At the turn of the millennium a number of theme parks were announced for the United Arab Emirates, including international brands like Legoland, Six Flags, and Universal Studios as well as bespoke projects such as a twenty ride park themed to Formula One. The vast majority were cancelled or postponed during the subsequent downturn, despite the fact that many rides had already been fabricated and delivered, not least the Eurofighter pictured below which remains in open storage near Dubai Motor City almost a decade later. The only project to open more or less on schedule was Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, and that had a very shaky start.
When the world economy began to recover around 2010 another series of announcements were made. There was an enormous amount of scepticism within the enthusiast community, with at least one site running a piece that suggested that the proposals would once again come to nothing. Against the odds, however, four new parks premiered in the closing months of 2016, including Bollywood Parks Dubai, Legoland Dubai, IMG Worlds of Adventure, and Motiongate. We were looking to escape from the Irish winter for a few days as it was, and on that basis we booked ourselves some long haul flights.
IMG Worlds of Adventure
9th January 2017
IMG Worlds of Adventure proudly bills itself as the largest indoor theme park in the world with an area in excess of 1.5 million square feet. It was developed by the Ilyas & Mustafa Galadari Group, a local conglomerate with interests in construction, real estate, hospitality, automobiles, food storage, luxury boat distribution, design, manufacturing, and transport. The park was designed with a capacity of over twenty thousand visitors per day, though for our visit the place was virtually deserted with staff easily outnumbering guests. We counted just nineteen cars in the enormous parking area, though it'd be dishonest of me not to record that we were visiting on a weekday in school term; friends of ours who visited over the Christmas period reported that the place was doing a lively trade.
We decided to begin our day with what we fully expected to be the weakest of the three coasters. Predator (#2309) is an installation of the Eurofighter design first introduced in 2007 and cloned severaltimes since. My trip report from the original installation described the ride experience as unpleasantly rough, and I'm sorry to report that this version wasn't much better. The initial drop and loop were respectable enough, but a horrible sideways shunt a few moments later slammed the overhead restraint into my jaw, resulting in a low-order throbbing sensation that lasted for the balance of the day. We could have ridden a second time, but we figured we'd suffered enough for one morning.
Instead, we relocated to Spider-Man: Doc Ock's Revenge (#2310), a spinning coaster from Mack with the same layout as Sierra Sidewinder at Knott's Berry Farm. The ride entrance is hidden in a small alcove that can only be seen when making an anti-clockwise circuit of the building, and as such we ended up walking right past it before a quick check of the map revealed our mistake. A friendly member of staff told us to have a nice day as we entered the queue, which moved through three distinct themed rooms with several rows of cattle grid in each. Moments later we arrived at an empty boarding platform where an operator pointed us towards the front row.
The layout begins with a gentle right turn towards the lift hill. As the four car train climbs guests are treated to a voiceover from Peter Parker as a series of fog machines disgorge clouds of pseudo-smoke. There is a drop at the apex into a brief turnaround visible from the park midway before the track disappears into a dark room with elaborate scenery and lighting effects. On our first and third laps there was virtually no spinning, allowing us to take in what we were seeing. On our second lap, however, our car spun at a phenomenal rate, turning everything into a blur. On the whole I preferred the more forceful spinning, though I suspect that somewhere between the two distinct ride experiences would have been better again.
The signature coaster in the park is also a clone, though it's probably fair to say that very few park visitors will be aware of that. Velociraptor (#2311) is a red-painted version of Blue Fire located in the Lost Valley section of the park. The ride hardware was too big to fit into the building, and as a result the twenty seat trains are accelerated through a garage door into the desert outside. This transition, oddly enough, proved to be the major Achilles Heel of what would otherwise be a top notch ride, as the abrupt transition from semi-darkness to bright sunshine is decidedly unpleasant. I found it necessary to keep my eyes shut for the first half of the layout; eye protection might have mitigated things somewhat, but glasses were not permitted.
Worse yet, there was a distinctive and mildly unpleasant clattering throughout the layout that was clearly audible from the road when we drove past the ride later in the day. The comfort level was just fine, though it wasn't quite as smooth as the original, something surprising (and more than a little worrying) given that the ride has been open for less than five months. I found myself wondering whether climate extremes in this part of the world (not least the 41°C average daytime temperature during the summer months) might be taking their toll on the track, bearing in mind that Eurofighters are not supposed to operate when the mercury exceeds that temperature. It'll be interesting to see how it holds up over the next few years.
There is one other oddity with Velociraptor that I feel compelled to record for posterity. Passengers on launched coasters are invariably advised to keep their heads against the headrests for the initial acceleration for safety reasons. Given that, it seems more than a little strange that the ride I keep thinking of as Velocifire has a projected video of a dinosaur on the right hand side of the launch track. Anyone who turns their head to look at it runs the risk of getting hurt; one wonders how many people this has happened to thus far.
With the coasters out of the way we began to work our way around the various other attractions. The first one we came to was Dino-Carousel, a custom design with pole-mounted fiberglass dinosaurs in place of the usual horses. Part of me was hoping to hear the Jurassic Park theme played by a fairground organ but it wasn't to be; the ride was virtually silent other than for various mechanical noises. I made some throwaway comment about the dinosaurs creaking, which Megan promptly explained: well, they are pretty old, it must be said!
Our next stop was at Forbidden Territory, a tracked dark ride using jeeps that bear a passing resemblance to those used on the Indiana Jones rides at the Disney parks. The story is of a mission to look for some dinosaurs, and in pursuit of that the vehicles move through a mixture of animatronics and projection screens. Unfortunately the overall experience suffers from faintly ridiculous voiceovers, a disjointed plot, and a top speed that barely exceeds walking pace. At the end a narration congratulates you for "saving the whole species", which intrigued me; until that point I'd had absolutely no idea that's what I was supposed to be doing. As an aside, Megan heard the words "saving the horse faeces", which makes just as much sense as the original.
From there we went to Adventure Time: The Ride of OOO with Finn & Jake, a somewhat longwinded name for a ceiling-mounted monorail aimed at children based on a Cartoon Network series that I'm delighted to say I know precisely nothing about; those eager to learn can find out more on Wikipedia. The route features some limited dark ride scenery accompanied by cartoon-voice narration, not something calculated to please anyone over the age of five, but enthusiasts should ride anyway as there is an excellent angle for photographs of Powerpuff Girls: Mojo Jojo's Robot Rampage, a heavily themed Zamperla Air Race that we decided to skip in the interest of not revisiting our hotel breakfast.
Target shooters that use video screens are beginning to spring up around the world. Amazing Ride of Gumball is a fairly respectable example of the genre, with a mix of physical targets and projections. The guns had laser pointers attached to reduce the difficulty, and though Megan still beat me the score was far closer than it normally is with just three hundred points separating our five figure scores. The theming in the queue was top notch, passing through a school corridor, a locker room, and a classroom. There was also a pre-show video where you see the Gumball character and a friend showing off a modified TV remote that can animate random household objects; as expected the device goes out of control, hence the requirement to shoot things.
My favourite non-coaster in the park was the Haunted Hotel, a superb walkthrough with live actors and detailed scenery that was among the best I've seen in my travels. As I joined the queue I found myself contemplating whether there'd be much perceptable difference between a ghost and someone wearing a dishdasha in the half light, but as things turned out the actors were all made up as blood-encrusted zombies so the issue didn't arise. One small word of warning: the throughput on this attraction is fairly grim (pun intended) as just twelve guests are allowed in at a time; based on the length of the pre-show it seems unlikely that more than ten groups could be handled per hour. Readers who want to experience this attraction should probably go there at the start of their day (assuming of course that it is open that early; today it didn't open until 1:30pm).
It's worth pausing briefly to discuss the policy that the park has adopted for its annual passes, which cost AED 2495 per annum, or roughly €650. This is more than twelve times what we paid for single day admission, and while we took advantage of a promotional deal the regular price still requires nine visits in a twelve month period to come out ahead. The UAE has its share of wealthy residents, but even still it is difficult to believe that there'd be many willing to drop that amount of money on an amusement park pass, especially when you consider that the equivalent for the park just up the road is a third of the price. The cost seems particularly asinine when you realise that the park is home to over a dozen different high quality restaurants; if the season passes were priced more sensibly I could see local people visiting the park just to have their dinner. We decided on Chang's Golden Dragon, and the meal we had was superb (though I should say that the quality was reflected in the decidedly upmarket price).
Our first stop after lunch was Avengers: Battle of Ultron, an excellent dark ride loosely based on the 2015 movie and promoted enthusiastically with multiple pressreleases. The queue was probably the most elaborate of any in the park, with four distinct rooms: a reception area, a model spacecraft with information placards on the wall, a science facility of some kind, and a room with a selection of what I'm going to call "hero suits" mounted on pedestals. The experience itself is a close relation to the Spiderman ride at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, albeit with a different design of vehicle that reverses away from the boarding platform rather than continuing in a straight line.
The most interesting attraction in the park for me was Hulk Epsilon Base 3D, the world premiere of a new style of motion base simulator developed by Dynamic Attractions. At first glance the main show room looks like any other 360° cinema, insofar as there are three rows of seats laid out in a circular pattern and reclined so guests can comfortably look upwards. However, the clue that this is something different comes in the fact that there are seat belts, and sure enough once the show begins the entire base begins to move in time with the projections, rocking from side to side and rotating in time with the action. The motions were not aggressive in any way. I'm not entirely convinced that the video in use makes the best use of the technology, but the experience was certainly unique and not to be missed.
The only other ride for us today was Ben 10 5D Hero Time, a standard (and somewhat hokey) multi-dimensional movie with the usual range of effects. My knowledge of Ben 10 prior to this show was limited to threerollercoasters and to be honest I'm not a lot wiser now. The only thing I really picked up was that he appears to like smoothies, albeit not the traditionally healthy kind: a particular favourite is apparently a blend of lamb and sardine, which sounds unequivocally vile.
My overall impression of the park was very positive; the selection and standard of the rides put the place well up there with the top theme parks worldwide, and the friendly staff could have been trained directly at Holiday World. Despite the overriding western influences I'm glad to say that local culture is respected with the Islamic call to prayer played over the PA system at the appropriate times. The only thing that I found disappointing was the throughput of the various rides; I mentioned the Haunted Hotel above but in reality painfully slow loading was a recurring theme. There were almost no guests today, thus minimising the impact, but it would be tough to do all the attractions on a busy day. We needed just under eight hours to do everything in our list including a few repeats. A little bit of efficiency training would make a huge difference.
Dubai Global Village
9th January 2017
Dubai Global Village is less than two kilometres away from IMG Worlds of Adventure as the crow flies. However, the only way to get between the two locations at present (short of a helicopter!) is to use Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road, one of the main routes running across the UAE. There is no left turn available from IMG, and as a result it is necessary to detour almost seven kilometres in the wrong direction to the next junction before doubling back. Heavy traffic meant that the journey took almost half an hour, but that ended up being okay as we parked our car just ten seconds after our friend Dave arrived.
Monday night is a designated family night at Dubai Global Village, which in local terminology means that unaccompanied males are not permitted entry. This policy results in fewer visitors than on other nights of the week, though the place was still buzzing with people. We noticed a ten minute queue to be served at KFC, and other popular facilities had similar waits. In 2016, the six month long event saw over five million guests, meaning an average of almost thirty thousand per day. To put that number into perspective, the Eiffel Tower averages less than twenty thousand visitors per day.
The first attraction we saw on walking into the ride area was Aviator, which looked like it might be a travelling Zamperla Air Force. On closer inspection however it turned out to be a powered ride from Technical Park, with two separate motors in cages attached to the five car train. The ride is listed on Coaster-Count, but even if I counted powered rides (which I don't, because they don't coast) I'd have a hard time including this one as the speed is virtually constant with only a small amount of acceleration triggered by a height differential of no more than three feet. (Those who want to eschew their dignity and ride this should bear in mind that adults will only fit in the front half of each car, and you should expect the operators to make fun of you.)
The semi-obligatory Wacky Worm was our next stop. Bruco Mela (Crow) was installed on the same spot that two years ago held Chenille (Crow), but the despite the common owner the rides were different machines. The earlier model was one of the very few units to have open eyes on the train figurehead, and before anyone asks, I'm well aware of just how sad it is that I know that. The sole restraint was a seat belt rather than the lap bar found on so many of these rides.
The delightfully rambunctious Runaway Train (formerly of American Adventure) has been left in situ at the Dubai Global Village site since it was first set up there in 2014, presumably because the costs of transporting it elsewhere are prohibitive. In the intervening years it has gained some additional theming, notably a wooden building labelled Gold Mine which the train races through at full speed. The train has also been upgraded with bright red lighting on the side that looks great in the dark. Perhaps it is my imagination but it also felt like the train might have gotten faster over the years too; in short, it's a great ride.
We finished off our night with Psycho, an elaborate haunted house attraction that operated for many years on fairgrounds around Europe, including an appearance in Dublin in 2008. The experience begins with a walkthrough with two scare actors and some half decent ghost train scenery. Unfortunately it goes downhill from there with three fairly poor show rooms. The first looks like the lift at the start of Disney's Haunted Mansion, but it doesn't move; the sole effect is some loud noises. The second simulates a tunnel collapse, but badly; again there are loud noises, after which part of the ceiling slowly descends for a few seconds before resetting itself. The third has a vibrating floor and some evil looking paintings on the wall. All things being equal I'd advise readers to save their dirhams unless you've got the opportunity to follow someone who is easily terrified!