KidZania Dubai – Who do You Want to Be Today?
What would you like your children to be when they grow up? Or more to the point what do they want to be? A family attraction is providing careers advice in a unique and engaging way. At KidZania your children can try on different career hats without ever having to sign a health and safety form or do an appraisal. We tried this child friendly franchise in Dubai. But there could well be one on the way to a city near you….
A city just for kids?
Jobs in Dubai probably aren’t that hard to come by. Hotels seem to rise almost as fast as desert temperatures and the malls that stretch into eternity will no doubt have a regular turnover of sales staff. However most of us don’t go to this Emirates state for a job. We go to be entertained. But a family attraction in the Dubai Mall manages to combine jobs and entertainment in an engaging mini city for kids. KidZania offers children a rare thing; the chance to be whatever they want to be until bedtime. Interested? Then read on…
The fun careers advice centre
Careers advice was scare when I was my kids age. I wanted to be an actor because I loved watching Dallas and wanted to be Pam Ewing. My Mum wanted me to be a speech therapist. My Dad wanted me to do anything apart from work on a newspaper, which is what he did every day of his life until he quit to open a soap shop. (Bars of soap not TV soap!)
What no one told me back then is how many different jobs there were in the world, and that I could have a stab at going for any of them. The only time I ever met a careers adviser was at university. He told me I should take a gap year. He seemed to have no ideas as to what I should do beyond that.
There are no shortage of ideas at KidZania. From fire crew to pilot, from mechanic to manicurist, there are around 80 jobs going, with around 60 of the world’s biggest brands represented in cute little shops. It’s like a career pick and mix counter. If you are a kid then it’s made for you. If you are a Mum or a Dad you have to stand with your face pressed against the window of the dentist or bottling plant watching your kids try on different hats while silently screaming ‘It’s not fair! Why can’t I play?’
Not about work but play
It’s all about having fun while learning something says Duty Manager Rafael Manalo who gives us a tour. “The concept is about educating. Yes, they will be participating in an adult profession but it’s about role play, of whatever profession they are dreaming of. Doctor, engineer; there is no limit. They have their own world. It’s a place to dream.”
Rafael tells me the most popular profession is a firefighter. As he explains this a fire engine goes past, sirens blaring and a dozen kids hop off and start putting out a pretend fire with real water. (There is a fire at the poor old Hotel Flamingo every hour in KidZania.) Behind the firefighters there is some triage going on involving an ambulance, medical team, two Zupervisors (the name given to staff here) and an abundance of bandages. As my kids rush off with their start up money, I feel vaguely jealous. I’d love to put out a fire. Rafael confesses that if he wasn’t involved with running KidZania he’d be a firefighter too.
Mirroring real life
This world has its own economy, government and currency. The philosophy mirrors real life; you can only spend what you earn. So along with the jobs, there are leisure treats like climbing and circuit driving. And there’s a Hamleys store too. “This is where they can buy things with their hard earned money,” explains Rafael. “All the things here are real. It proves that in order to get something you need to work hard for it.” A little too hard I reckon? A tiny toy costs a lot of KidZos. But that’s a good lesson.
Will they earn or spend?
KidZania has its own business start up centre and University. I am impressed when all three of my kids choose to go to University and invest time and money into it. But then I’m not sure how I feel when they only go after the jobs that pay well. They choose to be aerospace technicians and car designers to rack up as much KidZos currency as possible. What about being artists or perfume makers I ask. What about creative reward? Or doing something you love? I am illogically pleased however when all of them reject a shift in McDonalds.
“Would you like to make your own burger?” says the McDonald’s Zupervisor.
“No thanks,” says Hannah handing over her (real) money.
A safe place to experiment with life
KidZania is an impressive set up. A huge warehouse; or job mall if you like, with 80 or 90 staff on shift at any one time to guide the kids or serve the adults refreshment. It feels safe to let the children wander around on their own while you head for coffee; if your kid wants you back then staff can locate you via information on a bracelet with a bar code. There are even future plans to introduce a GPS tracking system.
The concept of KidZania started in Mexico; there are currently 16, and new versions are currently springing up all over the world, including one in the UK’s Westfield shopping centre. Its’ an interesting concept and could even go further; for example the radio station could send the reporters out to actually interview the fire fighters.
So what do my kids want to be after a visit?
Hannah shrugs. “I’m tired. I’ve been working all day while you’ve been drinking coffee.” Fair enough. I might wait till next week before I ask her to service the car.
“I want to work in a call centre,” says Matthew who just equalled the KidZania record for the most calls answered. Cameron says he wants to design planes. More money, he explains.
They all rush off to Hamleys to treat themselves while I fiddle with a fire hose and dream.
KidZania is in Dubai Mall in the Downtown Dubai District and opens 7 days a week. Opening times vary according to the season and there are a range of prices and offers. Check the website for details.
KidZania advertises itself as being suited to kids age 4-16. Our 13 year old felt almost too old for it and it was better suited to our 8 and 11 year old. There are some professions that would suit even younger children and there is a play area for toddlers. Some parts of the day are cheaper to visit than others and daytime is quieter than evenings and weekends.
You should put aside a whole morning or afternoon for this attraction as there’s so much to see and do. And in peak season they will spend time queuing. If you run out of time and your children want to come back again another day they can carry over their money, or spend it in a different KidZania.