Just when you think you’ve seen it all: Sharks at the Dubai Mall. Swarovski crystals on a BMW. The world’s highest restaurant.
Dubai goes and does it again, flying 20 penguins to the UAE ‘business class’ from SeaWorld in San Antonio so desert dwellers can pay 175 dhs (£30) to get up close and personal with the lovable birds in a giant freezer.
The interactive penguin colony has moved to a Dubai shopping mall, taking up residence at a fake Antarctica created inside Ski Dubai. In true UAE style, they’ve got private living quarters, an ice-cold pool and a staff of 13 butlers including a penguin curator who feed them restaurant-quality fish imported from Canada.
In return, the 10 king penguins (the second largest type) and 10 gentoo penguins are expected to ‘offer a unique experience’ to visitors, including a penguin march several times a day from 2pm – which my kids couldn’t wait to see.
Checking over my shoulder that there weren’t any animal rights activists around with ‘Penguins for Profit’ placards, we paid the entrance fee to the snow park, got the kids bundled up and discovered for ourselves whether it was a case of Happy Feet in the desert or marketing gone mad.
Here’s what you need to know:
● Hand-reared from birth, you can’t help but fall in love in love with the penguins when they waddle in, flapping their wings and playing footie with their butlers.
● Newly established pairs are said to be courting already in their Dubai digs, meaning it could only be a matter of time before native-born penguins are hatched at Ski Dubai. We did see evidence of a love match – a bickering pair were having a right old barney.
● You WILL get cold. You can opt to pay for the snow park and see the penguin march at close-hand, or shell out more for the ‘Peng Friend’ programme, in which visitors over three get the chance to interact with the penguins and view underwater swimming.
Alternatively, you could strike a deal with your DH and get him to take the kids in, while you go upstairs to the Costa Coffee and enjoy a great bird’s eye view for the price of a cup of tea.
● All visits are accompanied at all times so there’s no snow-ball throwing.
● While we didn’t do the face-to-face encounter, I’ve heard the penguins love meeting humans, will sit on visitors’ laps and even hug them.
● I won’t get into the rights and wrongs of this attraction, because it’s causing controversy, but the penguins weren’t captured from the wild and bundled off to the desert. They were born and bred in captivity as part of a breeding programme at SeaWorld.
● Being leered at by thousands of school kids aside, the penguins do seem to be enjoying the lifestyle of respected diplomatic ambassadors. And, another upside, there’s no chance they’ll be turned into lunch.
● One of the most hilarious things is the ‘poop and scoop’ guy who has to follow the penguins around cleaning up puddles of yellow snow.
Worth a visit, definitely, but it did make me wonder what’s next for Dubai: polar bears playing volley ball?
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