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Family fun in Dubai: Sports and adrenaline

Water parks, skiing, diving and more

Family fun in Dubai: Sports and adrenaline
Dive with sharks. Image: Aquaventure

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01 Eyewitness: A Leap of Faith

Ride the highest slide at Aquaventure water park

I’m not great with heights. But they say that the best way to overcome a fear is to face it head on, so here I am, standing at the front of the queue for Leap of Faith, a nine-storey, near vertical free-fall waterslide at Atlantis, The Palm.

Admittedly, I’ve been here for quite some time. A seemingly endless procession of pleasantly smiling mums and very young children politely squeeze past me and gleefully fling themselves into the void, but after 15 minutes, I finally stop deliberating.

A hushed reverence falls over the line and, as I brace myself for the plummet, an international group of supportive teenagers cheer me on with cries of “You can do it” and “Way to go, man” — when what they really mean is “HURRY UP” and “AT LAST”.

I peer over the lip; it’s practically a vertical drop. Plunging down the side of a huge replica Mayan pyramid, this open-faced slide looks like a conveyer belt system to speed up the whole rigmarole of human sacrifice; a pre-Columbian jobsworth’s way of increasing productivity.

I push myself over the brink… and instantly regret it. I can hear those teens’ cheers turn to laughter as my screams fill the air for a split second before the backdraft of air particles sucks my cries from the sky and the oxygen from my lungs. I’m falling, hurtling towards the depths at an unfathomable velocity.

I’d been told that the best bit begins when the free-fall ends and you enter a transparent tunnel that passes right through the middle of a gigantic aquarium full of sharks. It’s hard to tell… Half a second of all-pervasive blueness, specked with brooding shadows, flashes past my eyes and before I even have time to process the information, I’ve rocketed out the other side of the tank and into the landing pool. I inflate my chest and let out a howl of jubilance. I took the Leap of Faith. But I’m still not great with heights. Aquaventure day pass AED205/250 (£36/£44) below/above 1.2 metres; free to hotel guests. strong>Words: James Draven

02 Wild Wadi water park
Located in front of the stunning Burj Al Arab, kids will get wet and go wild at this water park with more than 30 thrilling rides and attractions. With lazy rivers, body slides, wave pools and the gravity-defying Jumeirah Sceirah, one of the world’s tallest and fastest freefall water slides, there’s lots of action and opportunities to cool off, with a man-made beach for those who want to keep their feet on the ground.AED240/285 (£43/£51) below/above 1.1 metres, under 2s free.

03 Go-karting at Dubai Kartdrome
F1 champions Lewis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna honed their skills racing karts, and budding drivers can follow in their tracks learning the basics on the challenging indoor Kartdrome. Special ‘Arrive and Drive’, kids-only 15-minute sessions take place daily, while longer, more in-depth lessons can be booked to perfect skills such as correct race lines, track vision, turning and braking techniques. From AED110 (£19) for 15 mins (age 7 and above only).

04 SEGA Republic
Take the kids on the world’s first hydrogen-powered, zero-emission tram to Dubai Mall and, if they get bored of shopping, head to the top floor to this fun-filled indoor theme park. There’s five zones of gripping rides and attractions, including 170 amusement games and a huge slide. From AED175 (£30) per person, free for kids under 90cm tall.

05 Take a helicoptor ride
End your holiday literally on a high, with a James Bond-esque helicopter flight along the coast. Choose from the 12-minute Heritage tour, giving a bird’s-eye view of the Burj Khalifa and areas of Old Dubai, and the 22-minute Explorer that whisks you offshore to The Palm and World Islands, seven-star sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel and Wild Wadi. Or see the city lit up like a firework on the Night Lights tour. From AED595 (£104) per person (children must be over 4 years old). helidubai.com

06 Desert safaris
The good thing about Dubai being in the desert is that there’s no shortage of sand. Dune bashing — the art of taking a 4WD vehicle full of gleefully shrieking passengers and throwing it at an ever-shifting granular landscape — is a must-do for fun-seekers.

Strap yourself in (many offer child seats) as a convoy of off-road vehicles blazes through barren vistas, careering up — and inevitably sliding down — mammoth dunes, leaving your heart in your mouth and possibly your lunch in your lap.

An evening desert safari package typically includes dune bashing, a BBQ with non-alcoholic drinks, henna painting, camel riding and entertainment. From AED150 (£25) per person (children must be over 3 years old).

07 Ski Dubai
This ski centre in the Mall of the Emirates may be best known for its five ski slopes and tobogganing hills, but the winter wonderland also offers the kids a chance to meet some penguins too. Those who don’t mind getting their feet wet can book a swim session with them and see how they glide through water, even though they waddle on land. A free daily march can be seen by all mall visitors everyday at 2pm, 5pm and 8pm and on weekends at 2pm, 4pm, 6pm and 8pm. From AED150 (£26) per person for a penguin encounter, AED1300 (£228) for a penguin swim.

08 Desert survival course
Have you got what it takes to survive 24 hours in the desert? Find out on a Bear Grylls family survival course, 90 minutes from the city centre. Bear’s team of experts will teach you and your kids how to build and light a fire, purify water, deal with snakes and scorpions, and cross difficult terrain. Participants spend one night under the stars before the final action-packed day involves climbing, abseiling and crawling back to civilisation. From US$678 (£435) for one adult and one child; dates are November 20-21 2015 and February 5-6 2016.

09 Dive with sharks
You don’t need to be a certified scuba diver to explore the underwater world if you visit the Marine Animal Adventure at Aquaventure. Simply put on one of the water park’s special helmets and you can walk beneath the surface of the water in a lagoon surrounded by rays, sharks and tropical fish. From AED275/295 (£48/£52) per person hotel residents/day visitors (children must be 8 or over).

10 Play polo
Learn to play the sport of kings on a pony that moves like a Ferrari. Hit the ball, hear the thunder of hoofbeats and you’ll be hooked. From £25/£35 child (over 7)/adult. desertpalm.peraquum.com

11 Paddleboarding
Paddle the warm waters of the Gulf with your kids or strengthen your core with a special SUP yoga session where you strike a pose on a board. From AED75 (£13). watercooleddubai.com

12 Skydive in a tunnel
Defy gravity and soar like Superman inside the 30ft high wind tunnel at this breathtaking indoor flight centre in the Mirdif City Center mall. From AED165 (£29) age 3 up. theplaymania.com/ifly


Published in the Dubai supplement, distributed with the November 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)