After our Uniworld cruise and one night in Paris, Natalie and I flew five hours and 40 minutes to Doha on Qatar Airways. It was one of my all-time top flying experiences as we were on Qatar Airways’ new A380 and we got upgraded to business class. You can read about it here.
We flew Qatar Airways because they’re part of the Oneworld alliance, which means you can use your American AAdvantage miles to fly with them. And a first-class ticket from Paris to Doha is only 40,000 miles! I checked out all three classes and from the hard product to the service, they were above and beyond what you find in North America. Here’s a 30-second Flipagram I made of our flight to give you a virtual tour.
We arrived in Doha and it was my first time seeing the new $16 billion Hamad International Airport! It took 10 years to build and it’s unreal. Walking to the immigration halls, I got a flavor of it. I could see that for departing passengers, there were all kinds of high-end shops including Harrods, a pharmacy (which Natalie desperately needed for her nagging cough), and huge Time Square-size screens displaying ads.
I was bummed when I saw that the line for “all other passports” was ridiculously long. But then I realized there must be a separate first and business class line. Not only was there one, but the agent there also directed me to a separate room that looked like a five-star hotel’s lobby. I thought he was mistaken and I explained that I was arriving, not departing. He pointed, I went. Inside, two friendly agents checked our boarding passes and then asked if we would like some food or something to drink. I thought I was dreaming; when do they offer you drink and food in an immigration line? Then they pointed me to the immigration desks where there was an officer who was taking a really long time with an Iraqi man. I could hear their conversation; he wasn’t too happy he had to pay $100 US for a visa.
I whispered to Natalie that this would be perfect if they had more than one agent working. Sure enough, a woman showed up and waved me over. The automated camera moved to the height of my face and took a picture of me and then Natalie. I paid the 100 QR (about $27 US) visa fee with my credit card (used my SPG Amex since it no longer has foreign transaction fees). And we were off. We didn’t have bags to collect so we bypassed the luggage carousel. We walked through the line for those with no goods to declare and placed our bags through an X-ray system.
Good to know: Here’s the US State Departments page on passport and visa requirements for Qatar.
Hot and humid Doha
We spotted our hotel driver amidst the sea of drivers and he asked if we wanted to wait for him to bring the car around or to walk to the parking lot. He warned us it was hot out. I knew it was hot but it was 6 pm and the sky was dark so how hot could it be? Well, the high was 108ºF/42ºC (the low: 91ºF/32ºC). What I wasn’t expecting was the humidity, which he explained was typical for that time of year. Honestly, it felt like I had I walked into a steam room. My glasses fogged up as did my camera lens. We walked maybe 100 yards and in that short time, I had beads of sweat rolling down my forehead. Whoa! I’ve never experienced anything like that before.
Sharq Village & Spa
The drive from the airport to the Sharq Village & Spa by Ritz-Carlton was 12 minutes. The hotel is a recreation of an ancient Qatari Village—as a luxury hotel. We were greeted in the warm Ritz-Carlton way. After I plopped down my passport and credit card, a traditionally dressed man offered us Arabic coffee and dates. After stepping into the hotel, I realized I’d made a big mistake making our layover in Doha just one night instead of two.
The 159-room resort is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Walking around, I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie and couldn’t stop saying “Wow!” It was almost embarrassing. The rooms are evenly spread out in nine separate buildings that are designed like traditional villas. I can’t tell you how surreal it was to walk through the lobby, marvelling at the architecture. And then there were all the Qatari businessmen in traditional garb, wearing long white shirts over loose pants and loose headdresses called gutras, held in place with a black rope called an agal. Suits are rarely worn in the Gulf and foreigners are not expected to wear Arab costumes, but according to onlineqatar.com foreign men should avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts in the street.
After doing some Periscoping (you can follow me at @JohnnyJet), Natalie and I dropped our bags off in our room and headed straight to the spa, which is managed by Six Senses. We had 7:30 pm appointments (the spa closes at 11 pm) and were running a tad late because we kept stopping to take pictures (unfortunately, they didn’t come out that great because it was too dark). The architecture is like a movie set and my Nigerian masseuse had magic hands, which is one of the reasons why this place now has my vote for the top spa in the world.
Sharq Village & Spa had almost a dozen options for dinner: Cigar Lounge, Al Jalsa, Parisa, Lobby Lounge, Al Liwan, Al Dana, Al Wanis Shisha Terrace, Al Seef Snack Bar, Sea Lounge, and Gazebo. All of them complement the rich ambience of this ancient Qatari village. We chose to eat at Parisa with our American friend who now works for Qatar Airways in Doha. Parisa means “angel” and serves authentic Iranian food. I had no idea Iranian food was so good and I highly recommend trying the fresh pomegranate juice as well as the delicious flame grilled meats (Natalie loved their seafood kebabs) and Puolo rice.
We went to sleep around midnight and when our 5:30 am wake-up call came, I kicked myself for booking such a short layover—and that’s despite the 107ºF heat. There’s no doubt, Sharq Village & Spa is a special resort that I would have loved to have explore more thoroughly.
Rates begin at $340 a night.
Related: Visiting The Richest Country In The World — Qatar
Note: Room and board was provided by Ritz-Carlton Hotels.
It sounds like a magical place! How long do people usually need in Qatar, and what is there to do and see (other than shopping)?