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Grand Openings: Island Sheikh

Jennifer Hall

Following the death of United Arab Emirates founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 2004, his sons decided to convert Sir Bani Yas, an island where the family owned a palace, into a world-class resort destination. Guests of the island’s first hotel, Desert Island Resort & Spa by Anantara—which opened in October and lies 155 miles from Abu Dhabi city—can kayak through mangrove forests, relax by the pool while watching the occasional oil tanker ply the Arabian Gulf, or view the island’s rare Arabian oryx (the species has been all but extinct since 1972) at the Arabian Wildlife Park. Formerly a royal nature reserve, the park encompasses three-quarters of the 34-square-mile island and houses 23 species of animals, including blackbuck, flamingos, and giraffes. Desert Islands guests can take game drives through the park, where luxury tented camps and a falconry lodge will open in the coming years. For the time being, most visitors stay in the former palace guesthouse (lobby shown). Among the best of the resort’s 64 rooms are two butler-serviced Royal Villas. Desert Island Resort & Spa by Anantara, +971.2801.5400, www.desertislands.anantara.com ($520–$4,080)

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Photo by Janos Grapow
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