Dubai caters to families of all ages. Joanna Booth reports
Dubai knows all about growing up. In the space of 15 years, its tourism industry has matured from infancy to something much larger and more well-rounded. So it’s rather fitting that, in the process, it has broadened its appeal for families, with holidays to suit children of all ages, from young kids right up to the moodiest teenager.
It’s not the shortest flight in the world to take small children on, but at about seven hours direct to Dubai, the time in the air is more middle-distance than marathon – and the choice of airlines serving it provide some high-quality product.
Emirates’ range of regional departures – Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow, as well as Heathrow and Gatwick – means families with little ones can keep things simple and fly direct from somewhere close to home.
Turkish Airlines serves the regions well too, flying from Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham in addition to Heathrow and Gatwick.
The flights aren’t direct, but with regular connections from the UK, families won’t have long to wait in Istanbul, and fares can be competitive – something particularly appealing to parents who are more concerned with saving money than time. Return fares from London lead in at £334.
Where to stay
Sand is key for kids, so picking a property on Jumeirah Beach or on the world’s largest man-made island, the Palm, makes sense.
Atlantis The Palm is understandably popular with families, with its 17-hectare site that’s home to a water park and aquarium – access is free for guests – and a choice of 20 restaurants and bars to keep picky eaters happy.
Even its lowest category of guest room sleeps two adults and two children, and 90% of these Deluxe Rooms are interconnecting.
There’s a kids’ club for three to 12-year-olds offering indoor and outdoor play areas including climbing walls and a pirate ship, arts and crafts, and console games, and a programme of activities from 10am to 10pm.
There’s one free afternoon per child per stay, or parents can book full or half days, evening sessions or multi-day passes. Teens’ Club Rush (also at a charge) runs from 2pm until midnight and has its own cinema, non-alcoholic cocktail bar, gaming zone and an entertainment lounge with a dancefloor.
The wave-shaped Jumeirah Beach Hotel is another popular option, with its private beach and complimentary access to Wild Wadi Waterpark. It’s not too far from the Mall of the Emirates for teens who want more than sun and sea.
All rooms accommodate two adults and two under-12s. For older or larger families, it’s worth looking at the suites. The Sinbad Kids Club for two to 12-year-olds runs from 8am to 10pm, chargeable by the day or the week, with playing, chilling and swimming areas.
For teens, access to The Hub (11am to 10pm) is complimentary, so they can race game bikes or have a dance-off, play tennis, football, guitar or drums, or watch a movie.
For families who want a hotel with an all-inclusive package, try one of two neighbouring hotels – JA Palm Tree Court and JA Jebel Ali Beach Hotel. The hotels’ all-inclusive package covers three meals a day (lunch and dinner on a dinearound basis at the 15 restaurants and bars), alcoholic and soft drinks, non-motorised water sports, land activities such as tennis, beach volleyball and camel rides, and access to the CoolZone kids’ club (for four to 12-year-olds) and the teens’ ChillZone.
Also included is access to the new JA Wibit Waterpark. All suites at JA Palm Tree Court and interconnecting Family Rooms at JA Jebel Ali Beach Hotel accommodate two adults and two under-16s. The resort has a new crèche service for tots from four months to four years.
From splashing tots to shopping teens, a child has to be pretty awkward to find nothing they enjoy among Dubai’s many attractions.
Water parks are a surefire hit across a range of ages, and Aquaventure at Atlantis The Palm is the big daddy. Older kids can get their thrills on scarier slides such as the Leap of Faith or Poseidon’s Revenge, but there’s a lazy river and Splasher children’s play area for younger ones.
Over-eights can don a special helmet and explore Shark Lagoon, and those as young as six can hand-feed cownose rays. At Dolphin Bay, ‘encounters’ are open to all ages and ‘adventures’ – including hugs, kisses and rides – to those aged eight and above.
The scuba centre has a junior programme for over-sevens, and the vast Lost Chambers Aquarium is suitable for any age.
Wild Wadi has rides and activities for older kids, such as the aptly named Jumeirah Sceirah and Flowrider surf simulator, while younger guests can enjoy the lazy river, wave pool and play area.
For something a little different, the JA Wibit Waterpark opened this year within the Jebel Ali Golf Resort. It’s an inflatable floating water park, suitable for those over six or 1.1m tall.
Dubai’s malls are more than just places to shop. While parents and teens may want to indulge in some retail therapy, younger kids can while away the hours in one of the in-mall attractions.
At Dubai Mall, KidZania is a clever concept catering for four to 16-year-olds – a child-sized city where they get to try more than 80 professions from airline pilot to TV news anchor, even earning kidZo currency they can spend in the attraction.
Next door, indoor theme park SEGA Republic has a range of rides and games. At the Mall of the Emirates, Ski Dubai is an indoor snow park with resident penguins and a zip wire, as well as skiing and snowboarding opportunities.
Young children can just play in the snow. Admission through Do Something Different costs £38 for adults and £34 for children, with 10% off for under-12s.
Getting out of the city into the desert is suitable fun for older kids and teens, and Attraction World offers a Sunset Safari and BBQ Dinner for £54 for adults and £36 for under-12s.
They’ll enjoy the thrills of dune bashing in an off-road vehicle, getting a henna tattoo in a Bedouin camp and watching belly dancers – the only problem will come if someone tries to join in and embarrasses them with his best dad-dance moves.
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