Explore Dubai's Water Worlds
Upon first inspection, Dubai lives up to its reputation as a millionaires’ playground; it is chock-full of business folk impeccably turned out in Arab thawbs or designer labels, driving huge cars from one gleaming, gargantuan mall to the next. But while this futuristic city in the middle of the desert is great fun for those with money, it is also ideally set up for kids.
Children are revered in Arab culture. During our stay in Old Dubai my three-year-old son was high-fived, hugged and had his cheeks squished affectionately by everyone we met, from waiters and bellhops to stern-looking police officers and souk traders. So it follows that, given the centrality of children to daily life here, much of the infrastructure of this new city has sprung up to appeal to a childlike sense of fun – and I can confirm that it also works for big kids.
Many of the top hotels come with kids’ clubs and babysitting services, pools and child-friendly menus. But you could say that for most other luxury destinations. For thrill-seeking youngsters, however, Dubai has the edge. Waterslides? Rollercoasters? Terrifying animals? Snowboarding? No problem.
And what do kids of all ages enjoy most? Water. The two equally famous, and similarly ginormous, Aquaventure Waterpark and Wild Wadi Park jostle for punters. They both contain enough terrifying slides to keep your adrenaline-hungry offspring occupied for hours.
Aquaventure boasts the near-vertical and aptly named Leap of Faith chute, as well as an almost mile-long river made up of rapids, waves and waterfalls. Those under the 4ft height restrictions can enjoy a huge water playground and access to a pristine private beach stretching 700m.
Wild Wadi, near Jumeirah Beach, is also great for gravity-defying slides (for those over 3ft 6in), wet Rollercoasters and smaller rides, chutes and liquid playgrounds for littler people. There’s much to recommend at each – but I wouldn’t advise doing both unless you’re keen on nearly losing your lunch while wearing a bikini.
If you prefer to stay dry while enjoying h2o, Dubai is also unrivalled for its aquariums. In a city where luxury is second nature, the underwater accommodation for sharks, dolphins, manta rays and all their fishy friends is about as good as the five-star hotels.
Within the humongous, marbled Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, where you can see the King and Queen of crocodiles (their scale matches the opulence of their surroundings).
Much of the 10 million-litre tank is visible for free from within the mall but an underwater tunnel among thousands of rare denizens of the deep. The upstairs zoo is home to the whopper crocs.
Meanwhile, over at The Lost Chambers Aquarium, you can see some 65,000 exotic marine creatures, including a pair of rare albino alligators. You can even pay extra, should you fell brave, to go snorkelling or diving among them.
Dubai rivals Florida for its sheer number of theme parks: there’s the brand-new Legoland water park (yes, another one); Sega Republic at the Dubai Mall, which will keep teenage gamers amused; and the petrol-head-friendly Ferrari World.
But the best day out for my money is Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates. Dubai is home to the world’s largest indoor snow park – a breathtaking 3,000sq m space jam-packed with real snow-capped ski runs, tobogganing hills, zip wires and balconies. Anyone who is comfy on skis or a snowboard will have an absolute ball.
For little ones, the inflatable sleds and snowball fights, plus visiting the penguins who live there, is enough to keep them chattering happily for days. Swapping the searing heat for a few hours in the chiller is also surprisingly welcome – all outer gear bar hats and gloves is supplied.
If it seems like Dubai only caters to giving children a good time, then let me set the record straight – it’s educational too. Children’s City in Creek Park is a series of brightly hued buildings housing galleries and interactive exhibitions about space, nature, biology and other engaging science topics.
Granted, if you completed all of the above during a two-week holiday you might have to remortgage. But not everything in Dubai is eye-wateringly expensive. There’s the beach and plenty of good parks with play equipment, all free. And some of the best fun can be found in the fountains on the Dubai Marina Walk. Bring an extra set of clothes for your charges and bask in the knowledge that the fun they’re having splashing around isn’t costing you a penny.