Craig Hart interview

A dad of three and VP of MAF Leisure, the brains behind Ski Dubai, Magic Planet and Playnation, Craig Hart knows all about entertaining kids

Interview, Hot seat
Interview, Hot seat

Summer is officially here. How will you be keeping your kids entertained?
I think it’s a matter of scheduling and providing kids with a different type of routine. If you expect them to stay at home doing nothing, then of course they’re going to drive you up the wall. My wife usually dreads the summer. She says to me desperately, ‘What am I going to do with them?’ But it’s working out okay. She’s started taking the little one swimming every morning (he’s two) before it gets too hot and it’s already become a natural part of their day. He loves it – and gets worn out. It’s a great bonding time for both of them.

What’s the worst thing about summer in Dubai for kids?
We have an extremely long summer here. Thankfully, Dubai is very well geared up towards its residents, many more of whom are now taking staycations rather than going home. There’s loads of stuff to do all over town – and it doesn’t cost the earth. Mall of the Emirates has Ski Dubai, now Mirdif City Centre has Playnation and Aquaplay. There are lots of indoor play centres and museums too. You just have to plan wisely.

Lots of parents find Magic Planet headache-inducing. Do you have any advice for them?
It’s a fair comment and yes, I keep up to date with all the feedback. Magic Planet at MOE was designed with all ages in mind – and it has to appeal to a broad spectrum of visitors. However, we do listen to our customers and we’ve modified the brand to reflect their concerns. For example, the new Magic Planet in Mirdif City Centre is designed specifically for kids under 12. The noise level has been bought right down and we’ve worked hard to ensure it’s a place parents and kids can enjoy themselves together.

Your title is very serious. Are you a serious person?
Hmm. I think it’s fair to say that I’m very serious about having fun. My job is serious in that we make sure everything we do is well thought out and quality and safety are always our primary concerns. But let’s face it – we work in leisure – so there has to be a fun side too.

Do you try out everything before the public has a go?
Absolutely! I love that part of my job. I took my two-year-old son on every ride in the new Magic Planet and we had an absolute ball. My six-year-old daughter is a huge fan of Aquaplay – a project I’ve been very involved with – so we go there a lot too. And I can’t get either of them away from Cité des Enfants, which is our new edutainment brand.

What’s your favourite zone in Aquaplay?
That’s easy – the bumper boats (pauses)… No – actually, I take that back. It’s the log flume ride. My daughter likes Muriel’s Aquatraptions.

Have you tried out iFly yet?
Of course. I was in there just last week. I’m a better flyer now – or at least, I can enter the tube unassisted, which is pretty good going. I actually first tried it in Hollywood about two years ago. My four-year-old daughter has agreed to fly with me next time – which will be a great experience.

Would you ever do a real skydive?
Sure. And it’s not a case of if – but when. Once the weather’s right, I’ll be up there, throwing myself out of a plane.

Jungle gym, bouncy castle or arcade?
It has to be an arcade. That’s where it all started – the first arcades were the basis of indoor mall entertainment as we know it today. I can still remember the very first time I played Pacman all those years ago. It cost me 20 cents (all my pocket money that week). One game and I was totally hooked.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Tough one. I’ve been charged by a bull elephant while on safari. I’ve tracked a leopard on foot through the bushveld. I once went to Ski Dubai straight after work, strapped myself into the Zorb ball (I was still in my suit) and took off down the slopes. It was one of the new attractions and I hadn’t tried it out yet. I also took my mother-in-law out for a spin in a real racing car. Come to think of it, that one was nuts!

What kind of stuff did you do for fun as a kid?
I grew up in South Africa so I had the perfect climate and countryside for outdoorsy stuff. We played on our bikes a lot, went camping, got into a lot of sports. Anything that included water was popular. It was a different time and we had the perfect weather for those kinds of activities.

What’s coming next?
Watch this space. Oh okay, I’ll tell you. We’re going to develop a Playnation in Mall of the Emirates. That’s the next big thing.

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