Wild Wadi this year added two new rides Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News

It's hot. You're hot. The kids are hot. Why not cool off at a water park? Considering the size of the UAE there are plenty of options on the doorstep.

But, uh-oh, options mean choices. Aquaventure, Wild Wadi, Dreamland and Iceland — the name alone doesn't tell the whole story. So we do the rest.

Dreamland Aqua Park, Umm Al Quwain

The legend: No fairy tale or storybook here. Just coloured slides, rafts and chutes.

The numbers: 17 slides and 10 attractions.

The big one: Twister-Slide is a 40-metre tunnel. Spin yourself fast on the bowl's inner walls before taking a two-metre nosedive.

The unique: Probably the most unique thing is the mix of wet and dry activities. There's enough space to accommodate 7,000 visitors per day and activities from bumper boats to go-karts and even a mini animal park for the children.

Three things you need to know

  • You don't have to worry about arriving early as this place has plenty of space. No fighting for sun loungers here.
  • Head for the "grown-ups only" pool if you want to get away from those lovely things we know as children.
  • Be prepared for a tamer experience than elsewhere.

The food: Wide variety and great prices. Atlantis Restaurant offers all-day dining and Arabic is popular. Taj Mahal serves authentic Indian and Asian cuisine, Snack Attack does the usual fast food and also caters for vegetarians.

  • The drive: 90 minutes from Dubai
  • The price: Dh135 (adult) and Dh85 (children)
  • Ramadan hours: 10am-midnight daily
  • Call 06-7681888

The bottom line: Dreamland Aqua Park has really had to pull up its trunks and management says it has undergone a bit of a facelift (I'm not sure). There is plenty to entertain the children, especially the really small ones, with water bouncers for babies, see-saws and a splashers' area. There are also many more mellow slides for the little ones. The true beauty of Dreamland is that you rarely queue — imagine relaxing at a waterpark? Hard I know, but here it is possible.

Iceland Waterpark, Al Hamra, Ras Al Khaimah

The legend: Scientists believe global warming over the decades has led to a transpolar Arctic drift and a new world is emerging along the coast of Jazirat Al Hamra. A clan of penguins survived the journey from the Arctic to set up a new home for themselves in the desert.

The numbers: 17 slides, 19 attractions.

The big one: The Striker is a 33.5-metre drop slide from the top of a giant tower. It hurts.

The unique one: A seawater snorkelling reef where they have real fish and underwater creatures. Great for kids and adults allowing all to get up close and personal with life under the ocean.

Three things you need to know

  • Wear your flip-flops everywhere — the ground is hot.
  • Sprinklers regularly fire across a full-size water football pitch — if you choose to walk across you do so at your own peril as boys don't stop a game for anything or anyone.
  • Keep your arms and legs inside the inflatable. While I'm certain it's safe you always get the feeling things are a little rough around the edges.

The food: So much variety at such reasonable prices you'll have trouble deciding. Everything from burgers and freshly made pizza to salads and pasta dishes. A meal deal (including rice or fries and a soft drink) will set you back around Dh30.

  • The drive: Throw on some Beach Boys and allow for a one-hour drive from Dubai
  • The price: Dh150 (adult), Dh100 (children)
  • Ramadan hours: Noon-7pm from Saturday-Wednesday and noon-1am on Thursday and Friday
  • Call: 07-2447547.

The bottom line: It's 120 acres of waterpark — some finished, some not — with plenty of variety. There are panoramic views of the Al Hajar Mountains in the East, the Arabian Gulf in the North and of the labour camps as you queue.

It does boast 50 attractions including the usual water slides and typical waterpark attractions besides some fresh, novel concepts. A bit broken and battered and less flashy than the Dubai parks but probably more fun.

 

Wild Wadi Waterpark, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai.

The legend: The park is based around the story of Juha, who could very well be Sinbad the Sailor's brother, taken from The 1001 Arabian Nights. Juha claims during one of his ship adventures he accidentally found the place Wild Wadi now occupies, a place he describes as a beautiful natural wadi. Juha and his family are regulars at the park.

The numbers: 10 rides, four attractions.

The big one: The Jumeirah Sceirah. A slide which hurtles you at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour, cascading a breathtaking 33 metres.

The unique: Tickle and giggle at FISHO — The Fish Spa. The only place in the UAE to use toothless Garra Ruffa fish to exfoliate the feet, removing dead skin cells for an extra cost of Dh50 (adults) and Dh35 (children). Wild Wadi is also the only waterpark in the UAE with Flow Rider surf machines.

Three things you need to know

  • Wild Wadi's latest addition is Tantrum Alley, apparently the first slide with three funnels.
  • The decking above the giant wave pool offers one of the best spots to photograph the Burj Al Arab, any time of the day.
  • Head for the Jumeirah Sceirah early as the queues can get really crazy in the afternoon.

The food: Julshan's Kitchen and Sinbad's Galley are Wild Wadi's two main restaurants serving burgers, shawarmas, pasta, pizza and fries besides some more healthy options like salads and sensational sandwiches. A meal deal including fries and drink costs around Dh35 and above.

  • The drive: In town for Dubai residents and just an hour for Abu Dhabi guests. Parking is close to the entrance
  • The price: Dh205 adults, Dh165 for children
  • Ramadan hours: 10am-8pm from Sunday-Thursday and noon-midnight on Friday and Saturday
  • Call: 04 348 4444

The bottom line: Wild Wadi doesn't have that sleek new feel but it's in-town, clean family fun. Disney-esque characters help bring the story to life and there's plenty to keep everyone busy. It's fake rocks, fake storms and giant waterfalls — great for those with a good imagination. You can navigate your way around the park almost entirely from the water, thanks to the master-blaster jets which cannon you wherever you wish to go. The new rivals means fewer crowds, fewer queues and more time in the water.

 

Aquaventure; Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai

The legend: Legend has it this Aztec world and its countless lost chambers were discovered during the underwater construction work on the Palm Jumeirah. The ruins were soon identified as ruins from Atlantis, the lost continent. The Aztec temple, called the Ziggurat, serves as the main tower for many of the rides.

The numbers: Ten rides, six attractions.

The big one: The Leap of Faith stands 27.5-metres tall and 61 metres long. From the top of the Ziggurat riders are catapulted into a transparent tunnel and through a shark-filled lagoon, where guitar sharks, bow mouth sharks, white-tip, black-tip and grey reef sharks hang out.

The unique: Dolphin Bay allows guests the chance to swim with the dolphins (for a pretty hefty fee) or enjoy a shallow water experience with the fascinating mammals. The other thing Aquaventure offers which others don't is the 700-metre private beach for those who need a break from the fast-paced action.

Three things you need to know

  • Expect to spend money. Aquaventure has made collecting cash for the smallest things an art. Towels, lockers (Dh40, yes, Dh40), ray feeding — it all adds up.
  • A slightly longer walk to the far side of the park will give you empty areas and private lagoons to set up base for the day rather than be towel-to-towel with people in the main pool area.
  • Leave everything you don't need at home and avoid taking a locker. Take only the cash you'll spend as this can all go on a money wrist band they will issue at the gate.

The food: It's varied, fresh and well presented. But you pay for it. A burger sounds like a really good price until you realise that it doesn't come with fries or even a soft drink. Add it up and it's nearer Dh70 than the Dh35 you first thought. That said, it's the best quality nosh you'll get at a UAE waterpark.

The price: Dh200 (adults) and Dh165 (children).

The drive: You'll spend more time parking, waiting for the shuttle bus and walking to the entrance than you do driving to the waterpark. Leave extra time for this if you want to be there for opening minute!

The bottom line: It's still shiny and new. Expect more tourists than residents at this 42-acre park. More than a million people visited last year, which tells you something and it is home to many exhilarating rides and watercoasters. The rides are varied with the likes of Shark Attack — a slide getting you up close to the creatures — offering something a bit different. It's clean and you'll feel safe in the hands of the highly trained staff (who don't allow queue cutting).

Opening hours: 10am-7pm

Call 04-4260000

To sum up

On a budget: If you have small kids and are not too bothered about high octane rides and have transport, head to Dreamland.

Stuck in Dubai: It will have to be Aquaventure or Wild Wadi. If you want a beach go to Aquaventure. If you are going for variety of rides go to Wild Wadi.

Something different: Iceland lacks a little of the glamour of Wild Wadi or Aquaventure but has a greater variety of rides. Beware, the water is not cooled.