Theme Park Insider

Interview with John Hallenbeck, General Manager of Motiongate Dubai

October 11, 2016, 10:43 PM · Something's about to happen in Dubai that's never before happened in the theme park industry. A new resort will open not just one, but three new parks in the space of just a couple months. Dubai Parks & Resorts will open the first of its three parks on Oct. 31 — the region's first Legoland theme park. Next month, the world's first Bollywood-themed park joins the mix. And in December, it's time for Motiongate Dubai, a movie-themed park that includes sections themed to Sony Pictures, Lionsgate, and DreamWorks.

I swapped emails earlier this month with Motiongate Dubai's General Manager, John Hallenbeck. That name might sound familiar to some long-time Theme Park Insider readers, as I interviewed him in Singapore in 2011 when he was the Vice President for Operations for Universal Studios Singapore and I was visiting the park for the world premiere of Transformers: The Ride 3D.

Now John's running the shop for a new movie-themed park on the other side of the continent. With opening day just a few weeks away, I asked him what fans can expect from Motiongate Dubai when it debuts.

"Motiongate Dubai is designed for everyone – families, couples, teens, adults and kids, so it really depends on the profile of our guests and the kind of experience they want to have," he said.

With three motion picture studio partners, plus a kid-focused land themed to The Smurfs, Motiongate Dubai can draw upon a deep collection of IP to mix a variety of ride systems and attraction types to appeal to a wide range of visitors.

"Families will enjoy all of the five rides and attractions in the Smurfs Village Zone, or the exciting water rapids ride River Expedition, inspired by Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in Sony Pictures Studios Zone," Hallenbeck said. "For those looking for thrill, we have five awesome roller coasters including Capitol Bullet Train, the first roller coaster inspired by The Hunger Games franchise in the Lionsgate Zone... or our fastest roller coaster in the park, Madagascar: Mad Pursuit in the DreamWorks Zone."

And not everything in the park is a ride, of course.

"Guests who enjoy live entertainment can watch our hip-hop live stage show, 'Step Up Dubai: All In!' which is inspired by that hit film franchise," Hallenbeck said. "All of our rides, attractions and entertainment are as equally enjoyable as the next experience, so guests are invited to ‘play their role’ and create their own cinematic adventure."

That "adventure" clearly is designed to appeal to fans who are used to the level of detail typically found in Disney and Universal theme parks, while offering them an experience that's different when compared with those parks.

"The theming [at Motiongate Dubai] is world-class, and puts guests right into the action," Hallenbeck said. "[A] unique element would definitely be the DreamWorks Zone, a completely indoor environment which takes guests through four immersive lands."

The indoor setting the DreamWorks pavilion is a plus considering the often harsh desert environment in the United Arab Emirates, which can make Orlando-style heat seem like a pleasant spring day.

"Motiongate Dubai has been designed to be a year-round destination, and the park’s design incorporates cooling zones, air-conditioned queuing systems for all of our rides and attractions, shaded areas and landscaping," Hallenbeck said. "In fact, 21 of our 27 key rides and attractions are completely indoors – including the DreamWorks Zone, which is essentially a theme park within a theme park featuring 12 rides and attractions alone."

The Middle East hasn't traditionally offered much for theme park fans, but with Ferrari World in nearby Abu Dhabi and the recent opening of IMG Worlds of Adventure — not to mention a planned expansion of Dubai Parks & Resorts to include the region's first Six Flags park — the UAE is working to position itself not just as an alternative to Florida for European visitors, but as a leading destination for themed entertainment fans all over the world.

"Motiongate Dubai has over 50 nationalities working together which will enable us to offer a truly global experience for our guests from around the world," Hallenbeck said. "Dubai is a melting pot of cultures, and I’m proud to be part of such a rich and culturally diverse team."

Motiongate Dubai opens December 16. One-day tickets to Motiongate Dubai will cost AED330 (about US$89.95) and a three-day "All Parks Hopper" to Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Legoland Dubai will be AED870 (US$236.87), among other multi-day and annual pass options for the parks.

Update: The park just sent along a batch of new construction photos, including the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs restaurant,

Baby Brent's Luncheonette
Photos courtesy Motiongate Dubai

Madagascar: Mad Pursuit,

Madagascar: Mad Pursuit

and the park's front gate:

Front gate

You can see the rest of the photos on our Motiongate Dubai photo page!

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Replies (9)

October 12, 2016 at 2:06 AM · I'm surprised the parks aren't a bit cheaper, but I guess they're primarily aimed at international guests with a bit more coin. I'd be keen to go there someday (been to Dubai before and it's a great place to visit), but there's many other places on the bucket list first. Maybe as a stopover
October 12, 2016 at 8:25 AM · I worked with John during the opening of Islands of Adventure. He's a great leader, and a remarkably nice person. Motiongate Dubai sounds like an outstanding operation. Hope to get there someday.
October 12, 2016 at 9:33 AM · The theming may look a little simplistic, but it seems like a pretty cool park that I'd love to see added in the U.S. somewhere.
October 12, 2016 at 10:42 AM · Here's some context for the prices. To go all the way to the top of the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building, located in Dubai) costs AED500. That's more than US$136 at today's exchange rate. For an elevator ride (with a helluva view, but still...).

Dubai's not a cheap place to visit, which might be its biggest challenge in competing with the Florida theme parks for the global theme park enthusiast. I would take the day at Motiongate over the skyscraper visit every time, though.

October 12, 2016 at 11:39 AM · Yeh, I rather go to Florida then Dubai. I also think the theme parks aren't that great in Dubai except for the Bollywood park but that one is tiny.
I think Dubai is in a weird place theme park wise. They cater to the mega rich and I don't think a lot of them will want to visit a theme park but rather do the mega malls.
October 12, 2016 at 2:07 PM · Just as i thought, it's just quick and easy 'six flag' type attractions, rather than cutting edge technology like Disney and Universal emply. Dissapointing.
October 12, 2016 at 9:44 PM · I saw some videos of the indoor theme park, it didn't look detailed or impressive. It reminded me of the MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park in Las Vegas in the 1990s, which didn't last very long. They just didn't go far enough in terms of theming and immersion.

An indoor theme park is tough, I think you really have to outdo the immersion detail, and it's always kind of weird to see the celing and lights. If there were only a way to simulate the sky, then maybe it would work, but I think it would be hard to do.

October 14, 2016 at 12:47 AM · Mmmm… I think they are saving the best for last…

We know there will be some exciting dark rides in there, maybe more than any theme park beside Disney and Universal. And nothing is pictured there. No picture of the rapids ride, no picture of the Transylvania castle (the tallest icon of the park), or even the How to Train your Dragon land with its huge dark ride.

Some of the facades are plain yes, but they depict movie soundtages (lazy theme, I know). But when you look closer to the details (aging bricks, rockwork…), they are very good. They are playing it safe, revealing more each time time, and I think it’s kinda smart.

October 15, 2016 at 3:19 AM · You CAN with todays Mapping Technic Simulate the Sky! Or even with old Painting Technic you can/could!

Personly I do maybe like that:

2017 US NE (see my Trip Planing Thread * - you can join in!)
2019 Japan/ China/Korea
2021 Dubai

* http://www.themeparkinsider.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=1265

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