Yesterday we went to a water park called Dreamland with a few other families. It was about a two and a half hour drive from Abu Dhabi past Dubai. There is another water park a bit closer, but it's not as good for younger kids and a lot busier from what I've heard. I wasn't really expecting that much but when we got there, the first thing that struck me was all of the green space. It wasn't very crowded and there were a lot a chairs. We were able to group the families into a group of deck chairs in a nice shady spot by one of the bar / restaurants. After we got changed and settled, we headed our separate ways. I wasn't expecting all that much in the way of rides, but have to say they were pretty good. They had a pretty good variety at about 3/4 height of the rides at Noah's Ark (a water park in Wisconsin) without the crowds and lines. Also, it was only about $30 for my wife and I, $20 for my son and my 4-year old daughter was free because she looked cute.
The layout of the park was good, plus apart from food and drink everything was all inclusive. Nothing annoys me more than paying to get in and having to rent rafts for some of the rides. Even the lockers were free. They were combination locks that you could set your own combination for. The best thing about the park was the lax safety guidelines. Here's the typical conversation between me and one of the lifeguards when walking up to a slide with my 5 1/2 year old son:
Me: "Is he OK to ride this?"
lifeguard: "Can he swim?"
me: (uncertainly )"Uhhhhhh...sure."
lifeguard: OK, no problem.
In all honesty, he was fine and he can swim well enough for a waterslide. It was nice to be in a place that lets parents accept responsibility for their kids. In the U.S. there is so much liability that Lucas probably wouldn't have been able to get on most of those rides on his own.
The next natural question is: "What do people wear to a waterpark in a Muslim country?" The range was pretty interesting. There were women falling out of their bikinis and there were women in burqua swimsuits (burquinis). It was pretty much a come as you are atmosphere, however, an interesting event happened as we were leaving the park. While the changing and shower rooms were seperate, the locker room was for everyone. There was an Arab woman screaming at the locker room attendant who was trying to help her. It took us a while to work out why she was so upset. It turns out that the woman had 1) forgotten the combination that she set, 2) had forgotten which locker she put her things in and 3) had failed to write down which locker she was using in the attendant's book in case you forget your locker number. None of that was what she was upset by. She was actually upset that the attendant whe was trying to help her walked in before she could completely cover herself up. Keep in mind that the locker room is for everyone (changing room are seperate) and she had uncovered herself (i.e. her hair) in a co-ed locker room. Some people do take the covering very seriously, but not serious enough to put it away in a public place.
While waiting for everyone to get changed, I had a chance to relax with a shisha that one of my friends had ordered. It was a grape flavored kind of herbal tobacco filtered through a hooka which is basically a bong. It was really smooth and I could hardly tell that I was inhaling it until I exhaled and felt a little light-headed.
After we left the waterpark, we went to a well known liquor shop a five minute drive away and the four families stocked up on cheap booze. When my friend and I were going up the elevator to our apartments with a cart full of booze, we got a really strange look from a Chinese guy living in the building who asked, "Is that all alcohol?" I replied sheepishly that it was for two families, but even then he seemed surprized that we had that much. To be fair, my neighbor is having a party and I bought some sake and white wine for my wife's cooking. Still, it wouldn't even all fit on the handcart.
Overall, I would have to say that we all had a great time yesterday and are having an enjoyable vacation even though we couldn't leave the country.