Last month we took our first holiday abroad as a family. To mark this monumental occasion, we decided to push the boat out a little bit and grab a week of winter sun in Dubai – cocktails on the beach, luxury hotel bars, shopping malls with aquariums built inside them, the whole 5* shebang. However, as I’ve already learned, children will do their damnedest to mess up your plans, and due to our two-year-old coming down with bronchitis on day two, our holiday ended up being pretty intense and stressful in the end. However, you live and learn, and here are some of my tips on how to survive a family holiday.
Don’t fly budget
We flew Emirates and although they aren’t cheap, I’m glad we did. If you’re doing long haul you want attentive flight crew, a great choice of in-flight entertainment, generous luggage allowance and most importantly, unlimited free booze all flight. Yes, that’s unlimited free booze all flight. Seven hours trying to keep a baby and a toddler from kicking off is no mean feat, especially in a confined space, so every little helps.
Look for hotels with a kids club
When it comes to hotels in Dubai, 5 stars is pretty much the minimum rating (some go all the way to 7 stars, which means it has a heliport for your chopper) so you’re going to get quality wherever you go. However, not all hotels are geared towards families with screaming, coughing, snotty-nosed children throwing tantrums (as we discovered on our travels around the city), so make sure to choose one with a kids club, as not only will you be able to get a few hours’ respite, but also it means the hotel employs staff that will at least pretend to humour your kids as they kick and scream their way through the reception area each morning. We chose Dukes Dubai, because if it’s good enough for James Bond, then it’s good enough for me. And yes, their Vesper Martini is just as lethal as the London version.
Bring ready mixed baby milk
If your baggage allowance can stand it, I would recommend you pack a suitcase full of ready-to-drink bottles of baby milk as NOWHERE in Dubai sells it, only that tedious powdered stuff, which although economical, is not what you want to be messing around with on a holiday. Boiling a kettle 30 mins in advance of when your child might wake up (usually at 2.30am)? Measuring out seven spoons of formula in the dark? Not mentioning the mess involved in all of this? Couple this with the fact you’ll have to sterilize everything first with those antiquated Milton tablets and you’ll be in for a world of pain with powder.
It costs a pretty penny (but then again, you’re in Dubai) but if you can budget another £100 for a night of childfree fun then I thoroughly recommend taking advantage of your hotel’s babysitting service if it’s an option. Ours was run in conjunction with Emirates, which gave us slightly more peace of mind than if some local random agency was taking care of it (Dubai specializes in utilizing/exploiting cheap, semi-skilled labour drafted in from India and Thailand). You’ll manage a meal and a couple of drinks before tiredness and anxiety get the better of you and you reluctantly head back to your room – it’s still worth every penny though.
Dummies and chargers
Last but by no means least, if you’re travelling anywhere with babies, you need two things in your life – dummies and some kind of electronic device with a screen. Therefore, forget to pack plenty of dummies and chargers for mobiles/tablets/laptops at your peril. I stupidly took four dummies with us and predictably we’d lost all of them by the third day. The nearest minimart was 10 minutes’ walk along a really busy stretch of road, which weirdly had no pavement (they don’t give a toss about pedestrians in Dubai), so not only did I take my life in my hands, they only had one dummy in stock both times I went. A visit to a restaurant or a cab journey without access to Peppa Pig or The Wiggles on a mobile or tablet would be unthinkable, so I implore you to pack more than you think you’d ever need.
In the airport waiting to check in, I remember asking myself the question “Will my kids ruin our luxury holiday?” and then realised the answer after we’d returned – “no, but they might ruin other people’s!”