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Inside one of the world’s most luxurious airport transit hotels

<i>Amer Sweidan</i><br/>Some rooms at the Oryx look into the airport.
Amer Sweidan
Some rooms at the Oryx look into the airport.

By Lilit Marcus, CNN

Need help finding the hotel within Doha’s airport? Look for the 23-foot-tall teddy bear made out of bronze and hang a right at the Hermes store.

Passengers transiting through Hamad International Airport in Qatar’s capital can choose to leave the airport and join a free tour of some of the capital’s most famous attractions, including Souq Waqif and the Golden Masjid.

But others can opt to book a room at the Oryx, a Qatar Airlines-owned hotel conveniently located near the C,D, and E gates.

As a swanky hotel in a swanky airport that regularly ranks at the top of the annual Skytrax list of the world’s best, it’s no stretch to say this could be one of the planet’s most luxurious transit hotels.

If you can locate it.

Because the oryx — a kind of antelope native to the Middle East — is the logo of Qatar Airways, the name is in use all over the airport, sometimes to confusing effect.

Case in point: The Oryx lounge is just one floor (second) below the Oryx hotel (third), which means that a staff member is employed to hang out in the hotel lobby to run interference for lost travelers.

To check in, passengers will need to show their passport and boarding pass. Doha is a “quiet airport,” which means that there are no oral announcements about boarding gates and passengers are expected to use screens or phone apps to figure out where to go. They’ll also have to part with upwards of about US$450 per stay — significantly more expensive than a typical night’s accommodation in Doha.

Front desk staff at the hotel are efficient and helpful. As only transit passengers are staying there, reception will double and triple-check passengers’ itineraries and offer a wake-up call to make sure they’re awake in time to make their next flight.

“Hamad International Airport operates as a 24-hours, seven-days-a-week facility and therefore all the different passenger touchpoints follow the same timeline,” says Badr Mohammed Al Meer, chief operating officer for the airport.

“We are constantly striving to offer the best and bespoke experiences for travelers, including our airport hotel offering. We want to provide them with an unmatched experience with a luxurious appeal, which is synonymous across the airport as a whole.”

Pooling wisdom

The Oryx is the only hotel within the airport itself, making it a logical choice for those with shorter layovers (by law, transit stays in the airport must be less than 24 hours). And there are also ways to experience the hotel without booking a room.

Travelers may access the Oryx’s “vitality center” at a cost of 175 riyals ($48) per person for up to four hours.

This wellness-centric area, one floor above the rooms, has a squash court, golf simulator, spa and hydrotherapy pools and hot tubs in addition to a swimming pool.

The narrow 25-meter (82-feet) long pool looks like it is encased in a glass jewel box.

Silver geometric designs are a major motif around the airport, and that continues to the pool, whose blue water shimmers against the light coming in from the lattice shape of the metal walls and ceiling.

Although there are some dress codes around public beaches in Qatar, the hotel is privately owned — meaning that guests can wear western swimwear. They can also order a poolside cocktail, as alcohol is permitted here as well.

Unlike the hotel, which is open 24 hours a day, the vitality center closes from 2-6 a.m. Access to these areas is gratis for hotel guests, although you still have to pay for spa treatments.

The treatments are designed specifically for travelers, like a massage for weary feet and a facial that addresses the dryness caused by recycled airplane air.

Thanks to Doha’s role as a major global transit hub, some guests find themselves returning to the Oryx on repeat visits.

One of those is Jane Jones, a Canadian travel agent who recently spent a 12-hour layover sleeping and swimming at the Oryx. It was her second time there — the first time, she had a shorter layover and opted for a pool and gym pass.

Jones, who was en route to a holiday in Thailand this January, says the hotel’s amenities are “top notch.”

“One thing I particularly appreciated was the convenience,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the room.”

Her personal highlights were the speedy free Wi-Fi, which enabled her to get some work done before her flight and the wide variety of options — namely weight training and cardio — in the gym.

“I would definitely do it again,” she adds.

In the room

There are 100 rooms at the hotel, all spread out along one floor.

Considering that an average of 40 million people pass through Hamad International Airport per year, there is high demand for rooms at the Oryx.

Booking in advance is highly recommended. People whose plans have changed or are dealing with last-minute cancellations can come to the reception area and stand in a long line to try and get a room, but those who have pre-booked can skip ahead and check in with ease.

The rooms themselves at the Oryx are light and airy. The walls are simple and cream-colored with the occasional burst of red or gold, while bed linens and towels are crisp, clean white. Overall, the design scheme creates a feeling of lightness.

There are four main room types — superior (with one king bed), deluxe (one king bed and one twin), family (three beds), and executive suites (one king bed, but more floor space), as well as a posh presidential suite complete with a private lounge and powder room.

Amenities make the rooms comfortable for a rest and recharge.

Each room has a kettle for coffee and tea making purposes, two complimentary bottles of water, and a large rainforest shower — just the thing for a rejuvenation between flights.

The other usual hotel amenities are there too: clothes hangers, an iron, a hair dryer, bathrobes, and slippers. In the bathroom, built-in shampoo dispensers and disposable toothbrushes mean you may not even need to take anything out of your own suitcase in order to freshen up.

In-room power points are international, and there are also USB ports.

And despite the airy, open feeling in the rooms and common spaces, there’s one critical area where things feel heavy: window coverings.

For people in desperate need of shuteye, the Oryx’s bedrooms can be made extremely dark despite the presence of Doha’s brilliant sunshine outside. And a good night’s — or afternoon’s — sleep may be the ultimate luxury of all.

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