Disclaimer: Dubai is a controversial destination for a variety of reasons. While we might write about that in a future post, the point of this post isn't to address those issues. We acknowledge and apologize in advance to those families for whom Dubai is not friendly.
Call this a bout of ignorance, but Dubai was far more family-friendly than we expected. It's not that we thought they had anything against families. It's that it's still a growing travel destination, and those sorts of destinations tend to have a flow where they're great for business travel first, then personal travel, then family travel. What we missed in this analysis is that Dubai culture cares very much about family, and thus prioritizes family attractions for locals.
"Why Don't You Have Kids? Family Is Important!"
Despite our use of the hashtags #familytravel and #travelwithkids, we actually don't have children. We're theme park fans who blog about Disney, and we're on the lookout for family travel news, so we often are writing about these topics. (We also never hide this fact. You don't see a deep, #familytravel post from us that doesn't clarify the limitations of our perspective.)
The best way to understand how family friendly some of Dubai is is to recall a story. We were in Dubai Parks and Resorts (review forthcoming) as a pair of adults. Aside from a group of four adult tourists we saw a couple times, we were the only people there without children. When we dialogued with the very friendly staff, they seemed very confused by this. They asked Emily why she hadn't had children yet, and emphasized that family is "very important." It was offensive, yes, but in a polite sort of way.
Another aspect of our experience at Dubai Parks and Resorts that adds to this is that many of the rides were not adult-friendly. For example, we would be told we could only ride one at a time, or that the majority of animals on the carrousel could not be used for adults. As Disney adults, we're often frustrated by the anti-adult feature of some Disney experiences, but many Dubai attractions took it to a new level.
The Many Family Options of Dubai
Dubai is filled with family attractions. We didn't really realize this until the second half of our trip, but Dubai Parks and Resorts isn't even the best use of family time. We assumed an immersive sort of experience would give the best perspective on family travel. Everyone probably realized that if you stayed at one of their waterpark resorts, you'd have a great time with the family, but it turns out you wouldn't need that immersive experience for the family. Here are some of the other notable family attractions:
- IMG Worlds of Adventure - The world's largest "temperature controlled indoor themed entertainment destination."
- SEGA Republic - A giant arcade featuring the world's largest indoor slide.
- Ski Dubai - Dubai's famous indoor theme park.
- KidZania - An attraction at Dubai mall where kid's have the run of their own miniature city (we're not 100% sure what this is, honestly).
Even the shopping takes on a kid-friendly approach: the Dubai Mall has an entire wing dedicated to kids' stores.
What We Can and Cannot Say About Dubai Family Travel
We didn't have a full, family-themed Dubai trip. Besides our forthcoming review of Dubai Parks and Resorts, we don't have much to say about individual Dubai attractions. What we experienced, however, was a culture that is much more family-driven than we knew. The result is that their opulence tends to encompass family-driven activities. If you've written off Dubai as a family destination, you should take some time to read some reviews of its family attractions. You might find that it's more worth a look than you thought.