I don’t like waterparks. I lost the taste for them while I was pregnant with my first child and did an amazing impression of a manatee in a swimsuit. I thought once the baby arrived, I’d regain my passion for high-pressure water chutes, twisty tube slides and ‘drown you to within an inch of your life’ wave pools.
I didn’t. And it got worse when the next baby came along. Because, as all parents discover, when you have small children and you let them loose in a waterpark, your stress levels rise to form a new definition of hell.
There’s the huge amount of paraphernalia you have to lug with you and the ghastly changing room struggle, accompanied by attempts to coat multiple protesting bodies in sun cream (without getting it in their eyes) and getting them to empty their bladders, all while you hang indecently out of your cossie because you threw it on in such a hurry.
Then, of course, you have to do it all again the other way round, several hours later when they’re overtired, suffering from sunstroke and screaming, ‘I don’t want to go home!’
It was with this slightly jaded view that I approached the concept of the newly opened Aquaplay in Mirdif City Centre. ‘If I bring a child along,’ I asked warily, ‘will they need a swimming costume?’
When the question was answered with a negative, I admit I had my doubts. The marketing people were either lying, or the facility would be no more than a damp squib. To my amazement, neither assumption was true – and Aquaplay has to be the best fun kids can have with water, without driving you to distraction.
Classed as an ‘indoor entertainment attraction for children’, the centre – which caters for kids aged two to eight, looks a bit like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – only with water flowing all over the place instead of chocolate. And it manages to strike that rare balance between fun and education.
Murial’s Aquatraptions, an extensive ‘stand and play’ activity area, allows little ones to muck about with all manner of mini-water tubes, slides, interactive fountains, squirters and boats (it looks like a sort of Wild Wadi for hamsters), while learning about water movement, pressure, currents and hydropower. Kids don plastic overalls and splash about to their hearts’ content under the watchful eyes of the staff. And parents can get away for a sanity-saving coffee, safe in the knowledge that, while a soaking is probable, drowning is impossible.
Then there’s Oscar’s Wave Rider – a kayak-style log flume ride, Pelican Bay (a fishing port-themed climbing and soft play area), several water-themed beepy arcade games, a seahorse carousel, a ‘digging for treasure’ area, and – my personal favourite – a bumper boat ride called (bizarrely) Ravi’s Slamming Shells. I have to admit to trying this one out myself, as I was convinced my kids would be able to capsize the boats. I tried my best to turn mine over, much to the amusement of the staff, but only succeeded in almost bringing up my lunch.
The brainchild of Majid Al Futtaim Leisure, Aquaplay is not only the first centre of its kind in the region – it’s a first in the world, according to Craig Hart, the firm’s vice president. A father of three young children aged nine, four and two, he has personally overseen the conception, design and development of the project. ‘We wanted to get back to basics, and what’s more basic and enjoyable for kids than water? I know from experience that a mediocre game in the back yard with my kids becomes something much more exciting and fun when I get the hosepipe out and throw water into the equation. That was the inspiration behind Aquaplay. It grew from there.’
With rides costing between Dhs5 and Dhs30 (an hour in Pelican Bay will set you back Dhs30, a ride on Ravi’s boats costs Dhs10 and a turn of the seahorse carousel is Dhs5), Aquaplay won’t break the bank either. And let’s face it. Your average waterpark entry ticket costs Dhs70+ per kid, Dhs100+ each for parents – and that’s not including the ice creams. Obviously, they’re not going to learn how to doggie paddle at Aquaplay – unless they actually end up in Ravi’s boating lake – but you can’t have it all, and, personally, I know where I’d rather be this summer.
Mirdif City Centre (800 534 7873; www.aquaplayme.com). Open daily 10am-10pm