After our 10 1/2 hour drive from Riyadh that included two sand storms and a flash flood, we finally arrived at our destination: King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). KAEC is a planned community less than an hour north of Jeddah, on the West Coast of Saudi Arabia. We got there just before sundown. After checking into our very lovely and spacious 2 bedroom apartment in the all-suite hotel, The Views, we walked down to the beach. Local families were heading from the car park with blankets and baskets of food, prepared to enjoy the sunset. We grabbed a hot beverage (it was December) from one of the many cafes and restaurants along the corniche (boardwalk) and found a comfy spot a respectable social distance from other folks. It was so touching to see families just enjoying being in a beautiful place and enjoying each other’s company. We were having so much fun people-watching we almost missed the last second of the sunset!
On the first and third day at KAEC we played 18 holes at Royal Greens Golf Club. Royal Greens is, by far, the best course I have played in Saudi Arabia. It is stunning, nestled along the Red Sea with immaculate and lush fairways, greens and surrounding landscaping (no easy feat in a dry, hot climate). The greens were so soft and luxurious I was very tempted to just lie down and enjoy the feel. The course is also very challenging; lots of bunkers, water hazards, and areas where the fairway narrows dramatically, demanding precise aiming of your tee shots. If you get off the fairway you can easily find yourself in trouble (tall grass, weeds, rocky desert area). The weather was also spectacular with blue skies, sunshine, a light breeze and comfortable shirt-sleeve temperatures.
On the second day of play, workers were building a spectator stand above the green of the 18th hole in anticipation of an upcoming PGA Tournament. I saw them working and got nervous about “performing” in front of an audience. My chip shot landed on the green, but still almost 30 feet away from the pin. As I approached my ball, as I feared, the workers paused their activity to watch my putt. I took a deep breath, lined up my putt, and tried to ignore them. Amazingly, I sunk the putt and the scaffolding audience cheered! For that one second I got a tiny glimpse of what it felt to be a professional golfer.
That evening we went in search of a good seafood dinner, being on the Red Sea and all. We had heard there was a seafood restaurant “by the pool” at a nearby hotel. After searching all around the hotel and grounds, in the dark by the pool we unexpectedly came upon an employee standing behind a lit display case housing fresh whole fish on ice! Upon inquiry, we learned the restaurant seating was on the roof of the fitness center next to the pool. We got to select our fish (we chose a local Hammour) and the type of preparation (we chose grilled with Indian spices). I was drawn to a bright purple one, but the monger said it was only good fried. All the fish selections are accompanied by rice, salad, and grilled vegetables. The view from the rooftop was impressive — the lights of the city on one side and the lights of the boats on the Red Sea on the other. A gentle breeze completed the ambience. Our fish arrived very quickly (complete with the head and staring eyeball). It was perfectly cooked — nicely charred on the top, moist and flaky within. The flesh lifted easily from the bones. The side dishes were nothing to brag about, but the fish was the star. We liked it so much we came back again two nights later!
On our second full day at KAEC, we rented a snorkel boat. Because of the pandemic we were nervous about sharing a boat with strangers and so rented an entire boat. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that much more expensive. Apparently, demand was down due to the virus and the captain was eager to make some money. The captain and his first mate were so friendly and full of energy! You could tell they just truly love being out on the water and sharing the wonders below with their guests. After months of being cooped up inside due to COVID, it was absolutely magical being out on the Red Sea, in the sunshine, fresh air, and feeling the mist off the water. At one point, a pod of dolphins even joined us and followed along for a while.
Our guides first took us to a location known as “Shark Reef” — not the most confidence-inspiring title. The reef was not very visible from above, but as soon I put my masked face into the water, a whole other world opened up. The coral was plentiful and largely undamaged. Because it was winter, the colors were muted, almost gray/black. The fish who live in the coral, however, were extremely colorful and plentiful! We saw clownfish (like Nemo), blacktail butterfly fish, crown butterfly fish, nemipteridae, and some other fish with purple lips like a parrot fish. Although it was chilly above, the water was surprisingly warm and we were able to swim around, even without wet suits, for more than a half hour. It was so much fun! Fortunately, we did NOT see any sharks. We then motored to a sand bar and went snorkeling for another half hour. There was much less coral, but different types of fish and other sea creatures like the sandy bottom. After our snorkeling, we just hung out on the boat near the sandbar, ate our packed sandwiches, and just enjoyed the weather. We made it back to the dock late afternoon. It was such an amazing relaxing day!
We will likely go back to KAEC, and still need to see Jeddah itself. But next time, I think we will fly.