1. Ultra-luxe beach break
Like the Maldives, but closer
If you’re after a lush white-sands-meet-turquoise-waters break without crossing into international airspace, Zaya Nurai Island in Abu Dhabi is perfect. Just 60 minutes from Dubai and a 10-minute boat ride from Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, this private five-star island boasts gorgeous beaches and contemporary villas that come with private temperature-controlled pools, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Arabian Sea, and a soaking tub and rain shower – ideal for parents who need a little indulgent me-time. Nurai Island’s Beach Houses are great for young families and couples. Aside from your private pool, you’ll also find an oversized bath tub, and 24-hour butler service and housekeeping, so you don’t have to lift a finger. Leave bulky baby gear at home, as the hotel can provide everything from cots, safety rails, bottle warmers and sterilizers, to arm bands and swim toys (just ask at the front desk), while it also offers babysitting services if you fancy some couple time.
If your little one is aged four or over you can drop them off at Petit Z kids club – which features a farm shop, mud kitchen, and all sorts of nature-based arts and crafts activities – while you enjoy a pampering treatment at the island’s Nurai Spa. There are also group yoga sessions, a personal trainer available, and host of healthy food options, including Frangipani (offering local organic produce), Ginger Mermaid (fresh sushi), The Dusk (tapas), while The Book Cellar boasts games, books and edible treats, We’re sold!
From Dh3,000 per night, 20% UAE residents discount available. Zayanuraiisland.com.
Tip: The hotel offers sunscreen and beach toys, so all you need to pack is a book!
2. Safari just round the corner
No need to go to Kenya for adventurous animal lovers
If you’ve never done a safari and are thinking of doing one in Africa in the future, you might want to do a practice run at the much-closer Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island. Getting there from Dubai requires a three-hour drive, or a two-hour trip from Abu Dhabi, but you can catch a Rotana Air flight to the island if you’d like. If you do drive, there’s a non-negotiable 20-minute boat ride to the island, but it’s well worth it – especially if you have dolphins swimming alongside your boat.
Set on a 31-square-kilometre piece of land, Sir Bani Yas Island was the vision of the late His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayhan. Home to cheetah, ostrich, giraffe, striped hyena, Arabia rock hyrax, flamingo, eland, antelope, barbary sheep, Indian spotted deer, gazelle, Arabian oryx and peacocks, this is an animal lovers’ paradise. The nature reserve opens at 6:45am – the ideal time to catch a safari with your little ones – and you’ll stop 30 minutes into your tour for coffee, croissants and a stunning view of the sunrise. If there are no early birds in your brood, you’ll be glad to know there are scheduled tours throughout the day. The family can also enjoy archery, kayaking, mountain biking (with attachable chariots for the kids), sailing, horse riding, a falcon show, wadi walking, water sports, swims in a private pool and PADI lessons. There are three properties on the island, but we love Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara for its family-friendly vibe.
From around Dh1,400 per night, Desertislands.anantara.com
Tip: Don’t forget to pack closed sporty shoes for the family, if you fancy a walk or bicycle ride.
3. Readymade camping with the kids
The ideal staycation to book with out-of-town guests
If you live in the UAE, you’ve got to do a family camping trip in the desert at least once. If pitching tents isn’t your cup of tea, here’s the ideal solution: an overnight stay at Ras Al Khaimah’s magical Bedouin Oasis Camp. Situated near The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi (previously The Banyan Tree Al Wadi), this plush Arabian desert hideaway comes replete with the traditional hospitality the Bedouins are famous for.
The kids will be happy to keep themselves busy dune bashing, camel riding, quad biking and sand boarding, while parents can enjoy traditional henna painting and Tannoura and belly dancing ahead of a traditional barbecue feast served come nightfall. Once you’ve eaten your fill, bed down in readymade deluxe, premium, standard or igloo desert tents, before waking up to a hearty breakfast. Sounds good to us.
From Dh350 for an overnight stay for two, Arabianincentive.com/bedouin-oasis.aspx - 0552284984
Tip: Don't forget the wet wipes!
4. Cruise around the Gulf
Like being in Europe, without actually being in Europe
For something a little different, why not head for a seven-day cruise around the Gulf on the MSC Splendida – the world’s 11th longest cruise ship? Set sail from Dubai or Abu Dhabi and indulge in a resort-like holiday at sea. Showcasing free five-star food at round-the-clock buffets, free entertainment – from Broadway-style shows every night to MasterChef competitions and dance classes – fantastic indoor and outdoor kids’ play areas, a two-deck long spiral slide, an aqua park, F1 race car simulator, 4D cinema, bowling alley, bars and more,.. You certainly won’t be getting bored! The ship docks in Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island, Khassab and Muscat. While the ship’s balcony staterooms offer gorgeous ocean views, if your little ones are climbers you might feel more comfortable booking an ocean view stateroom with a porthole window.
From about Dh1,900pp per night and around Dh515pp for port taxes. Msccruises.com.
Tip: We’d definitely advise opting for a water beverage package, to avoid long walks.
5. Traditional mountain escape
Like the Norwegian Fjords with warmer weather
Just an hour’s drive from Dubai, set amid the dramatic Hajar Mountains, close to the strikingly turquoise Hatta Dam, Hatta Fort Hotel is a UAE institution, having been around since the 1980s, and exudes friendly charm and laid-back sensibility, even after all these years. Boasting enormous rooms (which saw a stylish makeover in 2017), this is the perfect choice for bigger families. The rooms’ balconies overlook expansive lawns and roaming peacocks, offering parents the perfect drink-and-snack-with-a-view respite after the minis have gone to bed.
The property’s dining offerings feature an impressive spread that’ll keep even fussy eaters happy, and – when the kids need something fun to do (which is always) – there are two swimming pools, mini golf, archery, and a playground. If you fancy an excursion, hire a driver and head to nearby Hatta Heritage Village (children will love the little houses, watch towers and castles), Hatta Dam that now offers kayaks and boat rentals, and local farms that you can venture into.
Starting from around Dh1,231 per night, Jaresortshotels.com - 04 809 9333
Tip: Book well in advance as this place fills up fast!