With schools off for two weeks and international travel limited, many parents will find themselves staying in the UAE with hours to fill this spring break. There are plenty of ways to pack the schedule with old favourites and new adventures you can enjoy with the whole family.
From feeding penguins at the zoo and hiking to 8,000-year-old ruins, to showing off your Fortnite skills and visiting a working honeybee farm, here are nine things to do that are educational, entertaining and all but guarantee happy and worn-out children (and mums and dads) by the end of the day.
1. Mleiha Archaeological Centre, Sharjah
A day spent at Mleiha in the heart of the Sharjah desert is something children and adults of all ages will enjoy. Step back in time to learn about the settlers in the region during the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, Iron, pre-Islamic, Islamic and modern ages.
With plenty of discoveries to engage enquiring young minds, there are also a host of activities to be enjoyed at an extra cost. Book a self-drive buggy tour across the rocky dunes or try the ArchaeoMOG tour, in which guests are taken to a variety of locations – such as the Valley of the Caves and old quarries – in a specially designed Unimog vehicle.
Plus, there’s the Survive the Sands experience, in which you’ll learn techniques from expert guides about surviving in the inhospitable desert, including how to source water, and the Jebel Buhais Trek, on which you can enjoy sunset views from a 2,000-year-old Iron Age fort and visit an 8,000-year-old Stone Age necropolis.
Tickets are Dh25 per adult, Dh15 for children aged 10 and below, free for children under the age of 3, Dh55 for a family ticket (two adults and three children). Additional excursions cost extra and require pre-booking; 050 210 3780, discovermleiha.ae
2. Al Ain Zoo
Established in 1968 by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, one of the main reasons Al Ain Zoo has remained a favourite wildlife destination in the UAE is because animals are given plenty of roaming space, plus there are plenty of paths and trails to disappear down.
Home to many varieties of flamingo, there are also eagles, owls, emus and ostriches to be admired. For children who love big mammals, there are African wolves, western lowland gorillas, jaguars, chimpanzees and more. There are also Nile crocodiles you don’t want to get too close to.
Hire a bike and hit the trail around the zoo to take in an array of experiences, such as feeding the penguins, the cheetah run and reptile encounters.
Entry is Dh31.50 for adults, Dh10.50 for children aged 3 to 12, children under 3 free; Nahyan the First Street, Shiab Al Ashkhar, Al Ain; 800 555, alainzoo.ae
3. Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi
For the whole of the spring holiday, from Friday to Saturday, April 10, Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi is where children can meet some of their favourite cartoon characters in real life. They'll have the chance to meet Fred and Barney from The Flintstones, Scooby and Shaggy from Scooby Doo – Scooby Snacks at the ready! – as well as that battling cat and mouse duo, Tom and Jerry.
A host of live shows will feature the likes of George and Astro Jetson from the cartoon favourite The Jetsons. Enjoy arts and crafts at the Bistro Le Pew Patio from 1pm to 5pm daily, where children can take home their Tom and Jerry canvases.
There’s also a treasure hunt with plenty of prizes to be won, as well as more than 29 rides and experiences to enjoy for the whole family.
Day tickets are Dh295. Open daily from 11am-7pm; Yas Island, Abu Dhabi; 600 511 115, wbworldabudhabi.com
4. Arabia’s Wildlife Centre, Sharjah
With a number of different attractions, this is one of the best value-for-money days out in the UAE, and is suitable for all ages. A showcase for the indigenous animals found on the Arabian Peninsula, check out saw-scaled vipers, puff adders and Arabian cobras in their natural habitats. A mountain-themed indoor aviary is home to a number of birds and small mammals, while the nocturnal zone houses foxes, mongooses, honey badgers, hedgehogs and more.
The spacious enclosures outside are home to hamadryas baboons, cheetahs, Arabian wolves, striped hyena and Arabian leopards.
On the vast site is also a museum focusing on an array of child-friendly exhibits, including dinosaur bones and fossils, an underwater-themed room and science experiments.
Plus, there’s a beautiful and serene Islamic garden to enjoy, with plenty of flowers and herbs being grown.
Finish off the day with a visit to the farm, where you’re encouraged to grab handfuls of hay and feed the animals, including donkeys, sheep and hens.
Entry is Dh15 for adults, Dh5 for children aged 12 to 16, children under 12 free, cash only; Al Dhaid Road, Interchange 9, Sharjah; 06 531 1501, epaashj.ae
5. Dreamland Aqua Park, Umm Al Quwain
The largest water park in the UAE has been a family favourite since it opened in 1997. Set within landscaped gardens, the park has more than 30 slides, rides and attractions, including the super-fast kamikaze, the total darkness of the black hole and the twisting dragons for thrill-seekers.
The family raft ride and rafting river gives you a chance to enjoy your water fun together. For those with younger children, or parents looking to relax, the dream stream and dead sea are perfect options.
For little ones, there’s the aqua play area and the pool game, whereby children are challenged to make it past a host of inflatable obstacles.
There’s also the option to camp overnight at the park, with waterside camping in the onsite cabanas, which includes two full days' access to the park.
One-day entry is Dh160 for adults above 120 centimetres, Dh100 for children between 80cm-120cm, children under 80cm free, additional costs for overnight camping; open 10am-6pm; Al Shebeakah, Umm Al Quwain; 06 768 1888, dreamlanduae.com
6. Dubai EStars Gaming Tournament, Dubai World Trade Centre
If you have any gaming fans in your house, the Dubai EStars two-week live gaming tournament at Dubai World Trade Centre will be their destination of choice for the coming fortnight. And, coincidentally, Fortnite is one of the games they'll be playing, as children aged 12 and over are invited to show off their talents in an array of battles at all skill levels.
The event starts on Friday at Dubai World Trade Centre, with gamers playing Fortnite, Fifa 21 and Rocket League. The main gaming station will feature 200 consoles for the Fortnite competition on both XBox and PlayStation, with live commentary provided by Dubai EStars casters. The top three players' scores will be featured on the leaderboard.
There will also be a Hang Out arena, where gamers and spectators can compete in dance competitions with Dubai EStars cosplay characters, and play Fifa and Rocket League.
Prizes include a gold-plated PlayStation, limited-edition Nintendo Switch, Turtle Beach headsets, American Rag Cie vouchers, Xbox, PS5, hotel stays and more. The overall winner will scoop an academy spot in the Middle East’s pro gaming team, Galaxy Racer.
Tickets are Dh250 for standard entry, Dh350 for VIP; from March 26-April 10, 10am-8.30pm daily; Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai; dwtc.com
7. Shees Park, Khor Fakkan, Sharjah
With its mountain walkways and paths, not to mention the 25-metre-high waterfall and picturesque views, Shees Park is the ideal destination to walk, explore and picnic.
If you're looking to spend a relaxed morning or chilled evening with the family, the park, which opened in October 2020, has palm-tree shaded walkways, a children's play area with equipment for little ones and more adventurous teens, and 32 shaded areas for families. There's also a dedicated barbecue area.
Surrounded by mountains, the park is located on an area of 11,362 square metres, laid out across different levels accessible by stairways cut into the stone.
Entry is free; open daily, 8am-11pm;located near Wadi Shees in Khor Fakkan
8. Dubai Camel Farm, Dubai
Immerse yourself in all things dromedary-related with a delightful twist at Dubai Camel Farm. With an emphasis on the happiness and sheer joy camels can bring, parents and children can even indulge in some camel-hugging therapy – which we all need after the events of the past year.
Located in Dubai between Al Qudra and Al Ain road, and owned by a camel-loving French founder, the farm is all about family-friendly activities. There are camel rides as well as a petting zoo with goats, sheep, rabbits, chicken, deer, turkeys and pigeons. There's also the option of a half-day camel safari with Bedouin picnic. You can enjoy a guided tour of the farm and help feed the camels and other animals.
Entry is Dh40 per person, cash only, pre-booking required by telephone; open from October to May, Monday to Thursday, 2pm-5pm; Friday and Saturday 10am-5pm; located along E77 northbound, between D63-Al Qudra Rd and E66-Al Ain Rd; 050 485 7676, thecamelfarm.ae
9. Honeybee Garden and Discovery Centre at Hatta Honey, Dubai
No doubt you’ve popped one of their products into your trolley at the supermarket, whether it’s their wildflower, Samar or Ghaf honeys. But did you also know you could take your family to see honey being created at the source, at this super-fun and educational honeybee garden?
The whole family will get kitted out in protective clothing before watching an educational video about bees. You'll then take a tour of the bee garden and learn about the different types of honey, as well as see the different types of hives used. Children will leave with an in-depth knowledge about the vital part bees plays in the planet's ecosystem.
Entry is Dh50, pre-booking required online; open 9am-5pm daily; Al Fay Road, Hatta, Dubai; 056 499 6405, hattahoney.ae