Rory Kinnear, star of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company and TV drama actor, headed to the luxury Palace at One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai this summer, along with his wife and two young children, where they enjoyed beautiful weather and plenty of family-friendly activities…
Holidays with very young children can be exhausting affairs. Two weeks of trying to keep to sleep and feeding routines, whilst entertaining an older one, all in an alien environment, can leave you vowing never to leave home again. With a four year-old boy and a five month-old girl, Dubai appealed for the simple reason that it was hot, the flight wasn’t that long, and the hotel looked amazing. And it offered baby-sitting!
I had never thought of going to Dubai before. But I had stayed at One & Only Resorts in both Mauritius and Cape Town and the chance to enjoy another of their sensational properties and unimpeachable service a little closer to home was too good to turn down.
Dubai itself might not be traditionally beautiful, and its soul is very difficult to find buried beneath its rapacious expansion, but things are new and they invariably work. You’re not there for the history, the quaint charm or exoticism – there are far better places to surround yourself in authentic Arabic culture – but, like buying a new-build property, you’re there because it’s new, it’s safe, and everything is of the highest, most modern spec. For travelling with kids those things are invaluable.
When it was built in 1998, the first hotel to arrive on Jumeirah beach, the Royal Mirage was surrounded by desert. Today it now resembles an oasis of calm against the backdrop of Blade Runner. It offers three different hotels within the same complex. We stayed at the Palace (the others are the Residence & Spa and Arabian Court), and if you are visiting with a family that is definitely the one I would recommend.
The gong that announces your arrival is just one of the little touches that raise everything about the Royal Mirage above merely the excellent. Fresh juices and biscuits were delivered to our room daily, the biscuits providing most welcome bribes when necessary. Golf buggies are on hand to traverse the complex on demand. And although Dubai at the beginning of September is very hot, averaging about 40 degrees, everything that can be done to counter it is offered.
Complimentary iced water and cold flannels by the pool, along with a welcome breeze blowing in across the 1.5km of private beach means the heat always stays pleasant rather than oppressive. I’d recommend flip-flops for everyone around the pool though, as the flagstones can get very hot. It is also unbelievably humid in the evenings – but luckily the air-conditioning everywhere is excellent.
For a young boy who has just learnt to swim, the pool is sensational, with two shallow child-friendly areas and countless little islands for children to climb out onto and then jump back in again (and again…and again…). There is a children’s playground (one of two on the complex).
Kids' clubs: There's also a dedicated kids’ club for children from 4 – 11 with a wide-ranging programme of events, tailored to different ages.
For the younger ones, there is an air-conditioned room filled with toys, puzzles, books, games and Lego that is the perfect place for them to escape the heat for an hour or two. With the summer holidays over, the three times our son used it he was the only child there – meaning he had the wrapt attention of three young women attending to his every need. He didn’t seem to mind.
For slightly older kids there are three tennis courts, (both Novak and Roger have stayed here) with pros offering lessons to the next generation, and daily games of football and volleyball between staff and guests.
For water-loving kids, the sea is warm, but pleasantly so, and very still, making it perfect to try your hand at the available water-skiing, kayaking, wind-surfing or even fishing.
For adults: And for adults, the Spa and Fitmess Centre at the Residence is a blissful retreat from nappies and tantrums. Try the Royal Hammam – eighty minutes that feel like a rejuvenating holiday in themselves.
Outside of the resort we visited the famous Dubai Mall – an extraordinary temple of commerce offering a host of activities for children alongside the plethora of opportunities to spend your own money. There is an ice-rink, daily displays of the remarkable ‘dancing fountains’, an enormous aquarium that kept our marine-obsessed son spellbound for an hour, a complete skeleton of a recently unearthed dinosaur flown in from America and reconstructed bone-by-bone… you get the idea.
Dubai is keen to show everyone that they can get whatever they want, from wherever they want to get it. Most successfully of all, Kidzania (125 AED entry), rumoured soon to be coming to Westfield in London, is a brilliant concept that is fantastically well executed. The fact that my son got to experience being a doctor, a fireman and a pilot in the space of an hour should illustrate they’re onto something special.
Equally Aquaventure, a labyrinthine water park at the outrageous Atlantis, the Palm Resort, is another great way to pass a day. Although children under 1.2m can’t ride the most extreme slides, sharing a rubber ring with an adult and bombing down the huge network of rapids and torrents that thread around the perimeter of the park can’t be beaten. Lifejackets are available for all sizes; Incredible Hulk-style roar as you go down is, I believe, optional. Complementary day passes and bus transfers are available from the Royal Mirage.
Breakfast and children’s meals were had at the excellent Olives within the hotel. Breakfast offers the kind of variety and quality you’d expect from a hotel of this standard whilst the kids’ menu for lunch and tea is wide, delicious, unfussy, great value with huge portions.
On nights we had a babysitter our two favourites to eat were the superb Indian restaurant Nina’s and the excellent modern European ‘celebrities’. For the quality of food, the prices are reasonable, although the mark-up on the wine makes the eyes water.
For drinks, the Rooftop Terrace in The Arabian Court has the most glorious sunset view accompanied by sublime cocktails.
Travel time: Dubai is a seven hour flight from London, and is three hours ahead of GMT. The One&Only Royal Mirage is about a thirty minutes taxi journey from the airport.
Accommodation: We stayed in a Superior Gold Club Suite. This offers a huge double Kingsize bedroom with incredible en-suite connecting to a beautifully appointed sitting room andfurther bathroom with sofa-bed, armchairs, coffee machine and dining area along with all the electrical mod-cons you can think of. Both rooms have spacious balconies.
As Gold Club members you also have use of the Gold Club lounge for complementary breakfast and afternoon tea, and happy hour 6-8pm, as well as a private entrance which brings you straight to your lift.
Facilities: The concierge staff there are faultless. Indeed the staff, and the hotel in general, do all they can to make life easy for parents with young ones. From providing sterilisers and bottle warmers to arranging babysitters (for a very reasonable 40AED (approx. £6) an hour) and carrying buggies, they are all on the lookout for minimizing the potential stresses and strains of holidaying en famille. In fact every time we ventured out of the complex we couldn’t wait to get back there again. As our son said on our last day, “Everybody here is my friend. They all smile at me all the time."
Stay seven nights from £5,135 per family. Price is based on two adults and two children (0-11 years old) sharing a Palace Superior Deluxe Room on a bed and breakfast basis, economy flights from London Gatwick with Emirates including transfers.