travel

"When I travelled to Dubai, there was a very important thing I forgot to pack."

Dubai has never been on my travel bucket list. In my mind it’s one rather gloriously vast airport. Fly in, take a quick look at duty free lipsticks in strange six pack combinations, and fly out to Europe a few hours later.

And then I stopped over. I rolled my bag outside the sliding glass doors, hit some serious heat, and actually STOPPED OVER.

For four nights I slept in a huge bed in the United Arab Emirates and explored the city of Dubai by day and by night and my first thought every morning when I woke up was ‘my kids need to see this’.

Because I know unique family holidays are where memories are made, and Dubai is a city you will not forget.

"Dubai is a city that fascinates and makes you think." (Image: Supplied)

For a start, it's a city of contrasts that fascinates and makes you think.

On the one hand, sitting on that sliver of sand that meets the Persian Gulf there's the new, bold, indulgent and man-made. Towering skyscrapers fluted in water. Luxurious hotels perched on the edge of private beaches. Theme parks with indoor rollercoasters. Hotels with their own water parks. LegoLands where you lose yourself in creation. Great bars, restaurants and shopping.

Whatever you imagine, Dubai has conjured from the sand and sea. Kind of like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory only with buildings and theme parks and shops, hotels, beaches, entertainment precincts.

There's the world's tallest building Burj Khalifa, standing at 828 metres tall.

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"My first thought every morning when I woke up was my kids need to see this." (Image: Supplied)

The world's tallest performing fountain, The Dubai Fountain (who even knew that was a thing?).

The world's biggest mall - Dubai Mall, with over 1200 shops - with the world's largest fishtank, The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, on the premises.

The world's largest indoor theme park - IMG Worlds of Adventure.

I could go on and on. Dubai must hold the world record for being the city with the most world records.

And all this OTT-ness, the "New York has the Chrysler building, so we built two of them", is part of Dubai's appeal for a holiday. You don't forget two Chrysler shaped skyscrapers in a skyline in a hurry. Then you can't help thinking about it. Two? Two imitation Chrysler buildings... not one?

Then there's the other side of Dubai, one that is hidden under the skyscrapers and away from the man-made beaches. A city with a history and culture so different to our own it fascinates and makes you think too.

"Dubai truly is a melting pot of people and cultures that would make my kids ask questions and make them think about their own lives." (Image: Supplied)
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There's Old Dubai with its museums and cultural programs. There are desert expeditions and simply having the experience of walking around a city where in front of you is a woman in a burqa and hijab and a man in a kandora and behind you a British and a French expat on their way to work at a multinational.

Around 2.7 million people live in Dubai and around 15 per cent are nationals, the rest are expats - either professionals or low income workers. That means it truly is a melting pot of people and cultures that would make my kids ask questions and make them think about their own lives.

What would I love my kids to see and experience in Dubai? Well, Dubai requires a plan, otherwise you might just end up lost in a shopping mall for four days. It's also best visited outside of the extreme heat of high summer. But even if you do get lost and even if you do get hot, MEMORIES. There will definitely be memories.

"Unique family holidays are where memories are made." (Image: Supplied)
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Here is my quick and easy guide

Dubai is divided into three parts: Old Dubai, Downtown and The Palms, and all have their own personality and are worth exploring.

The Atlantis Hotel in The Palms is staggering to look at and sits on a man-made artificial archipelago shaped like a palm tree. The Palms Jumeirah boasts hotels and accommodation on the fronds. No joke - have a look:

See, it's the shape of a palm tree and The Atlantis is at the very top.

The Atlantis Hotel is situated on its furthest tip. It's almost, but not quite, overwhelming to walk around. It's definitely a memory maker.

For a start it's a luxury hotel with its own aqua-adventure waterpark and three-story aquarium. Yep, get up, have a buffet breakfast staring into a stingray's belly behind the glass wall next to you, and then do some slip and sliding on an Aztec waterslide.

It's the kind of place young families can spend days at the waterpark without the lines or relax by the pool or beach. So families with older kids can choose whatever is their relaxation poison, but I would make sure to take time out for the marine animal experiences.

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There's swimming with dolphins for a start (you have to be 12 years or over). Or you can just get in the water and hug and kiss a dolphin. No biggie. Just swimming with A DOLPHIN.

Or, if you prefer the more rugged type, you can cuddle and kiss a sea lion (Roger the sea lion kissed me and I've had worse). Both of these marine adventures come with educational talks about marine creatures and the environment from qualified international handlers.

"Roger the sea lion kissed me... and I've had worse." (Image: Supplied)

With some OTT memories in the bank, I would dial things down a little for the middle of our stay.

That means Old Dubai, where exploring the Dubai Museum and taking a traditional lunch at 1pm at The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding will really help you dive deeper into Dubai. The centre is designed to increase awareness and understanding between the cultures and lunch is hosted by a local Emirate.

Then it's off to the gold and spice souks (which is a fancy name for markets). Yes, they are touristy, but they have an unmistakable otherworldly hum and smell and feel. And I would end the evening with a twilight desert safari experience. It is 1) definitely a tourist experience but 2) worth doing.

Finally, I would finish off on, literally, a high with a trip to the viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa and a theme park (there's Dubai Parks and Resorts, which incorporates LegoLand and is best for younger kids, and IMG Worlds of Adventure, which has rides such as an indoor outdoor rollercoaster older kids would enjoy) or ski indoors because that's just a weird thing to do when it's 35 degrees outside.

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All require some logistical planning - and taxis or buses to theme parks - but you can easily plan your day via websites before you jump in.

You are really going to overdo the senses on your last day, but why not? Routine is kryptonite for holidays.

"There is an energy in Dubai that is heady to experience." (Image: Supplied)

Downtown Dubai is central and staying in this precinct will mean a lot of your sightseeing and memory making is close by.

There are a range of hotels from the once in a lifetime Four Seasons at Jumeirah beach to the more family friendly yet urban (it has its own laundry on site) Rove Downtown and, of course, there's Dubai Mall - the largest mall in the world. Perhaps for teenagers, this is the ultimate theme park.

Dubai wasn't what I was expecting. It can sometimes jolt - that's true. All those world records, all that construction and wealth set on the fringes of The Middle East. But there is an energy in Dubai that is heady to experience - and that kind of escape can be just what a family needs for a couple of days between those long haul flights.

Jacqueline Lunn was a guest of Visit Dubai and flew Emirates.

Where are your favourite family holiday destinations?

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