Booked a bargain break to the UAE? You’re not alone. The promise of cheap sun, sand and sea means many mad dogs and English men end up in the Emirates at this time of year – only to find the scorching sun unbearable.
Arguably the best place to beat the heat (and thus avoid turning into beef jerky) is out on the water, and fortunately when it comes to water based activities and sports the UAE pulls out all the stops.
There’s no end of offerings from a relaxing dhow (the name for a traditional Arabic boat) cruise to fishing and sailing. Water parks are another great way to help you keep your cool. The jewel in the crown is without a doubt, Wild Wadi. The Dubai institution can no longer claim to be the ‘biggest waterpark in the region’ (that honour goes to Bahrain’s Lost Paradise of Dilmun), but remains as popular as ever with water worshippers. With its legion of water rides – some of which reach speeds of upto 80km – and a 360m lazy river, it’s no wonder why. Another venue to get wet is over in the tiny emirate of Umm Al Quwain at Dreamland Aqua Park – this place has over 30 rides and attractions worth packing your swim suit for.
If, however, your idea of aqua adventure involves a serious adrenaline rush, try your hand at an extreme sport such as water ski-ing, wind surfing or wakeboarding. The latter has well and truly captured the imagination of UAE water babies and is probably best described as combination of water skiing, snowboarding and surfing. After one lesson, most manage to rise up out of the water and ‘ride the wake’, if not pull off stunts such as tantrumming, blind judging and whirly birding.
Of course, as enjoyable as activities above the water are, what lies beneath can be even more thrilling, and given the heat, much more refreshing. The East coast in particular is crowded with world-class corals and schools of colourful fish. For those who have never dived before and would prefer to test the water before committing to a full diving course, a short one such as Discover Scuba is your best bet. All equipment is provided and a dive guide is on hand to ensure your safety and gently introduce you to the underwater world. Children aren’t neglected either; most centres offer two courses for kids – namely the PADI Bubble maker and the PADI Seal Team.
Best for brave hearts:
What: Al Jazira Wakeboarding School (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Where: Next to the Al Jazira Golden Tulip Resort, Dubai / Abu Dhabi Highway, Ghantoot, Exit 399. Why: Regardless of which water sport takes your fancy, chances are that the crew down at Al Jazira will offer it; wakeboarding, water skiing, jet skiing and zap cats all feature at what is arguably the best all round water sports centre in the UAE. Instructors are fully licensed and qualified to teach their chosen sport – there’s even a former wind surfing champion and ex water skiing champion on the books.
Best for budding Jacques Cousteaus:
What: Sandy Beach Diving Centre (09 244 5555/ www.sandybm.com/diving).
Where: Sandy Beach Hotel and Resort, Al Aqah.
Why: The East coast offers the best snorkelling and diving opportunities in the entire country. Several centres in the area offer PADI diving courses and dive/snorkelling trips, but Sandy Beach Diving Centre attracts the most custom. This is partly due to its proximity to the most popular snorkelling site, Snoopy Island – so called because of its resemblance to the popular cartoon character.
Best for families:
What: Dreamland Aqua Park (768 1888/www.dreamlanduae.com). Open Daily 11am-9pm (June-August).
Where: Next door to the Barracuda Beach Resort, Umm al Quwain.
Why: Friday is family day at Dreamland – Umm al Quwain’s less salubrious answer to Wild Wadi. Still, while Dreamland might be more down at the heel, little ones will love the family raft ride and interactive kids pool amongst others. Prices are pretty pocket pleasing too with entry costing a fraction of what Wild Wadi charge. All told, this is a fun and affordable day out for the whole family.
Best for the rest:
What: Wild Wadi Waterpark (348 444/www.wildwadi.com). Open Daily 11am-1am, (June-September).
Where: Jumeirah Road (next to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel), Umm Suqueim, Dubai
Why: There’s some serious splash-age to be had here on a Thursday night for gals and their pals. From 9pm-1am the park is declared a ‘male free zone’ meaning women can ride the terrifying Tunnel of Doom and notorious Jumeirah Sceirah (the water is cooled during the summer months), without waiting in a queue for hours or worrying about ‘wedgies’. Even if you’re an aqua phobe, there’s plenty to keep you occupied and entertained; read loungers to chill out on, plus a smattering of shops and dining venues.