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Cuddling Live Penguins in Dubai?! I Promise This is Real!

Cuddling a REAL, LIVE PENGUIN in Dubai!

Cuddling a REAL, LIVE PENGUIN in Dubai!

“Why aren’t you kissing the penguin?” asked the trainer. “Go on, put your lips on the penguin’s head!” I drew closer, puckering my lips, but hovering a centimeter from the downy feathers.

“Are you scared?” asked the trainer.

I’m pregnant!” I replied. “I know pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat raw fish, and smooching a penguin seems a similar concept.”

Yes, the tropical desert city of Dubai has built an indoor ski mountain.

Yes, the tropical desert city of Dubai has built an indoor ski mountain.

“Oh, ok,” the man agreed. “No need to kiss, then. Just cuddle.”

I obliged, stroking the soft penguin coat over and over, marveling at its silkiness. All too soon, my turn was up and the next person took my place.

Can you tell how excited I am to be hanging out with penguins?

Can you tell how excited I am to be hanging out with penguins?

If the fact that I snuggled a real, live penguin just blew your mind, prepare to be even more shocked. This arctic encounter did not occur on the ice of Patagonia, but rather in the 100-degree heat of Dubai, the tropical metropolis in the desert country of the United Arab Emirates.

Ski Dubai is inside the massive Mall of the Emirates, and is so cold, you need to borrow their jackets!

Ski Dubai is inside the massive Mall of the Emirates, which you can see through the windows here.

The economic strategy of the United Arab Emirates is brilliant. Though flush with oil money, the country’s leaders realized that relying on oil revenue wouldn’t work in the long term, so they enacted a plan to make Dubai the leading tourist destination in the world. To accomplish this, they began building the biggest, best, and most astounding tourist attractions in the world. Of course, an indoor ski mountain (with penguins) was an integral part of this plan.

Me with a dragon ice sculpture in Ski Dubai.

Me with a dragon ice sculpture in Ski Dubai.

Ski Dubai” opened in the Mall of the Emirates in 2005, featuring a 240,000 square-foot snow covered mountain with five different levels of skiing difficulty, including world’s first indoor Black Diamond ski run. There are also toboggan slides, climbing towers, and my personal favorite: a giant inflatable ball that you can climb inside to roll down the hill!

Would you roll down the ski slope inside this inflatable ball?

Would you roll down the ski slope inside this inflatable ball?

Now, if you’re going to have an indoor ski slope in the 100-degree desert, you might as well have a penguin cuddling opportunity too, right? Done! Ski Dubai teamed up with scientists dedicated to protecting penguins and constructed “The Most Sophisticated Penguin Habitat in the UAE.” From the Ski Dubai website: “Our kitchen is fully equipped to provide daily fish banquets to the penguins. The penguins are free to move around the private pool, top deck, and their private holding area.” Isn’t this so in keeping with Dubai’s reputation for luxury hotels? Hehe.

Is it safe for a pregnant lady to kiss a penguin?

Is it safe for a pregnant lady to kiss a penguin?

So how does this “Penguin Encounter” work? First, you put on the jacket, gloves, hat, snow-pants, and boots included in the price of your admission, since the temperature is kept at 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Ski Dubai even gives you extra socks to keep your footsies warm! Because Dubai is so hot year-round, few people in the city have jackets, so relying on visitors bringing their own winter gear would be a bad idea.

The toboggan slide goes through an ice airplane.

The toboggan slide goes through an ice airplane.

Next, you watch a short informational video about your soon-to-be “Peng Friends.” Important information is conveyed, specifically that first you will meet the Gentoo Penguins, who do not like cuddling, but subsequently, you get to chill with King Penguins (the world’s second largest penguins) who LOVE cuddles. You are instructed on the proper way to stroke your Peng Friends: from top to bottom, with one hand firmly on each side of their rotund torsos.

The entrance to Ski Dubai. Looks like just another mall store, right?

The entrance to Ski Dubai. Looks like just another mall store, right?

Then off you go into the penguin enclosure! A professional photographer snaps away as you befriend the tuxedoed cuties of the animal world. What struck me was how incredibly soft and silky the feathers of the King Penguin felt. The wings, on the other hand, are hard and rough like bone. (Did I have flashbacks of my hugs with tigers in Thailand? Yes!) Throughout all these cuddles, our Peng Friend stood patiently, soaking in the stroking and awaiting his yummy treat at the end. It was an honor to pet you, sir!

I have fallen in love with penguin cuddles.

I have fallen in love with penguin cuddles.

After my Penguin Encounter, I couldn’t stop smiling. I must admit that I was skeptical about how the experience would be, but I found it deeply moving — not to mention wildly sweet! I wasn’t quite ready to leave Ski Dubai, so I sat down and ordered the most beautiful hot chocolate I’ve seen in my life, which I sipped in the “ski lodge” in the lobby, gazing at a crackling fireplace.

The prettiest hot chocolate, sipped in front of a fireplace.

The prettiest hot chocolate, sipped in front of a fireplace.

When I boarded the flight to Dubai, never did I dream I’d find myself in a spot like Ski Dubai! Given that my hometown of Boston had its snowiest winter in history this past year, it’s comical that I flew to a 100-degree desert halfway across the world see a simulation of the cold we battled in Boston… but it’s kind of touching, too. It makes me realize that we humans crave a variety of experience, from hot to cold, including all things in between — especially penguin snuggles!

Planning your travels? I’ve done the search for you, so you can just click here for Dubai hotel options. If you enjoyed this article, consider using that link, as I receive a small commission to support this site at no extra cost to you. Thanks, and happy travels!

I was a guest of Ski Dubai, but all opinions and penguin snuggles are my own.

 

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Amy

Wednesday 13th of January 2016

Dubai is home to some of world's finest tourist attractions, that's why it draws many people in, making it one of the top destinations in the world and cuddling live penguins will make it even more popular.

Ameen A

Tuesday 17th of November 2015

I love this article! I have been to Dubai many times but I have never been to the indoor ski area and haven't cuddled a real life penguin in a 100 degree desert! Hopefully I'll do it next time. Its amazing how a 100 degree desert has an indoor ski area with real life penguins, which I would imagine being in an Arctic area, never Dubai.

Ryan

Tuesday 17th of November 2015

Was the Dragon sculpture made of ice or plastic because the designing looks amazing !

Lillie

Wednesday 18th of November 2015

It's ice!

Meg Jerrard

Sunday 15th of November 2015

Very cool encounter Lillie! Ive been to Ski Dubai, though I was walking around exploring the mall and just marvelled at the inside from the window pane - I would love to get back and actually head in for a penguin encounter though, sounds like you had a great time!

Tyler N.

Thursday 12th of November 2015

Wow! Having a indoor ski park is awesome in 100 degree weather!

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