Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Exploring Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo

By Hamza Shafique

I usually avoid writing about places which are famous, well-advertised and almost everyone knows about them already. Dubai Aquarium in Dubai Mall is one such place. For me it was in the category of done and dusted as I have been to this place multiple times. But after my recent visit, I am compelled to write about it because of Dubai Aquarium’s ability to offer something new on every visit I made in approx. last 5 years. So, in this post I will try to pen down my experience over the years with this attraction and elements that made this trip worthwhile every time.

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo is one of its kind facility in UAE. Unlike other Aquariums which I have visited this one is situated inside a shopping mall, which makes the trip even more interesting and fun. There is a free huge display in the middle of the mall where people can appreciate many kinds of fish, including 8 feet sharks with scary pointy teeth, from a distance. So even if you don’t want to pay the regular ticket of 100 dirhams you can still experience it up to some extent. I will suggest go a floor up and there you will find small windows in to the aquarium where you can see Sea life even closer and take interesting pictures.
So, coming back to facility. Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo includes the following:

1-A Tunnel that goes through the Huge Aquarium that as I mentioned is visible and situated in the middle of the mall.
2-Experience area that is built right on top of the aquarium and holds multiple activities that let you experience the fish in the aquarium more closely like glass bottom boat, scuba dive, cage dive etc.
3-Under Water Zoo which is also located two floors above the aquarium tunnel and houses many different creatures ranging from giant crocodile to colorful Australian parrots.
4-A gift Shop

2012 First Visit:

My First visit was in 2012, when I visited Dubai for the first time. I was alone exploring Dubai with my Camera. I had no prior knowledge of the aquarium and came across it randomly while visiting the mall. The aquarium in first sight was impressive as I had never seen such a huge one glass Aquarium with such a diverse fauna and that too in the middle of a shopping mall before.
I took the basic ticket for the tunnel and underwater zoo visit, I believe at that time experience area was not open. My tour started with the tunnel. Tunnel is quite small but offer great opportunity for fish watching and photography. I did spend close to 30 minutes trying to photograph sharks which were swimming behind the glass just couple of inches away from me.
Sharks have always fascinated me and this was the first time I could experience these magnificent creatures this close, so it’s not wrong to say that I was completely mesmerized.
From the tunnel, I moved two floors up to the underwater zoo. I was just expecting some random tropical/coral fish and may be few jelly fish etc. but I was impressed as well. Facility flow was very neat and the small aquariums were designed esthetically and not in the usual bracket in the wall manner.

Underwater zoo had at that time and still has a lot of species. One thing that enthralled me was to see was giant marine crabs. I saw once a documentary on national geography channel and was since then in love with these sea monsters whose legs span can go as big as 12 feet. These Marine Crabs usually stay at 1000 ft. depth so it is simply impossible for people like us to see them apart from documentaries. There were also many other fascinating species like Horseshoe crab ( which because of their origin 450 million years ago, are considered living fossils) , Penguins etc.

But watching Sand Tiger Sharks and Giant Marine Crabs in a very esthetic setting that offered a very close encounter, made this whole trip memorable

2013 Second Visit:

In 2013 I visited this place again as I had some cousins visiting me and this time experience area options were available. Available options were Cage dive, scuba dive and glass bottom boat ride. We chose a package that included a glass bottom boat ride along with the usual tunnel/underwater zoo. Tunnel/Zoo were same and equally good, guests along with me had a good first time experience. But Boat ride I would consider more from something new perspective rather than unique/amazing experience perspective. It was a simple boat ride. I couldn’t see much through the glass bottom as every one’s feet were on it and area was also very small.

2015 third visit:

My third visit was in 2015, newly married and exploring Dubai once again with my Wife for whom Dubai was still very new. So, when my brother in law was in town, I decided it’s time for a third visit. This time there was a lot more new, unique and amazing. I opted for behind the scene tour (which involved feeding the fish as well) along with the usual tunnel/underwater zoo experience. 
Tunnel was as usual, nothing changed there, but Underwater Zoo seemed to had undergone a makeover. This time main attraction at the Underwater Zoo was King crocodile. An Australian Salt Water Crocodile weighing 750 KGs and with a length of over 5M. This King Croc is one of the largest reptiles to ever live in a Zoo or Aquarium Habitat. The King crocodiles enclave was honestly looked smaller for it’s size(I am sure authorities who have designed followed the international standard) but enclosure was perfectly designed from viewing perspective and covered all possible viewpoints (underwater, at eye level and from the top).
Also, this time another floor was added with some nocturnal exhibitions and rope bridges, that helped us view the whole underwater zoo facility from the top. Walking through small rope bridges over the facility added to the experience. There were also a lot of new informative art especially on the Crocodiles. I still remember the wall with a projected Moon surface in the beginning of nocturnal exhibits, where we had fun taking few pictures.

Behind the Scene Experience included the tour of the maintenance/experience facility of the Aquarium, which was built on top of the aquarium. There were with many opening in the floor, in to the Aquarium. All the things from food preparation area to Diving spots etc. were included in the tour. We also were given small containers with brown colored fish food.
Which we later fed to the fish through one of the opening in the floor. It was interesting going through all the work that goes behind maintaining this attraction. This Behind the Scene Tour was better than the glass boat experience, in my opinion.

2017 Recent Visit:

By now Dubai Aquarium and underwater zoo was no in done and dusted category. But when my sister won free passes from radio we decided to go again. Mainly because my mom hasn’t been to it so we thought she would enjoy it. This time I was blown away with experience options this facility has to offer.
You can even feed Rays and there is even now a mermaid show (I haven’t seen so far though but there are You Tube videos available) and at the entrance of the tunnel I saw Kids Mermaid/Pirates experience room as well.
Coming back to my visit, we again took the behind the scene aquarium tour along with the usual. For the first time, we rushed through the tunnel as the lightening inside the tunnel with the reflection from tunnel glass and my mom’s prescription glasses was sort of making her uncomfortable. But behind the scene experience and Underwater Zoo covered for that. There was so much new. In fact, it felt like we are visiting a totally new facility.
Entrance to Underwater Zoo has now been completely redone with collaboration with Shark week (Discover Channel). So, at the entrance you will find your self-surrounded by giant wall to wall interactive displays. Where they have tried to create an illusion that you are under water and there are sharks swimming all around you. There was a panel in front of the screen where you can learn and make sharks do things. I will let you explore that panel and will not spoil it for you as there were few interesting options. I also liked the design of new entrance, it felt like it has been carefully thought through and there were few very interesting elements like a small fish boat with its anchor going all the way, two floors down to the outer side of aquarium or a small submarine with its door open and diver peeking inside (I cannot list all but I can assure you there were plenty related to Sharks). All these new design features got us excited all over again and made us feel like we were there for the first time.
Behind the scenes experience area had two new elements this time:

1-We got to see some shark eggs with pups inside, yes, we could see little baby sharks moving inside the eggs. This was the highlight of the visit for me. Just think why do we visit such facilities, because we want to see and experience what we cannot otherwise in our daily life. And Dubai Aquarium has always managed to offer more than the usual/regular Aquariums and Zoos.
Whether it be giants Sea Crabs or King Crocodile or Shark eggs, every visit you get to see something rare/unique and that’s what makes this attraction special.

2-If you remember the fish feeding area I mentioned in the 2015 visit, that area has been developed further, earlier it was just an opening in the floor from where you could feed the fish. But now there was stair way that was going down to a half-submerged glass terrace. From there you could see fish from the top and under the water at the same time. For example, we could see the tip of shark out of the water and its body under water at the same time when it was swimming toward us. 
Our guide this time alone fed the fish and it was overall a super cool experience (especially thanks to a baby curious shark that kept splashing water at us). 
From there we went to the Underwater zoo which also had some new design elements added. Along with usual species, there was some new addition of exotic birds like macaw parrot and desert owl etc. 

One issue that I noticed though, was the Penguins enclave, it didn’t look well kept, water was murky and lightening was super low (I am not sure maybe it was under maintenance but it didn’t look as grand as it looked during my first visit).

Overall my each and every visit to the facility has always been fun, exciting and memorable. I am now gathering courage to go for their “Dive with Sharks” experience, hope I can do that soon. This is one such facility which if you have visited already can be visited again in a while and you will find something new and if you haven’t visited already then, I will suggest you go, check this Eid's long weekend, I can guarantee you that you will have fun.

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