| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Night safari at Dubai Aquarium

The Underwater Zoo with a nocturnal twist

When you say the words; ‘We’re going on a night safari,’ to a six-year-old, you can pretty much guarantee it’s going to be met with a positive response – even if you’re actually venturing out in the middle of a Thursday afternoon. But that’s the great thing about Dubai Mall’s Underwater Zoo. As it’s all housed indoors, you can make it dark at any time of the day. And that’s exactly what they’ve done.

The new night safari initiative is based on three climatic environments; the rainforest, the rocky shore and the living ocean. The new rainforest zone also supports the arrival of the zoo’s latest residents – a scaly, furry and frankly, rather creepy bunch of lizards, snakes, insects and spiders…

‘We decided to introduce a jungle theme to the whole experience,’ explains Gordon White, general manager of Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, who is our guide on safari for the next hour. ‘That’s why we’ve dimmed the lights down. The jungle floor is a pretty dark place, even in the daytime, so it really adds to the atmosphere. The darkness also makes the animals behave in a different way. As many of them are nocturnal, they tend to be more active when the lights are dimmed.’

As soon as we enter the zoo, our three-year-old completely freaks out. Despite being offered a really cool torch that he gets to wear strapped to his head, miner-style, the darkness and creepers, as well as all the fishy faces looming out of their tanks are just too much for him. After a fraught few minutes spent trying to calm him down, Dad gives up and takes him for an ice cream. Six-year-old Jack however, can’t wait to get started.

A firm fan of everything fishy, slimy and poisonous, he’s off peering into tanks and trailing moray eels with his headlamp before you can say ‘blistering barnacles!’

Our first visit is to the giant water rats enclosure, which on previous visits has always been a bit of a letdown. Usually, we spend 30 seconds trying to rouse these sleeping beasties (that look like a cross between a giant guinea pig and a beaver), but we invariably give up because they are hiding at the back of their area behind a strategic log. This time though, we’ve come at the right time. They’ve just been fed so are full of energy. Plus, the darkened lights seem to agree with them, as they can’t see us all gawping at them so much through the glass. We encounter the same with the sea otters, who decide that that light on Jack’s head, which he keeps directing all over the tank, is the best plaything they’ve seen in ages. Fantastic!

Then we move on to the tanks, which are always a big hit. The giant catfish and their long, feely whiskers creep me out, but again, they seem to respond well to the light on Jack’s head and to his delight, follow him along their tank. It’s all good fun, although we both agree that we don’t like the baby crocs – they stay still for ages and then shock you by dashing to the other end of their tank. ‘I would definitely NOT like one of those in my bath,’ Jack declares, and we move on.

The Underwater Zoo now has two varieties of penguins– the Humpoldts who like things to be a little warmer, and the Gentoos, who need their enclosure to be minus several degrees. We arrive in time to watch the Gentoos being fed. Jack loves watching them dive under the water to retrieve the fish.

Once the watery part of the night safari is over, we double back on ourselves and go to the new upstairs section, where you can find large green iguanas, a selection of tree frogs and poisonous insects, and the snakes.

‘Why has that snake got a lump in the middle?’ asks Jack. We then have to explain that it’s been recently fed – and that it likes its food live, warm and wriggling. ‘Yuck! That’s horrid!’ he declares, but still can’t stop himself from checking to see if the bulge in its belly is still moving.

After a couple of wobbly runs along the Indiana Jones-style rope bridge (another new jungly addition)it’s time to go – but on the way out, we discover we’ve missed two exhibits – it’s easily done with so much to see. One tank is full of gigantic, crawling emperor scorpion that are bigger than your average rat. Under the special display lights, they look turquoise blue, but when you shine your light on them, they are actually bright silver – like real live crawling brooches – that, we are blithely informed, aren’t poisonous, but can give a nasty sting...

The last tank, I decide to keep a safe distance from as it houses an enormous, furry, jumping tarantula as big as my hand. ‘Look Mummy!’ cries Jack, ‘it’s one of those huge spiders from Harry Potter! Wicked!’

Yes – we’ve had a lovely time… But now it’s definitely time to go home.

Dubai Underwater Zoo is open from 10am-10m, Sun-Wed, and 10am-midnight, Thurs-Sat. Tickets cost Dhs50 per person, and include a trip through the aquarium tunnel and well as passes to the Underwater Zoo. The best time to go is feeding time – at 2.30pm every day. Additional head lights to make your night safari tour of the zoo even more exciting, cost a bargainous Dhs10 each.

By Joanna England
Time Out Dubai,

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Kids' events in Dubai
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