The world's largest indoor theme park had been open for five weeks when we visited, and the taxi driver told us we were the only fare he’d taken to the park since it opened. The first thing that strikes you as you arrive is that you’ve just travelled half an hour from the creek in Dubai to a construction site. The theme park is complete (though the adjacent cinema still is not open), but the site around it is just desert and road construction. Next, you will notice the vast car park — as big as any at Walt Disney World — but devoid of cars. We arrived just after opening and with tickets pre-booked and printed from the website, we walked straight into the reception area, through security with no bags to check, and then into the park.
The park has three themed lands and a central boulevard containing the Haunted Hotel walk-through attraction, plus shops and restaurants. In the park, you will find 12 rides, a 5D theatre, two play areas, a show and that walk-through. The park was open from 11am until 9pm on the day we visited.
Once inside the theme park we realised how empty it is. We walked along the boulevard towards the Haunted Hotel, and we’re the only ones on the street.
The first of the three lands we visited was the Lost Valley, themed around dinosaurs. The area is gloomy and with minimal signage and with no crowd to follow, we walked up the exit to Predator, only to be told by staff to go round to the correct entrance. We did, and walked straight on to the Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter coaster. No waiting, get in the carriage, restraint pulled down, checked and off we go. Up at 90 degrees, over and down a short drop at 90 degrees then round a few loops and turns all over in less than a minute.
Our next ride was Velociraptor, a Mack Rides launch coaster. You load inside the theme park, but as the ride starts the doors to the outside open, the heat from the desert hits you, and you blast off onto the park's only ride that goes outside the building.
After that, we went on Forbidden Territory — which basically was Dinosaur from Disney's Animal Kingdom, with a slightly different story — and then finished the land with a ride on the Dino Carousel. Less than 30 minutes into our visit, and we’ve done four rides. So we’re off to Marvel Zone.
Marvel Zone is a brighter area themed to a cityscape containing five Avengers-themed rides. Still no queues, as we walk on to Avengers Flight of the Quinjets (think Disney's Astro Orbiter) and ride as a couple... with no one else aboard. Next, we go on Thor Thunder Spin, and the downside to an empty park arises. They need a minimum of 12 riders to operate this Top Spin ride, so we sit on the ride waiting for 10 minutes as attendants coax other guests to ride so we can start. After riding Thor, we have the longest wait of the day as we remain take a few pictures and a short video of the next group of riders on Thor before moving onto Avengers Battle of Ultron.
Battle of Ultron is another walk-on. We pause just to take a couple of photos of the queue.
After that dark ride, trips on Spider-Man Doc-Ocks Revenge, a Mack Rides a spinning coaster, and Hulk Epsilon Base 3D, a 360-degree theater show, quickly follow, then we were off to Cartoon Network.
Cartoon Network is a more child-friendly area of the theme park, so it was a little busier, populated by families with small children. Still no queueing for rides, though, as we walk onto Adventure Time - The Ride of OOO with Finn & Jake, a overhead monorail that takes you on a short tour above this land. Then we went on The Amazing Ride of Gumball, a short ride with laser-pointer shooters, but unlike Disney World's Buzz Lightyear ride, you can’t spin the car to get a better shot. After that, it was onwards to Ben 10 5D Hero Time. After a short wait for the current show to finish, we’re into the large, empty theatre where we have the row to ourselves. No need to move all the way to the end. There's no possible way to fill in all this available space.
Once back to the central boulevard, we make our way to the Haunted Hotel, as it only opens after 1:30pm. It’s well presented by actors in English, although not as creepy as the old House of Horror at Universal Studios Hollywood. Still, it’s fun to watch a few locals jump and squeal, not knowing what to expect or from where.
So we’ve been in the park for less than three hours and we’ve done all the rides we want to do. (We’ve missed only The Powerpuff Girls – Mojo Jojo’s Robot Rampage spinner ride.) What next?
You can’t sit in the shade of a tree to relax and watch the word go by — there’s no sun and there are very few guests. How about getting a good spot for the parade? There is no parade. Let's grab some photos with the characters in Marvel Zone? No characters to be seen. What about a show, you know, one like Beauty and the Beast or Indiana Jones at Disney? There’s only one show with characters from LazyTown, and that doesn’t appeal. OK, we’ll look round the shops, then re-ride everything again.
At 4:30 pm, we’ve walked round the park at least three times. We’ve had enough of coasters for today, and we finally decide it’s time to eat. There are plenty of choices: sit down, fast food carts, Arabic, Indian, Chinese, Burgers, hotdogs, pizzas, popcorn — all available with no queueing. We decide to sit in a tuk-tuk and have samosas. Food cost are on a par with the water parks in Dubai, 15AED – 25AED for water or soft drinks, around 30AED for snacks and +60AED for meals. As we eat our meal, we decide we’ve had enough for the day and phone the taxi to collect us... in 45 minutes outside the entrance plaza.
The real cost of the ultimate Fastpass at a park with few guests and unlimited rides? You get bored pretty quickly. There’s no anticipation — no build up to the ride as you wait in the queue. The rides lose their value when obtained so easily.
IMG Worlds of Adventure may call itself a theme park, but just having the rights to and using IP does not a theme park make. Instead, here we get: staff, all in the same blue or orange polo shirts, wherever they were working, instead of costumes; no parades, shows or characters to promote the IP; and worst of all, no natural elements to add to the little amount of theming that exists — no trees and birds, no sunshine, no changing light from night to day. These elements help us ‘live’ in the environment we find ourselves in. But here, you always can see the roof over your head.
Marvel Zone and Lost Valley have great coasters that would be "A" rides at any theme park, but the whole park lacks elements that make it a memorable day out. Less than a week after visiting, our overriding memory is how empty the park was.
As reported on Theme Park Insider at the time of opening, the owners expect more than four million visitors in the park's first year. Whilst it’s hard to estimate how many visitors were in the park during our visit, I’d reckon no more than 1,000. Maybe the park is busier at the weekends?
But it’s never going to be the nearly 80,000 a week that would be required to get annual capacity up to four million. Now, add into the mix that three new theme parks will be opening very soon in Dubai, and that there are two well-established water parks all chasing the same tourists and local families, and I’d say the park would be closing for good after one season if it were anywhere else but Dubai.
Personally, I think the entire problem is the location.
The real test will be the three opening by Dubai Parks & Resorts in the next three months. It will be interesting, especially since they will be all outdoors. My prediction:
Legoland: Decently successful. Emiratis (and their maids) will bring their kids to the park regularly. Should do well with annual passes if they market to the locals heavily.
Bollywood: Major failure. After the curiosity factor wears out in a few weeks, it will be a ghost town. Priced way too high for South Asians, who mostly make peanuts in the UAE. Emiratis and expats will go once and done. The attractions don't seem to have much repeatability (shows and screens).
Motion Gate: This is the make or break park for the whole venture. With the budget they have, I think they've done what they can to make this work (mix of indoor/outdoor attractions and various IPs) but I'm not sure it's enough. None of the IPs is a home run that would make it a sure-fire destination visit. I hope it succeeds but I got a bad feeling about this...
I don't think being indoors is holding it back, but they should have attempted to give guests a faux sky, such as how the ceilings are painted in a Las Vegas or Macau hotel, like The Venetian.
Also, I'd like to have seen maybe cobblestone or brick roads/walking paths, and a whole lot more in the way of trees and shrubs. Preserved palms look incredibly real, and high end artificial grass is amazing - not lime carpet or Astroturf at all.
The park doesn't need to be outdoors, but they should aim to give the guests that vibe.
It's really disappointing to see this, and I hope MotionGate does UAE theme parks proud, or the fat lady may be warming up her considerable pipes.
- Brian from Florida
This is also a place that doesn't accept criticism. If you defame the United Arab Emirates, you can be charged with a crime. This also includes anything written on social media.
The huge expat community will almost certainly visit, but with the huge competition for their attention from the non-theme park attractions they may not visit with any regularity.
The addition of more parks could actually be a blessing, as three new parks in a similar area inland of the main city, could help make the trip worthwhile.
From the US State Department website: "Consuming or possessing alcohol without a Ministry of Interior liquor permit is illegal and could result in arrest and/or fines and imprisonment. Alcohol is served at bars in most major hotels but is intended for guests of the hotel. Persons who are not guests of the hotel, and who consume alcohol in the restaurants and bars, technically are required to have their own personal liquor licenses."
Dubai is a brave and bold city with tremendous leadership. Sheikh Mohammed is often seen visiting projects personally and keeps his finger on the pulse. If only we had half of his leadership skills in my home country......
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
I think this illustrates why IP isn't everything in theme parks today, despite what many of us might be feeling. Context still matters. We want to visit themed environments, not just rides in a mall.
Now, part of the context that is missing here is a critical mass for themed entertainment in Dubai. In that respect, the new Dubai Parks & Resorts, along with Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, might help IMG Worlds rather than hurt it. If, together, all of these attractions lure more theme park fans to the UAE, maybe those queue will start to fill.
But, please, not until I get the chance to go and get on everything with no wait! ;^)