Children don’t recognise injuries sustained in a soft play area. It is one of the great unexplained truths of parenthood. The mildest brush with a soft pillow at bedtime might lead to howls of anguish, yet a sickening thud over a padded wall or a high-speed slide crash will only result in giddy squeals of delight.
A relatively new phenomenon (we don’t recall ever visiting primary colour palaces so grand when we were kids), soft-play activity centres are all the more important in a Dubai summer. With beaches, parks and even neighbourhood streets too hot for an energy-burning run-around, these fun-houses are an absolute gift to parents, especially as you don’t tidy up afterwards. So, here’s where to find Dubai’s best indoor playdate locations.
The tagline “pamper and play” tells you much of what you need to know about this edutainment centre. It has a lower-key, more sensitive approach to bedlam than more chaotic play places. You will still find energetic toddlers dashing around, bouncing off walls and diving into ball pools, but there is more going on here. There are even salon services, meaning kids can get haircuts and manis and pedis, which is a good option for siblings as one child can go and play while the other gets groomed. Parent-child classes such as Boogie Babes and Bright Minds use Caboodle as a base, or you can simply drop in for free play in a zone where parents and carers are expected to stay nearby.
Open Sun-Thu 10am-11pm; Fri-Sat 10am-midnight. Caboodle, Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.caboodle.ae (04 325 3367).
CreaKids Play Zone
Trampoline? Check. Multi-storey climbing apparatus with slides and padded mazes to explore? Check. Role play houses to stomp around and make believe in? Check. Named after the great explorer himself, Ibn Battuta Mall is inspiring enough for young minds as it is, so this easy play area in the Egypt Court is a good option for younger children in need of a mid-shop stop-off.
Open Sun-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat 10am-midnight. CreaKids Play Zone, Ibn Battuta Mall, www.creakids.ae (04 361 9315).
You can find this homegrown brand in locations across the city and it is a worthy winner of a Highly Commended gong in the Best Soft Play category at the 2016 Time Out Dubai Kids Awards. A large play space and lots of attractions kids will actually want to have a go on are to be found here. That means mini zip lines, a brilliant dressing up area and an enormous ball pit are all on offer. Many visitors (of the adult type) have been pleased to discover there is Starbucks coffee available just next door.
Open Sat-Wed 9am-9pm; Thu-Fri 9am-10pm. Cheeky Monkeys, Al Barsha Mall, Al Barsha, www.cheekymonkeys.com (04 385 0875).
Motor City residents are quick to point to the community spirit and quieter pace of life compared to other Dubai neighbourhoods that makes it ideal for families. They also hold up the likes of this multiple award-winning play place as a reason for them to not have to leave or for outsiders to come in for a visit. The presence of a café means mums and dads can share stories from sleepless nights over free Wi-Fi while young’uns burn through unbelievable levels of energy. A separate zone for toddlers and a play place for up to ten years old makes it age-appropriate.
Open daily 9am-8pm. Extreme Fun, Motor City, opposite Spinneys, www.extremefun.ae (04 452 5543).
It’s not the largest play centre in Dubai, nor is this Town Centre Jumeirah spot the most boisterous and run-around exhausting. It might, however, be the most whimsical. A princess castle and a pirate ship are awaiting little imaginations to come and bring them to life. Compared to some of the larger centres, some of that imagination is going to come in handy as there are not as many activities present here. That said, for younger children the bedtime story charm will reward better imaginations and encourage actual engagement with the environment rather than simply running around and yelling.
Daily. 10am-10pm. Fairytales, Town Centre Jumeirah, www.fairytales.ae (04 344 5050).
It might not be on the tourist trail but Dubai families are all too aware that Oasis Mall is something of an unsung gem. Apart from the fact it is less crowded, has easy parking, is easy to access, has family-focused stores plus the brilliant Balance Café, it is also home to a branch of Fun City. Split into two different areas, it is a giant entertainment centre. One side houses the games arcade and the other an appealing soft play area. Suitable for older children, there are obstacle courses, rope bridges, slides, a few touch-screen games, soft ball cannons and interactive games as well as some of the best-designed exploration zones we’ve found.
Open Sun-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat 10am-midnight. Fun City, Oasis Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.funcity.ae (04 339 7783).
Funky Monkeys Playland
Quite what the attraction is with children sliding into a ball pool, crawling through aerial assault courses or just banging their heads against padded crashmats for an hour or two we still don’t know. Despite years of research there really is no reasonable explanation. Yet they love it. There is a loose jungle theme at this Sheikh Zayed Road facility, lending it a slight outdoorsy feel. Working on the assumption that it is too hot to play outside and you may as well play inside, it is unsurprising that this is a popular summer spot for birthday parties. Oh, there is a laser arcade for older children, too. No, adults can't.
Open Sun-Thu, 9am-9pm; Fri-Sat, 9.30am-10pm. Funky Monkeys Playland, Al Wasl Centre, near Business Bay Metro station, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.funkymonkeysuae.com (04 388 4114).
JLT residents, rejoice. There is a small play area in the neighbourhood just a stroller’s, er, stroll away. Much smaller than many of the sprawling warehouses found elsewhere in the city, it is more a very well-equipped café. Equipment is cute and well-maintained and actually rather charming. Best-suited to young toddlers, there is a mini-village inside. Kids can access by car (pedal-powered) or foot and move between a garage, grocery store and even a service station. A split-level soft play area makes the most of limited space and parents can kick back in the café at the front.
Open daily. 10am-7pm. Kiddies Café, Lake Shore Tower, Cluster Y, JLT, www.kiddiescafe.com (04 360 8571).
Let us say right away that this Umm Suqeim family haven was unhesitatingly named as the Best Soft Play Venue in Dubai at the 2016 Time Out Kids Awards. Reasonably-priced and well organised, with early opening hours, a creative layout and open to lots of enriching partners, Kids HQ sets the standard rivals are measured against. While we love that it is a community hub, which actually pulls in people from far and wide to music lessons, mother and child sessions and junior fitness, it is just as acceptable to stop in and just enjoy some free play. All the expected slides, courses and soft landings are present and correct.
Open Sun-Wed 8.30am-7pm; Thu and Sun, 8.30am-8pm; Fri, 10am-8pm. Kids HQ, Umm Suqeim Road, Al Barsha, www.kidshq.ae (04 379 4233).
Another jungle-themed playcare facility in Dubai. Working on the assumption (a kid told us this was true) that you can never have enough of them, this iteration can be found out in Dubai Silicon Oasis. A joy for young families in that neighbourhood, it has themed slides, climbing toys, tunnels, a ball pool and soft play to explore. On top all of that there are activities and classes every day making it a good place to regularly meet other parents while the kids run wild.
Open Daily. 9am-10pm. Kids Jungle, Cedre Shopping Centre, Dubai Silicon Oasis, www.kidsjungle.ae (04 333 7388).
The joyous thing about having 4,500 square feet to play with is that you can cram a lot in. That means there are spacious zones such as a multi-tiered playground with all the crash mats and netting a sugar-rushed toddler could hope for. There is also a cartoon-style mock market, a toddler town for very young ones to bump about in, an art gallery, console arcade, Lego building room and a few surprises thrown in for good measure. An onsite salon and spa for little ones makes this place even more enticing.
Open Sat-Wed, 9am-10pm; Thurs and Fri, 9am-12am. Kidz Palooza, Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.kidzpalooza.ae (04 330 7101).
Le Petit Palais
You would think the children playing inside a faux town inside an upmarket French department store would be somehow different to the urchins you see belching about in the average ball pool. No such chance. That said, the attractions are not what you could call run of the mill. Toddler Town is 60 square metres of imaginary town, complete with paved streets, beauty salon, petrol station and a classic chateau. Elsewhere there is an art studio, driving track and even a private karaoke room.
Open daily 10am-10pm. Le Petit Palais, Galaries Lafayette, Dubai Mall, www.lepetitpalaisdubai.com (04 382 7333).
Any venue hoping to attract the parent-dollar that purposefully adds the word monster into its name is very brave. Or, in the case of this Sheikh Zayed Road play place, very confident that the sheer volume of available space is going to keep children very busy indeed. Trampolines, mini-rock climbing, obstacle courses, chase tunnels, slides and all type of padded fun awaits your giddy explorers.
Open Sun-Wed, 9am-7pm; Thu-Sat, 9am-8pm. Mini Monsters, DNATA Building, Business Bay, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.minimonsters.net (04 259 8843).
Every neighbourhood should have an easy access and convenient soft play centre. If Time Out Kids were in charge that would be part of the manifesto. Playdates is already established as exactly that on the Palm Jumeirah. A baby zone for under-threes and another example of the now popular pretend city concept (this one having a small house, market and doctor's clinic) are both here. Bigger, by which we mean more boisterous, children have a shiny indoor maze and gym to gambol around in. Perfect.
Open Sun-Thu 9.30am-10pm; Fri-Sat 9am-10pm. Building 5, Golden Mile 1,Palm Jumeirah, www.playdates.ae (800 75293).