Life, the pint-sized philosopher Ronan Keating once observed, is a roller coaster. You just gotta ride it. If so, who only knows what the ex-Boyzoner will make of the Gulf the next time he lands here. Make no mistake: this region is on the verge of an unparalleled revolution in entertainment, with no less than six mammoth, face-meltingly fast theme parks due to launch in Dubai before the end of this year.
“This country has always been so progressive,” says Lennard Otto, CEO of IMG Worlds of Adventure, which will be the first park out of the gate, on Monday August 15, “and this is the missing piece of the puzzle from an offering standpoint. We [all of the new theme parks] are creating a new sector of entertainment, a new sector of tourism.”
Otto thinks Dubai could become known as a theme park hub, and with parks like Angry Birds World planned for Qatar, and a Warner Brothers theme park set to open in Abu Dhabi, it certainly rings true for the whole region. “We have the infrastructure in place to become one of the biggest destination hubs in the world,” says Otto, “and we have a third of the world’s population a short flight away.”
In addition to IMG Worlds of Adventure, opening in October this year are – deep breath – Legoland, Legoland Waterpark, motiongate and Bollywood Parks (all under the Dubai Parks And Resorts banner and located on Sheikh Zayed Road, opposite the Palm Jebel Ali). Meanwhile, Warner Brothers World in Abu Dhabi will launch in 2018, as will 20th Century Fox World, on a site near Dubai Outlet Mall, and featuring representations of The Simpsons, Planet of the Apes, Titanic and more. Six Flags is also on the way in Dubai, with an estimated opening in 2019.
So what can we expect from these parks? What are the signature rides? Will there be anything to eat other than over-priced hot dogs and watery Slush Puppies? We sent a crack Time Out team to investigate. Buckle-up, things are about to get seriously bumpy…
IMG worlds of adventure
How’s this for an entry on your CV: 2016 – launched world’s largest indoor theme park. “Yes,” laughs IMG CEO Lennard Otto, “it was an intriguing opportunity.”
We’ve tracked Otto down to his base on site, with just under 100 days to go until the park opens. “It’s 94 days and 14 hours, actually,” he says, without looking at his calendar. “I’m feeling very confident.”
So he should be. Conceptualised by its two owners, Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari, back in 2011, within just five years that dream will have become a landmark reality. “Back when they came up with the idea there were two gaps in the market. People then were having to travel to the Far East or Far West for a theme park. Also, a lot of attractions here are affected by seasonality. The summer months can be really long. They saw a gap there, too.”
And so it is that on Monday August 15, IMG Worlds Of Adventure will open its doors in Dubai, boasting Marvel and Cartoon Network worlds, plus the Lost Valley: Dinosaur Adventure, all under one massive roof. “We wanted a world-class offering from day one,” says Otto, “one that would change the landscape here and something that could compete in the global space.” Featuring more than 20 signature rides imported from the likes of Canada, the US, Germany, Italy and the UK, and housed under one architecturally incredible roof (it’s held up by just ten columns in the centre) inspired by Beijing airport, this park also has a wide range of smaller rides, 25 retail spaces, 1,600 staff, 200 chefs, 13 cuisines, 70 animatronic dinosaurs and 100 actors.
“The two biggest complaints in theme parks, typically,” says Otto, “are queuing and food. We really looked at both of those norms. Typically, good food is not associated with theme parks. And, typically, the rides are kept within the box [making the queuing process dull]. We wanted the attractions to come out of the boxes.”
Situated near Arabian Ranches, “and just 15 minutes away from each of Dubai’s airports,” notes Otto, one of IMG’s most fundamental design mandates was simple: “that people be immersed in the area they are in from the second they walk through the door to the second they leave. Whether that’s the bathrooms, the retail spaces, the [food] or the landscape. You will be immersed fully.”
As a result, Marvel features a scale-build of New York City, ten storeys high and with yellow cabs dotted about. Rides will fly over your head. In the Marvel Universe Store you will be able to become Iron Man yourself via a unique digital experience. After that, you can head to the shawarma joint from the end of The Avengers or, if you fancy something a bit classier, head to the 10th floor of Tony Stark’s Tower for a spot of serious fine dining. “All the worlds have that level of detail,” says Otto. “In the Ben 10 cartoon, Ben always eats at a restaurant called Mr Smoothie, so in the Cartoon Network World, we’ve built Mr Smoothie. And the jungle in Dinosaur World feels real.”
Open 10am-10pm on weekdays and 10am-midnight Thursday to Saturday, the park is, “able to operate like a shopping mall, but also built to be smart, which it needs to be when you are talking about bringing in 30,000 people a day”.
And, well, you’re never going to get too hot. “Being indoor we are not affected by seasonality,” says Otto. “Hot? Raining? Sandstorm? No problem – we’re ready when you are.”
QR300 (adults), QR250 (kids). Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road, Dubai, www.imgworlds.com.
While Legoland and Bollywood Parks have a clear demographic to target, motiongate is harder to pigeonhole. Is it for kids, white-knuckle riders or movie buffs? Truth is, there’s enough packed in to please all. Leaning on the powers of Dreamworks, Sony Pictures Studios and Lionsgate certainly gives it a sound footing, and in terms of relatable wow factor, it packs a hefty punch.
Enough films to fill an Oscars ceremony have been used as the basis of rides and experiences, among them The Hunger Games, Ghostbusters, The Green Hornet, The Smurfs, Zombieland, Shrek and Kung Fu Panda.
On our visit to the site of the park on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, opposite the Palm Jebel Ali, the most striking thing we notice is how they’ve crammed so much in without making it feel like a chore to tick everything off. We weave our way between the remarkably compact zones, all built around a central dial-like landscaped area complete with water feature.
For icons, look no further than motiongate’s grand main entrance. It screams “something magical lies beyond”, and standing beneath the giant gold movie reel, flanked by oversized and wonderfully novel cameras, cinema billboards and other familiar memorabilia, our heart-rate increases to roller coaster speed.
Once in, it’s down Studio Central, a themed boulevard of food and retail spots set to be illuminated by street performances and character interactions. Two key rides poke their tracks up above the rooftops (The Green Hornet and Capitol Bullet Train), heightening excitement – and we can just imagine the screeches filtering through the concourse.
Back outside, the theming is easy on the eye; bold, bright colours are at every turn, not least in Smurfs Village or on the roof of Baby Brent’s Luncheonette, where enormous foodstuffs have landed – a nod to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Up ahead, Dreamworks looms like a giant, cavernous fun house. Large enough for five A380s, with the Fountain Of Dreams dominating its entrance, rides will be mostly kept out of sight, only occasionally jutting out into the main rooms. That’s not to say it will be dull, far from it. Expect interaction and the feeling of being fully immersed in Shrek’s Swamp or the Kung Fu Academy to be ramped up. Welcome to Tinseltown 2.0.
Annual pass QR865 or QR1,095 with waterpark access. www.motion gatedubai.com.
Zombieland-themed, 58m free-fall tower, it’s the highest ride in the whole of Dubai Parks And Resorts. It mirrors the scene in which Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin fend off the opposition.
A world first (and second) with two themed rides based on the iconic movie franchise. White-knuckle fans will be drawn in the “high-speed bullet train”, which runs both forwards and backwards.
Smurfs Studio Tours
A fully immersive sensory assault for the family, this whimsical journey through the movie asks you to get involved in the pursuit of Gargamel while riding through tunnels.
Ghostbusters: Battle For New York
Taking place inside a replica structure of the iconic firehouse from the movie – complete with Slimer’s Diner – this interactive experience features shooting games and more.
The message is clear, this is not “Little India”. While we can see plenty borrowed from the country, Bollywood Parks, like motiongate, is a tribute to a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry that churns out celebrities as quickly as Dubai Parks And Resorts will fire out portions of fries and slices of pizza. But unlike its Hollywood cousin, there is no template, no competition. Nothing like this has ever been done before, and the bar is certainly set high.
From the breathtakingly regal Rajmahal Theatre – visible from Sheikh Zayed Road, but infinitely more alluring and impressive up close and inside – looming large, to the inventive reimagining of Mumbai’s Victoria Station, outside which three train carriages sit and act as stages for “impromptu” shows, it’s a feast of activity. Every winding corner we take reveals another heavily themed street, at this stage a blank canvas, but soon to be awash with colour, while stages jut out every which way. Our stroll may be slow as we dodge ongoing construction, but we suspect there’ll be even more to gawp at and slow us down when it finally opens in October at its site on Sheikh Zayed Road.
Across all five zones, restaurants have roof terraces and attractions have interactive queues, as the whole experience is cranked up to the max. Even the rides are more about the show and dance than the sharp drops. Take the 4D flying spectacular of Krrish: Hero’s Flight, or a virtual theatre experience in RA.One: Unleashed, and the 3D media tunnel in Don: The Chase. The action comes thick, fast and live in Dabangg, too. The proximity of the seats had us on edge just imagining the stunt cars whizzing through.
During our tour, general manager Thomas Vellum revealed that while famous Bollywood stars aren’t directly involved, they have shown genuine interest in the park’s development and the role they have, directly or indirectly, played in it.
Annual pass QR755 or QR985 with waterpark access. www.bollywoodparksdubai.com.
The most impressive of all the buildings in Dubai Parks And Resorts, the icon-in-waiting looks every bit as regal inside as the world’s finest theatres. It will play host to nightly Broadway-style shows, at an additional cost.
More than 1,000 fans will sit on bleacher-style seats a matter of metres from the action as this live, intense stunt show flashes by, featuring cars, high-wire tricks and more.
Recreating one of Mumbai’s most iconic landmarks, Victoria Station has three giant train carriages outside a restaurant, from the roof of which regular music and dance performances will take place.
Try your own hand at making a Bollywood movie. This part-live stage show, part-interactive experience is based on blockbuster film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and is a fun insight into the industry.
As the only area of Dubai Parks And Resort that doesn’t require an entry fee, Riverland, opening in October, could easily be dismissed. Not that you could if you wanted to – it is the thoroughfare through which all human traffic must pass on the way to any of the theme parks.
And it seems strange to say, but standing at the mouth of the one-kilometre stretch of water that reaches 65 metres at its widest point, our socks were really knocked off. Perhaps it was lack of expectation, or maybe it was because we’ve never seen anything quite like this before in the region. Suffice
to say, Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah has got some serious competition.
Banks are linked by one major footbridge – said to be built with unusually high clearance in the anticipation that in the future, as Dubai Parks And Resorts grows, large yachts will be able to pass beneath – and ensconced by a fully – operational tram servicing the hotel and the individual park entrances.
The 57 restaurants and bars will take up residence in four areas. The first is French Village, where cobbles for the pedestrianised streets are being laid, on our visit, and the manufacturing of the faux-17th century architecture is well on the way. Theming is integral to the process and all outlets will have to maintain the style of the frontages, so no illuminated “Open” signs. For those, you’ll have to head to Boardwalk, a 1950s Vegas-style “strip”, which, in parts, offers over-water dining. There’s also The Peninsula, an elevated collection of warehouse-style licensed bars, and India Gate, featuring themed casual dining, retail and family entertainment.
Free entry www.dubaiparksandresorts.com/EN/riverland.
The Irish Village
Four warehouse-style buildings built around a communal “pub garden” will be known as The Peninsula, and is Riverland’s only licensed area. At the heart of it, The Irish Village, which is expected to continue its trend of hosting al fresco gigs.
Ride an abra
The river will be a hive of activity throughout the day and, much like Madinat Jumeirah and the Dubai Fountain, abra shuttles will operate up and down the 1km stretch of water.
Your first taste of Riverland will be distinctly European. From the entrance, classically designed cobbled streets lined with trees and 17th century buildings wind towards the river banks.
On the flipside, it’s all neon lights on the Boardwalk, where the likes of Famous Dave’s BBQ will have over-water dining terraces and all-American themes throughout.
Legoland and Legoland Waterpark
Being so clearly aligned with a product is a double-edged sword for Legoland. Like Lego? Win. Hate it? Why bother? Well actually, the answer to the last question is delivered resoundingly, and so it should, because they’ve had more than enough experience opening around the world. Dubai’s Legoland, opening at Dubai Parks And Resorts on Sheikh Zayed Road in October, will be the world’s seventh, following a similar path to the previous six, essentially creating a space that allows children to earn a driving license, swim with sharks, fight fires and generally enjoy a park dedicated solely to them. They are not the big sell, but there are rides, most of which are interactive and indoors, although we’re taken aback by the sheer size of the signature outdoor coaster, The Dragon.
Exploring the site, it feels larger than the rest – and we don’t just mean the enormous Kingdoms castle – in part due to how much there is to interact with rather than just view, but also because the size of the activities demand it to be. For example, there’s a complex street system for the driving experience, and huge sunken areas that will become boating lakes.
The way in which adults are brought into the mix really brings out our inner child. The wow factor for grown-ups comes in Miniland, a vast, 25-metre tall, fully air-conditioned dome that will house – and listen carefully, because this is a Time Out exclusive – a Burj Khalifa replica that could, if its tip
tickles the roof, break a world record. There’s also an operational Sheikh Zayed Road and a number of never-before-created structures. Alongside Riverland, the sheer scale of what is to come in the dome is the most staggering reveal of the whole tour.
The adjoining waterpark stands proud as a place worth visiting on its own.
Annual pass QR765 or QR995 with waterpark access. www.legoland.com/dubai.
Take a peek into the process behind making a
Lego brick, then take it home as a special momento. For those who want something bigger to sink their teeth into, the biggest store of its kind in the
Middle East is nearby.
Lego City is a collection of interactive experiences where the whole family can help combat emergencies, captain a boat and earn their driving license out on a custom-built road system.
Hop into a glass-fronted underwater pod and get up close to the marine life in the park’s aquarium, right in the heart of the Adventure zone.
The staple of any good waterpark, the pool at Legoland is located next to the landing zones of five child-friendly waterslides, and is intelligently split to allow for even toddlers to enjoy the experience.
Where to go now
Wild Wadi, Dubai
Compact and utterly enjoyable for all ages, it’s a cult favourite in Dubai. Sitting in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab, its network of ascending chutes and tunnels are truly unique, while its compact size means you can stay wet more often than not. Its signature ride, the Jumeirah Sceirah, asks riders to brave a confined pod with collapsing floor.
From QR230. Daily 10am-6pm. Umm Suqeim (04 348 4444).
With rides such as the Shark Attack and an extensive rapids section, Aquaventure is perhaps the most extreme waterpark in Dubai. It’s also the largest, sprawling out to the east of Atlantis The Palm and encapsulating a huge beach area, giant wave pool and an aquarium – through which a flume runs – and slides capable of hosting skateboard tricks. Vertical drops, plug holes and five-man rubber rings complete the set.
From QR215. Daily 10am-6.30pm. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0000).
Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi
Its recent opening of the first bi-plane-themed roller coaster, Flying Aces, catapulted Ferrari World back into the Middle Eastern mindset. The triple record-breaking ride, acclaimed for having the world’s tallest loop and fastest and steepest starting hill inclination, mimics the movements of 1900s bi-planes to offer gravity-defying flight acrobatics that include a 52-metre non-inverted loop, down flips and plenty of airtime.
From QR205. Daily 11am-8pm. Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (02 496 8000).
Yas Waterworld, Abu Dhabi
With more than 45 rides, slides and attractions including a wave pool, a surfable wave simulator and two lazy rivers, there is something for everyone at Yas Waterworld. Last year, camels and falcons were added to the repertoire. Pick of the flumes is Liwa Loop, the only looping waterslide in the Middle East.
From QR195. Daily 10am-7pm. Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (02 414 2000).
Angry Birds World, Doha
Little has been revealed about exactly what this exciting theme park will contain. Based on the wildly popular, global app hit, we have so far been told that it will have 35 state-of-the-art attractions and is set to host an interactive experience that brings the bird characters to life. We're intrigued, to say the least.
Doha Festival City, www.festivalcitydoha.com.
Snow Dunes, Doha
Doha’s first-ever indoor snow park will be themed around a fantastical Arabian city, and it’s planned to be more than a mere ski slope experience. Instead, expect the kind of experience you’d find at a waterpark, but just a tad colder at a chilly -2°C. Again, we’re intrigued, and greatly anticipating its opening.
Doha Festival City, www.festivalcitydoha.com.
As the name hints, Virtuocity will be a high-tech, high-thrill entertainment and game experience that combines cutting-edge simulators, escape rooms and more. Race the globe’s best circuits in a true-to-life F1 cockpit, or take the fight to the enemy in one of the heart-racing missions aboard an F35 fighter jet.
Doha Festival City, www.festivalcitydoha.com.
Hub Zero at City Walk, Dubai
Hailed as “the region’s first immersive entertainment park”, the indoor centre will feature 18 rides and experiential zones powered by artificial intelligence and based on popular video games. Exactly what games has not been revealed, but developers EA, Capcom and Konami are among those on board, suggesting this will be more than just your standard arcade hall.
Al Safa Road, www.hubzerodubai.com.
Warner Brothers, Abu Dhabi
Announced in April to much fanfare, specific details about the Warner Bros theme park (set to open in 2018) on Yas Island are being kept under wraps. The studio already has its name attached to Movie World in Queensland Australia, a park featuring themed rides based on Batman, Austin Powers, The Great Gatsby
and Scooby-Doo. Its stamp is also on the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter in Orlando, and the Harry Potter Studios in London.
Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.