Best waterparks in Dubai
Time Out tests the water for family fun at the Aquaventure, Dreamland and Wild Wadi aquatic theme parks in Dubai
Forget the old timers: Aquaventure blows its competitors out of the water. Let’s start with the most important element: the slides. Not only does Aquaventure have the most extreme one in the UAE, in the shape of the vertical, 27.5m drop known as the Leap of Faith – seriously, you won’t find a more intense adrenaline rush – but it also has a whole raft of other fantastic options. Kids going through the marine-life-loving phase should head to Shark Attack, a slide which allows riders to witness first-hand the majesty of these magnificent, sinister creatures: floating past them on a rubber ring in a transparent tunnel is certainly surreal, but it can’t be beaten.
If the prospect of a close encounter with the finned fiends holds no more appeal than a gut-wrenching vertical drop, don’t panic: you’ll still be busy all day. Grab a rubber ring – ride solo or opt for a two-seater – and jump into the water, where the current and occasional rapids will whisk you along to the next uphill conveyor belt, which plops you out by the entrance to your next descent. All the rides are available to kids above 1.1m tall, but for smaller tots there is an enormous, all-singing, all-dancing play area called Splashers. As they tear up and down the structure’s myriad stairways and slides, the water bucket that balances at the top occasionally upends its 1,200 litres on the squealing kids’ heads – and little makes a child happier than being doused with water (except when it’s actually bath time).
Aside from its rides, Aquaventure’s crowning glory is undoubtedly the view from the top of Ziggurat, the imposing central edifice. Being at the top of the Palm Jumeirah, you get an uninterrupted view of the Arabian Gulf, particularly useful if you’re in the queue for the Leap of Faith and in need of distraction from your terror.
Still not sold? How about if we tell you there’s also a pristine, lifeguard-manned beach, the opportunity to swim with dolphins, and a fantastic aquarium next door? Not to mention lunches that are actually healthy, rather than the stodge-packed options on offer at most waterparks, and clean, modern changing rooms.
In fact, the only downside to Aquaventure is the system they have for shooting you up slopes mid-ride: it can actually be quite painful if your rear end is poking out of your rubber ring. However, this problem is not exclusive to Aquaventure – in fact, at Wild Wadi, the power of the jets means that you spend most of the time with the bottoms of your swimwear rolled down! Thankfully, Aquaventure’s system does not subject you to this humiliation, and if you master the ‘bum lift’ manoeuvre, you’ll soon forget it’s even a problem as you whiz around, wondering why you ever even bothered with other waterparks.
Unlike its bigger, faster, taller and Palm-perched brother, Wild Wadi isn’t a sleek waterpark. It’s fun, it’s daft, it’s a bit small and it’s brought to life by a host of smiley Disney-esque Arab characters. We like our waterparks this way. We like fake rocks, fake storms, collapsing waterfalls and a good old fashioned sense of imagination. You feel you’re in a waterpark, you feel a bit like a kid – and that is absolutely fine by us.
But there are also certain smart ideas that Wild Wadi is based on that, for us, make it that bit more accessible. First off, there’s none of that conveyor belt nonsense down here. The park is almost entirely navigable from within the water. Fast (occasionally swimwear-stealing) bursts of water jet you around the slides and around the park. That means fewer queues and none of that slightly embarrassing skyward chugging that gets you onto the slides at Aquaventure.
There’s no denying that Wild Wadi is rather small and you can more or less do the whole park, maybe twice over, in only a couple of hours. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s easy to get everywhere, there’s no scaling fake Mesopotamian temples to reach the signature slides and, if you splash out on one of the cabanas, you can quite merrily spend a day sunbathing and being waited on, between intermittent bursts on the rides.
Sure, there are no frolicking dolphins or two-and-a-half kilometres of rapids, or even a hefty vertical drop through a shark pool. Wild Wadi has none of these things, but its Jumeirah Scarer is ever so slightly more horrendous and certainly longer-lasting than Aquaventure’s three second Leap of Faith. Why? Because it’s just that bit less sleek, there’s a persistent (entirely unfounded) feeling while you’re whizzing down there that you just might be flung off at any second. That’s the thrill of a slide, not struggling to keep your eyes open to glimpse the confused shark that once again is surprised to see your half-naked body bursting through its habitat.
Nothing too flashy and a comfortingly ’90s sense of how to have a good time – Wild Wadi might be getting on a bit, but the draw of Aquaventure means fewer crowds, fewer queues and, best of all, more time in the water. This place, thankfully, doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Long considered Wild Wadi’s poor relation, Dreamland Aquapark really had to pull its socks up once fancy pants Aquaventure came onto the scene. Having undergone a bit of a facelift recently, we’re delighted to report it’s retained its down-to-earth charm in the face of the too-cool-for-school newcomer.
If you have kids in tow, particularly young ’uns, there is absolutely nowhere better for water fun. OK, you have to drive 45 minutes north to Umm Al Quwain, but it’s hardly the other end of the earth, and just think of all the camel and goat-spotting opportunities you’ll encounter.
Once you’ve paid your bargain Dhs100 entrance fee (Dhs70 for kids aged three to 11 years), you’ll be amazed at the wide open space and greenery. Have a wander round and choose your spot. Take your time, because there’s none of that impolite jostling for sun loungers that you’ll endure elsewhere. Once you’ve got the kids in their swimmers and sussed out the slides, lie back and relax, because here, you can. Dreamland is a boon for families. Parents can join their tots in the Aqua Play area – complete with water bouncers for babies, see-saws, a splashers area, plus dolphins and water bikes that kids can rock and pedal to squirt passersby. Older kids – or stronger swimmers – could venture over to the more mellow slides, bumper boats, inflatable assault course and wave pool without fretting mums and dads monitoring their every move. That’s because the heaving throngs that mar other waterparks are conspicuous by their absence.
True, the rides are shorter and tamer than elsewhere, although the Twister – also dubbed the ‘Toilet’ because of the way you plop in, flush around once or twice then get unceremoniously dumped out the bottom pipe – gets the blood pumping. Nor are the Kamikaze and Twisting Dragons for the faint of heart, and while they may be over in a matter of seconds, the beauty of Dreamland is that you rarely have to queue – even for a second. In fact, it’s hardly worth extracting your cozzie from whatever crevice it’s lodged itself in before trotting back up for another blast.
There’s a ‘grown-ups only’ chilled-out pool bar in the centre for those who wish to escape the squealing kids, but really, this place is made for families. We never thought we’d utter the words ‘relaxing’ and ‘waterpark’ in the same sentence, but at Dreamland, it’s possible.By Karen Iley
Time Out Dubai,