Dubai’s climate can be torture for kids: the bright sunshine and swaying palm trees in the garden look tempting, but as soon as they put one sandal-clad toe out the door, they’re greeted by a blast of heat even the most dedicated tan-a-holic would balk at and promptly think better of it. And because being confined to the house drives them stir crazy, life also becomes hellish for you.
One of the few outdoor activities that they can feasibly endure for more than five minutes is swimming. Be it pool or sea, give them access to the cool wet stuff and they’ll happily splash around for hours, burning off that pesky energy and making your weekends a lot more enjoyable.
A real boost to the joys of swimming can come in the form of scuba diving, which adds a whole new level of fun and excitement to time spent submerged. PADI-approved Bubblemaker courses are available to kids aged eight to 12 from Al Boom Diving (04 342 2993), near the Iranian Hospital on Al Wasl Road, and are there to introduce kids to the art of scuba diving (or ‘blowing bubbles’) in a safe, controlled environment. The half-day programmes cost Dhs275 and are fantastic for building kids’ confidence, both socially and in the water. They learn under the supervision of a qualified PADI instructor in a pool no deeper than two metres, using child-sized equipment. Being a pro swimmer isn’t essential, but pupils should be confident enough to hold their own when out of their depth.
‘But Bubblemaker sessions are just for fun really,’ says Mohamed Helmy, an instructor at Al Boom. ‘If they really want to learn to dive, I’d advise them to opt for the PADI Seal Team course.’ Although this too is limited to the swimming pool, it is a much more intensive, educational experience which sends children on special missions and teaches them to a standard high enough that they could do an open water dive once they’ve completed the training. They are available for kids aged eight to 12, and the three or four-day courses (duration depends on how quickly the child learns) cost Dhs1,750.
If your little mermaid (or man) is a bit older, they can do a Dhs2,250 PADI-approved Junior Open Water course. The nice chaps at Al Boom will take children aged 10-14 off your hands for 14 mixed-venue classes, during which classroom-based academic sessions featuring DVDs and group discussions are combined with practice time in the pool and, finally, open water dives. Group sizes are no bigger than six, so by the time the course is completed, your child should be confident accompanying you on an open water dive (or even teaching you how to do it!).
Unfortunately, Dubai doesn’t offer particularly marvellous marine life: ‘It used to be good here, but not anymore,’ laments Helmy. ‘Because of the Palm construction work, it’s much better to go to the East Coast nowadays.’ The good news is that it is perfectly possible to go on a day trip and see an array of sea animals that any aquarium would be proud of.
The mountainous Omani province of Musandam might be a bit of a trek from Dubai, but the opportunities it presents are definitely worth it. Turtles abound, it’s not uncommon to see dolphins jumping the crystal clear waves and there are also some unusual types of diving on offer. Al Marsa Musandam (+968 26 836995), based in Dibba, will take you drift diving (where you allow the current to carry you along) and wall diving (involving 20m underwater cliffs) on a traditional wooden dhow. Prices, including lunch and equipment, start from Dhs390; visit www.musandamdiving.com for more details.
And if you don’t fancy travelling this far, a quick trip to Abu Dhabi will also yield a good array of creatures lurking beneath the waves. According to Sohaib Dahdal, an instructor at Abu Dhabi’s Rotana Beach Club (02 697 9313), the coral reef plays host to over 1,900 species, including angel fish, barracudas, stingrays and even sharks. ‘Don’t worry though,’ Dahdal reassures us; ‘They’re reef sharks, so they’re vegetarian!’ In addition to living creatures, there are several mysterious shipwrecks dotted around the seabed, which are bound to intrigue your kids.
Abu Dhabi’s surrounding islets are also well worth a day trip on a boat, and have basins and canals which are suitable for the scuba-shy to snorkel in. If you fancy splashing out (pardon the pun), charter a speedboat from Arabian Divers (050 614 6931) for the day (prices start from Dhs1,100). ‘We also offer luxury yachts,’ says company director Greg Heinricks. ‘And because they’re being chartered, customers can go wherever they want.’