Mention Dubai and what invariably comes to mind is a playground for the rich and famous. One of seven states making up the United Arab Emirates, the travel hotspot is renowned for its massive malls and busy skyline, with fi ve-star hotels and myriad skyscrapers jostling for airspace, including the architectural wonder and world’s tallest building that is the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
But the urban district is also extremely family-friendly, with enough kids’ attractions to excite your little ones, and a low crime rate that makes it a safe holiday destination.
Visit from October to April when temperatures range from 20 deg C to the mid-30s, unlike the summer months, where it can soar beyond 40 deg C. Here are our top 10 attractions for a fun-filled family holiday.
1. Dubai Mall
No ordinary mall, the world’s largest retail and entertainment destination pulls in the crowds like no other – it had 80 million visitors in 2014. Naturally, there’s plenty here to keep the kids entertained, so join them or leave them with Dad while you check out the shops. The mall has more than 1,200 stores, including department stores Galeries Lafayette and Bloomingdale’s.
Kidzania is an award-winning edutainment centre that teaches children and teens aged four to 16 about adult life. Through role play, they perform jobs (choose from over 80 professions) and get a “salary”, which they can use for shopping or entertainment.
The mall also houses the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. You’ll get a magnficent preview with the large viewing panel near its entrance and, once you enter, there are more than 85 species to marvel at, such as crocodiles, seahorses, piranhas, water rats and giant spider crabs.
Enter a winter wonderland at Dubai Ice Rink. Skate your heart out or sign up for their 30-minute lessons that cater to all skill levels.
When night falls, head to Dubai Fountain and witness water jets shooting up to 150 metres – as high as a 50-storey building. What’s more, the fountain’s more than 6,000 lights and 25 colour projectors together create a stunning visual spectacle. The world’s largest dancing fountain has two afternoon shows daily, and evening shows that run every day from 6-11pm at 30-minute intervals.
2. Wild Wadi Waterpark
With a theme centred on Juha, a character from Arabian folklore, this water park boasts 30 rides and attractions. They include Burj Surj, where you’re seated on a tube and travel downwards, spin, then crash into the pool; Tantrum Alley that takes you down its water slides and three tornadoes in a four-seater tube; and Breaker’s Bay, with 1.5-metre waves in different configurations.
3. Sega Republic
Get your game on! Packed within the two-storey entertainment centre are over 170 rides, as well as arcade and video games, even prizes to be won. Popular games include Mini Rider 2 (involving a two-seater motion simulator), Tank Tank Tank! (where you battle giant monsters) and Guitar Hero Arcade, modelled after the popular game series. Plus, there’s a toddler play area with monkey bars, punching bags, bubble tubes and more.
4. iFly Dubai
Here’s your chance to try skydiving, and as a family too – it’s safe for kids aged three and above. At this indoor skydiving centre, you’ll be suspended about four metres above ground and an instructor will dispense pre-flight tips to help you maximise your flight experience. Then all you have to do is put your feet up.
5. Burj Khalifa
Standing at over 828 metres, with more than 160 storeys, it has the world’s highest outdoor observation deck. Enjoy breathtaking views of the city, and the desert and ocean beyond it. Kids will be thrilled by the high-speed lift – travelling at 10 metres a second – to the observation deck.
6. The Lost Chambers Aquarium
Discover the lost city of Atlantis and see the ancient ruins uncovered from it. Learn about its culture, technology and citizens, and get to know the 65,000 marine animals that now inhabit this space. The more adventurous can also choose to snorkel through the Ambassador Lagoon, dive through schools of fish or even experience a shark dive.
7. Dolphin Bay
Swim with dolphins no matter what your level of expertise or age. Younger ones can stand in shallow water and interact with the dolphins, and expert swimmers can get up close by swimming alongside them or scuba-diving.
You’ll also get complimentary same-day access to Aquaventure Waterpark, where you can get up close with sharks and manta rays, so why not make a day of it?
Age restrictions vary for the various encounters so do check beforehand. As a general rule, an adult must participate in the programmes with children under 12.
8. Ski Dubai
Located in the Mall of the Emirates, this indoor “ski slope” lets you and your kids ski and snowboard to your hear t’s delight. If you’re looking to take lessons, there are qualified ski instructors on hand; all the equipment is provided too. Or you and the kids can just play in the snow. Don’t miss the adorable resident penguins; they’re so cute, you can spend hours just watching them play.
9. Desert Safari
You can do a morning, evening or even an overnight desert safari. Activities include dune bashing (where a driver drives you over sand dunes at varying speeds), camel rides, quad biking (where you drive your own four-wheeled bike over sand dunes) and even belly dancing. What you do depends on which tour you book.
10. Children’s City
Aimed at kids aged two to 15, this is where they can learn about the world. There are exhibits and programmes that cover topics such as the human body, space exploration, international culture, and computers and communication. Check out the Earth Science Gallery, nature centre and the planetarium.
Where to stay
• Atlantis The Palm Hotel & Resort Located on man-made island The Palm, this hotel houses Dolphin Bay, The Lost Chambers Aquarium and Aquaventure Waterpark. There’s also a top-notch spa and a range of high-end boutiques to keep you busy. www.atlantisthepalm.com
• Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates Hotel Being directly connected to the Mall of the Emirates – and its metro station – means that there are loads of activities within walking distance. It’s also centrally located and has beautiful views of the city skyline. www.sheratondubaimalloftheemirates.com
• Jumeirah Beach Hotel If the stunning view of the Arabian Gulf isn’t enough to impress them, there are loads of activities to keep the kids busy here. There are six swimming pools, a scuba-diving centre and Sinbad’s Kids Club. Plus, you’ll also get unlimited access to Wild Wadi Waterpark. www.jumeirah.com/en/ hotels-resorts/dubai/jumeirah-beach-hotel
This story was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Simply Her.