Living in England, somewhere over the winter period I feel the need to get away for some much-needed sunshine and warmth. We’ve been to several winter sun destinations over the past few years including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Tenerife and Egypt . My main requirement for a winter sun holiday is that it is hassle-free and have guaranteed sunshine. Of these places, my favourite winter sun destination with the children is Dubai. Here are my five reasons you should take a family holiday to Dubai if you are chasing winter sunshine.
Why you should consider Dubai beach holidays for winter sun
An Easy Destination
First and foremost, the weather is guaranteed sunshine. In addition, there are many flights to Dubai from all over the world. Dubai is served by two Emirati airlines, Emirates and Etihad, who are both on a push to increase their range of flights. Getting around Dubai is easy, too because taxis are plentiful and cheap.
The Dubai marina is full of expensive boats.
Choice of Accommodation
Accommodation in Dubai ranges from the extraordinary 7 star Burj al-Arab to your standard range of hotels on the 1-5 star range. You also have holiday apartments, suites hotels, Airbnb etc. It’s easy to find something that suits all sorts of visitors from celebrities who want their every whim satisfied to people looking for cheap holidays in the sun.
The sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab, the world’s only 7 star hotel, is an architectural marvel.
If you are not a planner, this extensive range of accommodation, means that you can leave booking until late and still have a good range of options. Dubai’s popularity means it is also popular with tour operators. You can get some great deals to Dubai if you look around.
You have a choice of water parks to keep you cool, including Atlantis Aquaventure and Wild Wadi Water Park. We stayed at the Atlantis Hotel and so we were able to nip and out of Aquaventure every day. Staying at the Burj Al-Arab gives you free entry into the Wild Wadi Water Park.
Similar to the Disney concept, Dubai Parks and Resorts has four theme parks and a hotel within it. Legoland, Motionland and Bollywood Park are already opened and the Legoland Water Park is under construction.
Dubai beach holidays wouldn’t be the same without time spent on the beach. Kite Beach and Jumeirah Beach are very user friendly. There are nearby food trucks to keep hunger at bay and you can rent water sports equipment like stand up paddle boards at the beach.
Hanging out on Jumeirah beach.
If you haven’t had your fill of sand, then head out into the desert for camel rides, dune bashing or even camping.
Many Restaurant Options
You can find pretty much any type of food in Dubai thanks to the city’s international population. If you are looking for cheap holiday options, you can eat in the food courts at one of the malls. As you would expect, the malls have an extensive choice of restaurants.
Friday and Saturday mornings are devoted to decadent brunches at the big hotels. These brunch spreads are extensive buffets heaped with food of all types. They make the famous Las Vegas hotel buffets look like a Denny’s spread. The variety also extends to the types of cuisine served – Indian, Sushi, Rotisserie, Seafood – all in one ginormous hotel buffet. The dessert buffet is likewise a diabetic’s delight. My children were big fans of the chocolate fountains where they could dip marshmallows and fruit.
The cheese selection at the Saturday brunch at Grosvenor House Hotel.
You also have lots of big-name chefs from all over the world opening restaurants in Dubai. On one trip, we stayed at the Grosvenor House Hotel which has a great choice of restaurants. The hotel’s restaurants included an outpost of the Buddha Bar, Indego by Michelin-starred British chef, Vineet Batia and Toro Toro by Latin American chef Richard Sandoval. One of the hotel restaurants at The Atlantis is Nobu. Like in Las Vegas, getting into one of these outposts of famous restaurants is much easier than trying to make a reservation at the main restaurant in London or elsewhere.
The terrace at the Siddhartha Lounge by Buddha Bar provides a relaxing hangout for sundowners.
Experiences Like Nothing Else
Dubai is full of superlatives. The amount of money in this little city is staggering. Some examples:
- Where else can you go skiing in the desert? Ski Dubai is an indoor ski park located in the Mall of the Emirates. Its got assorted ski runs, toboggan runs and sledding and even ski gear you can rent.
- The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world with so much going on that you may not even find the time to shop. Other than the 1000+ stores, you also have an indoor amusement park (Sega Republic) and the ever-popular kiddie city play area, KidZania. Did I mention there is also the Dubai Aquarium and an ice rink?
- The Dubai Miracle Garden is the world’s largest natural garden. Yes, in the desert, it truly is a miracle to have 45 million flowers blooming where plants should don’t occur in nature.
- The Palm Islands are a Dubai megaproject which just boggles the mind. The best way to see the scale of this man-made colossus is from the air – perhaps with Skydive Dubai.
- Check out the Burj Khalifa which is the tallest tower in the world. Every evening the tower and the surrounding fountains put on a magical light show.
Beach holidays to Dubai involve more than the beach!
Dubai does have its share of criticism, for example, that it is soulless and lacking in culture. The opening of the Dubai Opera House near the Burj Khalifa addressed some of the criticism about missing cultural pursuits. I think if you are looking for these things, there are other places in the world that are better suited to you. On the other hand, if you want an easy sun, fun and beach vacation, a family holiday to Dubai is one of the best options available to you.
If you have been to Dubai, do you have any other reasons you can add to this list?
Practical Info To Know Before You Go
We have stayed at both the Atlantis Resort and Grosvenor House Hotel in Dubai. Although both are 5 star hotels, they are quite different from each other. If you would like to look at other hotels that members of the Just Go Places community have recommended, you will find them on our Favourite Hotels List.
Atlantis Resort versus Grosvenor House Hotel
Atlantis Resort is obviously more family friendly. Grosvenor House does have an arrangement with its sister property Royal Meridien nearby which has pools for the family. There is a regular shuttle bus that runs between the two hotels. I would classify the pool at the Royal Meridien as fine.
The Atlantis Resort has more traditional decor and larger. Situated on the Palm Island, you are a bit stuck out at Atlantis. It does have lots of kids’ facilities and a beach. Grosvenor House is more contemporary in style and is located in Dubai Marina. You can walk around the Marina in the evening and there are restaurants close to hand as well as a wider array of restaurants in the hotel itself.
I would choose Atlantis with younger children because you really don’t want to drag them on a shuttle bus to get to the pool. If you have kids you will know that invariably someone has forgotten something back in the room!
Grosvenor House does have suite facilities so it’s quite easy to make food in your kitchenette. I can truthfully say that we never did. With the ease of taxis and the plethora of restaurants chances are that cooking in the suite is the last thing on your mind.
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Today we have a review from our occasional contributor/expat at large, Dianna, on the Brunch in the Clouds at the St. Regis Hotel in Abu Dhabi that she experienced last month. Read on and see if you agree with her that it’s the best brunch in Abu Dhabi.
My review in a word: Amazing. I’ve done a lot of awesome things in my time living in the Middle East, but Brunch in the Clouds at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi took the brunch concept to a whole another level. After years of hardcore brunching, I can totally say with complete expertise that Brunch in the Clouds is the best brunch in Abu Dhabi.
You could have fed a small army at this brunch.
Where is the Brunch in the Clouds?
Brunch in the Clouds is held in the suspended suite between the two towers that make up the St. Regis Abu Dhabi. The St. Regis Abu Dhabi is located on the Corniche with fabulous views overlooking the gulf. The suite is a duplex on the 48th and 49th floors. It’s the highest suspended suite in the world at 220 metres at sea level. With a total capacity for 50 people, it is held on the last Friday of each month.
The view from the Brunch in the Clouds
Why Is It The Best Brunch in Abu Dhabi?
The luxe experience starts when your very own butler whisks you up your private elevator up to the suite. You get a quick tour so you know where things are.
You can continue to explore the 12,000 s.f. suite during the brunch. Wow! The suite is 3 bedrooms and 4 and 1/2 bathrooms and staff quarters. The pace was so big I realised I never got around to seeing the master bedroom. What I didn’t expect? The cinema, the bar, the spa, the jazz band serenade etc.
The cinema room also doubled as the candy room – multitasking at is best.
You could stop off for a romantic bath mid-brunch if you so wished.
The table is exquisitely set with fresh flowers, crystal, china and silverware. Delicious food and champagne. And, the views over the city and the Gulf are to die for! The whole thing is a delightful extravagance which can only happen in the Middle East.
I didn’t even know where to start with all these desserts to pick from.
During the brunch, you have chef stations serving up food, a cocktail bar, candy in the cinema room, a cheese and desert room, a caviar bar and an oyster room. If you are feeling too content to get up and go to the buffet, there is also waiter service that brings around other (different) main courses to you at your table. It’s the best of both worlds – a buffet where no one is judging how much you take and the lazy person’s beautifully plated dishes.
Please sir… may I have some more?
Obviously you need great food to make Brunch in the Clouds the best brunch in Abu Dhabi. I felt though the fabulous spread was just an additional bonus to all the extras provided. I mean, of course, the food was great.
The stairs up to the master bedroom suite. Can you believe I didn’t even make it up there?
A gin trolley because … why not?
Spa Treatments and Other Extras
In between courses, you can step out for a manicure and a massage in the private spa room. The therapists are from the St. Regis Spa downstairs.
The brunch massages were conducted by the St. Regis spa staff.
This room is where we had our manicures during brunch.
Practical Information For Brunch in the Clouds
Brunch in the Clouds started in April 2016 and has been so popular it already has a 6 month waiting list. I never plan anything that far in advance but I got lucky on the Friday before Christmas. It’s always worth a try if you are in Abu Dhabi.
When the setting is this fabulous, even the best brunch spread takes second place.
Unfortunately, no kids are allowed in the Brunch in the Clouds experience. The prices are pretty reasonable for all that you get – AED 500 (approximately $136) or AED 750 (approximately $200). The brunch lasts a leisurely 5 hours from noon until 5 pm. Where else can you take a nap in the middle of your brunch??
I loved the suite so much that I bought a night in the suite at an auction 😂 Yikes. I have 6 months to use it and might throw a party for my birthday. The suite typically costs $30,000 per night. I paid a lot less and the money goes to charity (UNICEF). I consider that a win/win. Besides, I’ve got to get back to see that master suite! I’ve heard the walk-in closet is amazing.
Brunch in the Clouds is available at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi. Make sure it is the one at the Corniche and not the one at Saadiyat Island because there are 2 St. Regis hotels in Abu Dhabi.
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We got into the taxi and my husband realised he had forgotten the name of the restaurant where we were dining. For someone who is super-organised at work, he is remarkably forgetful as soon as he leaves the office. It was up to me to explain where we needed to go while he was trying to get a signal on his phone to find the address. My explanation of sail-shaped tower building seemed to make no impression on the Pakistani taxi driver. Luckily, his taxi meter had a photo of the Burj Al-Arab and we were able to tell him to take us there. Good thing then that we were having dinner at the Burj Al-Arab in Dubai and that a photo of the building is splattered everywhere in the city.
About the Burj Al-Arab
The Burj Al-Arab stands on an artificial island connected by a bridge to the mainland. A guard has to check that your name is on the list before you are even allowed onto the bridge. The better to keep the plebs away.
It likes to think of itself as a 7-star hotel although technically there is no such thing. Even the Emirates Palace in nearby Abu Dhabi doesn’t try to beat such rankings. Frankly, the last time I was blinded by so much bling and opulence was at the Emirates Palace. The Burj Al Arab’s been voted tops in the world’s luxurious hotel stakes by the Daily Telegraph, Travel & Leisure and others.
The hotel was designed to become a symbol of modern Dubai in the same way that the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty or other well-known architecture symbolises their cities.
I think the interior is as interesting architecturally as the famous exterior. It has a vast atrium and buttresses that soar to the ceiling.
The interior architecture is visually stunning.
This hotel has been criticised for being more style over substance. Unfortunately, that could be said for all of Dubai. And, it’s done just fine.
The hotel is shaped like the spinnaker sail of a yacht . On the top there is a helipad. Because you know every sailing yacht needs a helipad. The law of physics shouldn’t stand in the way of dreams.
When the Burj Al-Arab is lit at night, the architecture is thrown into sharper relief.
The whole hotel is speckled in gold leaf and marble. If you want total over-the-top opulence, then this hotel is for you. There are butlers, in-room check-in, a pillow menu and free Wi-Fi (yeah!). The two Royal Suites are the peak of extravagance and meant for those guests only used to the best. Costing over $20,000 a night, each Royal Suite takes up one half of the 25th floor. Take a look via Architectural Digest because we definitely can’t afford it. Not unless this blogging gig kicks it up several notches.
Some impressive facts about the Burj al Arab in Dubai:
- The atrium is 590 ft tall.
- The hotel has 28 duplex floors with 202 suites. The smallest suite is a little less than 2000 square feet and the biggest is more than 8000 square feet.
- There are 4 swimming pools and a private beach.
- Almost 30% of the hotel is non-usable space.
- It took 5 years to build and 2000 immigrant construction workers toiling in the sun.
And, don’t let anyone tell you that this hotel doesn’t give freebies. You get free access to the Wild Wadi Water Park (owned by the same Jumeirah Group) and located down the road from the gates. You could probably get yourself driven there in one of the chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.
It doesn’t get more Dubai than this photo. A flock of Rolls Royces in front of the Jumeirah Beach hotel shaped like a wave coming towards the Burj Al-Arab Hotel which is shaped like the sail of a yacht. Surreal.
Dining at the Burj Al-Arab
There are nine restaurants in the building all of them trying to outdo each other (it would seem). The Skyview Bar is located 660 feet above the Persian gulf with panoramic views. Gold on 27 is a nightclub decked out in (what else?) more gold leaf. Sahn Eddar is where you can have afternoon tea. The Al Mahara is a seafood restaurant located inside an aquarium. Junsui is Japanese food in a setting drowned in Swarovski crystals. These restaurants have half-price menus available for children – very handy because these places are NOT cheap.
A portion of the aquarium can be seen from the lobby.
What I thought was really cool (if you want to see more than one restaurant) and have a half-day free to spend just eating is the Culinary Flight Restaurant Experience. You get to try the different restaurants for either lunch or dinner. For example, pre-dinner drinks at the Skyview Bar, appetisers at one restaurant and then two different courses and dessert at three of the other restaurants. During low season (summer), it runs 875 AED (US$ 238) for lunch without drinks. Obviously the price only rises from this base figure.
Al Iwan Restaurant
We opted to try the Al Iwan which serves Middle Eastern fare because you figure you have to get the best Arabic food in this place. Al Iwan means ‘Royal Hall’ in Arabic and it’s definitely sumptuous. It is a buffet so that you can try a variety of different dishes. There is a small corner serving non-Arabic food such as pasta.
The Al Iwan Restaurant is a restaurant located on the lobby floor.
The theme of the restaurant was red and gold and ornate. Really ornate. It was about this time when the gold glare got to me that I envied my husband who is colour-blind.
Red and gold, red and gold. The theme was consistent.
Red and gold reflected in arches and mirrors. And, this is in a dimly lit restaurant.
From top: bread basket, camel milk pudding and baby lamb ouzi
Photo Gallery of Burj Al-Arab
This place has got to be seen to be believed.
The reception desk
The lobby with its intricate rug all specially made for this hotel.
A gold-plated elevator. Why not?
If you would like to see more photos of the inside, please check out my Steller Story on the Burj Al-Arab.
I hope you enjoyed this tour inside the Burj Al-Arab. We satisfied our curiosity of what the inside of such a symbolic building could look like. I’m not sure we’ll be rushing back but it was good to see how the 0.001% live.
One of the best side trips we did was the desert safari in Dubai. Organised by our hotel, The Atlantis,, we were picked up and taken out of the city to a location where we met the other members of the tour. After wearing ourselves out at the water park and enjoying lots of Dubai’s famed urban fun, we were ready to see the wide open spaces of the desert.
We were bundled into Toyota 4×4’s for some serious dune bashing by the tour group. The children throughly enjoyed the roller coaster ride. I just prayed that the driver would get us to our destination in one piece and without overturning. Just in case, you think I’m over-reacting, you can see YouTube clips of dune bashing accidents (which I convinced myself were not trained drivers of high-end tours).
After a stomach-churning 30 minutes, we eventually got to the campsite in the desert. There were camel rides on offer.
My children though really liked playing in the sand. I know some of these safaris offer sand surfing if you want organised fun. My children, however, had a blast running up and down the dunes, making sand angels and playing in what amounted to them as a giant sandbox.
making sand angels
The sunset in the desert was stunning. All oranges and golds reflected back on the yellow sand.
We all enjoyed the dinner offered at the campsite, a traditional meal of grilled meats, which even my fussy-eater liked. We lazed about in the heat which had mellowed a bit with the evening sun.
I think there was shisha on offer but nobody in my family tried it. The evenings entertainment concluded with a belly dancer. She was definitely energetic! And could shake it, shake it, like she’s supposed to do. Even my 8 year old sun took notice!
We really appreciated getting away from the urban environment of Dubai. The desert just stretches endlessly in front of you even though we were not very far from the city. I can’t even imagine living in such an inhospitable environment like the Bedouins traditionally did. The fact that an entire city sprang from the desert in a matter of mere decades is just as astounding.
We stayed at the Atlantis Resort in the Palm Island. The rooms are traditionally decorated (think lots of opulent gold leaf and carved wood). My kids loved being next door to the Atlantis water park into which they could nip in and out as they pleased. I enjoyed to spend short bursts of time at the water park because we could convince them to leave knowing they could come back.
Check the TripAdvisor reviews for Atlantis, The Palm Dubai
Have you ever been to a desert environment? What did you think?
Are you ready for part II of our recent visit to Abu Dhabi? In writing about our trip to Abu Dhabi Part I, I covered entertainment, pools and beaches and shopping. In this post, I shall look at eating out with your little ones and sightseeing in public buildings.
The food is excellent and kid-friendly. Most places had something for the children – hot dogs, chicken nuggets or burgers. I honestly did not have a bad meal. I get the impression the authorities are quite stringent on food quality and hygiene standards. Here are some of our eating highlights:
Origins at the Viceroy Hotel on Yas Island which was given runner up status for best Friday brunch by Time Out Abu Dhabi in 2013. The Origins brunch is buffet style with a massive assortment of delicious food, including fresh breads, fresh seafood, grilled meats and fish, Italian food, Indian food, Thai food, sushi bar, middle-eastern specialties, salads, and desserts.
The atmosphere is buzzy with a live DJ playing European dance music. It seemed very popular with families because children eat free. Unless you plan on drinking a lot, paying extra for the all-drinks inclusive is not worth the money. My children were thrilled with the chocolate fountains (one with milk chocolate and the other with white chocolate).
Outside on the terrace you can see where the F1 track snakes around the Viceroy hotel and the massive yachts in the Yas Marina.
We also went one night to Bocca at the Hilton Abu Dhabi which was voted Best Italian Restaurant by Time Out this year. The food and wine at Bocca were indeed excellent. My children liked the fresh breadsticks and child-sized pizza on offer.
In the Central Market souk, Shakespeare & Co is a good casual option. The decor is charmingly eccentric Anglo-French with random lampshades and mismatched chairs and sofa seating. Shakespeare & Co really looks like someone exploded a shack full of French boudoir furniture.
My children loved the tableside cooking by the chef at Benihana at the Beach Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi. Don’t judge.
I liked Le Deck at Monte Carlo Beach Club, voted runner up for Best Contemporary European restaurant by Time Out but the children were unimpressed. It looked like Le Deck’s chicken nuggets were made with real minced chicken and not rubbery enough. We all loved the sweet potato fries though which were absolutely delicious.
I also really liked Ushna at the Souk Qaryat Al Beri for Indian food. It had been voted the best Indian restaurant by Time Out in 2012. This year, Ushna was the runner-up to the winner which was Angar at the Yas Viceroy. I thought the food was excellent and full of flavour (not just spicy). The service likewise was excellent as is the view from the large windows directly onto the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The restaurant has an excellent selection of vodkas, including esoteric flavoured ones.
papad and chutneys
In the case of the Emirates Palace, all that glitters IS gold. While the Burj al Arab in Dubai bills itself as a 7 star hotel, the Emirates Palace doesn’t even bother with star ratings and just goes by “palace”. Star ratings are for commoners, daaahlings.
The lobby is gold plated, and Swarovski crystal chandeliers are hung everywhere. There are 114 domes in the building, and the main one, the Grand Atrium dome, is decorated with silver and gold glass mosaic tiles. Of the 8000 palm trees inside the hotel, some are petrified to maintain their natural beauty.
The week I was visiting, the King of Morocco was staying at the Emirates Palace. He had booked an extra 200 rooms at the St. Regis for his overflow staff. I’ve got to say, the St. Regis was nothing to sneeze at either. The St Regis was likewise opulent and had a fabulous Gone With The Wind style staircase. It was all I could do not to sweep down the staircase in my best melodramatic entrance.
If all that decorative gilt makes you break out in hives, Abu Dhabi does have great contemporary hotels as well. For example, the design at the Yas Viceroy was all-white, sculptural and contemporary.
Abu Dhabi is a bit like New York in that it is fond of cool skyscrapers. Many of the skyscrapers are office buildings that the public can’t enter.
They are, however, still fun to look at, especially in contrast with the more traditional architecture interspersed among the modern. My children nicknamed a few of the skyscrapers, e.g., the Coin Building, the Booby Building, the Swirly Building etc.
The “booby” building
Next door to the Viceroy Hotel on Yas Island is a large circular building, O1ne, which is a bar and club. O1ne commissioned 18 street artists to cover every inch of the outside of the building with grafitti. It’s visually stunning but, you will note, even the street art in Abu Dhabi must be legally sanctioned!
The Corniche in Abu Dhabi is a beach front promenade. It’s great for an early evening walk to watch the spectacular sunset. Al Markaziyah Gardens is the Abu Dhabi’s most popular park. The Emiratis really are into their families and there’s a plethora of parks and playgrounds, including Khalifa Park where the Murjan Splash Park is located.
What’s the verdict?
The children and I had a fabulous time in Abu Dhabi! I found it safe, clean and family-friendly. The harsh punishments for disobedience meted out by the rulers really do ensure compliance. I thought of it in many ways as ‘Singapore in the Middle East.’ The flight time is 7 hours from London which makes it closer than lots of other places as a winter sun destination. Luckily, my friend is in Abu Dhabi for 3 years and I’m sure we will have a return visit.
You can find more photos from my Abu Dhabi trip on my Flickr page, click here.
Things to Note:
- Abu Dhabi does not allow Skype or Facetime. You’ll need to find alternate means of keeping in touch with people at home.
- Only the tourists walk outside during the day. I thought my kids were being wimps for not walking the 10 minutes to the Emirates Palace. After I did it on my own, I was eating humble pie. Even in the shade and without humidity, the heat itself is wearing.
- Taxis are cheap and plentiful even if many of the taxi drivers are fairly clueless about actual driving or destinations. It helps to have good directions to where you want to go (look on a destination’s website). Do NOT get out of the taxi until you know you are at the right place or don’t pay him beforehand if you need to get out and check. You could get stranded on a construction site a long hike from civilisation, as your taxi driver speeds away into a cloud of dust.
- Everything is open really late. Many places are deserted during the noonday sun (or even closed) because sensible local people stay inside. If you have active children, afternoon naps may not be an option. On the plus side, attractions may be less crowded and easier to visit.
What do you think? Would you consider Abu Dhabi for an easy winter sun option? I know my children can’t wait to go back. Next year, they will be tall enough for the Ferrari roller coaster and I am already panicking over the thought.
For half-term, I took the children to Abu Dhabi to visit a friend who has recently moved there. Poor Mr. N had to work and so did not join us. I was a little apprehensive about travelling on my own with the children in a foreign country. My two children have widely different interests and levels of tolerance for new experiences. I needn’t have worried because Abu Dhabi is incredibly easy with children.
What were the highlights of our trip?
Yas Island in Abu Dhabi is being turned into a top leisure destination. Still under construction, it has hotels and entertainment centres galore, such as the Yas Marina Circuit (home of the Formula 1 Grand Prix), Ferrari World (the world’s biggest indoor theme park) and Waterworld (a water park).
My children thoroughly enjoyed Ferrari World. Definitely similar to Disney World, all the rides and attractions are based on the Ferrari story. For example, Bell’ Italia takes you on a miniature 1958 Ferrari through a scale model of Italy (think It’s a Small World at Disney). The Tyre Twist is similar to Disney’s giant teacups and Viaggio in Italia is similar to Epcot’s Soarin’.
The children were thrilled to drive miniature Ferraris on a scaled-down track after which they received their Ferrari driving licenses!
I wouldn’t say there was very much for non-car enthusiast adults to do, except for the roller coaster. Mercifully, my children were too short to go on the world’s fastest roller coaster. It went so fast you were given goggles to protect your eyes from the wind. Except for the roller coaster, all the rides and attractions are inside and climate-controlled.
I think Ferrari World will need to get their employees trained to Disney efficiency if they want to be a contender. We went on a fairly quiet day and there were barely any lines. The ride attendants, however, pretty much measured every child for the height requirements even when it was clear the child was height appropriate. I was amused to find that when my children went on a ride for a second time (immediately after getting off the same ride), they were measured again.
Yas Island is also the home of Waterworld which is a giant water park with 43 rides and attractions. I have friends who have been to it and liked it. My daughter doesn’t like water slides and so instead I opted to take the children to Murjan Splash Park.
Murjan Splash Park is really suited for the under-10’s. Although a little tame for my son who is an adrenaline junkie, my daughter loved it. Although small with about 12 rides, my children had a blast. Many of the rides did not involve water slides, such as a lazy river, surfboard simulator, trampolines, water balloon catapults and bumper boats.
Both the play and seating areas were well-shaded. I felt comfortable sitting down and letting the children play because I could watch them from the seating area. The ride attendants were very vigilant and all rules were strictly enforced.
The shopping malls and the souks are a cornucopia of interesting things to do, see and buy.
The souks are wonderful places to explore. Central Market is centrally located and easy to navigate. It’s a good place to stock up on local handicrafts and trinkets without drowning in tourist tat and the hard sell.
I personally loved the Souk Qaryat Al Beri which is part of the Shangri-la Hotel about 20 minutes outside the center of town. Set among man-made canals, the souk is a contemporary take on a typical Arabian market. The location is stunning especially in the evening with the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque, located right across the water, gleaming white against the inky blue sky.
In terms of modern malls, we agree with the locals that Marina Mall is our favourite mall. Marina Mall has more than 300 stores, a cinema, a Fun City entertainment complex (roller coasters, bumper cars etc), bowling, ice-skating and target shooting. You could easily spend a whole day here without actually shopping.
Pools and Beaches
We had our pool at the St. Regis Hotel which was lovely. I could hang out in the lounger which was set into the pool side and watch the children play. The lifeguards watched the children like a hawk probably because they decided my son was trouble (and, yes, he is). Unlike Dubai and most other places in the world, when the sign says ‘no diving’ they really mean it – much to my son’s chagrin.
We also spent the day at the the Monte Carlo Beach Club in Saadiyat Island which was just stunning. We loved our cabana which was located on the water’s edge and featured 2 queen beds for lounging. My son was disappointed to find he wouldn’t be allowed to dive off the cabana into the water. Once again, he had the lifeguard watching him intently to ensure compliance with the no jumping/diving rules.
The Beach Club also had a fabulous beach with the softest powder sand I’ve ever felt. I’ve heard unconfirmed reports that the sand gets imported from Algeria. The sand is the perfect constituency for molding and playing.
The children’s area at the Beach Club includes a tented pavillion for very young children. The children’s pool is large and shaded as is the playground. The playground also has a fountain area.
Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi (which is still mostly under construction) will have offshoots of several amazing museums, inlcuding the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi to be designed by Frank Gehry and a branch of the Louvre.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the world’s 8th largest mosque. It is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder and first president of the UAE, who is buried here. It made the news recently when Rihanna was barred entry after using the mosque as a backdrop for a photo shoot. As you may have guessed, the powers that be in Abu Dhabi insist on compliance with all regulations.
I dressed conservatively but, unless you are covered head to toe, security will insist you wear the traditional black abaya and hijab. A first experience for me, I was sweltering under the full covering of polyester .
The mosque is beautiful with intricate marble mosaics set into the white stone. It’s massive and can hold up to 40,000 people.
I’ll finish up our adventures in Abu Dhabi in the next post as this post is getting too long. I have a short attention span, and assume everyone else does too!