Wednesday , April 26 2017


NOT every holidaymaker is called upon to save the world but, when we came face-to-face with Gozer the Destroyer - in the unlikely form of Mr Stay Puft, the Marshmallow Man - our gallant gang of Ghostbusters didn't hesitate.

Dubai taking on Florida in family holidays: Visit desert playground’s latest attractions

Luckily, despite the worrying lack of an (unlicensed) nuclear accelerator, a volley of laser fire was soon enough to reduce him and his evil minions to molten cream… no need to thank us, all in a day’s work for a paranormal exterminator, even a part-time one.

Battle for New York is just one of the many movie-themed attractions at Dubai Parks and Resorts which, together with IMG Worlds of Adventure, is one of two exciting new leisure additions to the city as it seeks to attract more families to the playground of the Emirates.

DPR isn’t well known yet but, believe me, it soon will be. Built on a massive scale – with a budget to match, clearly – it is the equal of anything Florida and California has to offer but, crucially, considerably nearer for Scottish sunseekers.

At present it comprises Legoland – full of wonderful brick recreations including a stunning version of Dubai itself, rides and attractions suitable for younger visitors – and Legoland Water Park, perfect for when the local weather turns a tad toasty.

Motiongate, scene of the Ghostbusters ride, is inspired by Hollywood and has been created with the help of three of its biggest studios: Columbia, DreamWorks and Lionsgate.

This means rollercoasters, multi-media rides and shows based on everything from Shrek to Kung Fu Panda, and Hotel Transylvania to the Hunger Games; the pick of which is probably the thrilling dark ride from the hit animated movie Madagascar.

What sets DPR apart, though, is Bollywood Parks, which is every bit as colourful, musical and extravagant as the Indian film industry on which it is based. The host of shops – ubiquitous in any theme park these days – are a genuine pleasure to browse in and attractions include the Bollywood Hall of Heroes and fun Rustic Ravine: you can even experience what it’s like to be a cricket ball in Lagaan – Thrill of Victory.

Undoubted highlight, though, is the stunning Rajmahal Theatre which hosts dazzling, Broadway-style musical theatre. On our visit we sampled Jaan-e-Jigar, a spectacular extravaganza of good v evil which left its audience loudly delighted.

When you need a break, Riverland Dubai is the park’s retail and dining section which offers literally dozens of eating choices, from 50s diners to medieval France and modern Emirati seafood at the much-recommended Al Nashowa. Surprisingly, perhaps, for Dubai, many of the outlets are licensed.

IMG does not compete on scale but has its own unique selling point – it’s the largest indoor theme park in the world – handy when the temperatures outside are regularly over 30 degrees.

Covering 1.5 million square feet, 10 storeys high and built at a cost of $1billion, like DPR it leans heavily on the world of movies and television for its attractions but caters for a younger audience.

Not that grown-ups are left wanting. As well as the Cartoon Network section, the Marvel World plays a large part , so you can battle alongside the Hulk at Epsilon Base 3D, see if you could cut it as Iron Man, take the Thor Thunder Spin, or sample the short but intense Spider-Man Doc Ock’s Revenge.

Evade the terrifying zombies and try not tobe spooked by the shrieks and bumps of the Haunted Hotel before visiting dinosaur-themed Lost Valley, popular with young and old alike with its huge animatronic reptiles and motion simulators, while the Velociraptor rollercoaster will take you from 0-60mph in just two seconds.

Elsewhere there are original concept stores and varied dining options, all just a short taxi ride from the Mall of the Emirates metro stop.

For families travelling to Dubai, the location of choice is Jumeirah Beach, especially the growing and popular Walk (also known as JBR). As well as golden, immaculately kept beaches there is a plethora of shops, caf©s, restaurants and, of course, hotels, around which socialising and virtually all city nightlife is based.

One of the best is the Amwaj Rotana. One of several local properties belonging to the highly rated Middle East-based chain, it boasts 301 immense rooms featuring generous balconies facing the Arabian Sea and remarkable Jumeirah Palm, while younger visitors will appreciate the Beach Mall, with children’s water park.

While first-class facilities such as free wi-fi, gym and pool can be taken as read, what really sets the Amwaj apart are its restaurants and bars. Teppanyaki at Benihaha is as much showbiz experience as dining, and Rosso serves up excellent Italian food by day before transforming itself into a cool and elegant lounge at night, especially the large and attractive terrace.

In JB’S Gastropub, however, the Amwaj simply boasts one of the best bars in Dubai. Probably uniquely for the city it has its own, separate, street-front entrance and even a patio. Inside, it’s stylish and fun, while the British chef serves up enough sausages by the metre and smoked meats to leave even the most committed of carnivores pleading for mercy. As with all the best hotels, of course, it’s the staff who make the difference – and those at the Rotana are a splendid bunch: warm, welcoming, helpful and friendly. If you don’t enjoy your stay at the Amwaj then, quite frankly, it will be your fault, not theirs.

Dubai, though, is more than just a family beach and theme park resort. There is world-class dining, megasized shopping, glitzy nightlife, atmospheric old souks and things which just don’t exist anywhere else: the scarcely believable Jumeirah Palm reclaimed from the sea, a ski slope in the desert and, top of the heap, the highest building in the world.

Dominating the skyline, the Burj Khalifa is, at 2,716.5 feet, literally unmissable. If you want to experience the views from the 125th floor – and frankly, who wouldn’t? – it’s best to book in advance through Attraction Tickets Direct; not only will it save queueing time, it’s considerably cheaper, too. Before you know it, you’ll be peering down at the skyscrapers on Sheikh Zayed Road: impressive from ground level but positively puny when seen from the Burj Khalifa’s observation platform.

As the savvy traveller knows, pre-booking is the smart holiday option these days. Not only do you know exactly what you’re going to get, it’s hassle-free and – very often – a real money saver.

ATD can also provide tickets and admission to both DPR and IMG as well as other, more grown-up, delights. One, I can assure you from glorious experience, is a city helicopter tour. Take off from the outer fringes of the Jumeirah Palm and soon you’ll be soaring over the iconic, sail-like Burj Al Arab Hotel and getting a bird’s-eye view of some of the most startling architecture in the world. When people talk about a once-in-alifetime experience, this is what they mean.

Another excursion wasted on the young is a trip on the elegant Bateaux Dubai. Cruise, ever so slowly, along the waterways of Dubai Creek and enjoy the local architecture and history along with excellent food served in air-conditioned comfort. Again, it was a very pleasant surprise to learn that you can take full advantage of a long and thoughtful wine list while doing so, and even enjoy a digestif at the pleasant on-deck bar.

Another Dubai favourite is a desert safari, or dune bashing as it is sometimes inelegantly known. Be driven out of the city in a sturdy 4×4 and take a dizzying ride into, up and over the enormous hills of sand that make up the local landscape.

The skill of the drivers is remarkable and there are laughs as well as thrills, such as when one pale-faced passenger asked our pilot how long he’d been doing it. “Oh,” he said innocently, “this is my first time” – before turning to the rest of us with a large, theatrical wink.

Longer tours also feature a sunset stop with barbecue dinner, shisha (Arabic water pipe) and even a belly dancer performing by the campfire.

One of the attractions of Dubai, and why it sees so many repeat visitors, is that it is ever-changing. However, even as the city reaches out to longer-term holidaymakers, all those things which made it such a fascinating and vibrant destination to begin with remain. Profoundly Islamic it may be, but it is also generous and liberal to visitors. Bling is, in many cases, king, but everything – from the beaches, to the hotels, to the smiling service you will enjoy everywhere – is first class.

Modernity is everywhere but history is never far away, from the many mosques, to the aromatic souks and the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer that drifts over the city several times a day. Dubai will be attracting visitors new and old for many years to come.

FACTBOX

Activities in Dubai were all arranged by Attraction Tickets Direct. Pre-booking in advance through ATD guarantees the best price, secures admission and saves time during your holiday or short break. Sample prices include: a visit to the Burj Khalifa Observation Deck from £28pp; Desert Safari from £61 – ticket includes the desert safari, and sunset barbecue with belly-dancing; Bateaux Dubai dinner cruise from £85 pp (not including alcohol); Dubai Helicopter 15-min Sightseeing Flight from £167 (a longer, 25 min flight, is available from £259); a one-day ticket to IMG Worlds of Adventure costs from £50 per adult and £46 per child; and for Dubai Parks & Resorts (DPR) a two-day/ four-parks Anytime Ticket, which includes access to all parks – Motiongate, Bollywood, Legoland and Legoland Water Park – costs from £108 per adult and £94 per child.

The two days do not have to be consecutive so the ticket can be used any time during your trip and allows entrance to two parks each day.

Book on www.attraction-ticketsdirect.co.uk or call free on 0800 086 1135.

Graham stayed at the five-star Amwaj Rotana on Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach. Rates start from 700AED (Approx. £155) per night inclusive of breakfast based on two adults sharing a Classic Room, or from 950 AED (Approx. £213) B&B based on two adults sharing a Club Rotana Room.

This allows access to the 25th-floor Club Lounge where guests can enjoy breakfast, afternoon refreshments and evening canap©s and cocktails and can be good value for those travelling with children. To book, or for further information, visit www.rotana.com

Posted on; Express.co.uk>>

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