Back when weekends in the UAE were Thursday and Friday, Thursday was always exciting. After lunch, my parents would often take my brother and me to the happiest place (for a 12-year-old) in the UAE: Dubai’s coolest mall of the time, Deira City Centre, home to Magic Planet.
For a child, places such as Magic Planet and Wafi Mall’s Encounter Zone were the best. Right through our teens, my classmates and I flocked to these entertainment zones to enjoy the arcade games, mini golf and play-pits. The tickets collected at each game could be redeemed for prizes at the in-house store — and worked as a child’s first interaction with the sense of reward and effort.
Encounter Zone, on the other hand, was a whole other ball game. With popular attractions such as the Crystal Maze, the Horror Chamber and a range of 3D movies, this was a state-of-the-art facility that was extremely immersive and interactive for its time.
As it targets increased tourist numbers — Dubai alone hopes to attract 20 million visitors by 2020 — the UAE has over the past two decades taken giant steps towards becoming a regional hub for the entertainment and leisure segment. And over the period, indoor theme parks have grown too.
Besides the largest indoor ski slope in the Middle East at Ski Dubai, the emirate now hosts the world’s largest indoor theme park, IMG Worlds of Adventure, and the region’s first indoor gaming theme park, Hub Zero.
IMG Worlds of Adventure stretches over 1.5 million square feet and can accommodate more than 20,000 guests a day. It is also the largest temperature-controlled theme park in the world. It has roller coasters, slingshot rides, interactive movies, huge goosebumps-inducing dinosaurs that interact with visitors and so much more.
Comic culture fans will get extra kicks from the Marvel cave, populated by a selfie-friendly Iron Man and his mates, and a host of Cartoon Network characters — including my favourites, the Powerpuff Girls —are sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face. Hub Zero, meanwhile, is a heaven for gamers. Located at City Walk, it has some of the latest immersive and interactive games. The main attractions at the 15,000-square foot venue is a completely wireless VR first-person shooter experience (think Walking Dead in real life), as well as one of the world’s most sophisticated driving simulators, which mirrors the feel of a Formula One driver. And if you’re born in the 1980s, you’ll relate to its retro arcade zone, with Mrs Pac Man, Tron and some classic cool pinball machines.
With other attractions such as Sega Republic at Dubai Mall and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, it’s a great time to be a kid in the UAE. Or, maybe, an adult too.