Splash out on a slide show

In bikinis, burquinis, boardshorts or saris, thrillseekers do what they can to beat the heat. Michelle Wranik joins the queue.

In the queue for the Jumeirah Sceirah, the biggest slide at Dubai's Wild Wadi Water Park, three Muslim women are shrieking with laughter.

Well aware of the waterpark wedgie risk, I'm wearing a budge-proof bikini. But these women are covered up head to toe in the local version of the burqini – modest, full-length swimsuits with built-in headscarves.

One by one, they take their place, letting out ear-splitting squeals as they hurtle down the 33-metre slide. At the base, they jump up spluttering and dishevelled and rush off to pose for a photograph.

Half an hour later, I spot one of them grappling with a bodyboard on the Flowrider, a ride that simulates real waves. Readjusting her bright pink lycra headscarf, she launches onto her knees and manages to surf the wave for a good two minutes before a crowd of cheering onlookers.

It's a riveting, if slightly bizarre, glimpse into the lives of the Emiratis, modern desert dwellers who do what they can to cool down in the scorching heat.

During the Dubai summer, when the mercury can hit 50 degrees, sloshing around temperature-controlled slides at a waterpark is a perfectly valid way to spend the weekend – even if you're an adult.

There are three waterparks in the UAE and, more often than not, they're packed. Today at Wild Wadi, on Jumeirah Beach in front of the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel, children are outnumbered by wrinkles, Rolexes and more nips and tucks than an episode of Nip/Tuck. Hairy-chested Arab men queue alongside bronzed, bikini-clad American mothers and Indian women, some even wearing saris.

Grabbing an inflatable ring, I spend an hour being catapulted around the Master Blaster, a series of adrenalin-pumped loops and descents, catching glimpses of the gleaming Burj Al Arab towering overhead.


In between the shrieks, the jostling wet bodies and the pungent wafts of body odour, the twang of Arabic music pipes from outdoor speakers. In the distance, there is the faint sound of a muezzin wailing the call to prayer from a mosque. If it weren't for this haunting sound and the burqinis, it would be easy to forget this is Dubai.

On the surface, it looks like any old waterpark but there are prayer rooms built alongside the change rooms. Nudity and public displays of affection are strict no-nos. And on Thursday nights during summer, there's a ladies-only night until 1am, so Muslim women can retain their modesty.

Now there's a new kid on the waterpark block – the steroid-pumped Aquaventure. Perched on the tip of the palm-shaped island, Palm Jumeirah, next to the Atlantis hotel, it's big, bold, brash – and very Dubai.

The theme is faux Mesopotamia. Here, sodden thrillseekers race up to the top of a mythical Mayan pyramid-shaped tower named Ziggurat and drop down a 27.5-metre descent called the Leap of Faith. Through a shark tank, of course.

At the base of the park, I'm punting along a 2.3-kilometre river circuit of cascades and rapids when two women – this time wearing the loose, black robe known as the abaya, gloves and even socks – bob past. Not a shred of skin is showing. They float along giggling, not at all bothered by their sodden, heavy robes.

Nearby, young Emirati families gather on the sun loungers. An Arab man in a crisp, white dishdasha waves at his two wet children shouting from the shallow water. His fully robed wife sits beside him, chatting on her mobile phone.

Waterparks really are a way of life here, even slightly pokey ones a 40-minute drive away. Which might be the reason Dreamland still draws a crowd. Built in the 1990s, which might as well be prehistoric in the UAE's youthful timeline, this Umm al-Qaiwain waterpark doesn't have the bling of Aquaventure or the thrill of Wild Wadi.

Hardened adrenalin junkies might pooh-pooh the wildest slide, which ups the heart rate as much as running up a flight of stairs.

But it has one interesting drawcard: a licensed pool bar, serving icy cold beers and cocktails. Due to the country's conservative Islamic laws, a pool bar is rarer than a desert truffle – meaning that on any given weekend, the waterpark is packed with people. Hairy-chested men, bronzed bikini babes, burqinis and all.

Wild Wadi, +971 4 348 4444, wildwadi.com; Aquaventure, +971 4 426 0000, atlantisthepalm.com; Dreamland, +971 6 768 1887, dreamlanduae.com.