Saudi Arabia's Al Sharq Group will invest Dh7 billion in an eight million square foot development in Dubailand, named Aqua Dunya, that is expected to become the region's largest theme park.

Aqua Dunya is expected to attract more than three million visitors annually. Steven Tight, a former Walt Disney vice-president for 17 years, will be Aqua Dunya's chief executive.

Aqua Dunya, comprising the largest and most diverse theme park resort in the Middle East, will also have 3,400 residential apartments. It will "rise by early 2008."

The theme park will be managed by Jumeirah, the hospitality management arm of Dubai Holding.

Ali Sulaiman Al Shehri, chairman of Al Sharq Development, said, "Aqua Dunya brings world class theme parks and resorts, vacation apartments and unique residences in a prime developing region in the new Dubai."

Aqua Dunya, comprising the largest and most diverse theme park resort in the Middle East and a residential community of 3,400 apartments, will "rise from the middle of the UAE desert by early 2008."

Al Sharq has already appointed Mace as project management consultant which is finalising several components of the project.

Tenders for infrastructure and enabling works are expected to be issued in the next few months.

Construction of Aqua Dunya, which will be equivalent in size to 150 football fields, will begin next January.

The centrepiece will be the world's largest cruise ship, the Desert Pearl. Berthed at its own Dubailand oasis, the ship will contain a climate-controlled indoor element of the theme park, and a 330-stateroom luxury hotel.

The Aqua Dunya theme park will open with more than 36 wet and dry rides and attractions, and three adventure islands.

The project is is one of the 19 confirmed ventures in Dubailand, and it is among one of the first 10 projects that will coincide with its Phase 1 opening in early 2008.

Phase 1 will include Aqua Dunya, Desert Pearl Hotel, a traditional souq and port district, conference centre, 170 vacation apartments and 3,400 residential apartments for sale.

Future development will include a second theme park, two more themed resorts and a golf course.