x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Island hopping with the kids

The school run Summer in Abu Dhabi - a massive play zone for kids (ages four to 16) at the ADNEC exhibition centre - has surpassed my cynical expectations.

I'm not usually one to rave about child-specific stuff - least of all noisy, manufactured oversized play areas. Normally, the idea of a place which corrals hundreds of children into an indoor space (and which isn't a school) would be enough to send me running in the other direction, my two small girls in tow. But, to my great surprise Summer in Abu Dhabi - a massive play zone for kids (ages four to 16) which runs until August 18 at the ADNEC exhibition centre - has surpassed my cynical expectations. A useful diversion for fractious, overheated children, it is a huge hit with me and my yummy mummy friends.

Promoting itself as an ­"extravaganza for the whole family" with seven themed islands sprawled over 13,000 square metres of indoor air-conditioned space, the kids and I decided it had to be worth poking our noses in. Two and a half hours later, with over three-quarters of the theme park still unexplored and all of us suffering from a complete sensory overload, I managed to drag them away with promises to return - again and again.

At Dh30 per adult and Dh20 per child, it's more than great value for money; this is a heavily subsidised steal. With each "island" or zone categorised and age related, getting around is only an issue because of the sheer size of the venue. Briefly, Action Island and Adventure ­island are as their names suggest all about doing and seeing, with lots of energy zapping-activities from ball skills, intricate play areas, BMX shows, interactive cinema, Formula 1-style racing and a rather cute chill-out zone. Fun Island is your indoor funfair, minus the goldfish, and the equipment is superb.

With school out for the ­summer, education is made fun at Discovery Island with its Robot Zoo and world of optical ­illusions. We loved the ­Heritage and Culture Island, which along with a life-size chewing camel, provides reminders that despite the glitz, Abu Dhabi retains a strong link to its ­traditions and folklore. For something a bit more toned down, Creative Island is an arts and crafts haven with ­karaoke-style talent shows and even a circus. My children loved the "build a city" zone where they donned hard hats and joined in the country's mania for construction. And if you don't fancy the films on at the cinemas in town, Imagination Island offers live theatre for the little ones, an inflatable cinema, a storytelling tree and puppet shows.

OK, so it's not perfect - finding it and parking are minor drawbacks and I've no doubt that once word gets out overcrowding might be an issue - but Summer in Abu Dhabi is in my ­eldest's words, ­"unbelievable fun".