Welcome to Umm Al Quwain… with kids
The UAE has an international reputation for flashy architecture, amazing tourist attractions and glitzy hotels within the boundaries of its traditional Islamic roots. Then there’s Umm Al Quwain (UAQ).
Fair to say it sits in a league of its own when compared with the other Emirates, particularly the very modern and diverse cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Tucked away in the north-east corner of the UAE between Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, it’s certainly different from the moment you cross the border. If the random camels don’t come as a bit of a surprise, the feeling like you have entered a time warp into another realm will probably hit you.
Now if I say the word Barracuda a few more UAE residence might start nodding their head and understand where this week’s adventure takes us; to those out of the know, it’s the home to a giant tax-free liquor shop, but that’s not its only claim to fame.
On hearing there was also a water park next door it sounded like the perfect opportunity to undertake a family road trip while stocking the cellar. Only 2.5 hours from downtown Abu Dhabi or an hour from Dubai, it’s an easy drive up the E311 or E611, but as you enter UAQ do mind the camels – they are freely roaming along the verge of the freeway and in among the buildings in the ever so picturesque industrial estate you need to drive through.
What to expect at Dreamland Aqua Park
Now Dreamland Aqua Park is never going to compete with the big boys Atlantis and Wild Wadi in Dubai, or Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi. It does, however, lay claim to being the oldest and largest aqua park in the region. I’d beg to differ on the second point but it probably has the old bit down pat. According to their website, they opened in 1997 but it was clearly built themed on the 1980s. In return, though the entry fee is much more affordable.
If it’s big thrills and spills you’re after its probably going to disappoint. There are a number of slide and ride options which were beyond this big scaredy-cats limit but Mr Globetrotter reported most as only moderately thrilling and a little disappointing.
Heating in the pools was very sadly lacking. The large family only pool “the Jacuzzi” (a deceptively warm sounding name) was utterly freezing and unusable by our little folk even in early March. Granted it has been unseasonably cold the last couple of weeks and a much warmer day would likely see the park much busier.
On the positive side, it was a gorgeously sunny day, and because it was particularly quiet there were no queues for anything. We spent much of the afternoon relaxing in the “VIP area” near the main bar – oh did I mention the water park is the only one in the UAE fully licensed?
I asked the bar manager what the hashtag was so I could give them a word of thanks on social media, he very promptly and excitedly grabbed me a guest comment book. I guess when you still have payphones dotted all over the place it was unlikely they had even heard of Instagram! (on later investigation they do! #dreamlandaquapark)
Given the day’s festivities by the pool there was no driving home so there are really only two viable options;
Option A – you can camp at the onsite cabanas. The rooms apparently sleep 4 and food and BBQ dinner are provided with your accommodation cost. Sadly they had a group booking for our weekend so we missed out on booking one, but if we return again this is definitely the way to go for all day convenience.
So we took Option B, staying at the Barracuda Beach Resort next door. Now I use both these words very loosely. The beach did have sand; and a large fence covered in seaweed and garbage blocking access to the sea beyond (if you were feeling really game).
As for the resort bit… well depending whose review you read it is rated 2 or 3 stars. Trip Advisor ranks it number one of seven hotels in the Emirate of UAQ. So in advance we had already set expectations, and oh it didn’t disappoint.
Let’s focus on the positives.
- No problem booking a two bedroom room that fits us all (and in fact, our whole party could have fitted in there as well so they are well suited to groups)
- Housekeeping actually brought the cot straight away, and it was manufactured this century
- You can hire a BBQ and BYO cook dinner right outside your room. BYO drinks also freely allowed
- From a distance it looks quite pretty
- There is a brand spanking new children’s playground possibly the only thing built since 1997.
And then the con’s
- The place has most definitely never been renovated since the day it was built, assumably also the late ‘90s but in keeping with 1983 style
- The doors are rotting, door handles falling off, drawers missing, pipes hanging from the roof – the rooms are just god awful ugly
- I was afraid to step anywhere barefoot for fear of a likely fungal disease; that and the floor was freezing (top tip if you have a baby – bring a rug for the floor, thankfully we had our picnic rug from the park)
A serious lack of investment over the years really brings it down to nothing short of a glorified motel with a pool in the middle of nowhere. I’d truly hate to think what hotels rated two to seven in UAQ are like.
The side purpose of our trip was of course to visit the famous Barracudas and it really didn’t disappoint. Significantly cheaper prices than we’d pay in Abu Dhabi and a huge selection of beer wine and spirits.
Alcohol these days is fairly easy to purchase in the Emirates where drinking is permitted, but its taxed at 30% (in Dubai they add this at the till so don’t be surprised when your bill jumps). The prices really are that much cheaper, so if you are buying in bulk its really worth the drive for a ‘booze-run’ alone – leave plenty of space in your car but make sure everything in your car is covered.
Barracuda really is a grown-up’s playground but no less after a long drive there is a kids playground by the ‘beach’ if they need entertaining along with restrooms.
A note on alcohol in the UAE:
Non-Muslim expats over 21 are entitled to apply for a drinking license in the Emirate they live in, which allows the license holder to consume alcohol in their own home or on licensed premises. Technically it’s considered illegal to purchase alcohol outside of the Emirate your license is issued in. From Dubai or Abu Dhabi you need to drive through Sharjah to get to UAQ where drinking and possession of alcohol is illegal. Drink driving is strictly prohibited in all Emirates. All this being said, Barracuda still does a roaring trade with expats from across the Emirates – just be careful.
So how would we rate our weekend? 9/10 honestly!
We came in expecting things to be ‘different’ and it certainly didn’t disappoint. This is a fine example of family travel being about the company you keep and what you make of a trip rather than the flashiness of the attractions or quality of the accommodation.
That being said, I just wish the Barracuda Beach Resort management could splash out on a coat of paint and a few repairs to bring the resort up to a semi-reasonable standard.
Unlikely other places in the UAE I couldn’t claim you should make a trip to the UAE specifically for Dreamland and Barracudas, but anyone on an extended vacation or living here, definitely add it to your agenda for a fun weekend away that’s a little less ordinary where all the family can enjoy themselves at very reasonable prices.
Want more ideas what to do with kids in the UAE? Here are 100+ of them!
Have you “experienced” Dreamland and Barracuda? Would you recommend it to our readers?