(Telegraph) – As any parent who has found themselves playing Candy Crush on the floor of an en suite bathroom in the dark waiting for their kids to fall asleep will know, family holidays in hotels are not always the chilled-out getaway you might hope for. In my experience, squeezing a family of five into a confined space means nobody gets enough sleep and you either have to read under the covers with a torch (hurrah for audiobooks), give up and sit out on the balcony on your own, or get regular early nights as you all drift off to sleep together.
After the upheaval of a significant house move, we were in search of sun, some family downtime, and the right balance of activities. Dubai certainly delivers sunshine: in October half term, when we travelled, it was perfect for poolside relaxation with no goosebumps at all – only very light packing was required. There’s also a satisfying mix of city sights, activities for children, relaxing beaches – and, of course, some excellent hotel options.
Our first few nights were spent at the Ritz-Carlton. It’s on the beach yet in the heart of the city, with a seemingly never-ending mall containing a giant aquarium. There’s easy access to the Burj Khalifa tower, too, with its rocket of a lift to the 125th floor.
The newly updated “family suites” on the first floor of the Ritz-Carlton offer the perfect interconnecting combination: two rooms linked via a private lobby. The rooms are child-friendly and spacious, with giant beds and baths, luxurious toiletries – and very fluffy towels. On arrival, a big bowl of chocolate strawberries and cookies was waiting for the boys – aged six, eight and 10 – which was a nice touch.
This is a place where old-school charm meets hi-tech in-room gadgets, and there’s not an ounce of stuffiness anywhere. The clientele is cool and international, with some people just passing through and some clearly staying for a proper holiday.
Crucially, there was plenty of space for the boys to run around without getting in the way of those other guests. The pool offered a lazy river and fierce waterfalls to splash about in, and there was enough variation in restaurants to tempt all the family’s taste buds, from authentic Italian, to adventurous pan-Asian with dim sum specials, and a relaxed beach bar and grill. The best option as far as we were concerned was the outdoor Amaseena, offering a tantalising buffet of freshly baked breads, meat and fish grilled to order, a huge selection of salads and tempting desserts. The staff went well beyond the call of duty in successfully encouraging the boys to try new foods.
Child-friendly activities in the hotel were limited but the boys chased each other around the sandy football pitch until they were a sweaty mess, created their own rules on the giant chess board, and made the most of the table tennis tables in the gardens. The Lego selection in the kids’ club kept them happy for a couple of hours one morning too, allowing my husband and I to sneak off for the couples massage at the in-house spa.
While we’re on the subject of Lego, the iconic Danish bricks are well worth leaving the hotel for. Dubai does theme and water parks very well, with the most significant recent addition being Legoland Dubai, set in its own out-of-town village. It offers everything you have come to know and love about Legoland in Windsor, but without the rain and endless queues. As you might expect, there are plenty of opportunities to part with extra cash once you’re inside: fast-food options, the chance to get your Lego driving licence – and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Lego Taj Mahal.
For the final three days of our stay we moved across to the Anantara resort on The Palm. The two-bedroom family villas here are very special, the perfect size for us to relax completely. Entirely private, with two separate bedrooms, spacious living area, a private pool area with giant floating bean bags overlooking our own little bit of beach, and a personal butler on call. We really didn’t need to move at all, save for a quick boat trip around the harbour and the obligatory four-wheel drive romp around the sand dunes.
No trip to the desert is complete without dune bashing, and the easiest way is to take an organised tour that culminates in desert camp dinner, live entertainment, sandboarding and the arrival of the camel train at sunset.
Anantara The Palm offers in-room dining but we did manage to pull ourselves together to venture out for dinner. Again, there was a great restaurant selection on site, and we made the most of the wonderful bay views and fresh grills and salads at the classy but comfortable beach bar.
I asked my eldest for his top five things about the holiday. The answers stacked up thus: the Legoland sculptures (do you still have the pictures, Mum?); our own pool in the villa – we could jump in any time; the games in the kids’ club; the warm sea we could swim in for ages; and sandboarding down the dunes at night (it was about 7pm).
“Oh, and can I say about the yummy breakfasts too?”