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Hello Egy
Sheik, rattle & roll in Dubai, the Middle Eastern city that does fun with a capital F


By LYDIA SLATER: 

 

The belly dancer in her jewelled costume undulated around the dining room while the cameras flashed. Yes, she was doing a pretty good job. But I was more intrigued by the line of little girls following behind her, clad in sashes sewn with tiny bells and doing their best to copy her wiggles. Among them were my daughters Asya, eight, red with exertion, and seven-year-old Rosie, tongue sticking out as she concentrated on the steps. 


They were certainly getting into the swing of their first Arabian holiday. Like many people, I've thought of Dubai only as somewhere you have to transit through on your way to more interesting terrain. My husband Richard and I stopped here on the way back from our honeymoon and, having spent five hours hanging around the duty free, I considered I'd exhausted its facilities - and my new husband's patience. I never regarded it as a holiday destination in itself. 

But we weren't prepared to wait for spring any longer - and then a friend said April or May is the perfect time to visit Dubai. So we left London in the chill and arrived, bleary-eyed, in the promising 32c heat. (In the summer, it gets so hot they have to chill the swimming pools.) Our hotel, the JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort, occupies a prime spot 20 minutes outside the city, towards Abu Dhabi, on a white sandy beach. It has several swimming pools, restaurants offering everything from Japanese cuisine to beach barbecues and entertainment, which included the belly dancer. Its sizeable gardens, criss-crossed with streams full of fish and turtles, are inhabited by dozens of peacocks. 


The peacocks that roost in the palm trees like oversized pigeons woke us with their strange miaowing calls at 7am with such regularity that the children renamed them the 'peaclocks'. Naturally, there were the usual children's clubs on offer, but with amenities including a beautifully kept petting zoo, which had two friendly camels alongside the usual rabbits, goats and chickens, and a riding stables populated by Arab ponies and Shetlands, whose coats had been clipped into fantastic swirls, we really didn't think we'd ever need to use them. 

On our first full day, I leapt eagerly from bed, desperate to see the sun for the first time in what seemed like months. Alas, the sky had turned an ominous yellow colour. Then it started to rain. 'We haven't had rain like this for two years!' one member of staff told us ecstatically. Richard and I looked at each other in dismay. Staying stuck indoors with our grumpy, jet-lagged children was a grim prospect. 'Take them to the mall,' advised a kindly resident, who had arrived for a riding lesson. 

'But they hate shopping!' 

'Doesn't matter,' she said, somewhat mysteriously. For in Dubai, malls are far more than merely places to shop. 


The Mall of the Emirates contains one of the world's largest indoor ski slopes, with real snow and live penguins. And if the 1,200 shops of the Dubai Mall, ranging from Marks & Spencer to Missoni, ever start to pall, you can try scuba-diving with sharks in the giant aquarium, ice-skating on the Olympic-sized rink or browsing the world's biggest sweetshop, Candylicious. Naturally, we headed there first and the girls disappeared into a Willy Wonka world of strangely-flavoured jelly beans, lollipops the size of your head and sweets you can play tunes on and draw pictures with before eating them. 

Just opposite the entrance is the aquarium, so while they stocked up on e-numbers, Richard and I watched the antics of a giant stingray. It worked its way industriously along the 160ft tank, oblivious to the gang of silent sharks hanging out under the dock like Mafiosi. Next on our to-do list was Kidzania, a role-play park in which children get a chance to try out different jobs and earn pretend money in a scaled-down city. But the queue was off-puttingly enormous - as were the prices. 


It would have cost around £100 for the four of us to go in, which seemed a bit steep to experience life as a window-washer, house painter or supermarket cashier. Instead, we trudged past the shops selling jewelled boxes of smoked salmon-flavoured macaroons to Sega Republic, a computer-game theme park. The girls had a wonderful time zapping zombies, riding jeeps through simulated jungles and, in one particularly tasteless game, sitting on toilets firing water cannons at the feet of cartoon bathers in an effort to win hideous stuffed toys. 

When we emerged at last, the sky had cleared. Above us, the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, zig-zagged into the brilliant sky like a lightning strike, its spire visible from 59 miles away. And Dubai itself, which in the rain had appeared to be an entirely sand-coloured version of Manhattan, revealed its true colours, the space-age buildings gleaming in metallic skins of gold, silver, blue and green. We were impressed by the sail-like Burj Al Arab shimmering in the distance. Hard to believe that just half an hour away is the desert, unchanged for millennia. Wanting to see this other Dubai, with the children enticed by the prospect of camel rides, we signed up for a desert safari.


I felt a twinge of unease at the sight of our driver, Mohammed, who was clad in sober white robes, but had a distinctly piratical twinkle in his eye. Having lowered his tyre pressure, he set off at nose-bleeding speed across the desert, charging the jeep up sheer cliffs of ochre-coloured sand and then surfing down them sideways. This real-life rollercoaster ride lasted 45 minutes.

Richard loved it as much as Mohammed did. I thought we were all going to die, and poor Rosie was sick and her sunhat blew away in the desert wind, last seen heading towards Iran. When we finally arrived at our desert camp, the lurching, gurgling camels seemed, by comparison, to be as sedate as club armchairs. 

As we swayed across the sands towards the setting sun, I remembered with astonishment how I'd been worried that a family trip to Dubai might be a little bit boring. 

 

dailymail

 

 

By: manager Date Added: 2013-04-20 Comment: 0 Views :3332

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