Bushra Alkaff Al Hashemi samples the buzz of Thursday nights at Yas Waterworld, where the start of the weekend has been set aside for female waterpark enthusiasts
Ladies night at Yas Waterworld
By far the most popular question I was asked after I had spent an evening at Yas Waterworld related to attire.
"What were they wearing?" my friends would feverishly enquire.
Abu Dhabi's new waterpark has recently declared Thursday night as females-only evening ("ladies night"), resulting in crowds of curious women descending upon its grounds each week in hopes of some brief respite from the summer heat and a few hours of stress-free socialising.
Curious to find out what all the fuss was about, I joined the throngs.
At 6pm on a recent Thursday night, a gaggle of black-clad females patiently waited for the sun to go down and the night skies to arrive. Evening tickets range in price from Dh210 for regular admissionto Dh310 for the supposedly premium "Emperor" billet. Children under nine years old are admitted free of charge. According to official figures, more than 16,000 female guests have so far attended the waterpark on female-only Thursday nights.
In answer to the question about swimming attire, most wore surfing tops and shorts, some wore fluorescent summer tops with shorts, while others wore two-piece bathing suits with a short dress on top.
No one revealed too much, with the exception of maybe five out of the 500 or so in attendance, who wore two-piece suits without a dress, which I considered rather immodest.
There were very few girls on their own or even in pairs, with most arriving in groups of at least four, many of them meeting up with friends in the car park before venturing inside.
"Is it your first time?" is a common question people asked each other upon arrival - and for many it is.
Moza Mohammed, 26, came to the second ladies night and really enjoyed herself. However, she complained that it was too crowded and that there was not enough time to go an all the rides.
"We need a full day for ladies, not just five hours," she said. "It took us 40 minutes of standing in the queue for every ride," she said, complaining that she was only able to go on two rides.
"I had a premium ticket, but everyone else did as well."
She couldn't understand why they hadn't introduced such an event before, particularly given the local religious customs.
"We are in a Muslim Arab country, so the majority of girls here are covered," she said.
The waterpark recently adjusted its schedule in accordance with demand.
"When I went it was from 8pm to 12am, but now I hear that they have changed it to 5pm to 10pm. It's a good thing that they made it earlier. We can't stay out that late!" said Mohammed.
Waterpark rides and pools are very important, but they are still no alternative to the sea.
"We still go all the way to Dubai for the ladies club beach in Jumeirah," said Mohammed.
She added that the waterpark is a major attraction for girls from Abu Dhabi. "You get to know new girls, and you see girls you haven't seen since high school." Mohammed would like to see longer opening hours and fewer people in attendance.
"I will definitely go again, but it was too crowded. I will wait and see when it's less crowded, and for them to open at noon at least."
Shammayel Yasser, 18, says: "When I went to Yas, I saw people I haven't seen in five years. Girls go because there is no other place to go that is ladies only.
"Every week, half the girls from Abu Dhabi's universities meet at the waterpark. We socialise more than we ride the rides."
Girls from Abu Dhabi used to go to Dubai to use Wild Wadi and the beach. Now that journey is being made in reverse.
"Even the girls of Al Ain and Dubai now come to Yas rather than Wild Wadi. The rides are more exciting," Yasser said.
Another observation is that most in attendance are Emiratis.
"When it is ladies only, there are only locals," Yasser said. "I was surprised that we did not see any tourists or expats."
Like Mohammed, Yasser would like to see longer opening hours: "I recommend that Yas Waterworld extend its opening time. From 8pm to 12am is not enough - it should be at least a whole day! We have been waiting for a ladies-only beach, and we want to be in the sun."
Aysha Al Hamed, 24, said: "It's a really nice experience. I saw many girls I haven't seen in a long time. Some were with us in school or university.
"It's a good way to meet and catch up in a place with a dynamic, active vibe. And I would say that there is no place in Abu Dhabi like it, for us. We do need this, and have been waiting for it and we are still waiting for the beach they promised us. Malls are not a suitable place to meet in bigger circles."
Citing the strong cultural emphasis on modesty and privacy, she suggested that mobile phones should be confiscated at the entrance because such devices might be used to violate the privacy of patrons.
"No one would deliberately take your photo, and no one really does. However, with social media you are scared to even be in the background."
Bushra Alkaff Al Hashemi is a senior features writer for The National