For all the achievements of adult life – career progression, marriage, parenthood, a mortgage etc – there can be fewer things that elicit such joy as being able to throw back to a time past, an innocent age of complete abandon, and to something you’ve long since grown out of. Okay, so maybe I’m overselling the Aqua Park at The Beach, JBR. But think about it, what activity can simultaneously remind you of the best birthday parties you’ve ever had as a child, and push the physical limits of your forgotten adult frame, all with a soft cushion-like comfort blanket thrown around it to stop you getting hurt?
Perhaps I’m more nostalgic than most, though, having rocketed past the maximum height restrictions of the local jungle gym long before friends stopped hosting celebrations there. From the age of about five up until nine, I was the sorry string bean sullenly sat in the cafeteria of Snakes&Ladders, the three-storey centre of the universe (as it was known in my suburb of south-west London), waiting for everyone else to come bounding down the slides, out of tunnels and over the obstacles.
And so it was with more than two decades of pent up frustration that I attacked Dubai Aqua Park. Five minutes later I was exhausted, and feeling older than I had done for some time. The exhaustion was partly due to excitement and but also due to the challenge of hoisting myself over barriers, across precipices, around boulders and, naturally, back up onto the raft itself over and over and over again.
Hour-long and all-day access is available, but truth be told, half an hour is plenty of time to get your fill.
Packed with slides, swings, blockades, bumps and even monkey bars, it’s thirsty work making your away around the 2,500 sq m site, which can be found a little under 100m offshore. Measuring in at a staggering 77m long and 35m wide, making it, of course, the largest in the Middle East, its arrival sent social media into a frenzy after overhead images showed it in the shape and colour of the Dubai logo (the emirate’s name in both Arabic and English).
While the official capacity stands at 350, measures are taken to ensure overcrowding isn’t a problem, and that the safety of all participants is paramount throughout. Before you even leave the shore, fun-hungry swimmers must wear a lifejacket and are checked for all forms of jewellery. On-board, there are two manned elevated lifeguard stations keep a watchful eye on all participants, and several other experienced staff are dotted throughout.
Once you’ve swum out, entry is fairly straightforward, with six sunken pads providing the ideal leg-up right along the closest side. To take on the course properly – but, hey, where’s the fun and child-like endeavour in that? – there is a start gate from which you can head out and round a bafflingly complex route that really makes no sense to anyone. Your best bet to pick off the harder of the challenges one by one – these include the inverted climbing wall, the monkey bars, a “water blob” (yes, that’s the official name for the puffed-up cushion that when jumped onto can send someone catapulting into the air).
Of course, Captain Buzzkill and his friends will tell you avoiding falling is the idea, but you’d have to be a real stickler to actually try and see that through. In any case, it’s pretty tiring lugging yourself around the Aqua Park, so the sweet embrace of the cooling water does get awfully tempting from time to time. But one darting run across the zigzag trap doors littered throughout the flatter parts of the course will almost certainly leave you in the drink.
Well, at least then it’s easier to get back to shore. Dhs150 (adults over 12) Dhs120 (kids between 5-12) Dhs 110 (per person for a group of four or more).