Thursday, June 21, 2018

Jeff's Birthday in the Desert

It was such a fun coincidence that the older boys were with us in Dubai for Jeff's birthday. He turned 55 in April and we were excited to celebrate together as a family. No birthday is complete for Jeff without his favorite cookies and cream ice cream cake, ordered from Cold Stone Creamery close to our neighborhood.

We decided to celebrate Jeff's birthday with a fun trip to the desert. Desert adventures are super popular around here and they include all kinds of cool activities. When you book a trip through a local company, they will come to pick up your group at your villa, drive you to the desert, and host you through the evening meal and activities. On our way to the camp site, we had to stop for a camel crossing, ha!

Before we arrived to the camp, our driver had to pull out a truck that was stuck in the sand. I didn't manage to get a picture, but it's very common for vehicles to get stuck. That's why desert trips must always involve riding in a group and in a 4x4 vehicle.

Our first activity of the evening was the popular local adventure called dune bashing. Our driver, trained and driving the proper vehicle (Land Rover!), let some air out of the tires and away we went. I don't have pictures or videos of the dune bashing, either. But let me just say, it is CRAZY!!! The driver was speeding up and down the big dunes of sand, sliding sideways at times, over and over. It was super fun for the kids but absolutely terrifying for me! In fact, I ended up getting a little carsick. I'm glad for the experience but I wouldn't want to do it again, ha!

Midway through the dune bashing, the driver stopped to take some family photos in the desert sand. Loved how these turned out!

We took some more photos while we were stopped, and you can really see the vast desert landscape with the dunes. They feel a lot steeper when you're driving from top to bottom! Connor was goofing off and doing a yoga pose at the top, ha!

Finally, the dune bashing ended (thank goodness!) and we drove to the camp site. The company that was hosting the desert adventure had all kinds of activities set up at the site. Camel rides, quad biking, sand surfing, henna tattoos, and all kinds of snacks. Connor and Kaitlynn were given (or rather, were sold) headscarves when we arrived to make the experience more authentic.

Side note: upon further inspection, the headscarves came with a tag that said "Made in Taiwan." Ha!!!

We decided to try the camel rides first, and then the older boys rode the quad bikes.

We walked into the main area which was all set up for the night's dinner and show. By the time the sun was setting, the place was packed with visitors. The evening show consisted of Arabian dancers and a flame-thrower. All guests were treated to a buffet dinner with authentic Arabian dishes while we watched the show.

Guests were invited to try the local tradition of shisha, which is a form of nicotine in various fruity flavors that you smoke by inhaling through a tube. Collin and Kevin enjoyed trying it out.

We had a great time but we were ready to get home after the shows concluded. The desert adventure was a unique and fun experience to enjoy as a family, especially celebrating Jeff's special day.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Desert Quad Biking

Jeff heard about a place north of Dubai near the emirate of Umm Al Quwain where you could go four-wheeling in the desert, or quad biking as it's called around here. It sounded perfect for Jeff and the boys, so they went to check it out. On the drive there, the boys spotted camels for the first time. They are a typical sight in the desert here.

Jeff and the boys rented the quad bikes for a couple hours. They were given a quick lesson and safety gear, and then the owner took a couple of photos. I think these are some of my all-time favorite pictures of Jeff with his older boys. LOVE!

The guys were given free reign to explore the nearby desert. They didn't know what to expect, but there were dunes everywhere and desert sand as far as the eye could see. They drove for miles and miles, getting braver with each minute.

I loved these shots below of Collin and Kevin getting some air on one of the dunes. They loved the quad biking so much that they all ended up going one more time before the boys left Dubai. It ended up being one of their favorite activities of the whole visit. So cool!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Yas Waterworld

On our last day in Abu Dhabi, we visited the Yas Waterworld water park. We were some of the first people to arrive and we couldn't wait to check out the rides. One of the biggest rides was closed for the day but all of the others were open and so much fun! We stayed almost the entire day until it was time to leave for Collin and Kevin's racetrack experience.

While we were there, the facility was hosting a park-wide Easter egg hunt for the kids. Kaitlynn made out pretty well on that activity. Connor and Kaitlynn also participated in several of the sponsored group games for kids. We found out that Connor has quite the talent for hula-hooping, ha!

We really loved our visit to Yas Waterworld. The kids' favorite attraction was the roller coaster that rode through the park, letting people spray you with water guns from down below. We also loved the 6-person raft ride, perfect for all of us together.

And that concludes our family visit to Abu Dhabi Yas Island! It was probably the most fun we've had since we moved here to UAE. Awesome weekend!

Last note: I ended up separating the blog stories for Ferrari World, Yas Marina Circuit, and Yas Waterworld. But it was actually only a single day when we visited Yas Waterworld in the morning/afternoon, Yas Marina Circuit in the evening, and Ferrari World (for our second visit) at night. With the awesome water slides and rides, the racetrack experience, and the fastest roller coaster in the world, I joked with Collin and Kevin that they had probably experienced the best and most exciting 12 hours of their lives! Quite incredible!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Yas Marina Circuit

During our trip to Abu Dhabi Yas Island, Collin and Kevin wasted no time discovering the racetrack park and facility called Yas Marina Circuit which was right next door to our hotel. This is where the annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is held and Kevin was anxious to check it out. He did some research and discovered that they held daily tours, so the boys snuck away for a couple of hours while we were at Ferrari World so they could take an afternoon tour of the Yas Marina Circuit facility and track. They were like kids in a candy store, so excited to be in their element.

During the tour, they learned that you can purchase a driving experience at the racetrack. There were several options and all were quite pricey, but it seemed like a unique opportunity that they couldn't pass up. Collin and Kevin signed up for the Formula 3 racecar driving experience for the following evening. They were so pumped!

When it was time for their session, they attended a brief training and then it was time to get suited up. Jeff and the kids and I were all there to cheer them on and take pictures and videos. It was a really neat experience, even for us spectators.

When it was drive time, both Collin and Kevin seemed quite nervous. One of the trickiest parts is getting the car out of gear when you take off, but both of them managed that part fine. They got settled into their cars and definitely looked the part!

And they were off! Student drivers all have their own instructor drivers who drive in front of them, leading and setting the pace for the course. The rest of us had a front row seat to the track. Once the cars took off, they were so LOUD! And I couldn't believe how fast they were going. It terrified me just to watch!

Two funny stories about Collin's driving... after only a couple of laps, Collin's instructor driver led him back into the pit area. One of the crew members leaned in to give him some instructions and then they took off again. I learned later that they had to tell Collin to stop following the instructor driver so closely. Then, the same crew member came over to where I was taking photos of the boys on the track. He said, "One of them is having a lot of fun out there!" Apparently Collin had taken a turn too quickly and did a 180 degree spin. Yikes! He quickly recovered and seemed to take it slow the rest of the course. Ha!

The driving session lasted 20 minutes, which doesn't seem long unless you're driving the car yourself. When it was over, the boys were all smiles and sweat. They loved it! What a cool experience for both of them!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Ferrari World

Another part of our Abu Dhabi vacation package to Yas Island included theme park tickets to Ferrari World. For Collin and Kevin -- who both love and enjoy all things related to fast and powerful cars -- it seemed like the perfect way to spend a day together. Driving up to the park was impressive, but it was nothing compared to the aerial view. Wow!

As with most entertainment venues here in UAE, Ferrari World is an indoor theme park. Some of the roller coasters have portions that are outdoors, but all of the rides, shops, and restaurants are indoors in the air conditioning. We showed up to begin our day at Ferrari World right when the doors opened.

Our family can be split into 2 groups -- those that LOVE roller coasters (Collin, Kevin, and me!) and those that want nothing to do with them (Connor, Kaitlynn, and Jeff). Ha! For the first group, we couldn't wait to try out the famous roller coaster called Formula Rossa, which is the fastest roller coaster in the world! It reaches speeds of over 240 kilometers per hour, which is about 150 miles per hour. In fact, it's so fast that riders are required to wear safety goggles to protect their eyes. I was so nervous to ride this coaster but we headed there first to check it out.

To our major disappointment, the Formula Rossa ride was closed for maintenance. Man, we were bummed! So we headed off to the next big roller coaster, called the Flying Aces. We didn't know anything about it, but as it turned out, it was the scariest roller coaster I've ever experienced in my life! (That's saying a lot!) The Ferrari World website describes the Flying Aces as the world's steepest and fastest lift as well as the world's tallest inverted loop. What freaked me out is that we were suspended by a bar, not even seatbelts, so our legs were dangling the entire way. It was so fast that tears were streaming out of my eyes the entire time, and I was so frightened that I couldn't even scream. When the ride ended, the boys and I were just laughing and stunned with surprise over how crazy it was!

Meanwhile, Jeff and the little kids had discovered another ride in the park. It was called the Fiorano GT Challenge, and it was another roller coaster. Apparently, they didn't realize it was a roller coaster until it was too late. Luckily, it turned out to be a mild one and they all loved it. Jeff texted me a photo of the kids waiting in line for their 5th or 6th time to ride. The older boys and I joined them a while later to ride it a couple more times.

One of the attractions for kids allowed them to do all sorts of stunts like wall climbing and rappelling. This was a bit out of their comfort zone but turned out to be a cool experience for them.

Our favorite story from Ferrari World involved the roller coaster called Turbo Track. It's a quick 20-second ride but takes riders on a super fast track straight up out and over the top of the domed park and then right back down. The older boys and I thought it was really fun, but Jeff and the kids were completely opposed to trying it out. After a full day of heavy persuasion (peer pressure?) and a bribe worth lots of candy, all 6 of us boarded the Turbo Track. It was over quickly, but not before Jeff and Connor had visions of death while screaming off their heads. Ha! It was quite the family bonding experience!

We enjoyed all of the attractions at Ferrari World, but the older boys and I were disappointed to not be able to ride the Formula Rossa roller coaster which was closed all day. When we left the park for the day, the customer service representatives understood our disappointment and actually gave us tickets to come again so we could try the coaster. We returned the following evening and were so happy that the ride was open and there weren't even any lines. I rode one time -- it was SO FAST and definitely worth the experience! Collin and Kevin rode again and again, and they even returned to the Flying Aces a few times. Ferrari World turned out to be a super fun day (and an extra night) for all of us.