A Travellerspoint blog

To the Infinity Pool and Beyond! Water and Sky


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I had dedicated the entire day Monday to the Aquaventure water park on Palm Jumeirah. This came with a high price in terms of both money and time but I knew I had to make some concessions to be sure that the kids had as fun and memorable a trip to Dubai as we did. Not only did I have to buy seven admission tickets but also five of the AquaXpress fast passes which were individually more expensive than the tickets. This brought our total spend over fifteen hundred dollars which was fairly hefty for a day of family entertainment. There was no question about buying the fast passes for the kids since I wasn't going to let the kids spend all day waiting on line to take five slides. On Monday morning my brother Michael advised me that Ralph felt too sick to go, which shocked me as I thought a kid would have to be at death's door to miss a day at a waterpark. This was quite frustrating as I'd already bought his ticket and AquaXpress and I didn't know if I'd be able to cancel it. We had breakfast at the hotel buffet and then after Drake arrived by Careem we set off once again to the Palm Jumeirah. By now we were ready with our phones to secure the optimal shots of the amazing skyscrapers we passed while driving down Sheikh Zayed Road. This morning's prize was the Address Sky View, a double tower connected near the top by a futuristic skybridge with a cantilevered extension. In a city of memorable skyscrapers, this was another unique design that made its own distinct architectural statement. I was fortunate enough to capture it from the moving taxi at the very moment that the space between the towers was occupied by the Burj Dubai.
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Aquaventure is the in-house waterpark of the luxurious Atlantis Dubai resort that was far out of our price range for accommodation, had we even any interest in that style of travel. It bills itself as the largest waterpark in the world and seems to be enormously popular, so I had my fingers crossed that we wouldn't be spending the day in the midst of a mob scene. I was hopeful that we would be able to get a look at the fronds of Palm Jumeirah as our taxi drove up the trunk but their entrances were artfully obscured by landscaping. At the front door of Atlantis we were greeted by a somewhat belligerent crow that showed no apprehension whatsoever at the close approach of the four kids.
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We had arrived close to the 9:45 opening time but we wasted an hour getting Ralph's ticket refunded. At the regular ticket window a rather supercilious woman told us we needed to show a doctor's note, which seemed rather unreasonable for a water park. As impatient as I was to get inside I probably would have dropped it and eaten the three hundred bucks but Mei Ling pressed the matter with a much more helpful guy at the gate who directed us to a different line. We waited on that line for about half an hour and then received our refund, although I was a little anxious about whether they were cancelling the correct bracelet. Once through the gates we found the locker rooms which were crowded but manageable and got changed. I had brought our water shoes all the way from Miami only to find that they had disposable ones available for free at the park. By eleven in the morning we were ready to hit the rides.
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The kids made a beeline for a slide called the Tower of Neptune and disappeared up the staircase with their float tubes. I walked around to look for the slide and saw an absolutely horrifying sheer drop from the top of a pyramid. I was instantly grateful I hadn’t gone with the kids. I’ve always hated the sensation of falling that other people seek out on thrill rides. Is it fear? I don’t know for sure. I just hate the physical sensation. I would rather have my blood drawn.
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The bottom of the slide disappeared behind a large pool. At the base of the pool I saw people slowly being ejected into a smaller basin. It seemed like they should have been going much faster. I walked around the side and realized that the large pool was full of fish, rays, and even small sharks. People plunging down the slide ended up moving slowly through a tube that passed under the surface of the pool so that they could look out at the marine life around them. There were also divers walking around the bottom of the pool using diving helmets instead of regulators.
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I waited for the kids to come through the tube but they never appeared. After fifteen minutes or so Mei Ling and I began to get a little concerned. None of the kids had a phone and we hadn’t even made them wear their trackers. We had just assumed we’d be able to keep an eye on them, but it seemed like the slide they had gone on wasn’t the one that went through the fish pool. I wasn’t that worried about Drake or Cleo, but Ian and especially Spenser would be in trouble if they were on their own. First Mei Ling and then I made a pass through the surrounding areas without any luck. There was nothing we could do for the time being except sit tight. Finally after more than an hour they all showed up again, still together. It turned out their slide had dumped them into a lazy river and they had gone all the way around the park and then gotten out far away from where they had started.
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Now that we were reunited we had to make a better plan in case we got separated again. Back to the locker room we went and retrieved mobile phones for Mei Ling, Drake, and Cleo as well as Ian's tracking bracelet. We bought the transparent waterproof cases which were reasonably priced and worked quite well. I hadn't realized they were designed to make the phones operable through the case. The kids ran back to the lazy river and I tried as best as I could to keep up with them. On the way there I heard the sound of crying children and saw one little girl bawling her eyes out and a slightly older boy crying as well but still able to talk. He was speaking broken English with a German or Scandinavian accent and he seemed to be saying they couldn't find their parents. I instinctively turned back to help them although my own kids were disappearing. Fortunately an Indian couple showed up to assist at the same time and I begged out of the situation explaining I had my own kids to keep track of. I'm pretty confident they found their parents because that sort of thing must be happening constantly and there didn't seem to be any community of orphaned Aquaventure kids. I felt another pang of guilt realizing that could have been Ian and Spenser crying their eyes out if they had gotten separated from Cleo and Drake. I agreed to do the lazy river with the kids as long as they promised not to make me do any slides with drops.
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After three circuits around the lazy river I felt a little more confident the kids would stick together and I went to find Mei Ling at the beach. This was a sizable stretch of sand with a rather hazy and distant view of the Bur Dubai skyline. We also got our first look at the new Atlantis hotel, the Royal, which resembles a giant child's precarious construction from building blocks that have been stacked rather carelessly.
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I eventually hunted down the kids and was requested to take Spenser back to Mei Ling as he was afraid to do the larger slides. I was now pressed into service to join the rest of the crew as they tackled Trident Tower, the home of the highest slides. They didn't weigh enough together to have their own raft and they didn't want to slide with strangers, so I would have to make up their weight shortage. Cleo swore up and down to me that there weren't any steep drops on the slide we were taking but I didn't like the sight of all the signs warning off people with bad backs or fetuses. I didn't like Cleo's evil giggle as they pushed us off either. In the end she was true to her word about the drops but she hadn't mentioned the blasts of cold water from above that we would have to endure on the long trip down.
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I was a little disappointed that Aquaventure only had slides and the lazy river, figuring that for the exorbitant price there would be some more sophisticated offerings, but the kids were sufficiently entertained and we stayed for a full seven hours. The AquaXpress passes proved to be money well spent as the lines were atrociously long for the basic bracelets. As dusk fell I corralled everyone and we did our best to beat the rush but the lockers were a total madhouse. Clueless people were clogging the entrances and there were staff actively holding back women who were trying to push their way into the men's locker room for some strange reason. I have no idea what they were planning to do once they got inside. When we finally made it outdoors there was another throng queueing for taxis and having them stolen by line jumpers. Drake saved the day by calling us our own Careem which we directed to Depachika Food Hall inside Nakheel Mall on the trunk of Palm Jumeirah. I had a list of seven or eight food halls in Dubai and this was our first opportunity to try one. It was a big hit, a beautiful layout with a wide variety of restaurants with Asian and European themes. In the center was a gourmet market with an assortment of delicatessen counters, and several specialty food shops were scattered around the periphery. An Italian cheese shop was particularly gorgeous and I couldn't resist purchasing a small chunk of truffle-flecked moliterno.
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Our Tuesday itinerary included many of the highlights of a typical visit to Dubai. In the morning we taxied back to downtown for our first close look at the Burj Khalifa. The world's tallest man-made structure is the crown jewel of a development called Downtown Dubai which also includes the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Opera, and a number of enormous hotels. The developer is a company called Emaar whose name graces many of the surrounding buildings in enormous block letters. Emaar's founder, Emirati businessman Mohammed Alabbar, is unsurprisingly a close associate of the ruler of Dubai. It seems that most of Dubai's colossal wealth is concentrated in the hands of the royal family and a few trusted lieutenants. We paused at the traffic circle in front of the Burj to admire some of Emaar's immense, ultramodern skyscrapers.
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Gazing up at the Burj Khalifa from its base is almost indescribable. I grew up around skyscrapers in New York City at a time when the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers set the standard for height and design, but the Empire State Building would hardly be noticeable next to the Burj Khalifa. At 828 meters the Burj is more than 300 meters taller than Taipei 101, the previous tallest building in the world when the Burj was completed in 2010, and more than 150 meters taller than Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumpur, the current second tallest building in the world. It's simply difficult to believe that such a structure could have been built at all, let alone that it is both safe and practical. Nevertheless the Burj Khalifa appears to have been an enormous economic and cultural success. It was certainly one of the foremost reasons that our family was here in Dubai spending many thousands on flights, hotel, food, and entertainment.
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I had decided to forgo the cliched visit to the 124th floor observation deck and instead reserved breakfast at the Atmosphere Lounge one floor below. Although this was a more expensive choice due to the minimum spend of 250 dirham per person, we would avoid the long lines and cattle drive ambiance of the deck. We kept the cost as low as possible by choosing a table that wasn't next to a window and selecting breakfast instead of lunch or dinner. Dinner at a window table would have cost at least 700 dirham apiece, or about a thousand dollars for the five of us. We entered as instructed through the Armani Hotel entrance and were escorted to an elevator which took us to the 123rd floor. From here a spiral staircase took us down one flight past a large window that gave us the highest view we had ever experienced inside a building.
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Atmosphere Lounge was beautifully appointed and had one of the most elegant bars I've ever seen. It didn't matter at all that our table wasn't next to a window since we were free to walk around and there were plenty of viewpoints from which we could gaze out over the urban panorama beneath us. The prices for breakfast dishes were ridiculous but since we had to meet the minimum spend anyway I didn't worry about it too much and ordered prix fixe meals for Mei Ling and myself and a la carte dishes for the kids. We actually went a couple of hundred dirhams over what we had to and then regretted it when enormous plates laden with food began to arrive. I had to break my diet in a pretty big way or the amount of food we left would have been obscene. I hadn't given much thought to the quality of the food we'd be getting but having such an excellent breakfast was a pleasant bonus to the experience of seeing Dubai from this luxurious restaurant in the sky. Despite the additional expense I was very pleased that we had chosen to experience the Burj Dubai in this way.
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Even though the Burj Khalifa was next door to the Dubai Mall it was a ten minute walk from door to door. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, which loops around the tower and two large malls, was a busy thoroughfare surrounded by futuristic buildings. Here we got an up close look at the parabolic skyscrapers we had seen from the entrance of the Burj Khalifa. There was an elevated walkway to carry pedestrians from the metro station on Sheikh Zayed Road to the entrance of the mall nearly a kilometer away so that they never had to set foot on the streets.
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Dubai Mall is the largest in the world in terms of total land area. It occupies a large portion of the Downtown Dubai complex and is likewise owned by Emaar. The interior bore no resemblance to the utilitarian layout of the typical American mall, It was clear that no expense had been spared on decor with dazzling light fixtures and elaborate design elements everywhere we looked. The stores around us were a who's who of global luxury brands from Rolex to Hermès. A pair of three story tall waterfall fountains with an array of diving silver statues was particularly breathtaking.
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Fortunately for our budget, shopping was not on the agenda. We proceeded directly to the Dubai Aquarium, which was the first time I could recall encountering a major aquarium inside a mall. The ten million liter tank on the ground floor is one of the largest in the world and is free to observe from outside. Inside the tank were enormous schools of beautiful pompano moving in fascinating patterns along with some frighteningly large sharks.
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Even the base tickets for the aquarium were steeply priced but I decided to spring for an upgraded experience that included a boat ride on the main tank as well as fish feeding. Mei Ling decided she would rather tour the mall on her own. Once we had our tickets we were allowed to enter an underwater tunnel that passed through the bottom of the tank.
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To reach the rest of the aquarium we took escalators up two floors. Here we were diverted to our glass bottom boat which took us on a short circle around the surface of the tank. We could see divers getting suited up to feed the sharks. The boat operator explained the mystery of how they stop the sharks from eating the smaller fish The secret is to keep them well-fed at all times. But apparently from time to time tragedies do happen. Afterwards we were shown to a platform set inside the main tank where the kids could toss some food pellets to the pompano over a Plexiglas barrier. The fish swarmed around us quite impressively as the kids tried to direct the pellets towards their arbitrary favorites.
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The remainder of the aquarium was much more impressive than I had expected. A large variety of species, many of which I had never seen before, were displayed in large tanks and habitats. Aside from fish there were penguins and reptiles which were very active in their enclosures. This area was quite crowded mainly with children eagerly completing a scavenger hunt. An upper level walkway allowed visitors to peer into the tanks from above.
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Our combined premium tickets allowed us up to an 80% discount off one item in the gift shop. I chose a remote control airplane that was five times as expensive as it should have been which meant that we got it for about the same price as on Amazon. The ridiculous prices of the gift shop junk weren't stopping visitors from falling all over each other trying to get to the cashier. It seems the ruler of Dubai is probably on the right track in shifting his country's economy from oil-based to tourism and business. We found Mei Ling in the Chinatown food court at the far end of the mall. The entire area had traditional Chinese decor and was home to at least a dozen fairly authentic Chinese restaurants offering the cuisine of several different regions. It was the perfect spot to refuel the kids ahead of our desert safari, although I refused to eat after having overindulged on the rich breakfast at the Burj Khalifa.
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We had already seen enough in half a day to make our heads spin but we were still nowhere near done. Our next task was to take a taxi a few miles uptown to meet our driver for the evening's desert safari.

Posted by zzlangerhans 15:21 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged family family_travel travel_blog aquaventure burj_khalifa dubai_mall dubai_aquarium tony_friedman family_travel_blog depachika_food_hall Comments (0)

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