and even stopped in a little creek, very much off the original plan, and gave Hubby Dearest and me the opportunity for a quick snorkel.
We also took a day trip to visit the Wahiba Sands and a nearby oasis, where Little Monsieur loved walking in the water in his new Cars-themed Havaianas (bought at the hotel's beachwear shop) and going for a swim on his Papa's back in the cool waters of the wadi. Obviously what he did enjoy most was the drive in the sand in the SUV... Not really my cup of tea (I was feeling a bit, hmm, sick, by the end!) but well worth it once I got to take in the fabulous view of endless orangey sand.
So, if you're planning your next holiday with the kids, definitely include Oman in your list of possibles. This is an amazingly child-friendly destination, the food is easy for their little tummies, Muscat is as modern as cities come, complete with state of the art hospitals should you need them (we didn't, thankfully). Just because you are now a parent, doesn't mean you have to give up on interesting destinations, you just have to pick wisely! And the final Oman bonus? The time difference with Western Europe means the little ones don't get too jet-lagged, yet wake-up just late enough in local time to allow everyone a little lie-in. Perfection!
Find out more about the resort: Shangri-La Barr Al-Jissah