The Dubai Mall is so much more than just a shopping centre. It’s a hedonistic, sensory and commercial assault that is just so much fun. Shopaholics will be in heaven but if you even have the faintest interest in retail, this is still an absolute must. It’s like a compacted, non-gambling version of Las Vegas for families and all in air-conditioned comfort away from the searing heat. Dubai with kids is so much easier in this one-stop wonderland. If you are thinking of travelling to United Arab Emirates with kids, even just for a stopover, this is the place to hit. 


The Destination

Dubai makes for the perfect stopover to break up long haul flights with children. Even if you only stay for 24 hours, it’s worthwhile to get off the plane, stretch your legs and do some retail therapy and sightseeing all in one.

The Dubai Mall is like a fantasyland of shopping meets entertainment designed to suit all ages. High culture it certainly is not, but as a one-stop-shop for everything you could need to keep everyone in the family occupied for a day, without having to worry about the weather, this is it.

There is no doubt that a trip to The Dubai Mall is not experiencing the cultural wealth the city has to offer at all – unless you take it as an insight into the extraordinary commercial growth Dubai has seen in recent years. But it is excellent for what it is – an easy way to entertain kids. Even if you only have a few hours in Dubai, coming here for a meal and a wander is a fun way to keep everyone engaged.


Activities

Let’s start with the shopping. Just about every single international label or brand that you could ever want is all conveniently housed under this one enormous roof. Unlike other cities where a mall might be entirely dedicated to one price bracket or contain a range of stores with only a few to cater to each budget, The Dubai Mall has everything. There are the luxury brands through to the mass market, high street options and Bloomingdale’s, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams. And that’s not just women’s clothes. 

Their childrenswear selection is truly astonishing. Almost all the high end fashion brands are there (Armani Junior, Burberry Children, Dior Kids, Fendi Kids, Roberto Cavalli Jr, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren Kids) as well as the best places for basics (Cotton On Kids, H&M).

Then there is the Hamelys – an impressively large version of the famed British toy store that will have the kids salivating. 

On your way through browsing the stores, it’s hard to miss the extremely impressive Dubai Aquarium viewing tank. Even if you decide not to pay the entrance fee to the aquarium proper, this will occupy quite a bit of time. Behind the huge glass panel there is a thriving ecosystem and you can regularly see divers swimming around with the manta rays, sharks and giant potato cod. Tip: although it looks like the kids cannot get up close to the glass, head upstairs to Macaroni Grill and Chilli’s and they can press their noses right up to the fish. (This is a great idea for food pitstop where parents can relax and the kids can fish gaze.)


If you are considering paying to enter the Aquarium, it's worth noting that the displays are far less showy inside the actual underwater zoo. While there are some interesting things to see, most of the tanks are quite small and the entire venue looks tired and quite basic. Just paying for the basic entry package is usually enough, some of the other add ons like the glass bottomed boat do not really add anything to the experience. 

Take some time to just walk around the mall and soak it all in. Because it is so huge, there are several different sections with interesting things to see such as the indoor Souk, ice skating rink and (outdoor) fountain with free afternoon and evening water shows. This is also where you can access the viewing platform at the top of the enormous Burj Khalifa.

If the kids need a few hours make believe entertainment, KidZania is a indoor play centre concept that allows children to dress up and role play at different jobs inside a town complete with fire station, hospital and airport. The kids work at their roles to earn their wages which they can then use to actually buy prizes and toys.

Sega Republic is an indoor theme park full of rides and games to get hearts pumping for older kids.

Plus there is the 22-screen cinema complex if you want to chill and catch a movie.


Food

As with the retail shopping, The Dubai Mall is home to several recognisable family-friendly chain restaurants including Red Lobster, California Pizza Kitchen and Brunetti.

Because of their aspect over the aquarium tank, Chili’s and Macaroni Grill are good options for a food break for kids who have trouble sitting still. The Rainforest Cafe will keep kids amused (but might drive parents a bit mad). Inside the cafe are several moving life-sized animals and periodically the lights flicker and the sound of water is piped through the speaker system to imitate a rainforest shower.

If you want to see the fountain display from the comfort of your restaurant table, try one of the indoor balcony tables at Scoozi which serves a decent menu of half traditional Italian dishes, half Japanese fare to suit all palates.  


The Practicalities

The Dubai Mall is a really huge place, so if you want to plan your day the official website is very comprehensive and a good place to start. 

You can hire strollers and kiddie carts when you get to the mall and they also offer wristbands if you are worried your child may wander off.

The Dubai Mall has very specific taxi stands – you cannot simply go out the front and flag one down. Happily, these are clearly signposted (if in doubt, head to the basement and start looking from there). Taxis are cheap and – if you are only visiting The Dubai Mall – probably the only thing you need the local currency for. Almost everywhere in the mall accepts credit cards.

Tap water is safe to drink in the UAE (unless you are staying in a private house or apartment with tank water) but it is reputed to have a strange taste. For this reason you may want to consider using bottled water for baby’s bottles and children’s drinks. 


To find out more about things to do in the city of Dubai with kids, read the suitcases&strollers story here

For more travel tips on things to do in the Middle East with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Oman Road Trip