From a toddler-sized supermarket to petrol pumps to refuel sit-on cars, Louise Emma Clarke takes her toddler to experience Galleries Lafayette’s hidden play area.
My 18-month old has reached the age where he wants to copy my everyday tasks, so when I found out about a play area in Galleries Lafayette with a town recreated in miniature form for kids, I couldn’t wait to take him down to explore.
Finding out about it was the easy bit. I searched online for information to no avail, while a friend told me there was a Facebook page with details, but I couldn’t find any trace. I was determined to discover more, so headed to the store on a research mission. I found Le Petit Palais tucked away amongst the Gourmet section of Galleries Lafayette on the second floor. There’s a chic, Parisian feel from the moment you approach, with candy-striped awnings over the windows and ornate streetlights mounted on the walls. An adorable gift section in shades of powder blue and sugar pink is located in the reception area and I couldn’t resist a browse before heading to the desk to enquire.
With all this saccharine sweetness, I expected a welcome to match, but sadly that wasn’t the case. I asked about opening times and prices, to be met with surly looks and short answers – and when I enquired about classes run at the premises, leaflets were thrust into my hand with instructions to call the companies directly. What they could tell me, however, was that there was no free playtime included in the price of classes, so I decided to opt for an hour of play in the miniature village instead.
Set out like a toddler-sized Parisian street, a wide road wound around the play area with trikes and cars to drive. The sidewalk was lined with a gas station, beauty salon, playhouse, patisserie and supermarket – and the latter had my son wide-eyed with excitement. With rows of fruit displayed on shelves, tiny trolleys to load and push, and a cash till to operate, it was heaven to a toddler that was just starting to develop his imagination.
Meanwhile in the walk-in beauty salon, little girls giggled as they sat on the grey leather chairs and pretended to enjoy pedicures, and those in the sherbet yellow playhouse sat at tables and sipped from plastic tea sets. Little thrill seekers on the road were pedaling cars and trikes as fast as they could, before pulling into the petrol station to refuel.
It was all quite idyllic – until, a stream of five-year olds and their parents suddenly flew through the swing doors, filling the place with groups of loudly chattering adults and hordes of children rushing around at speed. I worked out pretty quickly that they were here for a birthday party and hoped it would start soon in the adjoining room, but sadly the next 45 minutes were accompanied by a soundtrack of over-excited screeching, along with a cycle of pushing, rushing, and grabbing. My toddler was overwhelmed – and to be quite honest, I didn’t feel much better as I held onto his shopping trolley in an attempt to keep his newly imagined world alive.
Feeling a little frazzled, we headed out to reception at the end of our 60-minute session to discover our buggy blocked in by those belonging to the party guests. Despite struggling to extract it, while holding onto an objecting toddler (who didn’t want to be separated from his ‘apples, apples!’) and an obvious 27-week pregnant bump, nobody on reception lifted a finger to help. By this point, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.
So, would I head back? Yes, but only when I am least likely to discover a birthday party, which the staff grumpily informed me was weekday mornings. The play area is really quite exceptional – but for Dhs80 for the first hour, this is one of the most expensive play areas in Dubai and it simply isn’t big enough for older children to be rushing around in such numbers. A quick warning when we arrived would have prepared me for the crowds and allowed me to choose whether I still wanted to part with my cash. And on that note, service with a smile would go a long way to improving the overall experience.
Le Petit Palais is located on the Second Floor of Galleries Lafayette, Dubai Mall (04 3827333 ext 2754) and is open daily 10am-10pm.