Kuwait is not a country that immediately jumps into the mind of the average Western tourist. There was a period of time when visitors could only enter with the sponsorship of a local person or company. This is no longer the case for nationals of many countries, and visas may be purchased on arrival for a nominal fee. Those hoping to make a quick exit from the airport however are likely to be disappointed; there was a ninety minute queue when we arrived. When we reached the front however the formalities were dealt with in an efficient manner, and the visa officer made us feel very welcome.
We exited through customs into a food court which could have been from any western shopping centre. Baskin Robbins, Burger King, Cinnabon, KFC, and Starbucks were clearly in evidence, and only a closer inspection showed these signs repeated in English and Arabic. None of these were entirely what the doctor ordered following a five hour flight, but it was still a good way to pass the time while waiting twenty minutes for the shuttle bus to our hotel.
Kuwait City itself is a safe place to walk around in, but we were advised that it would be prudent as foreign travellers to keep our passports and entrance visas on our person just in case they might be required. Copies of both documents were required to check into the hotel. Tourists should also be aware that photographing Muslim women, even by accident, is likely to get you into serious trouble. It is wise to hold your camera up very high so everyone can see what you are doing and so that nobody inadvertently walks into your shot. We were advised that those who are obviously foreign might have a certain amount of leeway with this, but we decided not to risk it.
7th December 2007
Our first and biggest shock of the day was the cost of the taxi to do the twenty five mile journey from our hotel to Entertainment City. The fare came to just six dinars, or around fifteen euro, a fraction of what we were expecting to face given the distance involved. Part of the reason for this is the local cost of fuel, which, in short, reflects the fact that Kuwait is an oil producing country. The journey took about half an hour, putting us at the park in late morning. Our taxi driver gave us his mobile number and told us to call him half an hour before we were ready to leave and he'd come back for us. We've never had an offer like that before and we were delighted to accept.
The sky was overcast with what we initially thought might be fog, but half an hour later it was clear that the culprit was in fact sand. This is par for the course in the desert, but nevertheless it led to us spending significantly less time in the park than we might have done. Having your eyes continuously sandblasted is not a recipe for an enjoyable day. The pictures in this report have been deliberately left unaltered to show what the sky was like; everything else on this web site is generally washed thoroughly through Photoshop.
The park has a single price admission which includes most of the rides and attractions. However, visitors should be aware that five attractions are an additional charge; two of the coasters, the Wild Raft rapids, the Tagada, and the Grand Prix. The last of these is an upcharge in most parks, but in our view the rest of the attractions listed should really be included in park admission; they are, after all, the biggest in the park and thus the ones that thrill seekers are likely to want to ride.
Our first coaster was the only one included with our ticket. Oasis Express (#1104) marked our first introduction to a major feature of society in this part of the world; there were separate queues for men and families. There were very few of the latter in the park; in fact there were very few women in the park at all. Coming back to the coaster, this Schwarzkopf design was having technical difficulties (probably due to the sand) that caused the train to stop dead for a good thirty seconds before engaging the lift hill. Nevertheless it proved to be worth the wait, with a forceful yet smooth ride despite it being nearly thirty years old.
Next up came Lightning (#1105), better known to western park audiences as Batman the Ride. Anyone who has ever ridden a Batman clone will know what to expect here; in short, a great coaster and future classic. Unfortunately, the decision to make it an upcharge attraction has greatly limited its audience. We only saw trains running occasionally, and those were for the most part empty. It seems a bit ridiculous to spend so much money on a new ride to have nobody actually get on it, but I guess ours is not to reason why. The third and final coaster, Roller Coaster (#1106) was not worth the cost of the ticket, but then adults were not the target audience.
We decided to take the train ride around the park, mostly as an opportunity to sit down for a while. The sign was only written in Arabic but guest services translated it for us to the rather morbid Train of Death. We were expecting a second station somewhere else in the park, but there wasn't one, so twenty minutes later we ended up back where we started.
We'd already made the unspoken decision to eschew all spin rides for the day. With that category closed there were only two other operational attractions for us to try. First was the mediocre Sindbad the Sailor dark ride, clearly getting on in years but still with a decent length queue. Then, with our taxi driver on the way to collect us, we hit the Wild Raft rapids ride. This featured articulated boats which took us around a fairly decent course, with one large drop that had the potential to soak passengers had the boat being more full. Fortunately there was room for both of us to get (mostly) out of the way of the splash.
7th December 2007
Hawally Park is the newest park in Kuwait City, having opened to the public in 2004. We would not have known about this park at all were it not for Tareq, who told me of its existence. Careful research on the Internet turned up a single photograph and a few words of arabic. In the end, I managed to locate it on a satellite photograph. The aerial photograph was not hugely encouraging, which only goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover.
The place turned out to be the surprise hit of the day, thanks to the Assistant Operations Manager who recognised two lost tourists on the way in. Wageh spoke flawless English, probably better than mine, and when it became clear we were enthusiasts he immediately launched into an enthusiastic discussion about the various rides and their histories. The majority of the attractions were built in Italy, with brands such as Fabbri, SBF Visa, and Zamperla. All bar two of them were bought new, and one of the ones that wasn't wins my vote for the best ride of the year (albeit with a never in the west award).
Water Jumping is an unusually descriptive name for a ride which does just that. This Fabbri built ride can be thought of as a direct ancestor to a modern portable log flume such as the Jungle River, and indeed it has the same layout. Instead of running on water, however, the boats run on coaster track and leave the rails completely at the bottom of each drop, launching their boats into the air in much the same fashion as the Nautic Jet rides found in Germany. Instead of being towed backwards, however, the boats then float forwards and smoothly reengage the rails. To describe the ride as good does it an injustice; it is utterly fantastic and easily my favourite new-to-me ride this year. Management is to be commended for preserving a piece of history like this for new generations to enjoy.
The park is currently home to two coasters; Family Coaster (#1107) and Family Train (#1108), and as their names suggest both are small rides aimed at a younger audience. Wageh told us that they are building a new ride in the next year or two, most likely with two inversions, which should keep the older children occupied. As if he hadn't done enough for us already, he finished up by giving us directions on how to get to our final park for the day on foot. He also checked to make sure that we knew about the other parks in the country, such as Kuwait Magic and Marah Park Land. The latter was in fact news to us, and was very much appreciated.
Al-Sha'ab Leisure Park
7th December 2007
There was no charge to enter Al-Sha'ab Leisure Park; instead, guests were able to buy individual ride tickets. Given our fatigue at this stage we decided mostly to chill, with the only essential being the Roller Coaster (#1109), a fairly typical Arrow design that was surprisingly smooth to ride other than for one nasty jolt on the entrance to the corkscrew.
The park has a second coaster called Spiral Coaster, the sole example of an Intamin heartline coaster. Unfortunately this was closed for maintenance and indeed appeared to have been so for some time. It was interesting to see that this ride has tire drive units every couple of feet for the entire course length, presenting a potential conundrum for coaster enthusiasts; without seeing it run it is impossible to be sure but it's certainly tempting to class it as a powered coaster based on appearance alone.
The park map and web site both mentioned a third coaster called Nessi Coaster but this was no longer present. Its location, under the shadow of a Skycoaster, was now home to an inflatable ride. Those used to American parks (and indeed parks in other countries) would be intrigued to see the Skycoaster here; most of the area between the main tower and the winch tower was wide open, allowing non-riders to stand straight under the flight path of those soaring over their heads.