25 Family Friendly Reasons to Visit Dubai
1 History is brief here
Dubai is a mere toddler compared to some other parts of the world. Half a century ago this United Emirates State in the Middle East was just a big patch of sand. Therefore its history is brief and compact. And for kids that means it doesn’t have endless museums, galleries and culture centres that Dad feels are compulsory.
Does your family agree about how to see a museum? They are a source of contention in our family. Stuart can take all day over one and likes to read every single word on every single exhibit. Meanwhile the kids and I can whiz around most in an hour or two. Compared to more ancient cities, Dubai’s heritage sites are few and quite manageable. Perhaps check out Dubai Museum in Al Fahidi Fort for information about how Dubai came to be, and the breathtaking Jumeirah Mosque for some spiritual enlightenment. (Open every day except Friday) Or the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House. And then go to the beach. There are other cultural centres, but your kids’ job is done.
2 You can go fast
Calling all speed freaks! An hour’s drive from Dubai and you’ll find the world’s fastest roller coaster, in a whole theme park of attractions dedicated to the Ferrari. And just down the road at Yas Island Marina you can drive around an F1 circuit or you can bike it yourself on a Tuesday evening. (Bicycle not moped!) You can also sand board in the desert and ski in a mall. (With a decent slope and a chairlift.) You can go up in a plane or off in a speed boat. There are no limits. Apart from your speed on the seven lane highways. They are scary enough without anyone going any faster.
3 You can supersize
If your kids are fans of the Guinness Book of records they’ll love Dubai. Everything is continually taller, bigger and more ambitious than anything that went before. The one and only place to begin is At The Top of the Burj Khalifa; the world’s tallest tower. While we were there two Frenchmen were busy breaking the world record for base jumping. We had an ice cream instead. But it was a big one with sprinkles!
4 You can get wet
Waterparks aren’t just part of the fabric of Dubai Tourism; they’re the star of the show. And they’re fabulous. Atlantis the Palm’s massive Aquaventure Waterpark has an ocean theme and a Tower of Neptune water slide that shoots you through a shark tank. It also has the world’s largest waterslide tube, which you can navigate in a six person raft so granny can come too.
At the interactive pearl diving themed Yas Waterworld (about an hours drive from Dubai on Yas Island near Abu Dhabi) you can programme the sights and sounds on your own slide as well as riding a rollercoaster while someone blasts you with a water gun from below. Meanwhile at the Arabian themed Wild Wadi the rides and slides are so exciting they border on being traumatic! (Send Mum on the Wipeout Flowrider to surf seven tonnes of water a second and see how she copes.)
If there are younger kids in the family Mum may just chill out a bit as there seems to be a lifeguard about every 10 metres or so in each park. (This would so never happen in the UK.) But don’t be fooled by those lazy rivers, the one at Aquaventure Waterpark is far from lazy at 1.6 kilometres long, with its own rapids and torrents.
5 You can hang out with animals
There are loads of chances to get up close to wildlife in Dubai. (Including scorpions in your shoes if you enter the empty quarter!) At the Atlantis the Palm resort you can meet the creatures of the sea in individual tanks in the Lost Chambers Aquarium and then view 65,000 species in the Ambassadors Chamber (public feeding displays take place around ten times a week.) You can also swim with dolphins and play with sea lions. In the Ski Dubai snowdome you can meet penguins. In Dubai Mall you can even meet a dinosaur, the oldest thing in Dubai. Apart from Granny if you bring her along?
6 You can hang out with camels
Camels are everywhere in Dubai. On the lawn. By the roadside. In the desert. On the drive from Dubai to Hatta you pass clusters of them behind fences by the motorway. Camels are fun, as we soon discovered. They may not go very fast but when they stand or sit, it’s like riding a rollercoaster. And they have an interesting soundtrack too. Our camel broke wind a lot. A camel breaking wind is really funny if you are eight years old. You can also watch them racing in winter at Al Marmoum camel racetrack. Or you can buy toy camels galore in the souk. Hannah returned from her trip with a jewel studded camel trinket box and a cuddly camel that sings. Much to everyone else’s annoyance.
7 Your kids can see into their future
KidZania is like a fun career’s advice centre. Children from 4-16 can try out up to eighty jobs in a day and spend their earnings (KidZo currency) on toys from Hamleys, or on experiences like climbing and driving. They can also declare their independence from adults and of course ours did immediately. Adults aren’t allowed in any of the kids zones and they aren’t permitted to tell children how to do their job better. All you can do is go for coffee and hope they don’t break the workplaces. KidZania is in The Dubai Mall, next to some other cool kids stuff. Which brings me onto…
8 You can spend your entire holiday in a mall!
If you want to. And you might not have to work hard to persuade the whole family to join you; in peak summer it can be the only place that is really cool. And I’m not only talking temperatures. Just about every luxury brand in the world from Armani to Burberry is here. But the malls aren’t just full of shops. They are temples of modern design with art, fountains, attractions and entertainment. And if you like riding escalators you’ll be in your element. One tip; when you park your car take a photograph of where you left it. Otherwise you might be there all night trying to find it again.
9 Kids can drink mocktails while their parents…drink mocktails
This might be the only time your children ever see you sober on holiday! It may seem a downside of going to Dubai, but we didn’t miss the beers when we tasted the alcohol free mojitos. It’s not totally dry; it is possible to get an alcoholic drink in a hotel bar. And there are lots of those. What is great is wandering public places on a Friday or Saturday night and not having to shield your child from the drunken and rowdy behaviour of other holidaymakers.
10 You can imagine what it’s like to be rich
Bike the Dubai Marina and pick out the yacht you’d like when you are rich. Go shopping for affordable gold in the souks or more expensive gold in the malls. Go see the hanging botanical garden in Raffles or the Ambassadors Chamber at Atlantis and visualise that you are staying there. Stand at the foot of the world’s only seven star hotel, the Burj Al Arab and dream. Then go have dinner together. Feel free to ask for pudding.
11 You can eat ‘normal food’
Skip France with its snails and China with its puppy dogs tails. You can eat anything you like in Dubai. Including Pizza Hut and of course McDonalds. But there are much more exciting chains than these. We loved customising our own burgers at The Counter at Jumeirah Beach Residence. And enjoyed the extraordinary range of egg combinations available over brunch at the nearby Eggspectation. If you want a posh meal out then you are also spoilt for choice. We ate at Atlantis the Palm’s excellent Ronda Locatelli Italian restaurant. The highlight was the camel’s milk ice cream, flavoured with balsamic vinegar. Sounds strange but believe me it was awesome.
12 You can speak English
Pretty much everyone here does. But then Dubai is so multicultural that you can also speak any other language in the world and someone will understand you.
13 You can drive everywhere
Dubai is so big that it’s pretty much impossible to walk anywhere far away and get there before next Thursday. So no hot and tiresome dragging around attractions on this holiday. You take a taxi around the mall. You can get on the futuristic metro. You can hire a car or a driver. Even toddlers can get in on the act; some of the malls have mini trains or little pedal cars to ride on. At the Marina you can hire a bike, or a Go Kart. We took a hop on, hop off Big Bus Tour and sat on the top deck with the wind in our hair listening to an audio guide of the city. Included in this tour was a trip on a traditional dhow sailing boat. Really, there’s hardly a reason to wear shoes in this city.
14 You can stay connected
Come on, you didn’t think you’d have to do without your comms in a city this advanced did you? Wifi is free and readily available in many hotels/malls etc. If you’re likely to be off the beaten track you can buy a local sim card from the Du shop at the airport to reduce the cost of your data. At Jumeirah Beach there are public screens on pillars where you can take a picture and e mail it directly to your mates back home. (Or you can check out the prayer times if you are weaning yourself off social media for the week.)
15 You can check out the big screen action
The Dubai Mall has a Sega Republic theme park; 76,000 square miles of gaming on two levels. In the same mall you can also catch films in English at the huge Reel Cinema complex. On a Sunday night you can catch a ‘movie under the stars’ for free at The Pyramids on the outdoor terrace of the Egyptian themed Wafi Mall. You can sit on giant beanbags and a waiter will bring you a bucket or popcorn or some nachos if you get the munchies. Meanwhile The Beach mall at Jumeirah Beach has a brand new outdoor cinema, complete with comfy chairs and showing football matches and movies.
16 You can play with sand. Er, quite a lot of it…
What kid doesn’t like to play with sand? We cartwheeled the desert sand dunes and made castles galore. Although at Jumeirah Beach sand artists got there first with giant sand sculptures including a mini Dubai with its own Burj Khalifa.
17 You can find a handsome prince
The Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (popularly known as Fazza) is the ultimate prince charming. He’s good looking, big on sport and can often be found skydiving over the city. He’s a poet. And he’s on Instagram. And he’s a bachelor. What’s not to like about this royal? Prince Harry take note!
18 You can ogle FAB cars
Walk along Jumeirah Beach and enjoy the Hummers, the BMW’s and the Ferraris. Then visit Ferrari World for a day of Ferrari fan-dom. You can even buy an engine in the shop. For a few grand.
19 You can drink the sea. Kind of..
The sea is warm, the sand is gold. You never feel unsafe on the beach, even at night. And Dubai authorities are experts at sea management. They once moved a whole coral reef, they have built whole islands on the sea bed to extend their coastline, and they desalinate up to 300 million gallons of water from the sea in peak season for people to drink. And what’s more they pump it up through some of the largest skyscrapers in the world. Genius.
20 You can get a fake tattoo
Henna tattoos are cheap and readily available. And last longer than an ice cream. Impress your friends when you get home.
21 You can sleep in the desert
This was one of the highlights of our trip. A Desert Safari package, booked via Expedia enabled us to sleep under the stars in sleeping bags. We watched a full moon rising while helping ourselves to our own soft drinks bar. Then we got up at 6am to watch the sun rise. Or some of us did.
22 You can bash dunes
What’s dune bashing? It’s riding the peaks and troughs of the desert in a 4×4 vehicle in a convoy with a stranger at the wheel. It’s like a roller coaster you don’t quite trust. And it’s deeply exhilarating. But you are glad when it stops.
23 You can cross into Oman
Drive out to the hill town of Hatta ( a cute place with a fort you can climb and a fort hotel you can have lunch in) and you pass through the Oman desert. Pause for a while and sift the sand through your fingers. Take your passport though. And some shoes. I took my flip flops off for a second and burnt the soles of my feet.
24 You can dress up
…whether or not you want to. If you visit Deira Old Souk they will have you in traditional dress or belly dancing headgear before you can say ‘dish dash.’ Avoid eye contact at all costs if you’re not keen on playing your part in this cheerful charade.
25 You can fly home in style
If you get the last flight home with Emirates you might end up on the Airbus A380. We did. All I can say is legroom, TV box sets, hundreds of movies and tea and scones. And that’s just in cattle class.
So that’s it. Our 25 reasons for families to take the plunge and visit Dubai. If you have visited and have any of your own to add, then please leave them below in the comments.
Disclosure Note: We visited Dubai in a collaboration with Expedia, researching, experiencing and capturing in words, pictures and video something of what the city has to offer families visiting the United Arab Emirates. The itinerary, experience, videography, photography, views and opinions remain, as ever, editorially entirely our own. Check out all our Arabian Adventures posts to find out more about what we discovered as shared here on our blog.