The long-awaited Stargate Centre at Za’abeel Park has been something of an enigma during the three years it’s been under construction. Giant neon posters of spaceships and little green men – not to mention several enormous, coloured dome structures – have elicited many enquiries from my eldest son whenever we’ve driven past; ‘What’s that mummy? Can we go there mummy? Is it finished yet mummy?’ and so on, and on. Jack, four, finally gets his wish as we grab our family of adventurers and go for a tentative exploration of the giant space station.
The red planet is now home to, apparently, the world’s biggest soft-play area. Set on three levels, this vast, brightly coloured padded playground is the perfect place to let the boys off the leash. With a huge number of the very popular air shooters available – a jet of air that blasts around 30 balls into the sky at the push of a button – curly tube slides galore and loads of space to tear around in, it’s a clear winner – and that’s just with dad. The soft play zone is also great value for money, Dhs25 per child for an hour’s fun time. At these prices, we reckon it will soon become the hottest hang-out in town for under sevens.
I’m not quite sure why the Earth dome houses Stargate’s roller coaster, as it’s clearly designed to take your feet well and truly off the ground. We give this a miss (much to Jack’s disgust and my relief) as only those over 130cm tall are allowed. It looks like a lot of fun, though, with part of the track outside the dome, giving those on board a rather flying visit to Za’abeel Park’s beautifully manicured lawns. The inside is decorated with a map of the world, although whether you can actually see it properly as you go whizzing past, stomach in mouth, is another question. At Dhs19 a pop, I’m not about to volunteer, but older kids will no doubt love it.
There are only a few outlets open in the food court, including a fried chicken chain (where Jack is given an impressive light-sabre toy that his brother immediately wants), an Italian fast-food counter and an excellent juice bar that serves fantastic organic lemonade with mint. Many of the food bars, which will include healthy salad and sandwich venues, are still under construction, but we’re delighted to find a Starbucks for a well-earned caffeine fix.
The enormous arcade stretches the entire circumference of Stargate and includes loads of those loud zappy things I’m not fond of, but that kids (and husbands) can’t get enough of. One word of warning: the games range from Dhs3 to Dhs10 so your cash will disappear faster than you can say ‘Flash Gordon’. On the plus side, majlis tents offer quiet corners where kids can listen to the on-site storyteller, play a game of chess, or take part in an art class
The go-karting is designed for kids aged between three and 10, which leaves my husband long-faced as he abandons visions of himself tearing round the track (no doubt making loud, screechy tyre noises). Jack, however, has a whale of a time and has to be prized off his orange kart after several spins. The dodgem rink next door is where mum and dad can double up with the kids, but at Dhs10 for a five-minute ride, things are getting rather expensive, and our toddler would be left out of the fun.
Not quite ready to treat your child to a full-length feature film yet? Then the 3D movie theatre in the Saturn dome could be your answer. There are three educational films to choose from: one on the human body, another on dinosaurs and – our choice – Fly me to the Moon, a film about the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. Created using Pixar-style CGI animation with cutesy characters to bring the story to life, all bottoms stay firmly on seats. Admittedly it’s a bit pricey – tickets cost Dhs15 for each 15-minute film (under-two’s go free) – and the soundtrack is a bit muffled in places, but we all enjoy the 3D experience, including our 16-month-old who sits through the whole thing utterly transfixed, with specs firmly in place. (Our eldest, though, is baffled by wearing ‘sunglasses’ in the dark.)
I love this charming kidney-shaped ice rink with its sparkly icicles and snowmen-at-night decor. Strangely cosy inside, it has that muffled acoustic quality usually only associated with snowfall. The fact that the ice rink is much smaller than several other facilities in town is a bonus for those with younger kids, as parents can keep a closer eye on them. Great value, the Dhs25 fee includes skate hire and an hour’s ice time. There’s also a handy hot drinks machine in the spectator area for welcome warm-ups and socks on sale to keep tootsies toasty.
Stargate’s greatest merit lies in successfully combining activities suitable for all ages under one roof. Main attractions such as the soft play area and the ice rink are great value, and the food court is reasonable, too. However, go-karting and rollercoaster rides should be one-off treats as the price does escalate. That said, a family of four can have an action-packed afternoon for around Dhs300 including food. We’ll definitely be back! Entrance to Stargate is effectively free, with your Dhs5 Za’abeel park fee redeemable on your Stargate gaming card. Open Sun-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat 10am-midnight. Call 04 325 9988 or visit www.stargatedubai.com
If your kids are likely to beam themselves off into outer space, Stargate will soon offer a tagging service. Hook your little Scotties up to a Wi-Fi pager and let ’em loose, safe in the knowledge they won’t leave the centre and you’ll be able to check their position at the information screens dotted around the venue.