If I have to go to one more shopping mall soft play area this month I am going to go crazy,” said, well, just about every Dubai parent ever at some stage. It gets even worse when kids get older and the distraction of a ball pool and a slippy slide become less of an attraction to your clan.
The time-honoured tradition of grabbing a couple of board games and a bag of crisps and going off for an afternoon at grandma’s house is out of the question for most of us as well. Unless, of course, you are able to jump on a jet and fly there and back in time for bedtime stories.
With summer holidays still a few months away it can feel like there is a long stretch ahead and no amount of colouring books and ice creams are going to fill the time.
But don’t fear, there is always the great family day out to enjoy. Time Out Kids has packed the car, marked the map and we’re going on a road trip...
Ski three ways in one day
It is expensive and it doesn’t mean getting far out of the city, but there are not too many places in the world where you can waterski, sand ski and actually ski in one 24-hour period. If you can afford it (lucky you) then spreading the skimania from noon to noon the following day gives you the chance to recharge with a sleep in between.
Our suggested ordering is to sand ski in the afternoon with one of the many local tour providers. It is actually sandboarding rather than skiing and a company such as The Dubai Safari organises trips and provides all the equipment (www.thedubaidafari.com, 052 937 2201).
Follow this with a trip to Ski Dubai (www.skidxb.com, 800 386) in the evening. Whether you go for skiing or snowboarding lessons or just opt for tobogganing it is one of Dubai’s finer attractions.
The next morning, complete the trinity with waterskiing at a Dubai beach club. The Jebel Ali Golf Resort (www.jaresortshotels.com, 04 814 5550) has good watersports facilities and a lot of open water on its doorstep to learn the basics of water-skiing. Too much for one day? Probably. Something that will be remembered forever? Definitely.
Swim with sharks at Snoopy Rock
The Sandy Beach Motel has been a favourite getaway for Dubai residents since the 1970s.
On the coastal road between Fujairah and the fishing village of Dibba, it is notable for a rock formation about 100m out to sea. A home to thousands of fish, sharks (harmless, we are assured) and beautiful coral formations, it can be considered one of the delights of the UAE. The drive is a couple of hours, although sights of roadside camels, the Hajar mountains and a few smaller settlements should pass the time. Scuba trips can be organised at the Sandy Beach Motel, but snorkelling is good enough to appeal to the whole family.
Sandy Beach Hotel, Al Aqah, Fujairah, www.sandybeachhotel.ae (09 244 5555).
Feed giraffes in Al Ain
The Al Ain Zoo is home to 4,000 animals and is a world-class organisation less than two hours drive from Dubai. A partner of the prestigious San Diego Zoo and one which does good work to care for animals, including endangered species.
What's more it has good education programmes for children. Leopards, rhinos, zebras, meerkats, gorillas and many more animals are in the large enclosures. It is possible to get up close to select animals and there are frequent talks for children of all ages.
Al Ain Zoo, Al Ain, www.alainzoo.ae (800 966).
Dig for fossils in the desert
Real road trippers in Dubai know that the best trips involve going off-road as well. Dune bashing in a 4x4 is a rousing adventure and one of the few ways to experience genuine thrills in the country. Make sure you travel in convoy and get some experience before attempting the most extreme dunes and you could soon get the off-roading bug. Very young children might be slightly nervous, but if done safely it is an excitement for driver and passengers alike as you bounce over the crest of a dune and descend down a steep sandy drop on the other side.
One of the most popular spots for beginners (and also a popular campsite) is Fossil Rock. After some dune bashing be sure to make time to dig for fossils in the rocky hills and outcrops. Take the Dubai/Hatta Road (E44) for 31km until you reach a flyover. At the roundabout, take the second exit into Al Awir. Take the right turn before the second mosque, then drive past a palace and some shops until you reach a sandy track. Head up the dunes, following the power lines across a main road until you reach Camel Rock and, further on, Fossil Rock.
Climb a mountain in Hatta
A road trip needs a destination or an activity of some kind. Otherwise you’re just driving around aimlessly. Pack the kids in the car and aim for the mountain village of Hatta. The excellent Hatta Heritage Village (www.dubaiculture.ae, 04 852 1374) is a replica settlement which demonstrates the traditions of the area and describes mountain life of centuries gone by. It is free of charge and one of the best museums in the country. While in Hatta make time to hike the hills and mountains that are a backdrop to the village.
While there is advanced climbing for serious adventurers, more modest yet still challenging walks are available for families. The Hatta Fort Hotel has great facilities including archery, mini-golf and pools to splash about in if you get a day pass to break up the journey.
Hatta Fort Hotel, Hatta, www.jaresortshotels.com (04 809 9333).
Go white water rafting in Al Ain
The garden city of Al Ain is home to some surprising gems and none more so than extreme activity park Wadi Adventure.
With surfing simulators, white water rafting channels, an aerial assault course, zip wires, wakeboarding and kayaking facilities it is a place where the whole family can get in touch with their adventurous side.
Less than two hours away from Dubai city centre and with the facilities and training of a Colorado retreat, it is a road trip destination for thrill-seeking outdoor enthusiasts.
Wadi Adventure, Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
Watch bull-butting in Fujairah
The ingredients for a good road trip should involve an intriguing sight at the end of the journey, something to see along the way and a touch of the unexpected. All of which make the East coast emirate of Fujairah the destination you need to point your car at. The sea over on that side of the country seems so much clearer and full of life so a day at any of the beach clubs or boat trip providers in Fujairah is many people’s idea of a great road trip.
On the drive over stop at the Masafi Friday Market (assuming you’re travelling on a Friday, obviously). If you’re driving the E88 you will find this roadside shopping experience and be sure to stop and take in the sights, sounds and smells as well as pick out bargain rugs, ceramics and fresh fruit and vegetables. The traditional experience should always be paired with some bull-butting on the Fujairah corniche.
Every Friday on an open and flat stretch of dusty, bare land, hundreds of spectators gather to watch the ancient sport of bull-butting.
The sport entails two enormous bulls locking horns and undertaking bouts of what is best described as ‘bull sumo’. To witness this unforgettable sight, drive to the Oman end of the corniche and turn right. Crowds start to appear at around 5pm.
Camel riding in Ras Al Khaimah
There is something of an adventure feel to Ras Al Khaimah that makes us want to go all Indiana Jones every time we visit. That is exactly what we suggest you allow yourself to do. Whether it is the mountains behind or the sea in front, we like to channel our inner hero here and a trip to the Al Wadi Equestrian Adventure centre is the place to do it.
With horse riding, pony riding and camel rides to enjoy, it is a fine place to get in the saddle. Throw in some falconry and archery lessons and you'll know that your day trip has taken you to a world far away from the skyscrapers and suburbs of Dubai. The horse treks take riders across 500 hectares of the Wadi Khadeja reserve where Arabian gazelles, camels and oryx roam freely.
Al Wadi Equestrian Adventure Centre, Ras Al Khaimah, www.alwadiequestrian.com (07 243 5422).
A souq safari in Sharjah
As Dubai’s next door neighbour Sharjah is the obvious destination for a short road trip.
The attractions and ambience are different to what you find in Dubai and we reckon a visit to the souqs should be close to the top of your itinerary. The ornate tiles of the Central Market, better known as the 'Blue Souq' give it a picture-postcard exterior. Inside the arresting Islamic architecture is an unrivalled shopping experience with tradesmen in hundreds of tiny independent shops selling Yemeni jewels, Rajhastani treasure chests, Afghan rugs and more well-travelled nik-naks. Barter for bargains and get a truly memorable experience to go with it. Located at Al Majaz, at the end of Corniche Road, close to Khalid Lagoon. Open Sat-Thu 9am-1pm, 4pm-11pm; Fri 9am-noon, 4pm-11pm, www.shjmun.gov.ae (06 562 3333).
Take a nature trek on Sir Bani Yas Island
More than 200km from Abu Dhabi airport and an additional 8km off the West coast, this is a considerable road trip that would perhaps be best paired with an overnight stay as well.
No matter how much time you can allocate to Sir Bani Yas Island it is a highlight of the region.
Formerly a private island of Sheikh Zayed, the late ruler of the UAE, it is now a wildlife reserve with daily safaris and some of the most incredible views in the country.
See giraffes, hyenas, cheetahs and dozens of other animals from the back of a custom-made 4x4 vehicle. This trip should definitely be on the family bucket list!
Geological and archaeological sites are visible as well around the area.
Sir Bani Yas Island, Desert Islands, www.sirbaniyasisland.com (800 8342).