As you may know, this Easter, I took Flea to Dubai on a mission to find out what this Middle Eastern destination has to offer families.
After an epic flight (don’t ask, I’m still at risk of PTSD just from thinking about it), we landed at the Jumeirah Beach hotel in time to grab dinner and collapse into bed.
The following morning, we awoke to blue skies and the most beautiful view over the beach towards the famous Burj Al Arab hotel in front of us. It was a sunny 31 degrees (temperatures at this time of year typically sit between 28 and 39 degrees) – perfect weather for sun-starved Northerners like us!
If you fancy watching, we’ve captured some of our Dubai highlights in this video:
Despite the sunshine, the beach wasn’t on the agenda quite yet. Instead, we were heading to the world’s tallest man-made structure – the Burj Khalifa.
Our trip to Dubai sometimes felt like a long series of “Only in Dubai” moments – this city is an experience more than it’s a destination. My over-riding impression is that if you have a whim, Dubai will indulge it. And not just that – but it will find do so in the biggest, best, shiniest way possible.
So it seems fitting that Dubai is home to the world’s tallest man-made structure.
The Burj Khalifa is 163 floors of shiny floors and big windows, with elevators fitted with visual effects that whizz you from the ground floor lobby up to the At the Top observation deck on the 124th floor, in just over a minute.
At the Top there’s an air-conditioned indoor observation deck giving 360 degree views over Dubai and the surrounding desert, with outdoor decks for more immediate views – we had great fun looking down over the Mall’s lake and fountains, and trying to spot Dubai’s landmarks.
At 555m tall, this isn’t the attraction for you if you’re scared of heights, but the exhibits are smart, and give you plenty to do without standing too close to any edges. You can book tickets online for a timed slot, or just turn up and stand in line on the day.
After spending a fun hour goggling at the city from on high, we headed down into the Mall for lunch at Five Guys.
There are literally hundreds of places to eat at the Dubai Mall, with just about every UK and US chain you can think of, plus every other cuisine you could think of – but sometimes there’s nothing better than a really decent burger and fries.
We needed the calories for our afternoon exploring two of the Mall’s indoor attractions – both good options if the heat gets too much for your youngsters (or if it’s raining – which does happen in this part of the world, it turns out!)
Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
Walking towards the centre of the mall, you see the Dubai Aquarium a long time before you get to it – the site’s star attraction is a 10,000 litre tank filled with fish and sharks of all kinds and (on the afternoon we visited) a couple of scuba divers to boot.
The scale of the tank is pretty hard to convey – but the front display window is 8 metres high and almost 33 metres long – so…huge, basically.
There are 33,000 living creatures in the tank, including more than 400 sharks. You can actually see the main display for free from the mall, but buying a ticket means you can walk through the tunnel that goes straight through the middle of the tank, getting a really fun view.
A basic ticket giving you access to the aquarium and the underwater zoo, which is one level up, and works along the same lines as aquariums in the UK, costs 100 dirham, or about £20, per person.
Flea loved the scale of the tank, but probably had more fun upstairs at the underwater zoo, which has penguins, bats and a spectacularly enormous crocodile.
After the world’s largest fish tank, it was off to another “Only in Dubai” attraction – the Sega Republic indoor theme park.
Now, I grew up in Blackpool, so I’m no stranger to an amusement arcade. But this is on another level entirely.
Yes, there are (very good) video games at Sega Republic, and the pool and air hockey tables you’d expect. But there are also indoor rollercoasters, dodgems and snowboarding simulators, and the world’s tallest slide, which allows you to slide in spirals down the centre of the amusement park from the top floor down to the bottom.
You can also take a ride in a real car that’s been converted into a video game. So. Much. Fun.
The slides were a real highlight but Flea found plenty here to keep her amused. The simulation rides had us both giggling with the cheesy dialogue, and Flea took a turn on the indoor high-ropes course, which works along the same lines as Go Ape, but indoors.
All of the machines and attractions here are operated using a card, which you’ll need to load with cash. But be warned – the attractions are NOT cheap, and you’ll need to look carefully at what’s included in your ticket. The most popular package here is 300 dirhams (about £60) which gives you unlimited access to most rides plus credit for video games – but this won’t include the giant slide, or the high ropes, which both cost around £6 extra a time.
After trying out just about every ride and video game, we headed off for dinner at Cafe Bateel – a casual, Italian-style eaterie where we sat next to the ginormous four-storey indoor waterfall and snacked on sandwiches and wild mushroom soup. It was simple and fuss-free, which was just what was needed after a day of being utterly overwhelmed with lights and noise.
If you are in the mood, the Mall here is one of the biggest in the world, and four times bigger than Westfield – there are entire strips of stores dedicated to children’s designer clothes and Arabic interiors, alongside the more typical M&S, H&M and the like. We saw most of the UK and US chains that we are used to shopping in – and there’s even a Waitrose, which is weird and reassuring at the same time.
Whether you’re shopping or not, it’s worth checking out Kidzania (kids pretend to be adults), the indoor ice rink (try not to think about how much energy it must take), the cinema or the Emirates A380 flight simulator.
Before leaving, we headed outside to the terrace to watch the fountain show, which happens every 30 minutes from lunchtime – a light and water show with jets that are fired 140 feet into the air. It was pretty spectacular, but I must confess it was too crowded for either of us to see much – my suggestion is to arrive just after a show, grab a spot, and wait for the next one!
But it was a pretty spot to catch the sunset, and enjoy the early evening heat, which is less fierce than the midday sun at the end of a busy day in Dubai.
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