Theme park fans probably think it has been long overdue. However, as we approach the end of 2016, we can say the UAE is now home to not one, not two, but three major amusement parks, suitable for little ones and big kids alike.
Until this year, the main theme park in the UAE was Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, which continues to attract residents and tourists from all over the emirates.
The end of August saw the launch of IMG Worlds of Adventure — home to globally known brands such as Marvel and Cartoon Network — and was soon followed by the debut of Legoland Dubai and Bollywood Parks Dubai, part of the larger Dubai Parks and Resorts.
The new leisure hub
Not only is the country fast establishing itself as the entertainment capital of the Middle East, but it’s also coming up with offerings that can rival the rest of the world.
For example, these UAE parks have access to some of the best technology in the world. With Flying Aces, Ferrari World can lay claim to the highest roller-coaster loop in the world. Its SFX Coaster boasts advanced track technology and high-definition special effects.
Researchers also agree – according to a recent report by PWC, the UAE has progressed leaps and bounds in realising its global ambition of becoming a leisure and entertainment hub, one that could rival current market leader, Orlando, Florida.So are these three major theme parks sufficient to establish this?
The newest kid on the block, Dubai Parks and Resorts is by far the largest offering in terms of space, so it will be interesting to see just how many visitors it pulls in over the year. We toured two of the new offerings in the country.
For the younger ones
Legoland Dubai offers an experience somewhat similar to namesake resorts in the US and the UK but has obviously been altered to suit our region. It is the first Legoland in the Arab world, so it will no doubt be fascinating for those who have not visited any of the others abroad.
Possibly the first permanent theme park aimed at younger children (apart from Modhesh World of course), it has more than 40 Lego-themed rides, shows and attractions, some indoor and some outside.
All of the areas look impressive and spectacular. While there are a few teething problems — it seemed staff at the door weren’t fully trained as obtaining our pre-booked tickets was a bit of an issue — it’s still a great park experience overall.
But what makes theme parks in the UAE stand out is the dedication to localising elements of the experience. Much like Ferrari World’s Khalil’s Car Wash, one of the highlights of Legoland Dubai is its Miniland. Quite possibly a Lego fan’s dream world, this indoor venue features spectacular giant replicas of iconic buildings including the Burj Al Arab, Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Burj Khalifa. Other structures that will no doubt find favour with the visitor demographic include the Taj Mahal and Great Pyramids of Giza.
Just across the road from Legoland Dubai – it’s a two-minute walk away – is another global first. Bollywood Parks Dubai is the first experience of its kind, billed as a celebration of Mumbai’s legendary film industry.
Although we were unable to experience many of the rides upon our visit (the park will open fully by the end of this month), at first glance it has huge potential. To compare it with Stateside attractions, Bollywood Parks Dubai definitely has a Universal Studios feel. Covering more than 1.7 million square feet, it’s suitable for a day trip and combines Universal Studio-style experiences such as offering an insight into how Bollywood flicks are made, having the opportunity to star in your own movie, and an awful lot of 3D simulator rides.
For example, based on the film starring Aamir Khan, Lagaan: The Thrill of Victory is a simulator ride that see participants join Bhuvan and his team in a game of cricket against the British Raj. Meanwhile, RA.One: Unleashed – based on the Shah Rukh Khan movie – feels quite similar in style to the multi-sensory Shrek 4D virtual ride in the US. Here, guests sit in a theatre where as valued shareholders of the company, they are invited to the unveiling of a revolutionary product, the Game Glove Controller, hosted by the founder and CEO Prateek Subramaniam (he’s the son of Shekhar Subramaniam, the designer and creator of the villain RA.One and the hero G.One).
It’s certainly not a bad thing being compared to Universal Studios. In fact, considering it's the first of its kind, it's a positive sign that it already can be compared favourably to a globally recognised brand.
Another unique feature here is the park’s show offerings. For example, there’s a dance troupe – complete with Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan impersonators – who perform some of the biggest dance numbers from well-known Bollywood movies.
But anything new obviously comes some issues, and with thousands of visitors expected daily, transport needs to be improved for tourists and residents who do not drive.
However, it has been an interesting year. The UAE has gone from one theme park to four big brands in 12 months — and the scene is only set to grow in 2017 and beyond.