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Reel Drive-in Cinema at the rooftop parking space of the new The Dubai Mall Zabeel extension Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

For those of us who’ve been starved for some entertainment that stretches beyond Netflix, Prime Video and Zoom calls, the news of another drive-in cinema in Dubai in a span of few weeks comes as a breath of virus-free air.

The Dubai Mall Zabeel experience is the latest edition to the drive-in cinema resurgence in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which had seen an upswing in the US and Europe. After UAE’s legacy theatres such as Rex Drive-in shuts its doors in the 90s, swanky multiplexes filled the void with state-of-the-art Dolby surround sound, 4DX screens, IMAX and movies with a three-course meal.

Some may call the drive-in concept too retro for the UAE’s bright lights and cutting-edge culture, but at a time when social distancing is the phrase of the hour, this just makes good marketing sense. Which is perhaps why Vox Cinemas was the first to jump on the bandwagon with its drive-in at Mall of the Emirates, with Sharjah soon to follow with its very own. Along the way, Abu Dhabi too has had a few pop-ups, with the rumour mill abuzz that a project is in the pipeline.

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Reel Cinemas Drive-In Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

This, of course, brings us back to Dubai and the newest kid on the block, the Reel Cinemas Drive-in. Located at the rooftop parking space of the new The Dubai Mall Zabeel extension, the latest addition to Reel Cinemas’ portfolio also comes with a view, overlooking the Burj Khalifa and the city’s skyline. We could definitely see this venue becoming a hotspot on New Year’s Eve with dinner, a movie and a fireworks spectacle, all from the comfort of your car.

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Reel Cinemas Drive-In Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Looking at the wide space, one can be led to believe that the parking space can accommodate twice its number, but the Reel Cinemas team has informed Gulf News that 70 cars will be welcomed per screening (Vox Cinemas Drive-in is 75 cars, in case you are wondering).

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Reel Cinemas Drive-In Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Tickets are priced at Dh170 per car, inclusive of two individuals with a food and beverage package that includes one cheese popcorn, one salt popcorn, one regular nachos, two chocolates, two soft drinks and two water bottles. Food carts will also be available for any additional orders, as we were informed. Although, we are unsure exactly when this would be implemented with the social distancing guidelines currently in place.

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Reel Cinemas Drive-In Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

The movie itself can be heard by tuning in the car radios to a set FM frequency of 88.3. There are outdoors speakers as well, which perhaps lays the foundation for outdoor seating or little picnic areas to pop up when the pandemic is a thing of the past and the weather permits.

According to a release, the parking spaces have been arranged based on the car size for an optimum viewing experience for all, while age restrictions do apply, with anyone under 12 years and over 60 unable to attend for now.


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Reel Cinemas Drive-In Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Due to the wider spacing of the car park, and an empty slot in between two vehicles, the space has a roomier feel to it and also lessens the concern of car fumes in your face if you fancy rolling down the windows or popping open that moon roof while watching the film.

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Reel Cinemas Drive-In Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

The outdoor speakers peppered along the car park also ensures that even if your radio has conked off or you simply want to shut that vehicle down to the enjoy the movie, you have the luxury to do so.

In terms of acoustics, we had no complaints. The sound was crisp and made for an enjoyable experience. The view is bar none if you want to enjoy the movie and Dubai’s skyline, but this little perk also comes with its own set of problems.


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Reel Cinemas Drive-In Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

While the skyline is indeed spectacular, it does create a lot of backlight that ends up taking away from the viewing pleasure. Watching the preview screening of ‘Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw’, the colours seemed notably dull and the contrast ratio needed re-adjustment to accommodate the extra lighting from the surrounding buildings and the lights in the car park.

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Reel Cinemas Drive-In Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Also, the idea of parking vehicles according to their size appears great on paper, but you end up having rule breakers everywhere and if you are saddled in the last row (like we were) with a hulking Nissan Patrol parked a few feet ahead of you, chances are the bottom of your screen and the subtitles are bound to disappear.

After several conversations, our Nissan Pathfinder was moved around a few times (including a spot blocked by a building!) before they found us space under a floodlight. To give them credit, the team was apologetic and had the lights switched off eventually, which vastly improved the screen visibility.


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Reel Cinemas Drive-In Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Like many new ventures, Reel Cinemas Drive-in experience has a few creases that need to be ironed out (including adding ample signage), but that shouldn’t take away from the concept itself, which is a welcome breath of fresh air. While many may find the price steep at Dh170, we personally don’t mind the investment if we get the option to choose our food and beverage options rather than it being supplied to us in a pre-packed bag.