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The Dubai mall, aquarium and underwater zoo

No trip to Dubai is complete without spending a day at the Dubai Mall. Calling your mall establishment the “Dubai Mall” (Or the mall of the Dubai) does come with raised expectations of what to expect, being it to live up to it’s name as a “national mall” or sort. My day there begins back out into the sweltering heat of the outdoors for the journey to the mall after my regular morning dose of Arabic coffee in check. The mall shouldn’t be hard to spot, considering it being right beside the tallest structure in the city and the world.

A nice day to visit the Dubai mall!
nice day to visit the Dubai mall!
Morning coffee check!
Morning coffee check!
For our transportation for the day
transportation for the day!

There are many ways to get to the mall, the mall itself does free shuttle services from the main bus stations, other alternatives will include a taxi ride, which is generally recommended as the place is well served with a large boarding and alighting area by the mall’s hotel and it’s very easy to catch a cab anywhere in downtown Dubai. For today, my group decided to give the metro a full blunt try-out from the Burjuman complex

The rail network in Dubai is rather direct and plain simple with only a few major lines to boot branching out throughout the city from major interchanges such as the Khalid bin Al Waleed station where we boarded from.

Digging the station lighting
Digging lights
Commence overground surfacing
The red metro line is the only main operational line
the red metro line

On the new Red line, the trains starts off from an underground station before seamlessly transitioning to an overhead viaduct alongside the Sheikh Zayed Road towards the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway. The trains in question here are completely automated and driverless, a central nerve center HQ monitors all progress and positions of the trains with the aid of on-board cameras and GPS.

The metro itself is air conditioned, just like any other forms of public transport here. It is however, surprisingly not very popular yet with the locals with the exception of the Metro itself being pretty much a novelty item and an option to travel besides driving when going on trips with their families. Getting around all the public transport areas in Dubai require you to purchase a contactless smart card which charges a flat fee for bus trips and allow entrance and exit to the train stations itself (where the exact fares will be calculated).

Rolling into the Al Murooj area
Al Murooj area
Inside the trains
inside the trains
So much for a metro experience!
metro experience get!

As of now, only the red and green lines of the metro system are operational, with 4 more extension lines coming out and planned from 2014 to 2020. The green line mainly served the north areas of Dubai, over the creek (Business bay) areas while the red serves the southern areas including all the shopping and financial districts of Dubai. The red line is the most major and popular line on the metro system, passing through many of Dubai’s main tourist spots as well as the Al Murooj area. I would like the emphasize that the names of some stations do not actually indicate the exact venue where the train stops. Taking the Dubai mall stop for instance, the metro stop itself is full unexpected kilometre walk away from the mall entrance, kinda like an urban planning fail.

Where is the Dubai mall?
Where is the Dubai mall?
Here we are at the boutique shops
the boutique shops

The Dubai mall was built at $20 US billion and undoubtedly too is the largest mall in the world. It shouldn’t take long before coming to glimpse with the large sand coloured structure. The Dubai mall’s fashion avenue is the mall’s flag ship area, which many high-end retailers all decked out in this area in the posh carpeted luxury, of course, no high end boutique is complete without the usual brands such as LV, Dior, Versace and Armani just to name a few. Thankfully not quite to my taste and budget!

There are just oo many of them
too many indulgences!
The stores are really nicely themed too
real nicely themed stores
Called this!
welcome to the avenue

The Dubai Mall itself and is surroundings are developed by Emaar Properties who also manages the Marina Mall and Gold & Diamond Park in the region. The place is so huge, it adds a whole new term to shopping exercise therapy. The mall mostly employs digital touch screen signages throughout the mall’s walkways to allow you quick store directory access, especially allowing you to do quick searches or looking up the retail genres of your interest at a touch. There are only a handful of traditional printed directories scattered around the mall if you wish to do a lookup the old fashioned way, but be prepared to do quite abit of searching and pacing around it, it is huge- after all that’s over 1200 stores listed to go through!

They have this cool touch info panels for directories, but are rather laggy
cool directories touch info panels
Also come possibly the world's largest store directory too
possibly the world’s largest store directory
Did I say STARS?
Did I say STARS?

While most shopping centres spot the most one or two central atriums, the mall is so big, it is home to a huge number of large atriums, you will often get mixed if you do not notice the distinctive different theming each one has, some are decked with skylights and stary displays (star atrium) while some spots canvas and flags all laid around them (grand atrium). The mall itself is split into 5 unique themed areas, circling the gold souk located in the center which is intuitive to navigate. The only gripe being that you will be expected to take quite awhile to actually make a full loop back to where you’ve started, after all, we are talking about a 5.9 million square feet of a beast of a shopping mall!

Checking out the gold souk
the gold souk
Which is essentially an upper class gold souk
essentially an upper class gold souk
All in air-conditioned comfort
all in air-conditioned comfort

The gold souk is a modern take of the traditional gold souk found in Old Dubai across the business bay by the creek side (as visited on days before). This version allows you to shop in air-conditioned comfort yet with the place typically set to that of the traditional Arabian gold souk found in the early days. Having said that, the marketplace is even heavily themed to the Arabian market theme, with lots of gold and blue trimmings along the walls adding to the lavish atmosphere with beckons shoppers in an setting of the rich and a place of plain indulgence.

The address at dubai mall
The mall address
and home to the Palace old town
home to the Palace old town
Fountains play at the mall lake every half hour
every half hour fountain performances

The mall itself is not just limited to a huge floor area, the outdoor areas are also nicely endowed with you guessed it, more water features, a full man-made lagoon to be exact. It’s no ordinary lagoon though and is infact home to the Dubai fountain. It’s a dominant one and the fountain comes alive every 30-40 minutes, on the average of about 16 times a day during active opening periods. The fountain is a musical fountain, with music piped out to the bay area and choreographed to the lighting and water jets. The thing setting is one apart from most is the size of it, the fountain performance itself spans almost the whole width of the lagoon. The best time to experience the fountain is of course at night with the following photos and videos doing justice to it.

Behold, the  Dubai Fountain!
the Dubai Fountain
You get choreographed jets with music
choreographed jets with music
Ending with spectacular tall water jets
Ending with spectacular tall water jets

The fountain water jets are rather impressive too, I am a fan of high powered water jet fountains, but no other musical fountain I’ve seen blasts away so many sky-high jets in unison and with such intensity as the Dubai fountain, a spectacle itself. Do check out the following video I’ve recorded of a performance, minding the wind noise and dinky video quality which is typical of the iPhone 3GS.

The Dubai Fountain:

Back indoors, the mall is also home to a 250-room luxury hotel, plus 120 restaurants and cafes. Plus going with the “bigger is better” tradition, the Dubai mall is also home to the largest indoor aquarium, with it’s own Guinness World Record to boot for the world’s “Largest Acrylic Panel”, standing at 33m wide, 8.3m and 0.75m thick. Behold, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater zoo.

The place is not really much of a zoo and “underwater zoo” is the term which best describes the indoor zoo, despite most people here prefering to just calling it the “zoo” which can be pretty misleading. So when you are here, so don’t come here hopeful into looking for gazettes, polars bears, lions or tigers. Unless tiger or lion fishes are what you are looking for.

You guessed it, in the world's largest mall, we have..
in the world’s largest mall…
Even with it's own Guinness plaque to boot
The largest aquarium
Everybody love sharks!
Everybody love sharks!

You start off entering the aquarium and zoo through a walk into the “underwater” tunnel. This is the underwater tunnel section of the mall’s aquarium which is essentially and literally just a huge rectangular fish tank. Sad to say the tunnel is rather minutely endowed- it’s simply just a channel through the length of aquarium with the entrance and exit on both ends of the tank. It seemed that the aquarium was actually designed to be part of the free area in the mall, only with it barricaded and it’s the ends capped now with ticketing booths placed at the entrance so a fee could be charged to enter the tunnel.

Let head on in!
head on in!
Short tunnel is short
Short tunnel is short
Oh look sharkie!
Oh look sharkie!

In the tunnel, as with everything aquatic, you will be greeted with essentially a tunnel vision of the Dubai Aquarium tank. It is home to a variety of corals, harmless reef sharks, large school of fishes and even a whale shark to boot. The tank is themed to a shipwreck with several man-made barnacle ridden structures seen around the tank, giving it a rather weathered look. The resident whale shark is technically only impressive for it’s size but otherwise as harmless as a pet hamster. Occasionally, you can see divers on their fish feeding routines or park guests having a go at scuba diving assisted by divers in the tank, which will set you back about 200AED without the need for any form of prior scuba training or experience. Noticeably, most people will end up loitering in this section of the attraction, pacing the tunnel walkways which can be rather annoying at times.

Blury shark is blury!
Blury shark is blury!
But the schools of fishes look healthy
healthy schools of fishes
Shaun getting acquainted with his long lost froggie self
this one escaped the tank!

Ironically there is a rainforest cafe located right at the exit of the tunnel which you will be led around with queue lines to a photo taking backdrop right beside the cafe which can be rather misleading, not to mention redundant. Why would I want to take a picture of this aquarium background if I’ve already taken over a million photos back there in the tunnel? Even so, a choice of a better background for the photo would be better.

The second part of the attraction brings you towards the upper floors of the mall, where the Dubai underwater zoo resides, which means exiting the aquarium section, heading back into the mall and finding your way up to the next venue. This is rather segmented in nature if the zoo was considered a part of the aquarium tour and attraction. However, finding the zoo for first timers is not that hard with the help of directories and a random friendly mall staff on the go.

It's essentially an aquarium and mini zoo right in the mall
aquarium and mini zoo right in the mall
Everyone loves piranhas!
Everyone loves piranhas!
Nah nah you can't get me!
you can’t get me!

The Dubai mall is not the only establishment in the region with an indoor zoo and the choice of have one indoors is not much an option in the withering desert heat of Dubai, given it’s climate. Therefore most such zoo attractions here are usually indoors. The one here in Dubai mall is no exception either. Situated on the cavernous upper floors of the mall (presumably where the cinema mega-flexes also reside) the attraction mimics the whole recreation of an equatorial tropical forest, complete with undergrowth, mangroves decked and complete with imported tropical wild life and fishes to boot. Even the air in the zoo seems to be climate controlled and feels humid given the abundance of water bodies around.

O rly?
O rly?
Hi Ray! oh wait...
Hi Ray! oh wait…
Lookie here
Lookie here!

Upon entry, you will be presented with a forest path to follow through various exhibits and information panels explaining about the displays in question, particularly the animals in captivity. The place is heavily themed and undoubtedly all man-made, most of the vegetation and flora is decked out in fibreglass, with ambient rainforest sounds played looping in the background to giving it an authentic undergrowth feel. The displays follow a rather linear route winding through the exhibits and passing through many tanks of fishes before moving onto the next. There is of course a limit to what most of the exhibits can be shown here, an doubtfully only fishes, with few notable ones such as piranas and playful otters.

There were many large freshwater fishes on display too, some native to the amazon as well as south east asia. Much of the lighting here in the “rainforest” is simulated with no skylights in sight, which can be rather misleading to the animals as whole.

Spot lighting to mimic daylight
Lazy bums
I spy fishies which are jelly
They do taste yummy too. :X
Mmm yummy crabs…

The displays range from freshwater fishes (the arher fishes are really cool with “targets” specially set up for them to “shoot”) to a shark tank comprising of small reef sharks, there’s even a tank fully of jellyfishes which glows under synthetic florescent lighting and well as few relatively exotic crustaceans such as Alaskan crabs. There is no telling how much these crabs can fetch on a dinner table. The deep sea areas of the zoo are nicely themed with waterfalls and fiberglass cave walls, giving it a divine atmosphere, but everything around still looks rather simulated which is as far as the theming can go in balance for practicality in a recreated atmosphere.

The overhead pool access and maintenance area
overhead pool access and maintenance area
Rawr human! feed me!
Rawr human! feed me!

Following the route, you will eventually come to a part of the path where you can have an overhead and bird eye’s view of the huge mall aquarium downstairs. This area, decked with PADI posters and scuba gear is also the access areas to the mall’s “Dive with the sharks” attraction as well as the maintenance section of the aquarium with the pool’s lighting, filtration and pump systems in full view, used to maintain the aquarium’s quality, such as salinity and hygiene.

There is also a creepy crawly section, home to a various range of bugs, with the scorpions and tarantulas (being my favourite). The section is small and too bad the zoo didn’t have much of an arachnid handling area, let be a petting pool in the aquatic sections, otherwise that will rock.

Large enough to fit one at ago
a bridge too far
They are quite a playful bunch. :3
playful penguins
Emperor penguins
Emperor penguins, lazy bums

The creepy crawly section of the zoo is neatly tucked on the upper decks of the attraction, which is only accesible via a staircase where most of the time will go unnoticed, here also resides the reptile section of the zoo with some lizards on display. There is also a mini rope suspension bridge up there which forms the rainforest “canopy walk” part of the park, allowing you to have an overview of the rainforest portions of the park you’ve previously been through, otherwise, it’s just a fancy overhead playground with nothing much on display. Back in the deep sea and ocean areas, the Emperor penguins exhibit was a delight and one of my personal favourites, able to get up close to them by the window and catching them swimming around the pool was both entertaining and amusing at some points.

Seeing more stars!
Seeing more stars!
The twitlight part of the mall
twitlight part of the mall
Megaplexes are synonymous with large malls
Megaplexes are synonymous with large malls

The zoo is not just what’s on the “interesting list” in the mall, the place is also home to few nicely theme megastores, hypermarkets, an awesome Froyo store as well as the SEGA Republic indoor theme park. The Sega Republic is a theme park and arcade decked complete with everything Sega together with indoor amusement rides spanning two full elevated floors. Moreover, no megamall is complete without it’s multi theatre cinema mega-flexes too, the Reel Cinemas here is no exception with 22 mega cinema screens to boot.

It's an arcade...
an arcade!
with various flat rides and a dark coaster to boot too!
various flat rides and a dark coaster to boot too!
The mall is home to few rather interesting themed stores
interesting themed stores

A large multi purpose ice rink (called the Dubai Ice Rink) resides in one of the mall’s giant atrium as well, which can be used for ice hockey matches as well as a skating performance or as how it spends most of it’s active life- as a recreational public ice-skating rink. The ice is very smooth and resurfaced daily. Last but not least, situated at the waterfall atrium is the amazing Dubai waterfall, spanning the height of the full 4 floors of the mall complete with silver surfer styled diving statues attached to the walls by their groins, amusingly designed by DPA architects.

Complete with an indoor skating rink
indoor skating rink
Seemingly jointed in the most interesting of places... :P
The Dubai waterfall
So that's where I left my ride!
where I left my ride?

The Dubai mall is definitely a place to spend a whole day in, it itself is a behemoth by itself decked with stores, food and attractions to suit interests for all age groups. It’s a good thing that despite in all the lush luxurious glamorous which surrounds the theme of the Dubai Mall, most of the stores here are still catered to the masses and a wide range of consumer budget including the general working class. It is, after all a mall catered for the people masses at heart.

That’s all for the Dubai mall for now, next stop will be up the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa itself.

Next page: Up the Burj Khalifa »



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