If you’ve ever lived through a Welsh winter (or summer, for that matter), the frustrations brought about by the scorching UAE temperatures at this time of year should be quite familiar. I lived in the north of that country for 35 years before moving here, so stay with me and hopefully my analogy will make some sense. Because for what seems like an eternity, the weather conspires against you and, if you’re not careful or you lack imagination, you can end up becoming a prisoner in your own home.
Venture outside and, within seconds, you’re soaked to the skin – in Wales because of the ceaseless rain and here because we’re perspiring uncontrollably. During a Welsh winter, you’re best off staying indoors with the central heating on full blast, while our summers encourage full-time, full-blast air conditioning. It’s the same, but different. And if you’re a parent, the misery can be compounded to the point where you’re climbing the walls. Just what is there to do to keep them amused without traipsing around the refrigerated shopping malls?
Keeping kids entertained is good for everyone; it forms bonds that can last lifetimes and helps personal development for youngsters. Fortunately, the UAE has plenty to offer when it comes to year-round entertainment, but it pays to dig around to discover what’s out there. From the obvious to the obscure, if you require inspiration and ideas to occupy the weekends and school holidays, look no further. We have you covered.
Indoor play areas
Don’t be too quick to dismiss these and definitely don’t knock them until you’ve tried them. You’ll find indoor play areas in practically every mall in the land and, if you can zone out of the initial noise as you enter, they have a lot going for them. The multiple award-winning Fun City operates no fewer than 19 indoor play facilities across the UAE and is present in every emirate except Umm Al Quwain. There’s a firm emphasis on the fun angle, whichever one you visit.
Younger children can busy themselves (with parental supervision) in the soft-play rooms with easy-to-navigate climbing frames, tents and faux cooking stations. Meanwhile those who are tearaways, can tire themselves out on the main obstacle courses, ball pits and slides, all of which are nicely padded to prevent anyone from getting hurt.
For teens, there are plenty of arcade games and, if you think visits might become regular, passes valid for six months are available and can save you significant sums of money – pay Dh175 and get Dh250 worth of credit to use.
For something a little different, KidZania in The Dubai Mall gives kids between the ages of 4 to 16 the chance to become grown-ups for a while, with more than 80 role-playing activities that mimic everyday adult jobs and activities inside an “edutainment city”.
Then there’s OliOli, behind Dubai’s Oasis Mall, which describes itself as an “interactive museum of delights to stimulate a child’s body and mind”. This is to do it a disservice, though, for OliOli was conceptualised by parents concerned about children learning through having fun, and the varied activities do much to instil a love of art, technology, maths, engineering and science. It’s not cheap (two hours for a family of five costs up to Dh440), but it’s a unique place that will provide memories that last for all the right reasons.
It may be an unusual concept for Brits, but summer camps provide rites of passage to countless children in America and the Far East, and the UAE has a wide and diverse range available throughout the country.
In Abu Dhabi, Yas Kids at Vogue Fitness offers exciting and engaging activities promoting teamwork, social skills, co-ordination, agility, speed and strength, and there’s something for every age group. For those old enough, specially designed CrossFit sessions have been incorporated, and there are arts activities, outdoor play and healthy cooking classes, too. The camps run daily from 10am until 2pm and the weekly rate is Dh750.
Over in Dubai's Media City, creative kids between the ages of 6 and 14 can join Hayley's Comet Theatre Company's camp at James & Alex Dance Studios. They'll ditch the screens, tablets and laptops in favour of special drama games, learning dance routines and songs, and creating their own characters to become a part of a devised play that's performed on the last day of camp for family and friends. Running throughout summer from 9am until 3pm – later sessions are available, too – it costs Dh750 per week
For something a bit more advanced, 10 places are available at the Tashkeel Summer Camp in Dubai, for two weeks this month. Featuring 10 workshops over as many days, aspiring artists will be rolling up their sleeves for screen-printing, painting, paper-making, sign-painting, silver-casting, photography and more. Individual sessions cost Dh250, with weekly rates at Dh1,200 or Dh2,200 for the whole set. There’s a 10 per cent sibling discount available, too.
Farther afield, the Fairmont Fujairah Beach Resort has launched its Little Sailors Kids’ Club. Suitable for kids between the ages of 3 and 8, there’s a free one-day trial available, and discounts for siblings and those signing up for more than a week at a time. The camp’s timing is 10am to 5pm, and parents get free access to spa and gym facilities, with discounted treatments all part of the deal. As for what the children will be getting up to, apart from the usual arts and craft activities, there’s rock-climbing to be done and the small matter of a floating water park: Aqua Bounce Fujairah.
Super-cool theme parks
There are some absolute belters in the UAE, so shop around for any available discount packages and block out some days in the diary. In Abu Dhabi on Yas Island, there’s the well-established Ferrari World, home to what’s still the world’s fastest rollercoaster, and the brand-new Warner Bros World, which opens for business on July 25. Here, families will be able to enjoy 29 different rides themed on their favourite Warner characters, from Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo to Batman, Superman and Fred Flintstone.
At Dubai Parks and Resorts, you’ll find plenty of indoor rides and attractions at Motiongate, Legoland, Legoland Water Park and Bollywood Parks, and before you start clutching at your wallet in fear of it being emptied within seconds, there are loads of summer special deals available. Regular single park tickets cost from Dh95 for UAE residents.
Then there’s the world’s largest indoor theme park, IMG Worlds of Adventure, also in Dubai, where visitors get to experience some of their favourite Marvel superheroes, cartoon characters and dinosaurs. Just check how tall your children are before heading there to avoid tantrums, as many of the rides have height restrictions.
Aquariums and wildlife
There's no shortage of display aquariums in the UAE, but special mention must be reserved for The Lost Chambers in Dubai's Atlantis, The Palm. Home to more than 65,000 fascinating, beautiful and sometimes deadly marine species, this is a truly mesmerising way to while away a couple of hours. There's ray-feeding, shark-diving and snorkelling available if the kids are brave enough, and access is free if you've dined at some of the nearby restaurants beforehand. Normal access starts at Dh70, and it's open daily from 10am until 10pm.
Another absolutely brilliant attraction is the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo in The Dubai Mall. Everyone’s familiar with the huge aquarium display opposite the ground-floor shops, but behind the glass and up the stairs exist immersive worlds full of exotic life, from crocodiles and parrots to bats, scorpions, snakes and penguins. Pay it a visit and you’ll wonder why you left it so long.
If your interests are more land-based, Sharjah’s Wildlife Centre is located indoors and is nicely air-conditioned. There you can spend the day in comfort, spotting reptiles, invertebrates, birds, large carnivores and much more besides. It’s easy on the pocket, too, with entry costing Dh15, while children under 13 get in for free.
And let’s not forget The Green Planet in Dubai’s City Walk – one of the UAE’s most impressive immersive experiences and a unique treat for the senses no matter what age you are.
Children can get around each level on foot or in a buggy, and the building teems with tropical rainforest life. Staff are attentive, helpful and patient with youngsters, and are able to dazzle them with facts about each plant or creature. If a visit to the actual Amazon seems like a stretch, this place should make a more-than-acceptable compromise.
Two-for-one entry is available if you have The Entertainer, otherwise adult admission is Dh99 and for children between the ages of 3 and 12, it’s Dh74 a head.