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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Review: Dig It, the new play zone for kids in Dubai, has its building site theme down to a tee 

The ball pits are filled with soft foam stones and bricks, with a conveyor belt for sending bricks to a special chamber above, operated by a hand-powered crank

Older children can operate scaled-down diggers for the complete construction-site experience
Older children can operate scaled-down diggers for the complete construction-site experience

For a two-and-a-half-year-old boy obsessed with cars, trains, planes and practically anything mechanical, this is potentially a dream come true. An indoor children’s play area themed around a building site, complete with diggers, trucks, hard hats and hi-viz vests? Where do we sign?

Dig It has just opened in the Springs Souk, Dubai — an Emaar shopping mall that is young enough to have available parking at midday on the weekend, and still smells of fresh paint. At one end of the first floor there’s a Reel cinema that’s soon to open, and opposite you’ll find Dig It. Benedict, my aforementioned toddler, becomes transfixed the very second his eyes fall on what’s within.

Because he’s younger than 3 years, he gets in for free, while it costs just Dh40 for me and his mum to cross the threshold for an hour — an entirely reasonable fee for such a novel facility. Benedict declines the hi-viz vest and helmet on offer, possibly because he doesn’t want to cramp his style, but more likely because he knows it’ll take up valuable time that could otherwise be used for playing with construction equipment and, within seconds of getting in, he’s off.

The place is nicely busy and not so noisy that the adults are clutching bleeding ears. In fact, unlike other play zones we’ve taken the boy wonder to in Dubai, the adults aren’t even clutching their smartphones. In the main, they’re either getting down with the kids or chatting with one another in the self-contained cafe area while their offspring burn off copious amounts of energy in complete safety.

The Driving School at Dig It, where children use pedal-power to get around
The Driving School, where children use pedal-power to get around. Courtesy Emaar Hospitality

The first thing Benedict is drawn to is the Driving School — a track area with tight corners where little ones can tear around on pedal-powered tractors complete with operational loading buckets. He hasn’t yet mastered the art of self-propulsion, so I’m pressed into service in pushing him around the circuit until he spies the wheelbarrows and decides that racing his mum around with one might be more fun.

Above and around us is the soft-play area, with easily climbable ladders, padded corridors and chambers, chutes, turntables, slides and swings — all themed around a construction site. There are ball pits, too, but that here are filled with soft foam stones and bricks, and a conveyor belt for sending bricks from the floor to a special chamber above, operated by a hand-powered crank. To say Benedict is in his element here would be a massive understatement — if we could strap some sort of dynamo to him, he’d probably be able to provide electricity to the entire Springs neighbourhood.

Benedict Hackett building Lego cars that will be raced on the adjacent track
Benedict Hackett building Lego cars that will be raced on the adjacent track

Once he’s ready for a change of scene, it’s off to the Lego build area, where he pieces together racing cars to run head to head with other kids on the adjacent hill track. Over in a far corner, there’s an enclosed circuit for six radio-controlled dumper trucks (this is where the dads seem to hang out) and opposite this is Benedict’s favourite: an augmented reality sandbox that adapts to the landscaping attempts by children to portray an ever-evolving area of jungle and sea, populated by roaming dinosaurs. Despite his tender age, Benedict is able to identify these prehistoric beasts with a speed and enthusiasm that would put David Attenborough to shame; the table keeps even the adults entranced.

Benedict Hackett is mesmerised by the augmented reality sandbox, where the terrain shifts and dinosaurs freely roam
Benedict Hackett is mesmerised by the augmented reality sandbox, where the terrain shifts and dinosaurs freely roam

Before we know it, our hour is up. Cue a complete meltdown as Benedict is extricated and then escorted through the toy shop area where, naturally, he wants everything. You have been warned — by all means go, it’s a brilliant and educational fun zone, but perhaps plan your exit route a bit more effectively than we did.

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Read more:

UAE summer survival guide: how to keep kids entertained

Science-themed parties proving all the rage in the UAE

XPark Junior review: A parent and two-year-old check out the park in Dubai

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