Visiting Abu Dhabi with Children, part II

Visiting Abu Dhabi with Children, part II

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.

Food

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).

chocolate fountains

Outside on the terrace you can see where the F1 track snakes around the Viceroy hotel and the massive yachts in the Yas Marina.

F1 racetrack Abu Dhabi

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.

Shakespeare cafe

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.

le deck

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.

 

Ushna starters

papad and chutneys

Fabulous Hotels

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.

Emirates Palace Fountains

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.

St Regis grand staircse

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.

Viceroy Hotel orchids

Interesting Architecture

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.

abu dhabi skyline

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.

skyscraper in Abu Dhabi

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!

abu dhabi graffiti

City Parks

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.

Abu Dhabi park

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.

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Visting Abu Dhabi with Children, part I

Visting Abu Dhabi with Children, part I

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?

Entertainment Complexes

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’.

Ferrari go kart

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.

bumper boats

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.

Shopping

The shopping malls and the souks are a cornucopia of interesting things to do, see and buy.

souk camel

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.mosque at night

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.

St Reis pool

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.

monte carlo beach resort

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.

Culture

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.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

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 .

abaya

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!