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Sails in the Desert – Our Experience

BreakfastFor many that visit Ayre’s Rock or “Uluru”, its inevitable that you will be staying at one of the few hotels located in the desert.  Whilst this blog is not indicative of all the hotels near Uluru, I am sharing our experience of staying at the Sails in the Desert hotel.  I try to avoid the negative aspects, but my experience here was enough to write about it, but please note this is an exception for Australia, which on the whole we found to be a very positive, friendly and can do attitude country!

Apparently the average length of stay at any of the hotels is 24 hours, so a majority fly or drive in to see the rock, and then get out of dodge as quickly as possible.

We arrived in the afternoon and was picked up by the courtesy coach to take us to the hotel, it’s worth staying inside the airport, as the day we arrived it was approx. 42 degrees in the shade!  We’d pre-organised a sunset tour of Uluru, and a Sunrise tour of Kata Tjuta, so our arrival at the hotel had no time for orientation and we were whisked off on the tour (which I will cover in a separate blog).

The hotel at the time of booking claimed to be 5 Star, but my experience is that it needs an update/makeover.  The hotel is comfortable and provides free access to washing machines.  However, one thing that can’t be assured is a good nights sleep, and that is mainly due to the heat of the desert and the air-conditioning units that are working overtime and a very noisy.  That’s not necessarily the hotels fault here, but do take some ear plugs with you, as you will need to keep the air conditioning running 24 hours.  I made th mistake of switching it off for 20 minutes, and the room became unbearably hot and took a couple of hours to cool back down again.

Breakfast is a good buffet selection, though comparatively quite expensive (You are a captured market!) However my real compliant is that without forewarning being able to sit down to an evening meal is troublesome!  

Our sunset tour concluded and we were dropped off at the hotel sometime around 9:30pm.  As it was our first evening, we’d been travelling all day and therefore quite tired and in desperate need of a shower, we’d clearly missed the restaurant, and so ordered room service (from the limited menu) whilst we changed our dusty clothes and cooled down.  Room service is a basic selection of food, nothing special here, and you are looking at approx $90-95 AUD for a burger and coffee each!  We were so tired out we overslept/skipped the Kata Tjuta sunrise tour, as that would mean getting up and ready to leave for 3:30am, however we had booked other tours for the day, so had time for a good breakfast and then carried on with our site seeing.  (It’s a good job really, as those on the sunrise tour got back to the hotel after the breakfast bar had finished).

We got dress, ready and hungry for dinner and headed to the nearly empty restaurant at 6pm.  The restaurant is one big room where you can choose from the a la carte menu or the buffet, so we asked for a table for two…

“I’m sorry sir, do you have a reservation?”

What?!? We are guests at the hotel, the dining room is empty, I wasn’t aware we needed a reservation for the hot food buffet…

“Without a reservation, you can’t dine here.” We were informed…

That leaves the question, if we cannot dine at the hotel we are guests at, then where can you dine?  We weren’t aware that reservations had to be made on the same day, as we had missed the orientation (due to the timing of the previous day Sunset Tour).  

I’m a diabetic and my blood glucose was on the low side, so tbh I wasn’t in the mood for this conversation.  I spoke to the manager of the hotel who re-iterated the rule about reservations.  I explained that I am a diabetic, and what are my options (other than a small glass of coke to prevent a Hypo coming on).  He explained that it wasn’t his problem!  I explained that the restaurant was empty, my wife and I would be finished dining in 40 minutes or less, but he explained that the reservations were required to know how much catering was required!

Now, I can understand that for the a la carte menu, but the buffet?!?, that didn’t make sense at all, and having explained that guests may choose anything from the buffet, then surely that doesn’t impact the catering, especially for two people, who are full paying guests in his five star hotel.  However, “Rules are Rules” and dining was not an option.  He did explain that we could choose a selection of basic sandwiches from the room service menu instead!

This was totally unacceptable in my view, and as we both observed (and took video footage as evidence) the restaurant wasn’t over subscribed, there were at least 8 tables of 6 places untouched by the end of that evening, and an awful lot of food from the buffet selection that went back into the kitchens when service was over.

We weren’t the only guests caught out by this unknown rule, and clearly (in my view) there was a lack of common sense with the hotelier and management who had a responsibility to advise guests clearly in respect to dining arrangements.  In my view, it was clear that the Hotel Management didn’t care much for their guests, and they know they are unlikely to get repeat custom as the only attraction is the rock, once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it…  So if you do stay at this hotel, please ensure that you book at reception or the restaurant to ensure that you are able to have a proper evening meal, rather than sandwiches or a very reduced and not very good room service selection.  A five star hotel with a one star service attitude, and a very uncommon experience with Australia!

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