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Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

Florida or Dubai – which is best for a family holiday?

Every year British families head to two of the world’s key destinations for winter fun: Dubai, in the UAE, and Orlando, Florida. The flight times are comparable: just over seven hours direct to Dubai, slightly more than nine hours to Orlando. The main draw, of course, is the sun: in January and February you can expect temperatures of around 77F (25C) in Dubai, eight hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain. In Orlando, temperatures will hover at around 72F (22C), with a slightly higher chance of rain, but still seven hours of daily sunshine. Not to put too fine a point on it, but London at this time of year has two hours of sunshine, one in every two days has rainfall, and temperatures are around 45F (7C); if ever there were a time to escape, this is it. But Dubai and Orlando have no monopoly on winter sun; the real reason British families go is that these places are Las Vegas for children. The variety and scale of accommodation available is astonishing. Both destinations offer an extraordinary range of packages, from keenly priced all-inclusives from the likes of Thomas Cook or Tui to more luxury bespoke packages from Kuoni.  Also like Vegas, the ease of winter entertainment is unrivalled: from the world’s best theme parks to fine dining, weird and wonderful architecture and modern hotel design that caters especially to those travelling with children, Dubai and Orlando offer a buffet of family treats.   But which is the destination for you? In Orlando, it’s almost all about the theme parks, but fear not – there’s plenty more. Dubai is known for its enclosed resorts – but there is plenty of life beyond those walls. Don’t trust the reputation: let our family travel experts take you through their trips, below, and decide for yourself which spot in the sun is right for you. How they compare The vibe Orlando is a shiny world of fabricated fun. From hotel to car hire outlet, you’ll find streamlined American service, almost always with a smile. You will have a nice day. Away from the bustle of Dubai, JA Palm Tree Court Hotel is an oasis of calm. This sort of sanctuary is the goal of all of the sequestered resorts of the emirate. Orlando: nice day guaranteed Credit: GETTY Theme parks There’s a theme park to suit all tastes and tolerance levels in Orlando, but Disney does it best: even the most repressed British traveller is defenceless against its Fifties-style panache.  No queues is a huge advantage in Dubai, meaning you can try rides like Blast Off, which is almost the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, again and again. Motiongate Dubai, where queues are few and far between Food Outside the parks, Orlando is experiencing a food revolution, notably in the Winter Park area (cityofwinterpark.org). Disney Springs has a glossy parade of high-end cafés, bars, and cheffy restaurants (disneysprings.com/dining).  Nowhere is the spectacle of Dubai more welcome than its flamboyant dining scene. Dinner at The Social House outside Dubai Mall; watching the “dancing fountains” opposite Burj Khalifa.  10 surprising things you probably didn't know about Dubai Shopping You will overspend in park souvenir shops and concession stands. Outside the parks, food in Orlando is great value, and generously proportioned to a fault. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest with 1,000-plus retailers, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, Dubai Aquarium with sharks you can see from inside the Mall and a saltwater crocodile in the underwater zoo. Dubai has the biggest shopping centre on the planet Credit: Alamy Beaches Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are each within a two-hour drive of Orlando’s parks. In both directions you’ll find beach resorts with contemporary motels and, around Dunedin and Clearwater, hip-happening places to eat.  Dubai’s beaches are more of an interlude between the hotels’ pools and watersports on the Persian Gulf. Hotel beaches have plenty of seafront to be enjoyed but sand can be a bit coarse and grey: don’t expect pure, white powder. Most beaches in Dubai are attached to a luxury resort Why you should choose Florida By Sarah Barrell The shiniest black shuttle glided into the station, gold livery gleaming. It looked as if it should come with a caped bellhop and a rack for hat boxes. “It’s a bling train!” said Ella, barely containing her delight. Arriving at Orlando airport for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the theme parks, my 10-year-old was primed for maximum fun. The fact that the shuttle train between airport terminals had already over-delivered was a promising start. So, too, went Ella’s response to our first hit of Floridiana, in the Winter Park district – our initial base at one of Orlando’s oldest resorts – where late spring’s trumpet trees were in Technicolor pink and yellow bloom. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” breathed Ella at the tidy grandness of it all. Immaculate sidewalks flank clapboard houses with just-so lawns surrounding water features so immense I had to stop her swimming in them.   At a glance | Florida essentials Welcome to central Florida, land of plastic fantastic theme parks but also, for the savvy travelling parent, more natural distractions that please park naysayers and help families pace themselves. This balance is the secret to the appeal of Florida. Before facing the parks, we spent a day or so acclimatising, with boat trips around Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes. At the farmer’s market, set around a historic train depot, we filled bags with local peaches and sourdough bread, while in Mills 50, an up-and-coming ’hood for Florida foodies, we filled our stomachs to bulging at the farm-to-fork southern-inspired food joint Cask & Larder (caskandlarder.com). Visit Winter Park’s pretty string of lakes Credit: GETTY Refuelled and jet lag-free, when we finally faced the House of Mouse, it was a genuinely magical thing. Ella had hinted that she might be a bit grown up for the Magic Kingdom’s fairytale fodder, and my appetite for sugary schmaltz is meagre, but we both got misty-eyed at Cinderella’s majestic castle rising above the lake as we paddle-steamed into the park. The rides – log flumes and runaway trains – deliver a brilliant American West aesthetic, if not the highest-octane thrills, and slick street parades pop up with a near-endless serendipity. We hugged costumed characters, from Goofy to the cast of The Incredibles and, despite being Officially Too Old, were rendered open-mouthed at the Frozen-themed finale that illuminated the castle, crowned with the Magic Kingdom’s epic nightly fireworks. Scepticism? We truly let it go. Staying on-site, with direct shuttles from central park to hotel door, is the best way to avoid the ocean of humanity heading for monorail and paddle-steamer at the close of each day. We’d booked into a Walt Disney World district hotel, a free 15-minute shuttle ride well beyond the park’s gates. After the evening’s fireworks, Ella’s yawns were so wide I was afraid she would swallow her own head, Minnie Mouse ears and all. But, a well-oiled machine, the Magic Kingdom orchestrated an efficient exit. The essential Hopper ticket (which grants access to more than one of the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in one day) allowed us to flee from the heat of the day for Epcot’s blissfully air-conditioned World Showcase, to eat chilled sushi in Japan and gelato in Italy.  Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com) was another place to cool off. Lazy rivers, shady beach cabanas and a spaghetti-network of waterslides made this our shared-favourite Orlando park experience, although Breakaway Falls, a sheer drop “slide” that sees the floor pulled out from under riders, who then plummet 80ft, is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in the name of fun. So, of course, we did it twice, and reflected as we climbed for the second go that we were not too old for theme parks at all.  Sadly, there’s no spell to vanish the crowds that plague Universal Studios’ ever-popular Harry Potter World, and the rest of the park seems like brash film franchise flash compared with Magic Kingdom’s fairytale innocence. But it is nonetheless unmissable: Ella raved over the 4-D virtual reality rides, which took us by the broomstick and launched us into a J K Rowling-endorsed world of goblins, giant spiders, castle escapes, and frenzied Quidditch matches that vanished any remaining theme-park cynicism quicker than an Expelliarmus spell. Most British families we met had dedicated a full day to this park alone. The best way to reduce ride wait times in all of Orlando’s parks is to purchase queue-jumping cards. Make full use the Magic Kingdom’s Fast Pass (free with entrance tickets). You can go online weeks in advance to book times for your top-priority rides, and cut waiting to five to 10 minutes.  Kennedy Space Center Credit: GETTY When you fancy a break from the frenzy of the parks, you could always try rocket science. Just a two-hour ride east of Orlando is the wild Atlantic’s Space Coast. Here, the Kennedy Space Center comes with shuttle simulators, retired moon rockets, the chance to tour Apollo mission launch pads, hold a piece of moon rock in your hand, and meet a real Nasa astronaut (who pleases family audiences with tips on how to eat/sleep/poo in space). It is a more erudite antidote to brainless theme-park fun.  But ultimately for us, the real magic was saved for our trip’s end: a stay on the white sands of the Gulf Coast. Just a two-hour drive away, Clearwater Beach is a flop-down finale for park-frazzled families. There are manatees to track in the mangroves, new-era motels to bed down in, and freshly made piña coladas, it seemed, on tap. Toes in the sand, a Hollywood-style sunset turning the beach golden, a bucket-list trip ticked off, we relaxed into the some old-fashioned Florida-style bucket-and-spade fun.  This is Florida’s USP: with minimal driving, you can go from high-octane amusement park thrills to back-to-basics beauty on the beach. Why you should choose Dubai By Mark Henshall Dubai is an extravagant grown-up’s playground. Michelin-starred chefs are flown in from around the world to waterside hotels more than 1,000ft high, designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; it’s a fast-paced, style-obsessed haven of bling, a destination on steroids. It boasts the world’s first “seven-star” hotel, Burj Al Arab; the world’s biggest man-made archipelago, The Palm; a hotel shaped as a pyramid; one with a rainforest, underwater villas and a ski slope in a desert. I first visited 15 years ago on a business trip, and found a hot emirate with an ice-cold ambition to position itself as a global commercial hub. Skyscrapers popped up all along the Sheikh Zayed Road that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah – roughly parallel to the Persian Gulf’s coastline.  At a glance | Dubai essentials The Dubai I knew wasn’t a logical choice for a trip with my 11-year-old adrenalin junkie of a son. But keen for some winter sun and time together, Gabriel and I were lured by the opening of Legoland’s first park in the Middle East. Dubai is keen to capture the family market, so we decided to road test what’s on offer. The first thing that strikes you at the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel, our base a 40-minute drive west of central Dubai, is the absence of noise. After a seven-hour flight, the welcome heat and tranquillity helped us to unwind quickly. Part of the sprawling Jebel Ali Golf Resort, the hotel sits slightly apart, so has an exclusive feel while giving access to a range of facilities. The first morning before hitting the rides, we were greeted on our walk to breakfast by the incredible sight of a white peacock showing off in the palm-tree-dotted tropical gardens. After a buffet so vast and varied that it even contained a chocolate board, we took a 15-minute shuttle to Dubai Parks and Resorts. This complex is the Middle East’s largest integrated theme park destination and is made up of three big attractions: Legoland, MotionGate and Bollywood Parks. Separately, around 40 minutes down the road is the largest indoor theme park on earth, IMG Worlds of Adventure, based on Disney’s Marvel stories and characters from Cartoon Network. Legoland Dubai First on our list, though, was Legoland Water Park, which has around 20 slides and zero queues. Yes, it is a relatively new park; but for anyone used to waiting in ride queues for more than an hour at Legoland Windsor (2.1 million visitors per year) or Disneyland Paris (13.3 million visitors per year), this is absolute heaven. It meant that we got to try everything, didn’t have to think about timings or fast passes, ate when we liked, and got to return to our favourite rides. Gabriel’s favourite turned out to be Build-A-Raft River, where you glide along a river sitting in a doughnut that you can customise yourself with Lego bricks. Suitably impressed, that afternoon we went next door, to Legoland, where, again, we walked straight onto rides as the whim took us. Legoland is aimed at two to 12-year-olds, so my son was at the top end, but there were about two dozen rides to try, split into six lands based on Lego collections.  MotionGate is inspired by Hollywood Next on our theme-park-rota was MotionGate, which is inspired by Hollywood and has 27 rides and five roller coasters based on films such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. Gabriel’s top heart-in-your-mouth ride – and here I’m describing my reaction, as I watched – was Zombieland Blast-Off, which launches you up a 190ft tower.  Dubai has great rides, but they needn’t dominate your holiday. Nor is the emirate made up solely of newly built experiences, hustle and shopping glitz – though that’s there, if you require it. To get a taste of a different side of Dubai, take a trip on a traditional dhow to the spice souk bazaar in Deira, where children will get a sensory overload from sacks of colourful fragrances and spices. Frankincense chewing gum, anyone?  Escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp Better still, escape into the desert wilderness to experience a Bedouin camp, where a different and serene side to this entertainment hub can be discovered. On the way there, we tried quad biking and had an exhilarating drive in an SUV. As we moved further into the desert, we saw Arabian oryx and gazelles wandering about as we approached the small encampment of simple rugs, cushions and the warm welcome of dancing, a barbecue and sweet-smelling shisha. Sitting under the isolation of the stars, sipping Arabic coffee with the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and nothing but sands for miles around, we felt as if we were on a different planet.  But as magical as this was, it’s a relief to stay in a resort tailor-made for families seeking easy, relaxing time together. With bright and stylish rooms, 15 restaurants and bars and a two-storey spa, you could happily stay put for a week. Children get the chance to make friends, enjoying the freedom of a few different pools, mini golf and riding stables. The resort fronts on to an 875yd stretch of sand, offering plenty of room to soak up the sun or try some volleyball, as the kids did as the sun went down and the adults enjoyed a cocktail. Dubai is often dismissed as a cultural vacuum And there’s no denying that 99 per cent of it is brand new; its modernity can be overwhelming. But there are advantages to being at an international crossroads: for example, the teppanyaki table and sushi counter at the Pan-Asian White Orchid Restaurant is some of the best food I’ve tasted. This is a destination that goes to great lengths to cater for all. When you stack it all up with the short flight, sun, theme parks, desert escape and glut of activities, Dubai fits together as playground for families pretty well.

This Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, image made from a video provided by September Howat shows a skydiving Santa after he crashed into a tree and light pole in Gulfport, Fla. News outlets say George Krokus was dressed as Santa Claus during skydive to deliver toys to the Tampa Bay Beach Bums Operation Santa Charity Volleyball Tournament. (September Howat via AP)

The Wolf Diamonds 3-2-1: Volleyball rolling in NIVC, OT win over Nevada

Head inside for this week's edition of the 3-2-1, where we'll discuss the top storylines in Tech athletics.

Colorado's Top Volleyball Defenders in 2021

Colorado Prep Report has updated our list of the top volleyball defenders within state borders in the Class of 2021!

iWitness: Skydiving Santa faces massive medical costs

Gerard Krokus, the skydiving Santa who crash-landed at a charity volleyball tournament this weekend in Florida, is now facing massive out-of-pocket medical expenses. Dominic Nelson, who organized the event, has created a GoFundMe campaign and is calling on anyone who’s seen the viral video for donations to help cover the cost of Krokus’s treatment. Yahoo News caught up with Nelson, who described what it was like to witness the accident firsthand.

Colorado's Top Volleyball Blockers in 2021

Colorado Prep Report has updated our list of the top volleyball blockers within state borders in the Class of 2021!

Colorado's Top Volleyball Servers in 2021

Colorado Prep Report has updated our list of the top volleyball servers within state borders in the Class of 2021!

Skydiving Santa Claus crashes into tree

A skydiving Santa Claus on his way to deliver toys to Tampa Bay Beach during a charity volleyball game has had a less-than-merry landing, crashing into a tree as he neared the ground.

Muncie volleyball coach admits to relationship with teen player

According to a probable cause document, the 15-year-old victim and her mother went to police on Monday, saying Nolan Brand, 24, had sexually abused the girl. The victim told police she and Brand had sex in September, and that he threatened to blackmail her after she ended the relationship, according to the document. Police viewed messages from Brand on the victim's phone, talking with the girl about her 15th birthday, the document states. When police interviewed Brand, he admitted to having sex with the girl more than 12 times. He also gave police access to his phone, which contained videos of sexual acts between the two.

Muncie volleyball coach admits to relationship with teen player

According to a probable cause document, the 15-year-old victim and her mother went to police on Monday, saying Nolan Brand, 24, had sexually abused the girl. The victim told police she and Brand had sex in September, and that he threatened to blackmail her after she ended the relationship, according to the document. Police viewed messages from Brand on the victim's phone, talking with the girl about her 15th birthday, the document states. When police interviewed Brand, he admitted to having sex with the girl more than 12 times. He also gave police access to his phone, which contained videos of sexual acts between the two.

Muncie volleyball coach admits to relationship with teen player

According to a probable cause document, the 15-year-old victim and her mother went to police on Monday, saying Nolan Brand, 24, had sexually abused the girl. The victim told police she and Brand had sex in September, and that he threatened to blackmail her after she ended the relationship, according to the document. Police viewed messages from Brand on the victim's phone, talking with the girl about her 15th birthday, the document states. When police interviewed Brand, he admitted to having sex with the girl more than 12 times. He also gave police access to his phone, which contained videos of sexual acts between the two.

Muncie volleyball coach admits to relationship with teen player

According to a probable cause document, the 15-year-old victim and her mother went to police on Monday, saying Nolan Brand, 24, had sexually abused the girl. The victim told police she and Brand had sex in September, and that he threatened to blackmail her after she ended the relationship, according to the document. Police viewed messages from Brand on the victim's phone, talking with the girl about her 15th birthday, the document states. When police interviewed Brand, he admitted to having sex with the girl more than 12 times. He also gave police access to his phone, which contained videos of sexual acts between the two.

Former Muncie volleyball coach arrested after admitting to sex with 15-year-old

A former Muncie volleyball coach was arrested Monday following allegations that he had sex with an underage girl, and threatened to blackmail her to keep her quiet. According to a probable cause document, the 15-year-old victim and her mother went to police on Monday, saying Nolan Brand, 24, had sexually abused the girl. The victim told police she and Brand had sex in September, and that he threatened to blackmail her after she ended the relationship, according to the document. Police viewed messages from Brand on the victim's phone, talking with the girl about her 15th birthday, the document states.

Former Muncie volleyball coach arrested after admitting to sex with 15-year-old

A former Muncie volleyball coach was arrested Monday following allegations that he had sex with an underage girl, and threatened to blackmail her to keep her quiet. According to a probable cause document, the 15-year-old victim and her mother went to police on Monday, saying Nolan Brand, 24, had sexually abused the girl. The victim told police she and Brand had sex in September, and that he threatened to blackmail her after she ended the relationship, according to the document. Police viewed messages from Brand on the victim's phone, talking with the girl about her 15th birthday, the document states.

Former Muncie volleyball coach arrested after admitting to sex with 15-year-old

A former Muncie volleyball coach was arrested Monday following allegations that he had sex with an underage girl, and threatened to blackmail her to keep her quiet. According to a probable cause document, the 15-year-old victim and her mother went to police on Monday, saying Nolan Brand, 24, had sexually abused the girl. The victim told police she and Brand had sex in September, and that he threatened to blackmail her after she ended the relationship, according to the document. Police viewed messages from Brand on the victim's phone, talking with the girl about her 15th birthday, the document states.

Former Muncie volleyball coach arrested after admitting to sex with 15-year-old

A former Muncie volleyball coach was arrested Monday following allegations that he had sex with an underage girl, and threatened to blackmail her to keep her quiet. According to a probable cause document, the 15-year-old victim and her mother went to police on Monday, saying Nolan Brand, 24, had sexually abused the girl. The victim told police she and Brand had sex in September, and that he threatened to blackmail her after she ended the relationship, according to the document. Police viewed messages from Brand on the victim's phone, talking with the girl about her 15th birthday, the document states.

High School Volleyball Coach Accused of Having Sex with Student, Recording it on Phone

A high school volleyball coach in Muncie, Indiana is accused of repeatedly having sex with a student and recording it on his phone.

High School Volleyball Coach Accused of Having Sex with Student, Recording it on Phone

A high school volleyball coach in Muncie, Indiana is accused of repeatedly having sex with a student and recording it on his phone.

High School Volleyball Coach Accused of Having Sex with Student, Recording it on Phone

A high school volleyball coach in Muncie, Indiana is accused of repeatedly having sex with a student and recording it on his phone.

Colorado's Top Volleyball Hitters in 2021

Colorado Prep Report has updated our list of the top volleyball hitters within state borders in the Class of 2021!

Colorado's Top Volleyball Passers in 2020

Colorado Prep Report has updated our list of the top volleyball passers within state borders in the Class of 2020!

Nebraska outside hitter Mikaela Foecke, top, attacks Washington St. middle blocker Ella Lajos, bottom, in first-set action of an NCAA college volleyball tournament second-round game Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Lincoln, Neb. (Kayla Wolf/The Journal-Star via AP)

Nebraska middle blocker Briana Holman (13) goes over Washington State setter Ashley Brown (19) during the second set of an NCAA women's volleyball tournament match Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Lincoln, Neb. (Kayla Wolf/The Journal-Star via AP)

Nebraska outside hitter Annika Albrecht (17) strikes the ball as a Washington State player defends during an NCAA women's volleyball tournament match Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Lincoln, Neb. (Kayla Wolf/The Journal-Star via AP)

CSUB volleyball swept by #3 Stanford out of NCAA Tournament

After winning the WAC Tournament, the CSUB volleyball team met the Stanford Cardinal in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

CSUB volleyball swept by #3 Stanford out of NCAA Tournament

After winning the WAC Tournament, the CSUB volleyball team met the Stanford Cardinal in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

CSUB volleyball swept by #3 Stanford out of NCAA Tournament

After winning the WAC Tournament, the CSUB volleyball team met the Stanford Cardinal in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

CSUB volleyball swept by #3 Stanford out of NCAA Tournament

After winning the WAC Tournament, the CSUB volleyball team met the Stanford Cardinal in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Nebraska volleyball NCAA tournament

Nebraska volleyball NCAA tournament

Nebraska volleyball NCAA tournament

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