Dubai: family holiday review

Sarah Carter, 30, and her husband Ben, 38, took their twins Ellen and Matthew, 7, to Dubai for an action-packed 4-night break

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Thrill seek with a desert adventure

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Relax in the beautiful dry heat

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Kids rule at KidZania

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Test your nerves at Aquaventure

When we told our friends we were taking the children to Dubai we got a few odd looks – it’s not the standard European all inclusive option we’d usually go for. While we were excited to go, we confess to being a little worried about what we might have signed ourselves up for, but these concerns quickly dissolved as we explored this charming city. 

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An immediate bonus is the length of the flight, just over six hours direct from London Heathrow with Emirates. Matthew and Ellen were kept busy with games and Disney movies and being just four hours ahead, there was no worry of jet lag.

A common worry with holidaying in Dubai is the dress code, with fears you’ll spend your whole holiday baking in clothes more fitting a winter break, with Arabic dress more conservative than other popular holiday destinations, and actively policed in public areas such as the shopping mall. But, while you need to be considerate, putting a t-shirt on and not wandering around the shopping mall in bikinis is hardly a tall order. In fact, it’s quite nice to know when you sit down for your family lunch that you’re not going to be presented with Mr. Hairy’s torso on the neighbouring table. Plus, it’s good to keep the kids covered up in the sun, because one thing that is for sure with Dubai is that it’s always hot.

Another common misconception about Dubai is that being so modern, the city won’t offer any insight into the history of the country. However, we particularly enjoyed a trip to The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which allowed us to ask questions about the Arabic culture and get a better understanding of local traditions. We also got to try some popular local dishes, including curry and rice dishes, as well as coffee with cardamom – a common drink offered to guests.

We joined a tour guide for the day who showed us some of the main tourist attractions, including one of the spice souks and a trip on a water taxi, known as an Abra. Both Ellen and Matthew were astounded by the sheer size of the buildings, especially when we took a trip up the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa. Standing at 800m tall, with the observation deck on the 124th floor, this one’s best enjoyed if you’re not afraid of heights, or surprisingly fast lifts! Great for photos and Matthew was quick to spot the Lego Burj Khalifa set available to buy in the gift shop.

The Palm, which consists of a large area of land re-claimed from the sea in the shape of a palm tree, has everything from residential properties to the iconic Atlantis hotel residing on it. We spent an exciting afternoon at the neighbouring Aquaventure waterpark, trying out the river rapids, rubber ring rides and Ben even took on the Leap of Faith, a ride which has a see-through tube that speeds safely through a pool of sharks – not for the faint hearted. The children and I gave stingray feeding a go, which is fun, if not a little weird, as being waist deep in the water the stingrays are able to suck on your skin as they search for food. Matthew found it hilarious while Ellen wasn’t so sure, so perhaps it’s a good one to see before you book to have a go.

By far the best attraction for children is KidZania, which is a mini city nestled inside the Dubai shopping mall. Ellen and Matthew had to choose a job – Matthew was a fireman and Ellen was a local news reporter – before journeying around the city earning money, or kidZos, as they’re known. Once they had enough money, they both spent it having a go on the adventure climbing wall. It’s a brilliant way to teach the value of money and both Ellen and Matthew came out with their own KidZania driving license and ATM card, which made them feel ever so grown up. The mall also has Sega Republic, which is perfect for older kids, with lots of rollercoaster rides and arcade games to keep them busy. The shopping is out of this world and while you peruse the shops, dad and the kids can be kept entertained by the stunning aquarium, with enormous viewing windows taking up a large part of the lower mall.

One evening we also tried a desert safari, hopping into a 4X4 jeep, which took us across the sand dunes to the Bedouin campsite, where we had a BBQ and enjoyed some evening entertainment, which included belly dancing and perfromances by whirling dervishes. Ellen and Matthew got to have a ride on a camel, too.

There are lots of restaurants to suit all budgets and whether you opt for the world’s biggest burger or the world’s biggest pizza, each restaurant has something spectacular to offer. Our favourite restaurant was Spectrum on One nestled in our hotel the Fairmont Dubai, where we had a delicious Indian meal. The hotel breakfast buffet was perfect for the kids, with lots of cold and hot options. We also enjoyed a stunning meal at Raffles Hotel, popular for its steak. We really enjoyed being able to eat in hotel restaurants, even when you’re not a guest, giving us a chance to scope out where we’d like to stay when we come back! It’s also really easy and cheap to get taxis, so there was no worry about getting around at night. Our trip was a complete eye-opener and we’d definitely like to visit again as a family.

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