One of the few things that women can do here in Saudi Arabia outside the home is shop. Consequently Jeddah is bursting at the seams with the newest craze in the whole shopping experience: "destination malls." Saudi Arabia is a shopper's paradise. The real bargains to be had are at the old souks, and shopping there is a fascinating cultural experience. But on the other side of the cultural coin are the most modern and upscale shopping malls one can imagine. Almost all of these unbelievable malls have a full-scale amusement / entertainment park, fountains and other water features, and separate men's and women's facilities for prayer conveniently located right inside. Several of the malls offer ice skating. The reason for these destination malls, of course, is because shopping is just about the only family activity to do here in Saudi Arabia, besides going to the homes of other members of the family. There are no movie theaters here. Sports are mostly for men only - women aren't even allowed on site just to watch their sons or husbands play! And, if women play a sport, only women can attend. There are also no concerts here either. The only activity where men and women actually can come into "limited" contact with each other is shopping.
As I've said before, many Saudi women here have maids, nannies, cooks, and drivers. So if a Saudi woman wants to go shopping, she just gets the driver to take her to a mall with her kids and the nanny in tow. In general, she gives the nanny money to keep the kids entertained and fed while she leisurely goes on her way shopping. The driver, in the meantime, either waits outside the mall, congregating with all the other dozens of drivers who are waiting, or he might be sent on errands for the mistress of the house, coming back later to pick up the family when summoned.
Of course I haven't been to every mall in Jeddah yet. You've heard that saying: So Many Malls, So Little Time! I wouldn't be surprised if it was written to describe Saudi Arabia. But the malls I have been to are quite impressive. Many chain stores similar to the states, like Limited Too, MotherCare, Nike, and Adidas can be found in many malls. Food courts include the likes of Cheesecake Factory, Cinnabon, Starbucks, Crispy Creme, Tony Romas, On the Border, McDonalds and Burger King, among others.
The women shoppers all wear the requisite floor length black abayas. Men shoppers are either dressed in the traditional long white dresses called thobes, topped off with the red checked scarf (shemagh), or they might CHOOSE to wear jeans and a T-shirt. Yes, you see, men here have a CHOICE of what THEY can wear to the mall! Mall employees like sales clerks, cashiers, store managers, security, and all the other positions available are all filled with ONLY MALES. Women are not allowed to work in the malls in these capacities; however, I have seen some women mall employees who clean the women's restrooms, and for clarification, these are not Saudi women.
One thing that takes some getting used to is that most of the malls all open in the morning at 9 or 10am, but many of the shops close by about 1pm and don't re-open again until 5pm. You can find a few stores in the malls open in between those times, but they close for at least half an hour or more for each of the prayer times. Shoppers can pray at the malls or just hang out until the stores open back up for business. I guess you could consider it a forced rest period for those who like to shop until they drop!
The newest and largest mall in Jeddah is the "MALL OF ARABIA." With 330 stores and restaurants occupying three levels, a covered parking garage, quiet lounges, huge spectacular restrooms, and unusual architectural details, plus a full scale amusement park, this ultra-modern mall is phenomenal. It recently opened but parts of it are still under construction, including a Snow Village, where visitors will be able to frolick in the snow year round. Plans are also in the works to open two hotel facilities right at the mall as well. One of the anchor stores of the mall is called Geant, a beautiful French chain store similar to Super Target with shiny wide aisles and a large selection of products. The mall has a nautical theme and makes you feel as though you're on a cruise ship. There is a huge glassed-in open area with spacious comfy seating and large screen TVSs secluded from the shops. The Mall of Arabia also offers a variety of hands on workshops like cooking, magic, puppet shows and theater that are geared mostly for kids. Shopping at the Mall of Arabia is an experience unto itself.
Another beautiful, large new mall that opened within the past year is the spectacular "RED SEA MALL," anchored by a popular chain store called Danube. This tri-level mall even has trams that carry customers around the mall. It has eighteen entrance gates, impressive fountains and huge aquariums, and 4000 parking spaces. It too offers a complete family amusement area on site and a lovely food court. The Red Sea Mall has a special club for kids which schedules kids' events, has face painting, and other entertainment.
Heraa International Mall is an enormous bright and shiny single level mall with about 240 stores and offering a food court and an extensive children's playground. Its numerous arched entrances are adorned with yellow smiley faces, which is eye-catching but I think it looks a little cheesey. But once inside, it is a shopper's haven with an abundance of stores to delight anyone, including Laura Ashley, Diesel and Mothercare.
Jeddah Mall is a smaller, more intimate mall, but lovely none the less. Several floors circle around and look down upon a lower level food court dining area, complete with bridges, fountains, waterways, and lighted palm trees interspersed amidst the tables.
Roshan Mall is another of the destination malls of Jeddah. It is so big I still haven't seen all of it and I've been there several times. One of its anchor stores is HyperPanda, similar again to Super Target in the states. It also has a popular family entertainment and amusement area, and a big underground parking garage.
The malls here are incredibly amazing and there are just too many to mention all of them. Some other favorites are Aziz Mall, Mega Mall, Sultan Mall, Tahlia Mall and Al-Mahmal Mall, which is located in downtown Jeddah. At the present time, there are at least two other enormous destination malls under construction that I know of which will be opening in the next few months.