The Dubai Shopping Festival is famed for its children’s magical zone and generously features attractions for the younger crowd in one of the most child-friendly cities in the world
By Raziqueh Hussain
If you are a shopaholic then do you know which place to head to this winter? Dubai’s draw card has always been that it’s the shopping capital of the Middle East and people flock to it during the shopping festival when the city reinvents itself as a major tourist destination. Shopping with kids can be an utter disaster but this Arabian hub, is attractive for visitors of all ages.
Samantha Rich, who has arrived in the city for the festival from the US, with two kids aged 3, and 5, is already gushing with excitement, “We came by Emirates Airlines and at the Dubai International Airport we had help easily available. We hired a porter and we also got a free car seat at the taxi stand for our ride from the airport! Never seen that anywhere else in the world, and it’s a significant proof of how Dubai cares about its children,” she says.
The Dubai Shopping Festival functions with the overall theme of “One World. One Family. One Festival,” and offers every member of every family the best shopping and entertainment feel available in the region. More than 3,500 retail shops and 40 state of the art shopping malls offer huge discounts on international brands. With so much to see and do, it’s no surprise that attendance is in the 3.5 million range!
British Airways released findings of a recent survey that states customers are flocking to Dubai this festive season to escape the chilly northern hemisphere winter. More than 2,660 users nominated the overseas destinations they most want to visit in 2014 and Dubai was named in the top five. “Dubai has long been a destination of choice for Europeans looking for sun, sand and shopping,” said Paolo De Renzis, Area Commercial Manager Middle East and Central Asia, in a statement.
Locals love children and Dubai has long been attracting expat families, so the young are well catered for – many hotel crèches and clubs are used by non-guests. If your kid is a water baby, you might consider a day at a water park.
The most popular are the Atlantis The Palm and the Arabian-themed Wild Wadi. “My kids are most fascinated by the Atlantis, which looks like Aladdin’s castle. It is great for a resort holiday because there is tonnes to do with kids: Aquaventure, The Lost Chamber, the three pools, the beach, the Dolphin Bay, the tennis clinic, and so much more, while I can head to the malls,” says Gloria Stephen, a visitor from Manchester.
Exploring the hypnotising desert dunes of Dubai has been a once in a lifetime experience for the Hamel family from Germany. “At the Heritage Village my kids learned about the traditional lifestyle through numerous stalls of Emirati food and artifacts. I’m so happy that they saw a culture so different from their own and now we are heading for a camel ride and henna painting,” says Peter Hamel, father of four kids, 6 years old and 10 years old girls and twin boys. They also visited the gold and spice souks to get a “very Arabian feel”. The family bought some authentic Bedouin paraphernalia, Persian-style carpets and textiles. “A particularly pleasant shopping area is the Bur Dubai side of the Creek where we found textiles, raw silks and interesting souvenirs,” Loyola, his wife, adds as their four-year-old twin boys gape in awe at the parade moving ahead.
A spectacular parade moves ahead with performances by renowned international artists. There are also shows by acrobats, percussionists, dancers and more. The Carnival has various performers including musicians, jugglers, unicyclists, stilt walkers, which give the festive feeling of DSF across Dubai.
Dubai’s most famous bazaar, the Gold Souk at Sikkat al-Khali Street has innumerable shops and stalls that sell gold jewelry in every possible form. “I picked up some Fulla (The Arabian Barbie doll) bracelets for my 15-year old for Valentine’s Day,” smiles Joey Lama from Philippines. “I’ve got some great discounts and I’m keeping my fingers crossed to see if I can win a kilo of gold in a raffle draw,” he hopes.
Located in the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium has the largest viewing gallery in the world. You can witness a shark dive, take a ride on a glass bottomed boat, or check out the night safari at the underwater zoo. “Bonus points for this, as my kid is old enough for me to leave them at the Aquarium while I shop!” laughs Richa Sharma, an Indian mother of 11 year-old boy.
Little Saima, is agog as she leaves the exclusive kids show at The Dubai Dolphinarium. Her mother Rehana, a Pakistani visitor says, “You really get what you pay for: a song and dance with a dolphin!” she says, as skilled instructors partner with trained mammals to create a seamless and utterly delightful experience. “I’m taking her to other events too, like the Children of World Olympiad, cartoon and circus shows,” she adds.
When it comes to food, Dubai is a children’s gastronomic paradise. Every imaginable cuisine is on the palate, including fast-food joints, 5 star restaurants and everything in between. You will have no problems keeping your kids stuffed, as most restaurants offer kid’s menus like burgers, fish fingers and ah toys! As it is always said that in the Arab world, every restaurant is a family restaurant so children are always welcome.
Vanessa and Sam with their three kids in tow have finished visiting the Creek Park which has turned into the Kids Festival Park during the entire DSF month. “We are enjoying some casual dining along the creek,” says Vanessa, a mother of three from Paris. “It is a wonderful way to wind down after a hard day’s play, so we are digging in and enjoying!”
Sandra Bedford, an expat mom always thought it was a marathon to take her kids to the shopping mall, but this festive season, she’s changed her mind. “Ever tried going shopping with two kids under 5? I can assure it’s a nightmare! But during DSF I bribe them by saying that we need to buy a pair of new shoes and we’ll catch a puppet show too! See all’s well,” she smiles.
So in order to keep those shopping mamas at the mall spending money, you gotta make it fun for the kids. And Dubai sure knows how to do it!