The aquarium in Dubai Mall is listed on the Aquarium’s website as “the largest suspended aquarium in the world”. Impressive stuff, even if you’re not quite sure what this actually means. So it isn’t the world’s biggest – that’s the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta – nor does it have the biggest front panel – that honor goes to China’s Chime-Long Ocean Kingdom – but Dubai, not unexpectedly, does manage to stack up some pretty impressive stats to back its Aquarium’s claim to uniqueness. For a start, it’s in the middle of a shopping mall! It holds the second largest body of water by volume (2.64 million gallons, or 10 million litres) of any aquarium anywhere, and that great acrylic front panel – the biggest wide-screen TV you could ever want to watch – is nearly 9 metres high by almost 33 metres wide and 75 centimetres thick! OK, you say, the numbers stack up, but what do I really get by going there? Read on!
Pssst! Could be the greatest freebie in Dubai!
Look at the photos on Google Images of Dubai Aquarium: the ones taken from the second or third floors of the Mall. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling people, right? And pretty much any time you visit, that’s the way it is, because it costs nothing to stand and look at the big fish tank. Wouldn’t it be great to be there, to stand wherever you wished and have no pushers, shovers or elbow-jabbers ruining your musings? Well you can have all this serenity and here’s how: Friday morning. Get there early. OK, the shops may mostly be closed until 10.00am, but there’s nothing says you can’t wander through the Mall, make a beeline for the Aquarium and voila! Virtually no one else is there! Between 8.00am and 10.00am on any Friday morning, you can have it almost to yourself. From 10.00am onwards, the people start to arrive, but it’s still not too bad and nothing compared with how it will be from 2.00pm until closing time. Dante didn’t include being stuck in Dubai Mall (or any UAE mall, for that matter) on a Friday afternoon/early evening in any of his visions of hell, but he sure should have!
I’ve finished looking at the big front window. Now what?
Appetites whetted? Like to see more and closer up? Well, a ticket to explore the Aquarium via the tunnel through the middle of the tank – see the pic here – allows you to see the tank’s inhabitants from below; they quite literally swim back and forth over the top of you, separated, of course, by the thickness of the clear acrylic panel dome that forms the sides and roof of the tunnel. Seeing the rays and sharks from below really lets you indulge your “Jaws” fantasies, or nightmares, from a vantage point of total safety.
The tunnel is a straight side to side walk through; in other words, it’s pretty much the 33 metre width of the big window out front, but this time you are in behind the artificial reef which forms the backdrop to what you see for free from the outside and you get a whole different perspective from inside and underneath. Also, the sharks, shy little critters that they are, seem to prefer to congregate on this side and down low, so if you think you saw it all on the outside, you most certainly didn’t!
The same ticket you bought for the walkthrough also gives you access to the Underwater Zoo, which occupies quite a large area outside and behind the tank on the 2nd and 3rd floors. At pretty much any point of your exploration of the Zoo exhibits which are outside of the tank, you also have the rear side of the aquarium to view – the part the people outside can’t see. So what do you get in the Underwater Zoo? Penguins, otters, turtles, unusual species of fish in small tanks of their own and my own personal favorites – Nutria. Nutria – also known as Coypu – are a South American river mammal that is best described as the biggest rat you have ever seen in your life! And then you read in the accompanying notes outside their enclosure that they are totally vegetarian, and your attitude changes from horror and revulsion to indulgent acceptance of their cuteness. It did for me, anyway.
The basic ticket, giving you the Tunnel and the Underwater Zoo now costs AED 70, (or 70 UAE dirhams), which is $US19.00 or €14.00. A child’s ticket is AED 55. You will easily spend an hour experiencing these two areas of the Aquarium and maybe more in the Zoo especially, depending on how into fish and related water dwellers you are.
Swimming with the fishes
But unlike the Godfather’s doomed heavy enforcer, Luca Brazzi, you’ll live to tell the tale. Either from the public viewing gallery out front, or while you are taking the Tunnel/Zoo tour, you will very likely see people in full scuba outfits inside the tank. Some are employees of the Aquarium, carrying out routine maintenance tasks and hand-feeding, but others are visitors, like yourselves, who have paid to have a really close experience with the inhabitants of the tank. “But the sharks!” you are probably thinking. The books tell us that most species of sharks are not aggressive or dangerous to humans and there aren’t any of the serious biters like Great Whites or Tiger Sharks in the Aquarium. Dubai Mall’s Aquarium has been open for almost 6 years and many thousands of adventurers have tried this without a single incident, so it’s safe. And you also have an Aquarium “minder” with you, just in case you decide to try something really foolish.
Sounds great doesn’t it, but what if you’ve never had any scuba experience ever? Well, you can buy the Aquarium “Learn to Dive” package (AED 875), which includes pretty thorough first-time training, so if you plan to do this, you’d better allow for a whole morning, or an afternoon.
Even if you can show that you are an experienced diver – you’d probably have to show a PADI certificate or some other proof of competence – you still have to sit through an hour-long orientation session, plus sign a number of waivers attesting that you knew the risks and were doing this of your own free will. You’d probably also better read the fine print on your health or travel insurance, because a mishap in a tank full of sharks and rays might just be one of those absolutely excluded risks that isn’t covered.
But still, almost 6 years and no mishaps, so the odds are on your side. How much does it cost? Unsurprisingly, it’s quite expensive – depending on what you opt for, it can cost between AED 290 right up to a Specialty Package costing almost AED 2000. Value for money? I can’t answer that one; it all depends on how much you want to do it and have hundreds, if not thousands of people see you doing it.
To help you make your mind up about how long to spend and what to do on a visit to Dubai Mall’s Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, see what other people thought of it by visiting Tripadvisor’s Dubai Aquarium Page.