Lots of families live very happily in Dubai, but some parents fall into the trap of buying their children things to make up for deficits they perceive in the lifestyle they are offering them. Really, this is not necessary and most unwise and may be what leads to some children in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) being labeled ‘expat brats’.
You may have to work long hours in Dubai, but unlikely to be longer than in your home country. You may live in an apartment when you lived in a house with a garden before. This is only going to assume a significant negative importance to your family if you allow it to.
Choosing a School
One thing you will need to put a good deal of thought into is schooling. Your children will need to go to private schools where the fees are high, so make sure that that is included in your overall employment package. That sorted, you need to start looking at which school to send them to.
There is no easy way to choose a school. Kings, Dubai has been rated ‘outstanding’ every year since 2008. But ratings depend on the view of the rater. You need to visit the schools, talk to as many of the teachers as possible and try to get a feel for the culture of the school. Then there is the issue of whether or not there is a place for your child. I have faced this myself in three countries with my children. I know it is difficult and there is no one right solution.
Transporting children to and from school can be done by school bus. The service has been drastically improved in recent years and the school buses are all painted bright yellow and fully equipped with stop signs and air-conditioning. Alternatively, you could drive your children yourself or join a carpool with other parents. Keep in mind that there is always a lot of traffic at home time and virtually no parking. Safely collecting your children is hazardous and often the behavior of other anxious parents makes things worse.
Fun Time for Babies
There are lots of great activities for mothers and babies, such as sensory activities, music classes, massage classes, and even swimming classes. Most of these classes encourage mothers to come along for a free trial. For me that is a good way to start. Through these classes you will get to know other mother and baby groups that the people you meet introduce you to.
Fun Time for Kids
Clearly, because it is often hot in Dubai, you need to find activities that involve water or that take place indoors. I’ll start with one that combines both these things. It’s Little Explorers 5 Zones in Mirdif City Center. Here kids can struggle into waterproof aprons and have a splashing good time with the water. But there is so much more. In all, there are five zones which offer challenges and fun, combining learning with play. Parents enjoy the experience as much as children.
The opposite end of the scale to this attractive educational play area are the many arcade facilities in the major malls such as Mirdif City Center, and Dubai Mall. The first thing you will notice is the overwhelming smell of sugary treats with a lower note of fat. The sound level must be just below damaging as each game competes for the attention of the players and there is the volume of chatter from the many children and their families enjoying the fun.
Aquariums and Sports Activities
Somewhere in between these two extremes there are other pursuits such as rock climbing and horse riding. There is a very safe looking climbing wall in the Galleria Mall and the company that offers this activity center offers many other options for outdoor adventures. As there are now so many climbing walls options, you will want to look for the one that is nearest to you or the one that has the best safety record. As far as I know, indoor rock climbing is a safe sport that looks much more dangerous to parents than it really is, but this does depend on the care taken with equipment and supervision by the staff.
The desert is an ideal place to ride and riding has always been a popular pastime. There are many options to choose from and these are but a few: the Dubai Equestrian Club, the Mushrif Equestrian Club, and lessons are offered at the Meydan Race Course.
Then of course, there is Ski Dubai, which offers more than just skiing although it is a good place to get your children started with the concept of fun on the slopes. It is much colder than you might expect as, of course, there is no sunshine. Basically, it is like skiing on a gloomy day. It also has a penguin enclosure where small groups of visitors can get very close indeed to these delightful little creatures as they set their own course through the enclosure. Cleanliness is scrupulously maintained for the benefit of the penguins, but you are allowed to touch them if they come close enough to you.
The ice rink in Dubai Mall is very large and easily accessible. It is a convenient place to watch your children at play as well. Or you could nip off for a quick race around the shops.
Dubai also offers several interesting aquarium options. The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo in the center of Dubai Mall is so big it can be enjoyed at no cost, or you can buy various types of tickets for the other experiences it offers which include scuba diving in the tank and penguins. There is also a large aquarium at Atlantis – the Lost Chambers Aquarium. Much like the aquarium in Dubai Mall, some of it is visible at no cost, but there is so much more if you go in and the staff are very informative.
Atlantis also has a water park – the Aquaventure Water Park. Along with the exhilaration of the rides, similar to those available at Wild Wadi Water Park, there is the opportunity to swim with dolphins. These water parks are as good as, or better than, any you have previously encountered.
Dubai is not without culture. A quick search will locate a variety of centers offering ballet and music lessons.
And don’t forget, not every fun activity has to cost a lot of money. When it’s cool, the parks are great fun especially Al Mamzar and the Jumeirah Beach Park. Lots of families come to picnic in Dubai Cable Car Park as well in the months from November to March, and even later if they come in the evenings.
Relax, there is plenty to do.