From theme parks to safaris: Dubai is the ultimate playground for kids

From theme parks to safaris: Dubai is the ultimate playground for kids

Aaaarghh, 'screamed Imogen, at the fabulous moment of surprise when we came to face with Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon, feeling the beast's breath on our cheeks.

Dubai Parks Complex was one of the main attractions in Motiongate.

Dubai has long been a favorite family destination, but Dubai Parks seems to have raised the bar. Designed to mimic Florida's theme parks, the inter-connected attractions are all in one place.

Dazzling: Dubai's business district, which is home to the world's tallest building

Dazzling: Dubai's business district, which is home to the world's tallest building

Dazzling: Dubai's business district, which is home to the world's tallest building

It opened in December 2016, with the final part, the Six Flags Rollercoaster Park, due to launch next year.

Until then it is perhaps best suited to families with younger children – perfect for us with Maisie, eight, and Imogen, six, in tow. And if crowded theme parks are not your bag, the trick is to avoid weekends and public holidays.

The parks are vast, but it's right and you do not have many queues. In fact, How To Train Your Dragon is the only ride we queued for all day.

We started in the Legoland Water Park, for children from two to 12, with all the classic waterpark ingredients. Our favorite What the Racer, where you slide on a mat and twist through each tube before rejoining for a final sun-kissed race through the rollers.

Almost as exhilarating is a desert safari tour. In times past, caravans of camels carried traders through the sands. Today the caravans are Toyota Land Cruisers, racing through the countryside picking out every feature, banking on dunes and dropping off their steep slopes like freestyling sandboarders.

Our driver, Alfred, has been doing this for 22 years, and it takes a lot of time to get out of the car.

Dancing and fire-juggling show on a camp where the children get to ride a camel, try sand-boarding, get a henna tattoo and watch a starlit belly dance. It's a slightly hackneyed tourist staple, but the children love it.

We were staying at the Oberoi in Dubai's Business Bay district, home to the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

The Oberoi is well positioned for the city's parks and malls, and has a large rooftop pool. On Fridays, it hosts Carnival, a renowned brunch, the highlight of its own dragon's passion fruit meringue 'cooked' in liquid nitrogen. It is astonishing to think that this whole mini-city has just been built from scratch in just 12 years – the pace of building as breathtaking as the view from the 17th-floor hotel window.

Fun in the sun: Legoland Water Park is 2 to 12 years old

Fun in the sun: Legoland Water Park is 2 to 12 years old

Fun in the sun: Legoland Water Park is 2 to 12 years old

Perhaps the most intriguing current development project is Al Zorah, located in Ajman, United Arab Emirates, located 25 minutes from Dubai International airport. Al Zorah is an eco-development centered on some of the Middle East's most beautiful mangroves, with a marina, championship golf course, wildlife reserve and long stretch of prime coastline.

Visit it now and you'll have it to yourselves.

The man to know is Brian Parry from Questforadventure.net, who has set up kayaking as well as a wakeboard cable park.

Brian explained what makes the area special as we kayaked through a network of narrow channels. 'The eco system is extremely healthy as it has been untouched for so long,' he said. 'The mangroves are tallest in the UAE and we have 118 different bird species.'

We felt like proper explorers and the girls howled in delight as a flock of pink flamingos came into view. 'The flamingos follow the tide through the mangroves, as they go,' Brian said.

Later that day, we tried wakeboarding, the expert English instructors getting Maisie to stand up. She is now hooked.

Wakeboarding involves holding on a rope.

Oberoi, a low-key limestone-clad design by the world-famous architect Pierro Lissoni, is currently under construction.

The children loved the 85 meters long pool and wave-jumping on the private beach, while we lapped up the serene architectural design, yoga classes and excellent food. It feels special at the start of the project. But hurry, with the pace of building work, there will be a whole city in place before too long.

FACT BOX TITLE

Oberoi hotels (oberoihotels.com, 020 3198 0769) offers seven nights' B & B for a family of four from £ 950pp. Day passes for Dubai Parks and Resorts are £ 51pp (dubaiparksandresorts.com), and desert safaris start from £ 64pp. More information at visitdubai.com. Emirates (emirates.com) return economy flights from London £ 442pp.

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