Forget the old timers: Aquaventure blows its competitors out of the water. Let’s start with the most important element: the slides. Not only does Aquaventure have the most extreme one in the UAE, in the shape of the 27.5m vertical drop known as the Leap of Faith – seriously, you won’t find a more intense adrenaline rush at a waterpark – but it also has a whole raft of other options. The Shark Attack slide allows riders to witness first-hand the majesty of these magnificent, sinister creatures – while floating past them on a rubber ring in a transparent tunnel. Surreal? Yes. Unbeatable? Certainly.
If the prospect of a close encounter with the finned fiends holds no more appeal than a gut-wrenching vertical drop, you’ll still be busy all day. Grab a rubber ring – ride solo or opt for a two-seater – then jump into the water, where the current and occasional rapids will whisk you along to the next uphill conveyor belt, which plops you out by the entrance to your next descent.
All the rides are available to kids above 1.1m tall, but for smaller tots there is an enormous, all-singing, all-dancing play area called Splashers. As they tear up and down the structure’s myriad stairways and slides, the water bucket that balances at the top occasionally upends its 1,200 litres on to squealing kids’ heads.
Aside from its rides, Aquaventure’s crowning glory is undoubtedly the view from the top of Ziggurat, the imposing central edifice. Being at the top of the Palm Jumeirah, you get an uninterrupted view of the Arabian Gulf. Still not sold? How about if we tell you there’s also a pristine, lifeguard-manned beach, the opportunity to swim with dolphins, and a fantastic aquarium next door? Not to mention lunches that are actually healthy, rather than the stodge-packed options on offer at most waterparks, and clean, modern changing rooms. In fact, the only downside to Aquaventure is the system they have for shooting you up slopes mid-ride: it can actually be quite painful if your rear end is poking out of your rubber ring. However, as soon as you master the ‘bum lift’ manoeuvre, you’ll soon forget it’s even a problem as you whiz around, wondering why you ever bothered with other waterparks.
Verdict: The newest and shiniest waterpark in the UAE, you should head here if thrills and very wet spills are your kind of adventure.
Unlike its bigger, faster, taller and Palm-perched brother, Wild Wadi isn’t a sleek waterpark. It’s fun, it’s daft, it’s a bit smaller than its competitors and it’s brought to life by a host of smiley Disney-esque Arab characters. We like our waterparks this way. We like fake rocks, fake storms, collapsing waterfalls and a good-old fashioned sense of imagination. You feel you’re in a waterpark, you feel a bit like a kid – and that is absolutely fine by us.
There are certain smart ideas that Wild Wadi has had that, for us, make it that bit more accessible. First off, there’s none of that conveyor belt nonsense down here.
The park is almost entirely navigable from within the water. Fast (occasionally swimwear-stealing) bursts of water jet you around the slides and park . This means fewer queues and none of that slightly embarrassing upward chugging that gets you onto the slides at Aquaventure.
Clearly, Wild Wadi isn’t as big as some waterparks (although a large-scale extension has been planned). At the moment, you can more-or-less cover all the attractions, maybe twice over, in only a couple of hours. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s easy to get everywhere, you don’t have to scale fake Mesopotamian temples to reach the signature slides and, if you splash out in one of the shaded areas, you can quite merrily spend a day sunbathing between intermittent bursts on the rides.
Sure, there are no frolicking dolphins or 2.5km of rapids, or even a hefty drop through a shark pool. Wild Wadi has none of these things, but its Jumeirah Scarer is slightly more horrendous and longer-lasting than Aquaventure’s three-second Leap of Faith. Why? Because it’s just that bit less sleek, there’s a persistent (entirely unfounded) feeling while you’re whizzing down there that you just might be flung off at any second. That’s the thrill of a slide, not struggling to keep your eyes open to glimpse the confused shark that has once again been surprised by a half-naked body whizzing through its habitat. It’s nothing too flashy and has a ’90s sense of how to have a good time – Wild Wadi might be getting on a bit, but the draw of Aquaventure means fewer crowds, fewer queues and more time in the water. This place, thankfully, doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Verdict: Good, wet, slightly outdated fun, but still worth at least one visit.
Dreamland Aquapark really had to pull its trunks up now that fancy-pants Aquaventure has arrived on the scene. Having undergone a bit of a facelift recently, we’re delighted to report it’s retained its down-to-earth charm. Okay, you have to drive 45 minutes north to Umm Al Quwain, but it’s hardly the other end of the world, and the journey provides plenty of camel-spotting opportunities.
Once you’ve paid your bargain Dhs100 entrance fee (Dhs70 for kids aged three to 11 years), you’ll be amazed at the space. There’s none of that impolite jostling for sun loungers that you’ll endure elsewhere. Parents can join their tots in the aqua play area – complete with water bouncers for babies, see-saws and a splashers’ area. And there’s plenty of room for the child-free to have a go on the more mellow slides, bumper boats and a wave pool, too. True, the rides are tamer than elsewhere, although the Twister – also dubbed the ‘Toilet’ because of the way you plop in, flush around then get dumped out the bottom – gets the blood pumping. But the beauty of Dreamland is that you rarely queue – and that there’s a ‘grown-ups only’ pool bar in the centre. We never thought we’d utter the words ‘relaxing’ and ‘waterpark’ in the same sentence, but at Dreamland, it’s possible.
Verdict: If this was a band, it would have an underground following. The UAE’s most relaxed park.
For waterpark entry fees.