We’re introducing a brand new monthly series that’ll take you from Emirate to Emirate, mama! You’ll find top tips on what to do with the kiddos, the best things to see and a snazzy review of our favourite family-friendly place to stay in the region. Here’s our guide to what to do with kids in Abu Dhabi.
Part 1 – Abu Dhabi
Add a touch of culture to your weekend
Why not take advantage of the location to introduce your kids to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the world outside Saudi Arabia? It’ll give you the opportunity to explain a little about the official religion of our host country if they’re not yet familiar with it. If they are, then this is a superb chance for them to appreciate the magnificence of the architecture and explore a mosque. My son is forever asking what ‘that’ is when we pass by a mosque doing the call for prayer, but has never been inside one – the next time we visit, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque will definitely be in our agenda. It’s also an excuse to wear an abaya, which they lend you upon arrival as you’re not allowed in without one and makes for a brilliant photo opp. The best time to head over is at sunset, the beautiful light makes it all the more special.
‘Me time’ for mummy
It’s time for retail therapy! It’s almost (if not more so for some of us) as relaxing as the spa. The Souk at Qaryat Al Beri has a few little shops, but if you are looking for retail therapy on a larger scale, then head off to Yas Mall for a truly comforting and less crowded shopping experience. Husbands, watch out for your credit cards!
‘Me time’ for the boys
You can also make it a memorable weekend for your husband by organising big boy fun for him: the Yas Marina Circuit Driver Experience. It’ll give him something to boast about in the office and keep him happy when you plan your other weekends abroad in the Emirates, especially if he’s the one driving from hotel to hotel!
Our favourites are:
The Aston Martin GT4 Experience
A racing instructor will share his expertise with hubby during a briefing session and provide feedback at the end of the session, giving tips on how to improve his technique (for next time!). Don’t forget your camera so you can take that priceless shot of hubby’s school-boy grin as he presses his foot deep into the accelerator and savours the roaring moment just before taking off.
The Formula Yas 3000
Pretend play at its best. Imagine the hubby in full racing gear (including helmet) in a 3.0l V6-engined car, which was developed by F1 engineering firm Cosworth. The package includes a racing instructor to give the technical brief, a few familiarisation laps prior to getting in the ‘cool car’, the instructor drawing the circuit in front of him and a post-drive debrief session. They’ll also get a video recorded by two on-board cameras, so that he gets to show off his skill to kids and grandkids in due course.
If you have boys aged between ages 11 and 17, and they have been extremely good this year you may want to treat them to a 1st Gear Junior Drive Experience, so that they can ‘be like daddy’.
Where to Stay: The Shangri-la Hotel Qaryat Al Beri
The Shangri-la Hotel Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi is one of the first hotels as you drive to the capital from Dubai. They list their address as ‘in between the two bridges’ and they’re super easy to find if you follow the directions on their website. The location couldn’t be any quieter which makes it a perfect base for relaxing weekends, whilst still a short hop away from the city centre and 20 minutes away from the fun on Yas island.
My arrival was met by one of the warmest and most professional welcomes I have had in a hotel to date, both the valet and the reception staff were amazingly lovely and genuine. During your stay, the staff will keep on surprising you: they’ll stop, step aside for you as you walk through corridors and greet you respectfully. You can’t help but give them all a huge smile and even a bow back; it’s contagious!
We booked a premier room, which accommodates two adults and two children very comfortably. It’s one of those resorts with a clever layout so that all the rooms face the canal and a lovely balcony to enjoy the splendid views and majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque across the water.
Something that immediately stood out was the fact that there is no kids club as such. But… we didn’t miss it! Instead of a kids club, there is a tent on the beach where kids can join in the daily schedule of supervised activities: puzzles and board games, sand art, finger painting, mini-tennis, volleyball and swimming classes to name but a few. What’s more fun for a kid than spending his/her weekend barefoot? Ours loved it! Besides the kid-specific activities, the hotel offers superb leisure facilities to make sure your little people’s energy is burned out: four pools in total (but none deeper than 1.2 metres) and a shaded kiddies wading pool neighbouring the gorgeous infinity pool, plus a series of small beaches that total 1 km in length.
Details we loved:
- Complimentary WiFi that actually works!
- The walk-in monsoon shower in all rooms
- The Asian-inspired toiletries (I am a sucker for good hotel toiletries)
- Their ‘spa within a spa’ concept (your own changing, shower and toilet areas), as well as the heat treatment, bathing and relaxation spaces at Chi, The Spa, possibly one of the best in the country. It offers a wide selection of treatments, from Thai to Ayurvedic, and also has adapted to the region by adding an offer of Hammam and treatments based on Arabic ingredients such as coffee and dates.
Over the summer and up to end of the year, you can book the Brunch and Stay package. It offers fabulous value with a choice of a seriously lavish brunch at Sofra Bld (warning: your kids will want to start at the luscious dessert buffet – something that only exists in fairy tales and the ShangriLa in Abu Dhabi). There’s also the Pica Pica brunch (no-kids policy though) at the newly opened p&c by Sergi Arola, the Michelin-starred Catalan chef with several restaurants in some of the coolest addresses around the world. A huge added bonus in this package is the late check-out until 6pm (YES, 6pm!), which is so ideal if you want a bit of time to laze by the beach or pools and have a spa treatment before heading back home.
Shangri-La, Khor Al Maqta, www.shangri-la.com, (+971) (0)2 509 8888
Stay tuned for Marissa’s next Emirate visit!