Visting Abu Dhabi with Children, part I

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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.


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

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.


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 .


The mosque is beautiful with intricate marble mosaics set into the white stone.  It’s massive and can hold up to 40,000 people.


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