Re-united in Dubai
Dubai – Wow! – We arrived from Bangkok on the afternoon of the 26th April and R flew in from London with the girls that night. We were lucky enough to be staying with friends here, Sue and Gus and their two boys. So nice to be met at the airport and taken ‘home’ after all our travelling. It was magical being reunited with the girls again. They arrived around midnight Dubai time, so I left Finn asleep and headed to the airport with Gus. The minutes dragged by as we waited in the heaving arrivals area. Then they appeared – Phoebe riding on the luggage trolley and Issy striding confidently alongside carrying her little rucksac. I jumped up waving and Issy let out a thunderous “Mummy!!!!” for all to hear. Huge hugs all around followed.
The girls did really well on the flight over, especially Issy on her first flight, helped along by a Peppa Pig DVD. R told us that during the flight the air hostess walked down the aisle calling out “Duty Free, Duty Free”, to which Phoebe looked confused and asked him “Why is it due to freeze Daddy? I thought it was going to be hot in Dubai”.
Well, we have had the week in Dubai and what a fantastic week it has been. We Embraced Dubai, all it has to offer and have crammed so much in:
Sunshine, pool and desert
We had a lazy start to the first day and enjoyed the sun and pool.
That evening Sue and Gus took us, our three kids, their two, plus a friend to the desert for an evening barbeque. We drove out of town for half an hour or so, then turned off the road in their 4 x 4s, bumping over the flat scrub until we got to the sand dunes – all around us desert. Great for the kids to appreciate that Dubai is actually rooted in the desert. We arrived in daylight and had a play on the sand dunes, surfing down them with boogie boards. It was great fun and even Issy had a go, first with Phoebe and I, then a solo run which she came down with her eyes shut tight to avoid the sand! After the first run I got overly confident and had a complete wipe out right at the bottom of the dunes, having gone all the way down standing up – ouch! That sand is hard.
The sun set over the desert and after all the fun we settled down to a fine barbecue and finished off with toasted marshmallows around the fire. A great start to our week here.
Making a splash at Waterworld
Next up was a visit to Waterworld, an outdoor water park, low key by Dubai standards, but just right for the younger children – water slides galore, a lazy river, fun pools, dead sea floating pool and of course sunshine! From the youngest to the oldest we all had a great day.
As we drove through Dubai Finn was keen to point out the landmarks to his sister. “Oh look, there’s the tallest tower in the world” he says, as we pass the Burg Kalifa, prominent in the distance. Phoebe is computing this information, so for assistance he adds “It’s bigger than our house”. Phoebe looks at it out of the car window, holding her hand up against the window she replies “It’s not even as big as my finger”. Brilliant.
Next up, the obligatory visit to the Aquarium. The largest aquarium in the world, holding 10 million gallons of water, is situated in Dubai Mall, the largest Mall in the world. On arrival you can’t help but be impressed as you gaze up at the sheer abundance of fish housed behind the largest sheet of aquarium glass in the world – it’s actually an acrylic panel measuring 32 metres wide by 8 metres high and 750 millimetres thick. The whole aquarium is over 50 metres in length and 20 metres deep and can be viewed from all three floors of the Dubai Mall. Crowds stop and stare at the sheer spectacle of it – so many beautiful creatures to see. A really impressive design feature of the aquarium is a 50 metre walk-through tunnel which gives you a 270 degree viewing angle into the aquarium.
The entrance to the tunnel acts as a darkened cave system to the largest collection of Sand Tiger sharks in the world and they assemble suspended above your head, just an arms width away where you can gaze incredulously into their gaping mouths and marvel at the rows of razor sharp teeth. As you stand in the tunnel shoals of fish swim past all around and over your heads, giving you a spectacular view.
The aquarium houses over 33,000 aquatic animals, comprising over 140 species, the likes of which you would never see in such close proximity in the wild. But you can’t help but be mesmerised as the sharks, rays and fish glide effortlessly through the crystal clear water. There are over 400 sharks and rays in the tank and its is always such a privilege to see the rays flying so gracefully through the water. It really has to be seen to be believed and as artificial as it is I hope it gives people an appreciation of the richness of life found in our oceans.
The children, large and small, had a fabulous time there – a glimpse into our underwater world, the sheer diversity of life and some very special memories for years to come. As part of our ticket to the aquarium we also had a ride in a glass bottom boat that cruises over the surface, but to be honest, with such amazing views just walking through the aquarium it was quite un-necessary.
On the upper floor there was a small zoo housing ‘creepy crawlies’ such as spiders, snakes and lizards, some freshwater fish displays, a jellyfish tank, beavers, trained otters putting on a display and penguins. But the star of the show really was the aquarium.
Back to the Dubai Mall, did I mention – the largest mall in the world – I think you get the picture now. Strictly for window shopping only on our budget, except of course for Candilicious, the largest sweet shop in the world, which we did allow ourselves to go in. We also indulged in an ice cream stop at Coldstone’s. I thought we were ordering three ice creams as a treat for the children to eat, but the real treat was in the delivery. Once we’d deciphered the choice of ice creams, we ordered – the children stood with their mouths gaping. One attendant scooped out the ice cream, then threw it several metres through the air to land on a cold board, where it was promptly chopped up with chocolate brownies, flattened out, scooped up, juggled and finally flung through the air, across the shop, to land in a paper cup being held by another ice cream talent maestro, then promptly served with a spoon. F and P were in shock and were invited to stand behind the counter as they prepared the second ice cream, F was then handed the cup to catch the ice cream at the end of the process, he tentatively held up his paper cup wondering how on earth he was going to catch it, only to find the ice cream lobed completely over his head and caught safely by the second attendant. “Mmmmm”, they tasted so good.
We had one day using the local buses and metro system to go across town to Children’s City. It took a record 2 hours 15 minutes to get there, which resulted in some sense of humour failure. The kids really enjoyed it though.
Children’s City is a learning centre aimed at children, of course, with interactive exhibits that playfully explain scientific concepts, the human body, space exploration and natural wonders. All three of ours loved being able to press all the buttons, crank the handles, move the things around. Favourites were linking hands, to complete the electrical circuit via our bodies and thus light up a bulb, landing a plane in a simulator and flying around the world on a flying carpet, by virtue of sitting on a carpet and a ‘magic’ camera relaying the image onto a screen in front which had us superimposed flying over well known places around the world. The girls also enjoyed riding a rodeo style camel and horse and all three worked together on the coffee production line, turning the handles to get the conveyor belts moving. Upstairs was a small planetarium which took us on a tour through our solar system – it was really well done, but Issy didn’t really appreciate it, I guess due to the dark, so that made for a rather stressful show.
They all wanted to stay for longer, which is always a good sign. By the time we came out it was absolutely roasting outside, so we had to bypass the lovely park in which Children’s City was situated and hop back on the bus and metro, eventually conceding to take a taxi for the last leg back.
Finn peddling to power an enormous fan.
We got up early one day to have the morning on the beach. Shallow sloping white sands and the calm sea with gently lapping waves made it perfect for the kids. The hypersaline water in the Arabian Gulf made swimming a lot easier than usual too. The white sand beach had a drift line of beautiful shells that the children all enjoyed digging through to find their ‘treasures’. Finn was delighted to catch a jelly fish, two comb jellies and see small shoals of fish swim by. The water was so warm and the sand so hot that there was not a sand castle in sight.
Kidzania, Rainforest Cafe and The Fountains
Back to the Dubai Mall, again, but this time to Kidzania. A crazy place, only in Dubai could you find this. In the heart of the Dubai Mall you enter Kidzania, a scaled down town where everything is child-size. It’s a day of role play. The town is filled with different shops, offices, hospitals and the like. The concept is that the children undertake different jobs, for which they get paid in the local Kidzania currency of Kidzos. They can then spend their Kidzos money on fun things. Although we could watch what the children were doing we couldn’t get involved, so they had to be completely independent in their place of work. They would chose a workplace and the glass door would be closed behind them. Finn loved it and didn’t hesitate to throw himself at all the challenges. Phoebe did so well too, as there’s no way I would have had a go by myself at her age. Issy even got involved and we looked on as the two girls went to work in the biscuit factory, they stood in their white aprons and Issy carefully followed her sister’s lead. They proudly showed me their biscuits when they came out and really appreciated eating them all the more as the product of their labour.
When Finn wanted a drink, he didn’t just go and buy one, he went to the Coca Cola factory and had to actually go through the processing plant to make his drink.
He was more keen on working than spending and tried so many jobs: pilot in a simulator, an aero structure technician designing aeroplane hydrofoils, a HP computer designer, a newspaper worker, a water and electrical inspector to name but a few. He spent his Kidzos on racing car driving, a game of pool, and karaoke singing!
Phoebe worked independently as a paramedic, a paediatric practitioner in a hospital, and took charge of Issy in the biscuit factory and the milk production unit. She spent her Kidzos on making a bracelet in a jewellery shop, having her nails painted, car driving and finally singing Karaoke with Finn.
They thoroughly enjoyed their time there and it was interesting that Finn just wanted to try all the different jobs and earn the money and Phoebe was more keen on spending from the outset. A sign of things to come?
After Kidzania we wandered through The Mall to The Rainforest Cafe, where we enjoyed a very late lunch under the jungle canopy, with frequent outbursts of simulated tropical storms, lightening and all the animated rainforest apes and elephants coming to life. Magical for the children.
Finally, at the end of a long day in downtown Dubai we wandered out of The Mall onto the waterfront to view the Burg Kalifa, at 828 metres with more than 160 stories, it is of course, the tallest tower in the world. We would have liked to have gone to the top to the viewing platform, but another day another dollar for that one. At 6 pm the waterfront comes alive as the fountains rise up on Burg Kalifa Lake to an amazing water display of choreographed fountains dancing to the powerful Arabic music being blasted out of the surrounding speakers. It’s truly mesmerising (I know, another mesmerising moment, of which there are many in Dubai) and like so many things in Dubai, like nothing I have ever seen before. It only lasts for a few minutes at each performance but packs a real punch. We all looked on in wonder, even Issy stopped her frantic rushing around, just stood and stared! Utterly captivated by the whole spectacle.
On our first trip to Dubai, when Finn and I stopped over for a few days we were fortunate enough to have a meal at Carluccio’s with Sue and her family, on the waterfront and took in 3 of the water displays, as they played out every 30 minutes from 6pm. We were in a haze that night, having just heard about Teasel and it didn’t seem right to be enjoying anything, but the fountain display was so captivating that it took you away from any sad thoughts for the duration of the show. The last show was by far the most captivating as the night time makes the show all the more spectacular as it is lit by more than 6,000 lights. The Dubai Fountain apparently cost $218 US million to build! The high pressure water jets shoot up the water over 70 metres in to the air, in various patterns.
Coming to Dubai we had to go on a desert safari. So, on our penultimate night in Dubai we were collected at 4pm from our friends house and taken in a Toyota Landcruiser into the desert…
A convoy of about 15 cars head out of town to the desert. Once again, as on our first night, we turn off the road onto the desert, but this time we don’t stop at the dunes. We then embark on a ‘dune bashing’ trek across the desert, where the 4 x4s power up and over the dunes, in roller coaster fashion. We had deliberated before booking whether the children would enjoy such a trip. Although our children do enjoy thrills and excitement, they mostly prefer the more sedate rides at amusement parks. Phoebe had also been very tentative a few days earlier going down the water shutes at Waterworld, so my friend thought this wouldn’t be for her. Actually, come to think of it R wasn’t keen either. Oops, just me and Finn then. We deliberated and thought the best plan would be for R to be dropped at the desert camp directly, with the girls, and miss out the dune bashing. However, due to a turn of events I won’t go into here, we decide to go for it. It was one of those adrenaline sports. Within a few minutes of our white knuckle ride Phoebe was shouting to Mohammed, our driver, in between fits of hysterical laughter, ” Faster! faster! put your foot down!…… faster, put your foot all the way down!!”. Finn then added, with nervous laughter, “By the time we finish we won’t know which was is up and which is down!”. And Issy, well let’s just say she wasn’t wholly appreciative of the experience and held on tight to my hand throughout. She may question her total trust in her mother next time we suggest anything.
Eventually, the rollercoaster dune ride came to an end, thankfully, the roll bars fitted to the car were luckily not required and we entered the next entertainment of the evening. By now the sun was setting over the dunes as we arrived at our camp – here we enjoyed some delicious Arabic food whilst watching a show of belly dance and other dance I couldn’t put a name to. The older two and I had the obligatory henna tattoo and we also fitted in a brief camel ride. Just before we departed I managed to clamber up the dunes by the camp, in the dark, and fit myself in to some snowboard bindings before launching myself down the dune – “yey, I did it!” ……I then took about 8 minutes trying to get the damn binding off my feet!!! All in all a great experience and one I am sure the children will remember for years to come.
We are so grateful to our friends, who we stayed with in Dubai – without their hospitality this leg of the trip, in Dubai, bringing the family together, would not have been possible. It was great that the girls had this to look forward to as they followed our travels around Vietnam.
Our friends live in a very nice gated ex-pat community on the outskirt of Dubai – an area called The Arabian Ranches. It has beautifully manicured plants and palm trees lining the streets, colourful bougainvilleas, all connected by cycle paths that follow the roads, weaving in and out of the tended grounds. As we peddled through the blistering heat it amazed me how these plants can survive out here in the desert, even with their arterial network of hoses irrigating them. Each block of houses is centred around a green area with communal parks, shaded play areas and a pool. A hop and a skip from the back garden, the pool was amazing. We’ve tried various holiday locations with the children, Egypt, Greece, Lanzarote, France, and never found a good pool … Until now. The water was the perfect temperature, you could spend all day in it. We chose our moments carefully when we went in, never between 12 and 3pm, but so great to just pop out of the house and take a dip.
Dubai had never been on my list of places to visit and I must admit I was hesitant about going there (in fact if it wasn’t for the travel agent suggesting a cheaper flight went via Dubai, I wouldn’t have had that light bulb moment and come up with this cunning plan of all meeting up here). It really helped staying with friends, gin and tonics on tap, their lovely maid to help ease me back into life as mum of three, meals and washing all taken care of. We truly have had such a wonderful time that Dubai has surpassed all our expectations. It’s not a cheap destination and you do have to pay quite a bit for the attractions but once you embrace Dubai and all it has to offer it is an experience you will remember for a life time. It also helped staying with friends as they buy special attraction booklets that can get really good discounts on most of the attractions. There are so many opportunities to do things with the children here, Dubai style, they had an amazing time!