This is the last of my posts rounding up our hectic week in Dubai – check out my first two posts for loads of inspiration for kid-friendly adventures in Dubai, like the Dubai Mall, Sega Republic and Wild Wadi Water Park.
I’ve saved one of our most exciting excursions for last – the Desert Safari with Arabian Adventures is a must-do for families visiting Dubai!
For me, the whole point of visiting this part of the world is seeing the desert, and this desert safari adventure is a great way to pack a lot of activities into one, affordable excursion.
Our guide picked us up from our hotel lobby, and we drove for around 45 minutes to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. A quick stop to deflate the car tyres, then you’re off, driving through the reserve, spotting camels and onyx along the way.
I should point out that this is a group tour and by group, Arabian Adventures means HUGE. We realised when we parked up at the reserve entrance we were part of a convoy of something like 80 vehicles, carrying over 300 people.
It does mean you don’t quite get the wild, solitary experience you might be looking for, but I figured it made for a more social evening, and you’re not going to get lost…
After a short drive, there’s a quick stop for a falconry show, which is pretty fun, we enjoyed hearing about the Bedouin captured and trained wild birds to hunt with. There’s also a quick photo opportunity with a camel.
If I had one criticism of the desert safari, it’s the team of photographers who are EVERYWHERE, snapping photos, which you know you’ll be asked to buy later, at around $40 a pop. Personally, in 2016, with everyone carrying at least a camera phone with them, I’m not sure this sort of thing is necessary.
Anyway, after the photo opp and a quick drink, it’s on to some dune bashing.
Dune bashing, as it’s known, involves piling into a 4WD with a couple of strangers, and racing up and down the dunes, rolling over the summits and crashing down the slopes – it’s definitely not for you if you’re prone to motion sickness. For Flea (and me, I confess) by far the most entertaining part of this process is watching how many other vehicles in the convoy get stuck in the sand, and have to be hauled out by other drivers using ropes.
I joked with our driver that we should be fine on account of having the good driver and he said, “Of course, I’m doing very well considering it’s my first day!” which made me laugh. Assuming it was a joke, of course…
A couple of times during the drive, you’re able to stop to take photos although it’s WAY harder than you think to walk up and down dunes and it’s sort of hard to get a “look at me alone in the desert” picture when you’re in such a big group. But it’s undeniably beautiful and something you’ll remember for a long time to come.
After the dune bashing part of the desert safari, you are driven to a Bedouin style camp, that is way bigger and fancier than previous camps of this kind I’ve stayed in. There are washrooms and a stall where you can view and buy the photographs the agency has taken throughout the evening.
There’s a bar, serving complimentary soft drinks, beer and wine, and you can take part in a number of traditional Arabian activities, such as a camel ride (it’s really just a quick 90-second trip in a circle, but perfect for nervous youngsters), getting a henna tattoo (at a small, additional cost), shisha pipes and sand-boarding – effectively snowboarding down the dunes.
Our guide advised us to do activities before dinner, as there wouldn’t be time later, so we both had a shot at sand-boarding (I was naturally gifted, of course) and rode a camel, which was good fun. Flea also had a chance to chat with the falcon handler and ask some questions, before having a chance to hold the falcon herself.
Dinner was pretty good although fussy eaters (I’m looking at Flea as I type that) will need to fill up on flat bread and hummus from the buffet because everything else is lightly spiced – it’s a mixture of curry, salads and Middle Eastern mezze that’s rather nice. There was dessert, but we missed it entirely because we were too busy chatting to some new friends.
For dinner and entertainment, you’re seated at low tables on cushions, with lanterns offering atmospheric lighting and it’s very social – we chatted with loads of other families about why they love Dubai, and what their recommendations were.
The Arabian Adventures staff were also ridiculously friendly and helpful, which helps makes quite a big, commercial activity still feel fun and personalised.
After dinner there’s a belly dancing show, which Flea enjoyed very much, then the organisers turn out all the lights so you can watch the stars for five minutes, during which you can snigger at people trying to take flash photos of the starry sky with their iPhones.
Around 9.30pm, there’s time for one more sales pitch from the photographers then you wander back to try and find your driver in the pitch black car park – this sounds like a complaint but we teamed up with our new German friends and were completely hysterical at our complete inability to recognise our driver.
He found us eventually, shouting like an irate Dad, “I was looking for you inside!” while we sniggered, and made our way back to our 4WD. Tired, we snoozed in the car for the drive back to the city, and we were delivered back to our hotel for around 10.30pm, tired and full.
Overall, the Arabian Adventures Desert Safari Sundowner Tour feels like a really good value excursion and a great way to pack lots of activities into a short stay. You can upgrade to a private tour if you prefer, but for this group excursion tickets cost 300 dirham (£60) for kids aged under 12, and around £70 for adults. We were invited to review this desert safari experience as part of our trip to Dubai with Visit Dubai.