Beyond the beach
Abi gives us her take on Dubai beyond the beach following a half-term trip with Arthur (then aged 12 ) and Imy (then aged 8) in tow. Well worth a read if you want some out-of-season sunshine, great beaches and plenty of opportunities for family fun and adventure, whilst keeping costs in check!
As a major airline hub, flying into Dubai makes sense on many levels, not least the fact that air-fares are good value compared to many other mid-haul destinations. Terminal 3 is the second largest building in the world by floor space and a melting pot of cultures, making it a fascinating place to people watch, especially at child height! With the pound now strengthened against the USD and therefore the Dirham, your holiday money goes that bit further and accommodation costs are effectively lower, but how can you access that reliable sunshine for a reasonable cost AND inject some added fun? That was my task during an October half-term as I set off with Arthur and Imy.
Our first stop was Lapita, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Autograph Collection. It’s Disneyesque in style but the lazy river was a big hit and, best of all, guests receive complimentary entry to the theme parks which are literally on the doorstep. Our favourite was Dreamworks, a parallel Universe to the desert outside, with different ‘lands’ based on film classics such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. Perfect for ages 6 – 11 with a few surprisingly fast rides thrown in to keep older children placated!
We stopped at Ski Dubai for a spot of zorbing and donutting en-route to Ras al-Khaimah, a lesser known United Arab Emirate (there are actually 7 in total!). It was my second visit, having visited neighbouring Fujarah previously where I was somewhat underwhelmed with the hotels which lacked the wow (and bling) factor synonymous with Dubai. What a change, thanks to the creation of the truly impressive Waldorf Astoria Ras al-Khaimah, its tower like a beacon in the desert! I loved the grand Arabic design, softened by greenery (hosting migratory birds who were clearly also intent on a luxury stopover!) and showcasing a fantastic family pool area, leading to a decidedly pleasant beach. Breakfasts on the delightful terrace were a treat, and the Teppanyaki great fun (ideal for encouraging children to expand their palate – squid croquette somehow doesn’t go down so well in leafy Surrey!). The best bit – for all this glory, rates are half what you would expect to pay on The Palm for an equivalent resort, and it’s not much further from the airport to boot!
Our next stop was the desert, and the contrast of the rather fabulous Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa. The children spent hours in the fantastic pool before cart-wheeling their way down the dunes as the sun set. Falconry has always been a vital part of desert life, initially to hunt hares and houbara and later evolving into a regal sport. At Bab Al Shams we admired the skill and speed of both the falcon and the falconer and Imy was thrilled to have her picture taken with a hawk. Moving on to an altogether different kind of creature, a camel safari is almost obligatory and great for younger children wanting to try something memorable.
We finished our trip with a stay in the city, where prices are refreshingly lower than corresponding hotels beach-side, yet there is a burgeoning amount of exciting things to see and do. After scaling the 163 floors to the top of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), watching the dancing fountains (more impressive than Vegas) and landing a jumbo at various capitals around the world as part of the Emirates A380 experience, we stopped at the Nutella Café for sustenance before exploring the vast Dubai Mall in search of some wildlife – yes, you read that right! It’s not all about shopping, or at least it isn’t with two children to entertain! We found lots to admire at the in-house aquarium and then popped into the Virtual Reality Zoo where we mingled with gorillas and meerkats.
I can imagine how Virtual Reality experiences will be part of the ‘travel’ landscape in the future, but nothing beats a first-hand experience, and with our cost-saving tips we hope to make your Middle East holiday even more vivid, whilst saving you precious Dirhams to put towards your next adventure!
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