For the aqua adventure of a lifetime, you might not instinctively set your internal sat nav to the desert. But look past Dubai‘s golden sands and you’ll see sparkling blue pools and an ocean. Peer around the skyscrapers and you’ll see a creek filled with traditional boats. Where the desert ends, the adventure on water begins as Kirstie Pelling from the Family Adventure Project finds out when she discovers Aqua Dubai with the family…
Splashed in sunshine, water and laughter, we meander down more than two kilometres of lazy river on a tyre. Every few metres someone smiles, spins us around and gives us a push down a rapid. Today we are part of something much bigger than us; a man made, palm shaped island in the sea. The Palm is one of Dubai’s ambitious engineering projects to extend its coastline and increase the fun for visitors. Because Dubai aims to please its visitors. And then some.
World class waterparks
In Atlantis, The Palm Resort you can interact with divers, feed sting rays and walk underwater
with the creatures of the sea. You can take a Leap of Faith ride through a shark tank, meet dolphins, and parade through aquariums filled with 65,000 marine creatures. Or you can simply stand and watch, mesmerised, as someone cleans the windows of the tank. From its entrance hall with blown glass sculpture to its beach front pool, this themed resort makes the ocean the star of the show.
And it’s not the only world class waterpark in the city. There are two in Dubai and one on Yas Island near Abu Dhabi, just an hour’s drive away. All offer something unique. Wild Wadi, based on an Aladdin theme, is a high thrill adventure, where you can be thrown around to your hearts content then terrify yourself by climbing into a capsule and feeling the floor disappear under your feet. Meanwhile Yas Island’s Yas Waterworld is a new, high tech park with 43 rides that engages you on an interactive adventure where you can choose you own light and sound in dark twisting tunnels.
Feeding the city
Dubai has an interesting relationship with the wet stuff. There is hardly any rain yet the city manages to produce and consume up to 300 million gallons of water a day in peak season. It comes up with ever more ingenious ways of desalinating it and pushing it up its Gotham City style towers, including the tallest skyscraper in the world- the Burj Khalifa. And it uses it to have fun and cool down. (Water is a vital factor in air conditioning the city) Wherever you go in this dry location, there are opportunities to splash, sail, float, paddle and luxuriate in water. One of the most surprising uses for it is the extraordinary Miracle Garden; the largest natural flower garden in the world. My children, quite often unimpressed with their environment, excitedly flutter like butterflies around 45 million flowers. Yes, you heard me right. And all fresh as a daisy.
Adventures on the creek
Our adventure begins on the creek, and it’s here we keep returning to. A magical place, especially in the evenings, where the sun goes down in a spectacle of orange just as the nearby souk owners are ramping up for a night’s trading. On our first day we sail down the creek in style on an afternoon dhow cruise, as part of our Big City Bus Tour. This waterway has played an important historical role in the development of the city; in the beginning locals went diving for pearls in its depths, then the fisherman worked it’s shallow, warm waters and now a mix of traders and tourists sail past its skyscraper lined banks by day and night. You can take a dinner cruise for the full experience.
In the evening we venture forth on our own, paying one dirham to the ferryman and joining the commuters on the water. This feels like authentic Dubai, but not as authentic as the old wooden dhows bringing in goods from India and even further afield, and piling them on the side of the river.
From simple to elaborate
Crossing the creek is a simple pleasure, but there are more flamboyant ways to experience water in this wealthy United Arab Emirates State. You can swim in the infinity pools of a seemingly infinite number of hotels or you can enjoy the biggest orchestrated fountains in the world at Dubai Mall. And you stumble across huge water features on the walls in unexpected places, like Dubai Mall and the airport.
The wider picture
And let’s not forget the ocean. Dubai is located on the south east coast of the Persian Gulf and thrill seekers can skydive over The Palm Jumeirah, while day trippers are taking a more relaxing dhow cruise of the islands. We venture onto a quiet part of Jumeriah Beach, late in the evening. By the light of a mosque we dip our toes into the water. We could be the only people in the world. They say that when the Dubai fountains are in full flow, you can see them from space. Down on earth, we try and splash the stars.