Something we rarely touch on the blog is the fact we do live in the desert.
Everyday life is fairly normal for us in Abu Dhabi, paved sidewalks, schools, shops and a lot of luxury surrounds you in the major United Arab Emirates (UAE) cities. Venturing into the desert dunes, however, is entirely another experience and one that visitors shouldn’t miss.
Last weekend we took a little trip into the desert to experience Arabian Nights Village, a purpose made desert experience for visitors to the UAE.
We came in with very little expectation of what we were about to experience. The last desert safari I did was in Dubai in 2004, sans children! To be honest we’d been nervous about the idea of taking the kids into the desert; Were they too young? Would there be enough kid-friendly activities? And the sand, oh sand!
What we got from Arabian Nights Village (ANV) however, completely exceeded our expectations and has moved it right to the top of our recommendation list for newbies to the UAE and residents alike.
A purpose-built village set up in the desert about 1.5 hours from Abu Dhabi city, Arabian Nights Village gives visitors a taste of traditional Bedouin life, as well as offering sports and activities that are a part of the UAE’s modern outdoor culture.
Here’s the low down on what visitors can expect visiting the Arabian Nights Village, Abu Dhabi.
Flexible options to suit families and time-frames
Arabian Nights Village is open to both day tripping guest and overnight visitors, making it ideal for visitors to Abu Dhabi to enjoy – even if they only have a short stopover.
Getting to Arabian Nights Village, Abu Dhabi
You don’t get much more middle of nowhere than where the Arabian Nights Village is located! Two transportation options are therefore available – coach/transfer service from Abu Dhabi or self-drive.
Arabian Nights Village is located approximately 50kms off the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain (Route 22) Highway, exit 59.
They suggest for visitors to come via their coach which leaves from Khalifa Park, behind the Park Rotana Complex in Abu Dhabi daily at 3pm. You’ll return by about 11pm for day trippers or before 2pm the following day for overnighters.
Residents and confident drivers with access to a 4wd can self-drive. We found the drive very easy being familiar with the UAE roads; a 4wd is advised as the last 24kms into the village are off-road through the desert, but I would confidently say most cars could make it unless there have been adverse weather conditions.
Although a little bumpy it’s truly picturesque Arabian desert, as you head further inland you can see the colours of the sand change and truly magnificent shimmering dunes appear. The bumpy road woke the Globetrotters up from their well-timed car nap, but they delighted in seeing the roaming camels and we truly knew our Arabian adventure was about to commence.
With a combination of mud brick, palm and canvas huts built in traditional Bedouin style, make no mistake, inside these are large luxury villas, fully air-conditioned and full of all the mod-cons you’d expect (except a TV – deliberately so you can have a ‘switched off’ break). That said there is a mobile antenna for those who just can’t help but keep everyone up to date on their adventures – by our experience, this only worked with Etisalat phones, not Du.
Our room is a “Bayt al Bahar” suite – literally, a beach house, modelled on traditional coastal Bedouin homes. It comes with a master bedroom with en-suite, and an interconnecting twin bedroom with en-suite – plenty big enough to fit our family of 5.
Unfortunately, they can’t provide baby cots but we brought out trusty Phil and Teds Traveller.
Our room is just stunning, the ambience, decor is absolutely everything we want and more, the Globetrotters thought it was great! Mum and Dad were happy too as we could close the door between our rooms giving some parent privacy!
What activities are available for families?
There are some core activities included in all evening and overnight packages including camel riding, dune bashing, sand boarding and an evening meal with traditional Arabic food and entertainment.
Dune bashing is not available to under 6’s for safety concerns which we understood, but felt a little limited then on what we could do for the evening. For additional charges, there are also quad bikes and fat tire sand bikes for hire, but again age restrictions apply on these.
Our kids (6,3 and 1 at time of visiting) were perfectly pleased with the camel ride and sand boarding, except the part where the camel needs to kneel down, littlies who haven’t done this before might find this quite scary and want to get down first! Grown-ups enjoy the ride, it’s all part of the experience! Our ride was only short – which is probably a good thing in the heat – but comfortable, unlike a previous never-to-be-forgotten experience with camel riding in Egypt, this was actually quite a pleasant experience!
There are plenty of little corners around the village that are built simply for relaxation so with a quiet evening ahead of us, that’s exactly what we did, taking in the stunning desert sunset is a truly spectacular experience, as is being able to spot the evening sky come to life. I so often forget to look up, thanks to my Master L for reminding me to appreciate what’s above us!
There’s also a beautiful pool available, though we were saving this up for the morning entertainment for the kids. Some of the extras usually on offer include Henna (traditional Henna can last weeks, but ours washed off within a few days in case you’re concerned!). In the cooler months a market souq also runs, along with a kids activity area. By early May these were not operating so we cannot provide a review on these.
Food for families at Arabian Nights Village
Meal times are often an issue for us travelling with our fussy littlies (ok one particular fussy one!). The outdoor evening meal didn’t open until 7pm, and with a lack of any other food options, early evening is often an issue with us travelling with small children – thankful for the fruit bowl in the room as all our snack supplies had run out by then!
Dinner is a buffet style offering with a fairly decent range of Arabic foods as well as some Western dishes to suit tastes. The meal is included in all packages, the only extras you will pay for are alcohol and shisha pipes. Over dinner, there is also entertainment by way of an oud player and a belly dancer (note these extras are not available during the hot summer months).
For overnighters, breakfast is not served until 8.30am which again if you have early risers like ours, you may need to be prepared for – though hopefully a late evening of food and dancing, and a very well blacked out room just might make them sleep in, just a tiny bit?!
The highlight for our kids was, in fact, the drive home where we had to navigate our way back along the desert track with a herd of camels! They delighted in being so close up to these elegant creatures, including a number of very new looking calves.
RELATED READING: Love thy Camel? Don’t miss the annual Al Dhafra Festival, held in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region each December – who can resist a camel beauty contest?
What to bring & what to wear
All meals, soft drinks and activities are included as part of a package, however, we know families with young children might have additional needs. Do note that there’s nothing resembling a general store or the like for a very long distance so bring all child-related supplies with you.
Abu Dhabi is, of course, a Muslim country and you are expected to dress with a degree of respect throughout the country – in some places more than others. This is a purpose-built tourist destination, however, so ladies will be fine to dress to the weather with shorts and shirt sleeves or dresses. Do bear in mind that if you’re taking part in some of the activities, and eating at the low tables you’ll want to wear something appropriate for the occasion!
Bathers by the pool are completely acceptable for all. If you are staying overnight and using the pool facilities, the towels are provided but you may want to bring your own floaties, goggles, hats, sunscreen and any other poolside extras with you.
No matter what you wear on your feet, your shoes will fill with sand (in fact basically everything will fill with sand, lets be honest). During the cooler winter months (I’d suggest December to February) the evening may be cool enough to warrant a sweater or wrap, but otherwise, it’s quite manageable without.
During the warmer months, expect to profusely sweat no matter where you go from June to September, that’s just a factor of being here in the UAE. See notes below about alterations to the program over the summer months.
Another thing to note, the sand can seriously burn your feet – there’s not much you can do about this, it’s the desert after all, but certainly in the warm months watch kiddie feet, even with sandals or flip-flops on.
RELATED READING: We cover religion & clothing etiquette in our post 15 Important Facts to know before visiting the UAE – a must read before a family visit
Arabian Nights Village – The fine details
- We visited in May 2016. Although they operate year-round, those with young children or adverse to the heat may find the peak of summer too hot to fully enjoy this outdoor themed adventures. As an indication daytime temperature when we arrived was about 43c, mid-summer expect 50c+.
- Summer Packages are currently being promoted directly through Arabian Nights Village starting from 220AED /100AED for evening excursions or 950AED overnight (double room) / 1,400 AED family rooms. Children under 6 are free.
- The evening entertainment program does not run over the summer. Normal pricing and programs resume from later September.
- If you do happen to have any accidents or emergencies small or large there is an onsite nurse and first aid room, of course in typical Globetrotter style of late we got to check out the facilities when Master J started a raging fever and, yes ‘let’s start growing our 2-year-old molars in the middle of the desert…..’
A visit to the UAE is not complete without stretching yourself beyond the big cities and experiencing the desert. This is an affordable and thoroughly enjoyable way to have a family desert experience, even if you only have a half day stopover. All ages and nationalities will enjoy what Arabian Nights Village has to offer.
This post is part of our series Discover the UAE – pop on over for more ideas on what to do with your kids in and around the desert. We also have a great guide to desert camping with kids in the UAE and a Facebook group for Middle East Family Travel Lovers!
Disclosures: We were provided with a complimentary overnight visit to Arabian Nights Village for the purpose of conducting an honest review. As always all views are our own.
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