'One of the things about travelling with kids," said my husband, "is that once in a while you've just got to get rid of them." He has a point. It's been an exhausting year and now all we have to look forward to is the endless summer holiday. So we decided to let the ferals loose on KidZania for a day at Dubai Mall while we browsed around the bookshop and had a long lunch. We got to the check-in and queued up with the other kids and parents. Before we knew it, we had tickets and were along for the ride. "Nooooooo," I wanted to wail as I was ushered through "security". "This is not the right flight." It was like one of those anxiety dreams.
But once inside I was mesmerised. We walked into a mini-town, where everything was three-quarter size, with cobbled streets and muted streetlights. I felt like I had landed in Victorian London on a November afternoon, but it had shrunk and was much warmer. We headed straight for HSBC where the children cashed in their welcoming cheques. There were no queues at all, but this was probably the most unrealistic thing about KidZania.
It's an incredibly clever concept. The kids get some start-up capital but then it's up to them to earn money working in the various jobs on offer ranging from surgeon to beautician to radio presenter. If they go to university they get paid more. "I'm not spending any money until I get a job," said Olivia, lead feral, and went off to university where she was the only non-Indian student. Bea went to the radio station where they were singing along to Shakira's World Cup song and Leo headed off to get his driving licence with all the Emirati children.
Rupert and I waited with Leo, who was having trouble with queue-barging drivers eager to get their hands on the piece of plastic that allowed them to try the race circuit. I would advise anyone considering KidZania to get there early; by noon, there are more workers than the mini-town needs and the queues are tedious. But at 10am it is quite empty. Then they all headed off to the hospital to perform keyhole surgery. They were paid for their time and effort and we got to watch them "scrub in" a la Grey's Anatomythrough a window.
"You realise your parents don't have to pay for everything. You can pay for it yourself," said Bea clutching her salary. That's my girl. "It's like another world, but where you're in charge," said Leo. Rupert and I went off for lunch and a wander around the mall. But as soon as I could I went back to toy town with its Disney-like atmosphere. I was just in time to see the ferals on the radio, drawing crowds with their rendition of Justin Bieber's Baby. I sat down on a park bench under a dim streetlight and watched proudly. Actually, as a day spent with the kids, it was a most pleasant experience. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets cost Dh125 for children ages four to 16 and Dh95 for two- to three-year-olds. Adults pay Dh90 and infants (under two) get in free. Call 04 448 5222 or visit www.kidzania.ae