Dubai: A holiday destination for the whole family

Does a family holiday to Dubai sound unusual to you?

Many Singaporeans have the misconception that this city in the United Arab Emirates, home to swanky shopping malls and the famous Burj Khalifa, is a playground only for high net worth individuals.

But everyone can have a good time here without breaking the bank at this safe, family-friendly destination. According to global data crowdsourcing website Numbeo, the city is ranked among the safest in the world, with falling crime rates.

And thanks to hotel shuttle services and a good network of bus, tram and bicycle routes, getting around Dubai is easy. Some hotels are also conveniently located near the city’s metro stations, where each train has a dedicated carriage for women and children.

Here are some activities and attractions to consider:

Visit exciting entertainment zones

Perfect to visit any time of the year, you will be battling villains like an Avenger and exploring the jungles of the Lost Valley at the world’s largest indoor theme park, IMG Worlds of Adventure. 

Check out Marvel-themed rides like Avengers: Battle of Ultron and fight Ultron alongside Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain America and the Hulk.

Other options include Ben 10 5D Hero Time — a 5D multi-sensory theatre experience featuring a 10-minute movie, and The Haunted Hotel — where a maze of corridors and creepy characters promise   ghoulish fun. These are spread across five adventure zones — Marvel, Cartoon Network, Lost Valley – Dinosaur Adventure, IMG Boulevard and Novo Cinemas — each with its own retail and dining options.

Dine at Spice Valley, an Indian-inspired buffet-style restaurant, or savour authentic Chinese cuisine at Chang’s Golden Dragon. Kids will love CN Feast, where they can take photos with Cartoon Network characters while enjoying international cuisine.  

No time for a sit-down meal? Grab a quick bite from the nearest food kiosk, such as Churro & Pretzel Station, Popcorn Factory and Waffles On Wheels.

For a different kind of experience, visit Dubai Parks and Resorts — the one-stop entertainment destination for everyone with its three unique theme parks, a water park and a waterfront hub for shopping, dining and entertainment

LEGOLAND Water Park is designed for children aged two to 12, and home to six play areas and more than 40 Lego-themed rides, shows and experiences.

At MOTIONGATE Dubai, the region’s largest Hollywood-inspired theme park, rides and attractions are centred around Hollywood’s biggest studios such as DreamWorks Animation, Lionsgate and Colombia Pictures.

And at DubaiRiverland , explore the alfresco dining and shopping district and Lapita Hotel, a Polynesian-themed resort. This free-to-enter recreational hub with unique entertainment options provides varied experiences at The India Gate, French Village, Boardwalk and The Peninsula.

Have fun in the sun

Outdoorsy types will enjoy the city’s stunning beaches, especially between November and April. In the peak of winter, temperatures are around 20 deg C in the day, and they can drop to as low as 15 deg C at night.

Visit La Mer beach district, which features wide, open spaces with palm tree-lined boulevards, graffiti murals and laidback charm.

Water park lovers, don’t miss the Laguna Waterpark’s four zones — Splash, Slide, Surf and Relax — offering rides like The Manta and AquaDrop to get hearts racing. Alternatively, float down the lazy river in a rubber ring.

On dry land, kids will go crazy for inflatable playground Hawa Hawa. This concept from Japan boasts two dunes and seven peaks, where even adults can bounce for hours.

Explore new cultures

Families should also experience Dubai’s awe-inspiring blend of history, geography and culture with trips to the city outskirts.

A little over an hour away from central Dubai is Hatta, located in the Hajar Mountains. At this emerging eco-tourism destination,  you can mountain bike, kayak or explore the heritage village. Go on a desert safari to the Arabian Desert  to ride a camel, and try ATV riding, dune driving or sandboarding. 

To learn more about local culture, visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). Located at the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood along Dubai Creek, SMCCU conducts tours to Jumeirah Mosque and the Bastakia Quarter, where buildings date back to the 1890s. Enjoy a traditional homemade breakfast there, or lunch on local dishes  as you learn about the region’s tradition and culture.

Then cross the creek on an abra, a motorised water taxi. It is the cheapest way to travel between Deira and Bur Dubai at approximately S$0.40, where you can shop at  traditional markets known as souqs.

In Deira, visit the Gold Souq for the biggest selection of gold jewellery and gemstones, and  the Spice Souq, where almost every spice and herb imaginable is available. Marked by narrow alleys, wooden arches and Arabesque lanterns, the market also sells oud wood perfumes, nuts and dried fruits, and souvenirs such as pashminas and embroidered artefacts. 

At Bur Dubai, visit the Old Souq (also known as Textile Souq or Bur Dubai Souq) for fabrics, clothes, footwear and souvenirs. Many tailors can also be found here.

All-in-one venues

Dubai’s shopping malls offer a wide range of activities, attracting holidaymakers from around the world, especially during the annual Dubai Shopping Festival. This year’s festival runs from now till Feb 2.

At Dubai Mall,  Mum can go shopping while Dad can dive with sharks at the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. The kids can experience mind-bending fun at virtual reality and augmented reality attraction VR Park, propelling down the side of Burj Khalifa or dune-driving. Later, the whole family can set sail on the Burj Lake and enjoy the world’s largest performing fountain show.

Aside from indoor malls, there is Global Village, an annual multi-cultural extravaganza featuring 27 pavilions representing 75 countries. Expect cultural performances and craft-making activities, and shop for souvenirs such as homemade Labneh cheese, olives and ornate jewellery from Lebanon; Saudi dates from Medinat and Qassim; 15 types of honey from Abha and Tayef regions; the famous spices of Yemen; and intricate artefacts hand-carved from mahogany, rosewood and soapstone. Other highlights include Carnaval — a fun fair with a 60m-high Ferris wheel, a fiery fountain show and about 120 themed food kiosks featuring popular street food. It runs till April 6.

A smorgasbord of yummy eats

Dubai is a food haven of delights — many unavailable in Singapore— at a wide range of prices. The variety ensures that little picky eaters will not go hungry.

Check out Sikka Café for Indian and Persian fare such as Khameer bread sandwiches, soups and a selection of mezze, or high-end restaurant Al Nafoorah in Jumeirah Zabeel Sarayfor Lebanese food from mezzeh to mixed grilled meats.

For mid-range offerings, contemporary Emirati restaurant Seven Sands dishes up  culinary delights from across the seven emirates, so you can sample thereed (a rich   stew of meat with slow-roasted veggies) and khabeesa  (a dessert made with roasted flour, sugar,   ground cardamom, rose water and saffron). For something familiar, try stir-fries and dim sum at modern Chinese restaurant New Shanghai, and Western food  from Shake Shack (try the egg and cheese burger) and Texas Roadhouse (order hearty steaks and ribs).

On a smaller budget, sample exotic Yemeni cuisine at Al Marhabani — specifically mandi and haneeth. Mandi is a signature dish of rice, meat and spices, while haneeth, a dish of flavourful and tender veal, is said to be one of the oldest traditional dishes in the world.  Other wallet-friendly options include Asian fare congee and nasi goreng at Noodle Bowl.

Visit for more.

Best splurge: Jumeirah Al Qasr, featuring 29 low-rise dual-level summer houses,  round-the-clock butler service  and Sinbad Kids Club,  featuring  play areas and pools and activities such as face painting . Rooms for two adults and two children cost about S$785 a night in March.

Resort-style stays: Atlantis, The Palm, an underwater-themed family resort where you can swim with dolphins and enjoy aquarium experiences. Atlantis Kid Club  runs a full schedule of activities for children aged between three and 12. Rooms for two adults and two children cost about S$1,534 a night in March.

Value-for-money budget: Zabeel House, easily accessible to the metro and some of the city’s best beaches. Hotel facilities include a free children’s club. Rooms for two adults and two children cost about S$177 in March.

Best access to lifestyle options: MOE Sheraton, near downtown Dubai and Media City and Jumeirah Beach. The hotel is linked to the Mall of the Emirates, home to Dubai Miracle Garden and Dinosaur Park. Rooms for two adults and two children cost about S$516 in March.

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