Let’s face it, Dubai loves water. You’d think it would be enough to be located on the Gulf with instant access to the beach, but it seems that when it comes to anything containing the tiniest bit of H20, the city can’t get enough. New dive centres are opening, new water-based classes are being launched, and diving lessons for the disabled have even been introduced. What’s more, Dubai’s waterparks alone pump a total of 41.5 million litres of the stuff every year. Our advice? Join the fray and get soaked.
Start at a waterpark
When Aquaventure opened a couple of years back, suddenly Wild Wadi had a very immediate competitor. Or could there be another dark horse of a venue that steals the watery glory? Read on…
Aquaventure: Atlantis’s famous waterpark offers 2km and 11.5 million litres of slide action. Many of the park’s features centre around the Ziggurat, a Mesopotamian-themed structure that houses plenty of rapids, twisty slides and can’t-be-missed features for adrenaline hounds. We’re talking about the dark, twisting tunnels that lead you into an underwater lagoon filled with sharks (don’t worry, there’s a barrier).
Atlantis, The Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0000). Dhs200 for adults, Dhs165 for children
Wild Wadi: Dubai’s oldest waterpark does feel a bit dated, which is probably why it’s undergoing a mini renovation (two newer rides should open by 2011). Still, Wild Wadi offers good, clean, uncomplicated fun. The signature ride is the Jumeirah Sceirah, a 33-metre slide that pushes folks out at 88kph.
Jumeirah Beach Road (04 348 4444). Dhs200 for adults, Dhs165 for children
Aquaplay: Dubai’s only indoor waterpark is fairly small, but then again, so is its clientele. Geared towards tots, Aquaplay is the only waterpark where neither kids nor adults need a bathing suit. Slides are miniature and capsizing anything is near-impossible.
Mirdif City Centre (800 534 7873). Rides cost between Dhs5 and Dhs30
The driest waterpark
Dreamland Aqua Park: True, Dreamland is a 45-minute drive from Dubai (it’s in Umm Al Quwain), but the location helps to ensure it remains as relaxed, spacious and affordable as ever. It may not have the same thrills as Dubai’s parks, but you won’t jostle for space to ride the slides, wave pool or bumper boats. Plus, it’s licensed, and should be serving after 7.30pm.
Emirates Road, Umm Al Quwain (06 768 1888). Dhs115 for adults, Dhs75 for kids
On the water
It’s official: the temperature is a couple of degrees cooler if you head out on the water. Find your sea legs and try these watersports that don’t even involve getting wet.
Charter a yacht: Glimpsing both the Burjs from across an expanse of twinkly blue sea beats the view from dusty Sheikh Zayed Road any day. If you want to remember why you moved to Dubai, call Bristol Middle East and charter a 47-person yacht. It leaves from the Marina and anchors by the Royal Mirage, where you can cool off in the water. Plus, you can bring your own snacks and drinks.
Bristol Middle East (04 366 3538). A 47-person yacht costs Dhs3,600 per hour
Take a cruise: While one shouldn’t expect gourmet dining on a cruise along the creek, many floating restaurants offer decent buffets and a charming atmosphere (drinks are available, but there’s a separate charge). Bateaux Dubai is one of the city’s best-loved floating eateries, and the live piano music ensures it’s a classy affair. No need to worry about the suffocating heat, either – the boat is enclosed in glass and air-conditioned.
Bateaux Dubai (04 399 4994). Dhs280 per person
Go fish: Fishing enthusiasts are in luck: the Gulf is bountiful and fishing opportunities are ripe. Novices and experts alike will do well to contact Soolyman Sport Fishing Charters – the company is run by three brothers from South Africa, who have each been in the region for seven years and know the best spots.
Soolyman Sport Fishing Charters (050 886 6227, www.soolymansportfishing.com). Prices start at Dhs2,300 for a four-hour trip with a maximum of seven people
Jump in a kayak: Take a trip to the little-known Khor Kalba Nature Reserve in Sharjah. It’s plush with mangroves and contains a variety of birds and marine life that cannot be found elsewhere in the UAE, and the site makes a lovely stretch for a leisurely paddle. Those keen to try it can sign up with Explorer Tours, which provides water, transport and equipment– just remember the sunscreen.
Explorer Tours (04 286 1991). Dhs300 per person, minimum four people
Parasail!: Looking for a 10-minute thrill that requires zero athletic prowess? Then parasailing is for you. Participants are basically strapped into a parachute then dragged behind a not-particularly-fast-moving boat. It’s a great way to see the skyline and feel weightless while doing it.
Nautica 1992 (050 426 2415). Dhs250 per person
Row your boat: Believe it or not, Dubai can be cool, even in the dead of summer. Wake up early and hit the creek for a little rowing and you’ll see what we mean. If you’re new to the sport, sign up for a couple of lessons with Monty’s Rowing School. Owner Monty Khwaja insists the cardio-friendly sport uses all the muscle groups, and hence is a great workout. Plus, the speed of the boat as you row provides a natural breeze that’s similar to air-conditioning – yes, really.
Monty’s Rowing School (050 738 0910, www.montysrowingschool.com). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. Dhs120 per lesson
In the water
The water may be extra-salty, but it’s deliciously warm right now, with an average August temperature of 32°C.
Wakeboarding: Kind of like waterskiing, but on a snowboard, this sport is cooler for all the twists, jumps and tricks you can do. Novices should be prepared to fall… a lot. Still, once you get the hang of it (and your forearms – and entire body – stop aching), it’s addictively good fun, if a tad pricey.
Dubai Water Sport Academy (04 366 3558). Dhs150 for 15 minutes
Time Out loves!
Flowboarding: Think of flowboarding as automated surfing. Basically, instead of waiting for real-life waves, you get to ride a perpetual artificial wave care of some fancy machinery at Wild Wadi. The downside is the experience doesn’t tend to last too long (unless you’re exceptionally good, which few are), and the queue to try it can be long.
Included in the entrance fee at Wild Wadi (see Waterparks)
Surfing: True, it’s not the very best season in Dubai to surf, but you’ll be in the water most of the time so you’re not likely to overheat. Beginners can sign up for early-morning lessons with Surf School UAE, Dubai’s premier surfing outlet.
Surf School UAE (04 399 0989). Dhs150 for one-on-one lessons, Dhs125 for group lessons, equipment included
Kitesurfing: Once you get past the basics, kitesurfing can be a blast (and a major ab workout). The sport involves being strapped into a harness and dragged past the waves while hooked up to a kite. However, controlling the thing is half the battle.
Duco Maritime (050 870 3427). Dhs300 per hour, including gear
Waterskiing: Dubai loves skis. Need proof? Head to Ski Dubai. But even cooler than sliding down snow in the summer heat is skating the water. It may look like all you need to do is stand up, but waterskiing is surprisingly tricky (although still super-fun).
Nautica 1992 (050 426 2415). Dhs200 for 20 minutes
Windsurfing: There’s probably no better place than Dubai to practise this strange surfing-sailing hybrid. In many aspects, the sport has the advantages of both (you can perform tricks and tackle bigger waves, for instance). Mastering the art takes practice, and luckily there are several places in town that offer lessons.
Club Joumana, Jebel Ali Hotel (04 814 5555). Dhs120 for an hour lesson
Hunt crabs: Nothing channels the inner caveman quite as succinctly as crab hunting. Hunting sessions are run in the evening at Umm Al Quwain, and the fee includes pick-up, dinner and equipment (in this case, a spear. How very Survivor). Though not particularly sporting for the crabs, it does make for a different way to spend a summer in the sea.
Lama Tours (04 334 4330). Dhs280 for adults, Dhs170 for kids
Swimming: Ah, good old-fashioned swimming. Other than your bad old self, some water and maybe a swimming cap, you can entertain yourself for hours – or until you get breathless. This is definitely the city to enjoy doing a few laps, as pools abound. Serious swimmers, however, may want to invest in a club membership (we favour the Aviation Club, with its Olympic-sized pool). Those on a budget should try the public pool at Mushrif Park, which is only Dhs10 a visit.
The Aviation Club (04 282 4122). Membership starts from Dhs5,250 a year. Mushrif Park, Al Khawaneej Road (04 288 3624), entry Dhs10 per person
Under the water
Some of the country’s best views are underwater. If you grab a snorkel or, better yet, strap on an air tank, you’re sure to see some colourful wildlife (possibly even a shark or two).
Diving at Dibba Rock: When it comes to ploughing the depths of the ocean, visibility in this region can be pretty poor. Not so at Dibba Rock, where the light is good even when you’re 10 metres below the surface. This makes it a prime spot for some underwater photography. As for wildlife, there’s a good chance you’ll see sharks and turtles.
Al Boom Dive Centre (04 342 2993) offers tours for Dhs350 with gear
Wreck diving: If you’ve ever been tempted to dive a wreck, now’s your chance. Okay, the Inchcape ships were sunk on purpose off the east coast to make artificial reefs, so forget any fantasy about stumbling across forgotten gold. Still, the marine life residing in each is exceptional. You’re likely to spot stingrays and barracuda, and maybe even lionfish, snakes or snappers.
Divers Down (09 237 0299) offers tours for Dhs350 with gear
Under the metro: The five-star, yet affordable new dive centre at Atlantis offers a wide range of dive options, from expeditions for experienced scuba addicts to adventure dives for those minus any qualifications. Perhaps one of the more bizarre services on offer is a quick dive around the clam-covered pillars of the monorail that runs along the Palm. At their watery base you’ll find angelfish, starfish and even a big grouper – and it’s a lot quicker than a drive over to the usual dive spots on the UAE’s east coast.
Atlantis Dive Centre (04 426 3000, www.atlantisdivecentre.com). The Discover Scuba course, including one dive, is Dhs400
Exploring The Dubai Aquarium: Though a somewhat bizarre experience (you’re swimming around a giant fish tank, after all), diving in the massive aquarium at The Dubai Mall is pretty cool. For starters, the visibility is perfect, and you’re guaranteed to see interesting fish that you might not spot at sea. And the best part? You don’t even need diving certification (although beginners will have to do a primer course with Al Boom Diving Centre beforehand). Really, is there anything more ‘Dubai’ than scuba diving in the world’s largest aquarium? We think not.
Al Boom Diving (04 342 2993) organises 30-minute dives at Dubai Aquarium. Dhs825 for non-certified divers, Dhs625 for certified divers
Freediving: You have to respect the simplicity of freediving. The sport, which involves diving without a tank and holding one’s breath, is gloriously equipment-free. While you’d expect it to be stressful, proponents say the opposite: relaxation is the name of the game. You control your stress levels and reduce the rate at which the body uses oxygen, and the resulting health benefits are similar to that of meditation. In other words, it keeps you cool while helping you to keep your cool.
Arnaud Palu teaches freediving at The Palm Jumeirah (050 708 6761). Dhs150 for one-on-one sessions
Cage snorkelling: Granted, cage snorkelling in The Dubai Mall is surreal. You’re not only surrounded by sharks, groupers and all other manner of fish, but by hundreds of curious (and snap-happy) shoppers. While it’s hard not to feel a bit like a spectacle, the experience is fun (and surprisingly chilly). After all, how often do you get to be in the same body of water as a shark?
The Dubai Mall (04 342 2993). Dhs225 for 30 minutes
Under the sea
A feast of marine life…
In Dubai’s waters, divers have seen barracuda, snappers, jacks, shrimps, multicoloured blennies, sea squirts, octocorals, batfish, sweetlips, blenny fish, gobies, shrimps, long-tailed leopard rays, dugongs (though rarely) and the occasional whale shark.
Embarrassing waterpark stories
Anonymous confessions from blushing Time Out staff…
'The surf ride at Wild Wadi robbed me of my bikini bottoms and my dignity in front of a large family audience.’
‘I held a man’s hand for about 10 metres, thinking it was my missus. I only turned around when he asked, very politely, “Where are we going?”’
‘I was standing in line at Wild Wadi with two slender friends. The guard let my pals through, before snapping at me: “Weight!”. I reluctantly gave him my vitals before I realised he’d just been asking me to “wait”’.