Green Planet Dubai reopens its camping experience for summer 2024 – but is it worth it?

Spotting a baby sloth, handling a snake and prepping the birds' morning feed are all part of the back-to-back itinerary

The Green Planet Dubai
Powered by automated translation

Camping in the UAE is usually reserved for the winter months. As we move through June and towards July and August, not many residents would brave crawling into a desert-pitched tent in the heat and humidity.

But over at the Green Planet in Dubai’s City Walk, the team are keeping outdoorsy camping vibes alive over summer – by bringing them indoors.

Beginning on June 1, the animal attraction has reopened its overnight experience on Fridays and Saturdays, inviting families to sleep under the indoor canopy. Novelty factor aside, the experience includes a busy itinerary, including energy-burning activities, educational animal encounters and even downtime movie hours.

Priced at Dh850 for a tent with one double airbed (we managed to fit two adults and one three-year-old comfortably), and activities and meals all-in, is the experience worth it? Here’s The National's verdict.

Close animal encounters: What activities are on the itinerary?

The UAE has an abundance of venues to seek out if you're a parent to (or are yourself) an animal lover, from Dubai Safari to Arabia's Wildlife Centre. But I don't imagine many offer a proximity to such an array of animals, and for hours on end at that.

Roaming free in the “rainforest” are lemurs, squirrel monkeys, sloths, toucans, caiques and more, while dedicated areas house snakes, spiders and porcupines. This overnight camp's itinerary also includes more opportunities to get up close.

When we arrive, we tour the four-floor indoor zoo, getting within handshaking distance of the adventurous lemurs (although we know better and are warned not to touch any of the creatures), spotting a baby sloth (playfully named Lemon) cuddling its mother, and cooing over a terrapin swimming alongside fish in the ground-floor tanks.

After we drop the bags and settle in, Simon Mjomb (guest relation associate at the Green Planet and our lead host for the evening) outlines the first activity – a scavenger hunt. Parties are given clues to crack on different coloured pieces of paper, taking us on a tour through the building, making sure learning is infused into the evening. It is high energy, and little ones immediately get stuck in, finishing up with a goodie bag for the top three groups, which conveniently accounted for all the families present. Smiles all round.

Later, children (and adults if they so desire) are given rave sticks to up the excitement of the after-hours event, and we embark on a glow-in-the-dark tour. We head into the basement, where we see the supersized albino anaconda, witness an Asian wood owl swoop to fetch its rodent dinner and inhale the stench of a porcupine warning off predators.

After a dinner break, we head back into the animal action. This time, the little ones sport head torches emitting red light only (as this doesn't disturb the animals), and we make our way on a night tour through the Canopy, the Midstory, the Forest Floor, and the Flooded Rainforest back down into the lower ground level. Even without the up-close view of the creatures, the ritual of the night tour is enough to keep adrenalin high.

On tour, we (and by we, I mean primarily the older children and adults; those under seven are too engrossed) learn from guest relation associate Amal Musaed that black and white ruffed lemurs are the second loudest primates, that cotton top tamarins usually give birth to twins and both male and female share parental duties, and that blue baboon tarantulas live in communities, unlike most spider species.

The evening's activities are topped off when we can hold and handle lizards and snakes. While I steer clear, my three-year-old plus-one can't get enough, openly declaring his love for Bob the bearded dragon to its gentle handler.

If you exclude lemur-shaped paws pressed against our tent, then the next animal encounter takes place the following morning, as we're invited to help with the morning feed. We head to see the creepy-crawlies fed to the reptiles (when another snake-holding opportunity presents itself), before filling bowls of feed to hand out to the early birds.

Base camp: Which basics are covered and what to pack?

On arrival, we're a little taken aback when there is an element of airport security to our Night at the Museum experience. But it makes perfect sense once we get talking to the friendly staff. Our pre-packed snacks are removed before we're permitted entry, and we're convinced this is a good idea when sleeping in the “jungle” among curious animals.

Once we're in, we drop our bags outside our tent, pitched just beside the snake and creepy-crawly tanks. Perhaps not my first choice (purely psychologically), but as we arrive past the 7pm kickoff time, we could hardly complain.

Tall enough to stand up in and wide enough for a double airbed alongside room for bags and shoes, our tent is definitely fit for purpose and designed for comfort. The airbed, sheets, pillow, and blankets are provided alongside bottles of water, flannels and an electric fan. While the fan died as we left it on throughout the night, the minor inconvenience is still welcome when compared to a more rustic approach to summer camping. As advised, we keep it zipped up, making sure it remains a tent for only three.

Washrooms (including showers) are available on the ground floor and open all night, but pack your own toiletries and towels.

We appreciate the set-up allowing us to pack lightly for the night. Heading off for both breakfast and dinner, we have no regrets about parting with our emergency snacks. Away from hungry jungle eyes, food is presented in a separate hall that serves as a function room for the Green Planet. It is set up buffet-style, and I'm surprised at not only the range but also the quality; the food is freshly cooked and enjoyable.

There are kid-friendly nuggets, fries and noodles on offer, alongside curries, pasta, rice and fresh salad. A made-to-order pasta is even whipped up to accommodate food intolerances. Breakfast has sweet and savoury favourites, making sure everyone is well fed.

Looking around, it seems all the kids in tow are happily tucking in. Soon after, they play together by building beanbag forts from the set-up for the last activity on the itinerary on the Friday evening – movie time. A late night for little ones (and equally for adults coming straight from the office), we skip the wind-down activity and head straight to our airbed.

Always prepared: What else is good to know?

The busy itinerary begins at 7pm and runs until 7:30 the next morning. It's definitely good value, but the later activities may be too much for super-young children, or on a Friday evening if coming straight from work and making your way through downtown traffic to hit City Walk.

And speaking of driving, there is parking right beside The Green Planet, but it's outdoors. As mentioned, no food is allowed in the tents but can be left at reception if needed.

If you or your kids have any special dietary needs, while the chefs were highly accommodating, letting the team know upon booking will make the evening run smoother.

The experience runs until October 5. Prices start from Dh850 for a tent for two or Dh 1,650 for a large tent that sleeps four. Families can add on an additional child for Dh300, or an additional adult (aged 11 and above) for Dh400. However, there is a maximum of three per regular tent and five per large tent.

Oh, and don't expect the best night's sleep of your life. While camping is a comfortable set-up, it is worth remembering you're sleeping amid various creatures – so an early-morning wake-up call from some of the more vocal inhabitants shouldn't go unexpected. And if that doesn't wake you, an excited three-year-old ready to jump back into the action probably will.

Updated: June 07, 2024, 6:45 AM