If you want to entertain and educate your children at the same time then look no further than Dubai’s newest indoor theme park, KidZania.
Billed as ‘the world’s smallest nation’, KidZania is a make-believe paradise where children can pretend to be grown-ups. The fantasy city even has its own national anthem, flag and ruler known as ‘the Governor’.
The experience begins the moment your child checks in at the airport-style Emirates counter in Dubai Mall where the staff wear the airline’s familiar red and cream uniform. Each child is issued with a First Class boarding pass, a map and a cheque for 50 kidZos (the nation’s currency) before entering the park.
Inside, KidZania resembles a Disney-like darkened city complete with cobbled streets, child-sized buildings and hundreds of little people all dressed up as adults. Fire trucks packed with tiny fire fighters kitted up in their yellow uniform and hard hats rush past, sirens blazing. A group of journalists, notebooks in hand and cameras slung casually around their necks entering the hospital in search of stories for the KidZania Journal.
A queue forms outside Waitrose Supermarket as pocket-sized shoppers wait their turn to load up their baskets with groceries. Uniformed couriers overloaded with parcels race past eager to make their delivery on time and in the distance an ambulance siren sounds as mini-paramedics searched for an injured patient who needed their help.
This unique concept behind KidZania, which opened a branch in Dubai January this year, is the brainchild of Mexican businessman, Xavier Lopez. Lopez was approached by a school friend who wanted to set up a new business; a daycare centre where children could learn and role-play at the same time.
The gamble paid off and the daycare centre quickly morphed into an edutainment theme park with the first Kidzania opening in Mexico in 1999. Since then a further five have sprung up around the world in Tokyo, Jakarta and Lisbon with Dubai the seventh venture. Because KidZania is a partnership –Dubai’s venture is a tie up with Emaar Retail – the venues stick to the same formula with shops and fast food chains alongside establishments vital to a working city such as a hospital, university and police station.
The only difference is the marketing partners. In Dubai’s 80,000 sq ft complex, your child deposits his earnings at HSBC, gains a degree at Emaar Education, shops at Waitrose and learns how to conserve water at Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.
This mini economy is a marketing genius and in theory enhances the experience even more for the little visitors who can earn money from over 70 professions such as a surgeon, chef and beautician.
To gain employment they approach a ‘Zoopervisor’ to ask for a job in their chosen profession. The kidZos they earn can either be saved at the bank or used to buy experiences such as learning to make a pizza at Pizza Express. The currency also buys goods in the local department store. It’s 50 kidZos for a souvenir from one of the marketing sponsors, 11,000 for an Xbox.
The idea is that as children pretend to be a mechanic, an actor or a police detective, they learn about life in a modern society and enhance their communication, physical and creative skills at the same time.
While the park is aimed at children aged four to 15, you can take your little ones to play at Urbano’s Residence – the home of one of KidZania’s three mascot characters – with a kitchen, living room, bedroom and school all set up for the under fours.
Children over 120cm can be left inside the park while mum and dad enjoy a spot of shopping and don’t worry your little ones will be safe as all children are fitted with a remote frequency wristband so that parents can track them at any time.
For anyone visiting for the first time, don't be surprised by the army of kids jumping around during weekends!
KidZania is open from Sunday – Wednesday, 9am to 10pm; Thursday, 9am to 12am; Friday, 10am to 12am; Saturday, 10am to 12am.
For more information visit www.kidzania.ae or call 0091-4-448-5222
– Alice Haine.
Images: Dubai Mall