Someone once said something to me about Dubai that really annoyed me. I mean, that in itself, is not an unusual occurrence because I have officially entered the “grumpy old man” phase of life and many, many things annoy me now.
Apart from a family holiday to Dubai!
Despite my best efforts, I have unwillingly turned into my Dad, and the list of things that annoy me now is legion – the number of terrible drivers on the road, the attitude of large companies to us everyday customers, the almost farcical state of the UK and the nagging feeling that, somehow, things were a lot better in the 1990s than they ever were now.
Anyway, there I was at a typical parents’ drinks party – if you’re a parent you know the type, and if you’re not a parent, lucky you. It’s the sort of gig where lots of people who have young kids get together, the kids play together and run riot around the poor host’s house, smashing stuff and hiding foodstuff all over the place.
The parents furiously drink as much as they can in the spare couple of hours of peace they will get before the children crash through tiredness.
Somehow, I had been collared at this bash by a terrifyingly opinionated bloke who I’d not met before, and the subject of the recent football World Cup, the Middle East generally, and Dubai came up. He snorted.
“The problem with Dubai, Jim” he began. “Is that it’s all fake nonsense? You know who has a family holiday to Dubai? People who don’t read books. That’s who. Love Island fans. That sort of crowd. People with no culture.”
His general demeanour gave off the impression that “that sort of crowd” was very much not his sort of crowd. I bristled, and briefly considered pulling his underpants over his head, but seeing as I’d only met him ten minutes before, I understand from my wife that this is considered rude at drinks parties, even after six glasses of wine.
I let it lie and decided to tune out and play the movie “Robocop” in my mind, followed by my happy memories of our family trip to Dubai, while I got his belt-fed, and utterly incorrect, opinion on exactly what is wrong with the Middle East as a holiday destination.
As you may have guessed, I like Dubai, and I read books. Alright, they’re not the weightiest tomes you may ever have picked up, and the covers of my books might only feature guns, scantily clad women and cars and the words “Written by Ian Flemming” on them but they’re still books, damnit.
And, if you’re willing to give a family holiday to Dubai a go, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Family holiday to Dubai
Dubai is incredibly well served by airlines from the UK and depending on the season, Economy prices start from about £450 per person with British Airways and Emirates. If you don’t mind a transfer, you can really drive the price down with a stop at Doha with Qatar.
Having been lucky enough to do this route a few times for both work and leisure, the only game in town when it comes to flying to the Middle East is Emirates.
The Economy offering is incredibly generous and exemplifies the Arab hospitality that the region is famous for, and the Economy Plus and Business offerings just get better from there, depending on your budget.
I even once peeked at a First Class offering on Emirates and it was like sneaking a little glimpse of heaven before I was whisked back to my rather simpler, but still very pleasant, seat in Economy.
Conversely, the British Airways offering, much like Britain itself, was alright, if not a little … tired, shall we say? The cabins, like Britain, have clearly seen better days in the past, and there are little glimmers of untapped potential in the in-flight menu and hospitality, but for my money, Emirates is where it really is at.
As the BBC often say – other airlines are also available.
One observation I noted – and you can take it or leave it – is that the worst fellow travellers seem to exist in the middle cabins – too good for Economy, but not quite with the cash for Business.
They seem determined to wring every last drop of goodwill and comfort out of the Premium Economy offering, making demands of the cabin crew and shamelessly looting the complimentary items.
You should, again, resist the temptation to pull their underpants over their heads.
Where to stay in Dubai
When it comes to a tourism hotspot like Dubai, you are genuinely spoiled for choice and the city genuinely caters for every budget and every need, from a Dubai holiday package to £35 a night Premier Inns style rooms, all the way through to sky-high prices for suites, suitable for rock stars and royalty.
If you’re planning to go, and if you’ve got the time, fire up your laptop and Google like fury to find something that suits your needs and tastes. If you don’t have the time, the quickest, easiest and laziest thing, is to engage a travel agent and get them to sort out a Dubai holiday package.
Remember travel agents? They used to exist before Skyscanner and the Internet, in little shops in the High Street and, my God, if you’re short of time or patience, they are a godsend for when you’re overwhelmed by choice – as you will be by trying to choose a Dubai holiday package. Give them your budget and requirements and let them do their thing!
The last time we took a family trip to Dubai, I was in charge of the Googling, so we stayed at Le Meridien Beach Hotel – a Marriot hotel – which comes with all the delights you’d expect of a Marriot offering.
A two-bedroom family suite, depending on the time of year, starts about £700 per night, but comes with lounge access, two rooms and is on a half board basis.
The rooms were the normal understated luxury – beautiful without being ostentatious, with a glimpse of the glistening sea in the distance – the sort of thing that makes Mrs B sigh with contentment as she gets gradually hypnotised by the waves.
When you’re looking at a Dubai family vacation, my two tips are always:
Get lounge access
Firstly, stretch to lounge access if you can, for there you will find complimentary drinks, normally some sort of happy hour, and a sumptuous afternoon tea or morning snack offering that will take the edge off any hunger pangs.
It’s normally well worth the money and is a nice way to punctuate the day between any daily activities, and before you shower and change for anything you’re planning to do in the evening.
Secondly, make sure any price you’re quoted includes the tourism tax that is a thing in Dubai.
Hotels in the UAE are obliged to add an extra 20 AED (about £5) per person, per day, to any stay. If you’re going as a family for a couple of weeks, the sudden addition of another £200 left field will seriously reduce your chances of being able to afford a souvenir on the way home from the airport gift shop.
Places to visit in Dubai with kids
This is a lazy blog, so it will come as no surprise to learn that my number one priority on any holiday is to cover my family in protective sun tan lotion, find myself a nice spot on a hot beach, ideally on a sun lounger, within loafing distance of a bar and crack the spine of a good book.
Then I can proceed to put in a proper long, hard shift, of doing nothing.
However, that idyllic dream often conflicts with the desires of my children, whose desires often involve the diametric opposite of doing nothing, accompanied by a chorus of “I’m bored”, or worse “I’m too hot”.
Fortunately, Dubai is incredibly well set up for kids if launching them into the sea doesn’t work. The number one thing you should absolutely do in Dubai is taking the kids to the Atlantis Waterpark (from £80 per adult) for a day of cooling fun at the world’s largest water park.
At this point, you’ll suck a load of air in over your teeth and say “Eighty quid per head Jim? That’s… that’s a lot of money.”
Trust me. It’s worth it.
This isn’t your typical UK waterpark offering, with a half-hearted lazy river ride and a disinterested teenage lifeguard. It’s not even your typical Mediterranean waterpark, where you’ll spend your time avoiding miserable Russians and questionable adherence to Health and Safety Regulations.
This is the absolute Rolls Royce of waterparks with not one, two, ten, or even twenty water rides, but a staggering thirty different water rides and attractions, access to a private beach, and, for the price, you also get access to the Lost Chambers Aquarium.
Christ, it cost me forty quid to take the kids to the Sea Life Centre in the UK last week – and it was raining – so for the money, the Atlantis Waterpark is well worth it.
There’s other stuff too – for those of a non-nervous disposition, a trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa is a must-do, but I’m a coward when it comes to mind-bending tall buildings. I prefer to be on the ground these days and it costs about £100 to go, but if that’s your thing, go nuts.
There are also boat trips, desert day trips, air-conditioned malls with arcades and rides inside, and 100 other places to visit in Dubai.
There is a riot of culture to be discovered in Dubai’s old town where you can live out your wildest Laurence of Arabia fantasies and come home with a bewildering array of Arabic rugs, teapots and camel shaped souvenirs – if you’ve remembered to budget for the Tourist tax.
Where to eat in Dubai with kids
Dubai genuinely has a real infusion of food culture and given the large numbers of Indian workers that reside in the area, there’s always a good curry to be had. But again, you really are spoiled for choice if you want to break out from your hotel food.
Steakhouses are wildly popular. We ate at the Argentina Grill on Palm Jumeirah where our al fresco ribeyes were cooked to perfection with the tiny strips of marbling through the meat. A drop of garlic butter added a delightful depth to the taste, served with perfectly light, gently salted french fries and lashings of excellent Argentinean Merlot and unlimited soft drinks for the children.
Time it right and you might be treated to an evening display of fireworks at one of the nearby hotels – any local hotel concierge worth their salt will know where and when these will happen and wherever you chose to eat, pick somewhere outside so you can enjoy the warm Arabian night air after a day of air conditioning or sea salt.
One of our favourite places to go eat on our Dubai family vacation is the Dubai Marina. TripAdvisor duly informs me there are over 500 restaurants to choose from in the Marina itself, where you will find cuisine from all around the world.
When to go on your Dubai family vacation
Hopefully, by this stage, you’re thinking “Alright Jim, you’ve sold this to me and I agree fully about the underpants. When’s a good time to go?”.
Look, I once made the mistake of going for a summer holiday … in Dubai … in the summer … and if I’m honest, it was too hot then. No one, except the most dedicated sun worshippers, masochists, or if you are an actual camel, ventures outside in 40-degree heat in August. You’ll get all pink and angry.
Most other times however are fine, and with temperatures in Dubai keeping to a very reasonable 20 to 27 degrees in winter, it’s an ideal time for some winter sun.
However, infrequent rain tends to happen between December and March, so the best time to go is probably April to June or September to November time. The temperatures are reasonable, the risk of rain is low and everyone is a bit happier as a result. Imagine flying to the Middle East for some sun and getting rained on. You’d be livid.
Back to the drinks party…
Suddenly, I was jolted out of my reverie by Mrs B shaking my shoulder.
“Come on Mr B” she insisted. “We have to go; the Boy has found a stash of chocolate and been sick on the carpet.”
My party companion, Mr-terrifyingly-opinionated-bloke-who-I’d-not-met-before, was, incredibly, still going on and on and on, and about to launch into a hypothesis of how Dubai only has the world’s tallest building because they’re connected to the Illuminati, so I was grateful for the interruption.
I gave him my most insincere apologies and made my escape, marvelling about how someone could be so confidently wrong. A family holiday to Dubai is great. You’ll love it. Even if you don’t watch Love Island and are capable of reading books.
See you there.