Travel: Family-friendly fun in the lap of luxury

Dubai is not just about designer shops, fast cars and tall buildings as Lucy Stephenson discovered

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Lucy and Archie on the beach in front of the hotel

THINK of Dubai and fast cars, luxury shops and ultramodern buildings are probably the first things that come to mind.

And the city in the UAE on the south-east coast of the Persian Gulf is about all of those things.

But you may be surprised to learn that it is also fast becoming a family-friendly destination to rival the very best.

The fact that Emirates fly out of Gatwick is also something of a bonus for us Channel Islanders.

Taking our almost two-year-old, Archie, on his first long-haul adventure was somewhat daunting for my husband Mark and I, but we couldn’t have been made more welcome or been better catered for in Dubai – a city where the kids are as important as the adults.

It may well be the cleanest city in the world, with top-quality baby-changing facilities everywhere you go – in the male as well as female toilets – and free-to-borrow buggies at many attractions.

Just be warned, child car seats aren’t widely used, so you need to either take your own or make arrangements via your hotel.

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All the rooms in the JA Ocean View have sea views and balconies

Our home for seven nights was the JA Ocean View Hotel – perfectly located in a bustling district right on The Walk, the city’s seaside promenade.

Restaurants, cafés, shops and family attractions, including a beach play park, are just a few steps out of the lobby, while one end of the city’s famous marina is situated just behind the hotel.

All of the contemporary 342 rooms and suites have views of the sea but ours on the 24th floor must surely have been among the best in the building. With views of the Dubai eye (twice the size of the London Eye) being built to the left, the famous Palm Jumeirah and its iconic Atlantis resort ahead and the distinctive sail-shaped silhouette of the landmark seven-star ‘most luxurious hotel in the world’ Burj Al Arab to the right, it was iconic Dubai in a single view.

As is typical in a city where more is definitely considered better, the Ocean View offers everything from fine dining and exclusive lounges (paying a bit extra for the Coral Lounge access is well worth it) to buffet-style family dinners, tasty traditional Arabic cuisine and snacks.

There’s also an impressively kitted-out kids’ club for guests aged three to 12, a fully equipped gym, an Elemis spa and a beauty salon. And guests can also make use of the free shuttle to the private beach club at the hotel’s sister property, the JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort, around 20 minutes away.

Dubai is often described as the world’s largest playground for adults, but the kids are catching up.

At the end of October Legoland opened at Dubai Parks and Resorts, a leisure destination around 20 minutes out of the city and home to a growing number of parks and experiences.

The impressive indoor display of the Dubai skyline captivated us adults as much as our little one, as did the various ‘worlds’ packed with activities, rides and play areas to explore.

Next door to the park is the Legoland Water Park, designed for kids aged two to 12, where we had great fun floating down the build-a-raft lazy river, playing among oversized Duplo animals and trying out various slides, shoots and tubes.

It was a lot to do both parks in one day, but it is possible.

Another of our jam-packed days was spent exploring the luxury resort Atlantis, The Palm.

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A member of staff shows Archie behind the scenes at the Atlantis’s Lost Chambers Aquarium

During a behind-the-scenes tour of the Lost Chamber aquarium we were shown what goes into caring for, feeding and breeding the thousands of creatures that inhabit the facility. Our guide, Shonali, was knowledgeable, passionate and engaging and made a real effort to get us all – tetchy two-year-old included – interested.

The tour was followed by lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen – just one of the 23 restaurants at Atlantis and a real haven away from the hustle and bustle of midday crowds.

While we feasted on dishes such as tamarind-spiced chicken wings, a surprisingly moreish shaved cauliflower and spiced roasted almond salad and Wagyu beef burger, Archie tucked into fresh pasta followed by a visit to the restaurant’s seriously well-stocked ice-cream bar complete with pick-and-mix flavours, sauces and toppings.

Later, we headed all of the few hundred metres to the resort’s Aquaventure Waterpark for another afternoon of splashing around together. Although he was too young to appreciate most of the experiences on offer, Archie particularly enjoyed watching those brave enough to try out The Leap of Faith – a near-vertical drop into shark-infested waters.

It turned out we had booked the first cloudy day of our week to visit the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building.

Booking is advised and it’s best to arrive first thing or pay extra for a fast pass if you want to beat the queues.

On a clear day the views from the At The Top observation deck of the 160-storey, 828 metre-tall building, which is conveniently located next to the Dubai Mall (itself worth a visit and home to the world’s largest choreographed fountain system) are spectacular.

If you’ve got any time – or energy – left, there’s the Mall of the Emirates with its indoor ski slope and Magic Planet entertainment centre, literally hundreds of options for all-you-can-eat (and some drink too) Friday brunches – many of which include kids’ clubs and entertainment, Wild Wadi Water Park, the Dubai Creek to explore and so much more. For getting around, taxis are reasonably priced – perhaps the only thing that is in Dubai.

You can take a trip out into the desert, go on a boat down the waterways of the Arabian resort of Madinat, shop until you drop or just hang out – all with or without kids in tow.

Visit Dubai’s tag line, ‘Discover all that’s possible’, is a seductive one.

But there is one big problem – there simply isn’t the time to really get to grips with it in one short holiday.

However, it is lots of – family-friendly – fun giving it a go.

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