Think Dubai and endless desert, camel rides and belly dancing probably come to mind. How about meeting penguins?
It may sound unlikely, but if you’ve always wanted to get up close and personal with penguins, Dubai may be the only place in the world that allows you to do so. Unlike penguin parades in Hokkaido, or Phillip Island, Australia, where you can only watch penguins from a distance, visitors to Ski Dubai, where these “Penguin Encounters” are conducted, have the opportunity to hug and kiss a penguin.
My experience hugging a penguin in Dubai
I was given thermal wear, gloves and keys to a locker to put my things away. You won’t be allowed to bring a camera or even a camera phone into the enclosure, so you could really put away all your belongings, like I did.
Visitors are put into groups and given an appointed time to enter. Each group is limited to at most 12 people, which gives us sufficient time to personally interact with the penguins.
Two species of penguins are housed at the ski centre – the Gentoo and King penguins. We were given a quick briefing and watched a video that helped us learn more about the penguins we were about to meet, and our expected behaviour in the enclosure.
The first penguin I met was a Gentoo penguin. The guide shared with us its characteristics, and how it is different from the other species. As Gentoo penguins can get a little aggressive, we aren’t allowed to touch them. However, under the guide’s instruction, it was able to waddle up to a specific spot right next to each visitor to have photos taken.
Then came the highlight – a one-to-one encounter with the King penguins. Two King penguins waddled into the enclosure to greet us and we could touch them and pose for photos together. Following the guide’s instructions, I gently touched and stroked the feathers of the King penguins, held up their wings, and finally kissed and hugged one of them. It was just as I had imagined – it was cuddly, fluffy, and very adorable.
The entrance fees to the 40-minute “Peng-friend Encounter” costs 175 dirham (approximately S$65) and an additional S$50 if you choose to purchase professionally-taken photos at the end of the session. If you would like to meet more penguins and have a longer play-time with them, you can opt for the “Exclusive Peng-friend Encounter” (500 dirham/S$185 for 1 hour 15 minutes and you’ll meet up to 14 penguins).
The cost of the excursion may sound a little pricey, but I didn’t regret it one bit. It was one of the most memorable experiences I had in Dubai, and knowing I had snagged an experience that you can’t possibly get anywhere else in the world made it worthwhile. In fact, many of my friends didn’t believe I was posing with a real penguin when I showed them the photo – oh well, this just means I have a cool story to tell!
Ski Dubai is located within the Mall of Emirates, at Al Barsha 1. Visit this website for more information about the Penguin Encounter.
Do these activities too when in Dubai
Your Dubai trip is not complete without some dune bashing. This adventure sport involves roller-coaster rides over sand dunes on a safari jeep. The driver will also take you to vantage point where you can watch the beautiful sunset, and you’ll end the day with an Arabian dinner, over traditional music and dance.
Shop at the souks
“Souks” are traditional markets and are an interesting way to see “old Dubai” – the side of the city without the opulent skyscrapers. If you are looking to purchase gold jewellery, traditional fragrances, or spices, souks are where you can find them. Remember to dress in cool, loose clothing because souks aren’t equipped with air-conditioning.
See the Burj Khalifa
You’d definitely want to take a photo of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. We recommend seeing it from the Dubai Mall after 6.45pm, where the Guinness World Record-winning LED light show (yes, even the light show has a world record title) takes place at regular intervals between then and 11.45pm daily.
Enjoy the view from Burj Khalifa
After you’ve admired the Burj Khalifa, you won’t want to miss enjoying the view from it. Make a reservation at At.mosphere, a fine-dining restaurant and lounge located at level 122 of Burj Khalifa.
Visit the Jumeirah Mosque
One of the few mosques that is opened to non-Muslim visitors, Jumeirah Mosque is the largest mosque in the city. Guided tours are conducted on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and are followed by a question-and-answer session. Don’t worry if you only packed clothes for the warm climate – dresses and shawls are provided to make sure you’re appropriately dressed.