Warner Bros. World impresses in its Abu Dhabi debut

July 24, 2018, 3:52 PM · Busted! You were about to skip this article because it's about a theme park in the Middle East, weren't you?

With so many canceled projects and half-baked debuts, I would not blame any theme park fan for giving up on the region. But stick with me here. Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi will erase your frustration and remind you why you fell in love with theme parks. It's the simply the most remarkable park built in the last few decades by a company not named Disney or Universal — and it's better than some of their parks, too, even out of the gate.

At 38 acres, Warner Bros. World now becomes the world's largest indoor theme park, beating neighboring IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai. But it's what is inside this immense structure that best distinguishes this theme park. This is a gorgeous place to spend the day, rich with detail and in storytelling. It's the work of true theme park geeks who understand fans' need for authenticity in detail and wonderful spaces to inhabit.

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I'm going to be writing a lot about this park over the next several weeks — it's simply too important to the ever-emerging history of theme parks to ignore. But I would like to introduce you to this park with some photos and video of the attractions that impressed me in the few hours I had inside the park today during its media preview.

My favorite attraction in the park was AniMayhem, an adventure through a Mad Men-era Acme Products plant. You're training to scan the many product packages that Acme's shipping out the door. Of course, because it's Acme, your scanner is just going to blow up the packages to reveal the anvils, bombs, and magnets, but hey, you earn points!

(FYI: I tried to get on-ride video, but the ops team wouldn't allow it.)

Not only does the ride blend its media and practical effects well, it throws character-driven Looney Tunes gags into every game, allowing riders to enjoy the experience as a narrative dark ride even if they never bother to play the game. And the finale is just perfect, with Bugs and Elmer Fudd singing "Kill the Rabbit," a Michigan J. Frog send-off, and a final drive through the iconic "That's All Folks" rings IRL.

Moments like that make clear that the design team for this park, led by Thinkwell's Dave Cobb, deeply understood its source material. The Fast and Furry-ous family inverted coaster isn't a Vin Diesel pun, for another example. It's a callback to the title of the original Roadrunner cartoon episode, which debuted in 1949. For U.S. theme park fans accustomed to Six Flags typically doing little more than slapping a Warner Bros. name on a coaster to "theme" it, this little beauty comes as a welcome surprise, with its immersive setting and show scenes. We are riding underneath one of Wile E. Coyote's Acme rockets — out of control, of course.

Likewise, The Flintstones Bedrock River Adventure echoes every story beat from the classic Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon: Mr. Slate pulling the bird's tail to signal quitting time, Fred sliding down the Brontosaurus' tail on his way out of work, and the episode "ending" with Fred, locked out of his home, banging on the door for Wilma.

Yes, if you watched the video... that was media in a flume ride!

On Scooby-Doo! The Museum of Mysteries, I expect the day to come when riders here will yell out the classic lines from Scoody-Doo episodes, like in the stretch room on Disney's Haunted Mansion: "And I would have gotten away with it... if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

Heck, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi even manages to make a Disk'O coaster interesting. Here's off-ride on The Riddler Revolution. (Couldn't get on ride. Sorry.)

My second-favorite attraction, among those I had time to experience, was Green Lantern: Galactic Odyssey, a planetarium show inside a convincing reimagining of LA's iconic Griffith Park Observatory, here instead in the beautiful city of Metropolis. But Green Lantern isn't just going to let us watch a simulation of the cosmos, when he can take us into the real thing.

This Brogent Technologies I-Ride theater brilliantly transports us into a series of wondrous environments, where we discover that the only thing more powerful than a superhero (or villain) is our collective will. It's a deep statement for a theme park, though camouflaged within one of the more intense flying theater-type rides I've experienced.

Unfortunately, I did not get to experience two of the rides I had been anticipating most: Justice League: Warworld Attacks and Batman: Knight Flight. Justice League will use Oceaneering trackless vehicles in a Transformers-style ride as we attempt to escape an infestation of "Black Mercy" plants that will destroy humanity. And Knight Flight will feature Batwing vehicles mounted, Forbidden Journey-style, on the end of robot arms on a track.

However, Knight Flight avoids infringing Universal's patent by not running a continuous, Omnimover-style belt of moving robot arms as the Harry Potter ride does. Instead, each robot arm will move separately on the track from scene to scene. That should allow for some more intimacy on what otherwise can feel like an industrial experience. But the tech challenge of pulling that system together means it faces at least a few more weeks of "technical rehearsal."

Still, I saw enough here tonight to convince me that the United Arab Emirates finally has a world-class theme park that will appeal to entertainment-franchise-loving fans. Coupled with the also-impressive Ferrari World Abu Dhabi next door, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi now makes Yas Island a compelling multi-theme-park resort — the first truly great one outside the Disney and Universal families.

Update: Here is the full show video from the Cinema Spectacular, which plays nightly in the Warner Bros. Plaza:

And here is more on the Easter eggs of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, including photos.

Replies (29)

July 24, 2018 at 4:22 PM

Whoa!!!! This park seems like a serious legitimate contender! The detail & quality of the attractions seem top notch!

Indoor theme parks have a certain stigma (possibly earned?), but this Warner Bros World looks like it blows those away.

I imagine what this park could be if it wasn't limited to an indoor enclosure due to the regions climate!

Great review Robert! Will be cool to see & hear more about this park! This place looks fun!

July 24, 2018 at 4:24 PM

I spent about and hour and a half walking the park with Dave, who detailed the really deep dive he and his team did with a lot of the decoration in this park. I am planning a photo essay on that when I return to LA, then an interview with Dave after that.

So much to tell!

July 24, 2018 at 5:18 PM

it reminds me of Warner Bros Movie World Australia back when I was a kid. I'm glad they've looked more to that rather than a cheap "Stick an IP on a ride" job that we see elsewhere.

July 24, 2018 at 7:06 PM

Seems like the thing about it being an indoor park does it more good than evil.
This looks amazing! I passed the day watching videos from Ferrari World and collecting all information about Warner Bros. World, and now I feel like I NEED to go to Abu Dhabi!
Who knows, if it's succesfull, maybe Warner can find a way to open one of these in the US?

July 24, 2018 at 8:00 PM

From the pictures, this place looks awesome. If global warming pans out the way climate scientists say it will, this might be a good template for future theme parks. Personally, as a Floridian, I often wish we had some indoor theme parks. Disney is pretty much the only game in town that still has plenty to do in inclement weather. I seriously wish WB would have ended their six flags deal and given us the DC comics theme park presence we really deserve.

July 24, 2018 at 9:38 PM

Sounds and looks awesome. Throwing this to the wind, but does anyone know how connected this park is to Warner Brothers Movie World in Gold Coast, Australia? I would love to see that park get some of these rides (or similar), instead of more barely themed coasters.

July 24, 2018 at 10:57 PM

Looks visually impressive from a static perspective. Not sure why Class A animatronic figures were passed-on. That said, while lacking a true E-ticket ride for adults, my nephew is excited to head on over! Every ride shown looked GREAT to him and, he has NO NOSTALGIA for the Flinstones, Scooby Doo, ACME, etc.

July 24, 2018 at 11:26 PM

I doubt this park has anything to do with the Australia park, WB has separate agreements with separate developers to license out their IP and then it probably went to a third party design firm.

Anyway I did read your entire review and watched all the videos and I hate to be the negative nancy but to me this seems like another money loser for Dubai. While these might be "nice parks" none of them have any re-visit value. I think for a park to be successful it has to be great at what it does and these parks in Dubai don't particularly do anything great...they are just kind of there. Yea you may have had a private walk through with one of the designers that explained all the details but obviously no one else has that and 99% of people don't care.

These parks have to compete on a global stage and the fact is they just aren't that good. If you're a tourist going to spend big $ on a family vacation are you going to go to Paris and go to Marvel Land and Star Wars Land with all the relevant IP and awesome rides, or are you going to spend big money to go on that lame Flinstones ride with the static figures.

July 25, 2018 at 1:24 AM

This does look like a really nice park, and it is probably the top park in the UAE. However, it's also quite small, and even with everything running it seems like it might be a bit tough to fill a full day here. That is the biggest problem with all the UAE parks...they seem really nice (nicer, in fact, than many regional theme parks) and well worth a visit if you're already in the country, but they don't offer enough to be attractive on their own as a theme park destination (despite being marketed as such). Still, I'm really curious to see how this park does once it is fully operational, as it has a lot of potential and is something I could easily see copied elsewhere if it ends up being successful. Perhaps one day I'll get a chance to visit all these parks, but that is probably way in the future (and pretty low on the park priority list).

July 25, 2018 at 5:09 AM

To the_man and AJ Hummel : yes the UAE parks are good. Stop comparing everything to Disney or Universal. Sure they are not attractive in their own right (no park is, except for the Florida state or for the parkfan audience), but the region is already attractive to many (Dubai is the 4th most visited city in the world) with is beaches and year round sunshine, amazing infrastructure and hotels, landmarks buildings, shopping or job opportunities etc. The parks are just adding to that offering and they help establish the region as a family friendly destination. But having visited both places I can honestly say that Dubai/Abu Dhabi are far more diverse in their entertainment offerings, than Orlando for example. They just lack THE Disney or Universal brand to make it global.

July 25, 2018 at 5:25 AM

Great article and I enjoyed watching the video's and photo's.
I think The Riddler Revolution is the best use of an "of the shelf" ride done very well. I love the themeing all around and that coaster looks wonderful.
The darkride lack motion of the figures and the use of screens in some rides where out of place at some times but overall I'm impressed.
In the end I won't plan a trip. Neither the scale nor the quality is enough to get me on a plane. But if I ever would visit Dubai (I like modern architecture) then I sure will plan a visit to see this park and the Bollywood one.

July 25, 2018 at 8:09 AM

The level of theming, detail, and storytelling appears to be on par with my first impression of Hard Rock Park (I attended the media preview of that park for TPI), which to be honest was missing the broader IP draws WB Movie World has achieved here. It sounds like Robert is glowing about this park as much as I was about the Myrtle Beach park (https://www.themeparkinsider.com/news/response.cfm?ID=4272), so I hope it does not run into the same financial problems and gaffes HRP ran into.

I do worry about the Middle East theme park market, and with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar still far off, I'm not sure tourism in the region is really going to grow significantly in the short term to support the exponential growth in attractions in the region. So much of the development in this region is being supported by "stupid money" that's being flaunted more as a show of wealth than any sound business looking to make a profit. The runaway development in the region seems far more interested in showing off its opulence than profit and loss.

As Robert noted, the existing parks are working hard to maintain their foothold, including building additional world-class attractions to their lineups, while even more parks are slated to open in the coming years. The region is already saturated, and additions like this will only dilute the product to the point where everyone struggles to maintain a foothold. Let's face it, building a theme park is expensive, but maintaining and growing a theme park, especially one without an established reputation in a limited market, can be even more pricey, with the real world costs of operations and maintenance often overlooked by managers and developers during the planning/financing phases. That was one of the causes of Hard Rock Park's demise (along with some bad business decisions in the development phase), so I hope operators have a cache of funding or at least a line of credit that can last through 2022, which is how long it's likely to take before these new parks can take a foothold in the public consciousness.

July 25, 2018 at 8:37 AM

Apart from Formula Rossa at Ferrari world I don't see anything that would enable me to justify spending $10K .. ?? for a weeks stay in the middle east. The plane flight over wouldn't be a joy either, with Orlando to Abu Dhabi taking a minimum of 16hrs and costing around $2K. Maybe if there was a world class CP type park, then yes, but for now I'll just read Robert's reviews and wonder if England will make it to Qatar in 2022 ... :)
Hmmm ... maybe CP will do a world's fastest in 2020 ? I suppose that's unlikely as they have TTD, but the anticipation grows for that announcement, and for something that will outdo SV ... ???

July 25, 2018 at 10:17 AM

Not to start another political thing but if this site is going to cover these parks (as it should) I feel the need to point this out every time. Both this and Ferrari World look amazing and I would love to visit but only if they were built somewhere that would be more welcoming. In no way would I want to spend my money in the UAE and neither should anyone coming from western nations. The fact that they are so openly sexist and homophobic should make anyone re-think going there. I really hope that things change there and that these parks stick around long enough to see that day but I have a strong feeling they will go bankrupt before attitudes in the country change.

July 25, 2018 at 11:12 AM

Fully agreed, Francis. I refuse to give my money to places where homophobia is sponsored by the government (in UAE being gay is illegal - punishments range from prison to death)

July 25, 2018 at 12:03 PM

Sure these parks represent fun and family, but also in a way, a personal freedom that isn’t always available in theocratic/autocratic societies. Of course, a lot of the park guests might already enjoy a certain freedom that isn't available to the majority. But the same has been said about expensive theme parks here in the US. Still there is a difference between parks built in the UAE and elsewhere. Our parks were not built with near-slave labor nor do we have a medieval moral code (just a mid-20th C. ones :-). Some might see the prevalence of American brands as a sign of progress, but the attraction is less towards US/Western values and more to it as symbols of wealth and modernity. That’s really the appeal. But I’m not even concerned so much about what attracts them or about the cultural imperialism of the US and much I am about the homogenization and lack of creativity. With all the wealth in the UAE why couldn’t they create theme parks around local cultural traditions and give these parks their own unique sense of identity? I feel like it’s a big opportunity has been lost. Bollywood Parks and Yas Waterworld seem like the only ones that have tried to do that. And of course, this problem(?) isn't exclusive to the UAE.

July 25, 2018 at 12:02 PM

>>> In no way would I want to spend my money in the UAE and neither should anyone coming from western nations

Meanwhile in Europe, it has a reputation as a party town. I think you need to open your eyes more.

July 25, 2018 at 1:25 PM

@Chad H... That's the problem my eyes are wide open and I can see what's going on ever there. There are so many beautiful places around the world I personally chose to spend my money in places that don't have medieval laws on whole segments of the population.

July 25, 2018 at 2:44 PM

I heard they lock up children in cages there.

July 25, 2018 at 5:17 PM

@Francis24: the USA has more than its fair share of problems. Here in the U.K. we regularly hear about unarmed black men being shot by thise supposed to protect them, a president who is under the thumb of a foreign power and who has made disparaging remarks about women, equated anti-fascists with nazis etc. That’s among the many other problems weas Europeans see with the country, e.g. lack of universal free health care, many thousands being killed every year because of lax gun laws. But do we tell others not to visit? No we let those who wish to to go and visit and see things for themselves, and make their own intelligent minds up.

July 26, 2018 at 1:00 AM

Getting off this political debate, this is truly great work, exceeding my expectations and terrific old-school rides mixed with high-tech stuff for what looks like a great experience.

July 26, 2018 at 1:21 AM

My eyes were tearing out of joy when I started reading this article. " It's the simply the most remarkable park built in the last few decades by a company not named Disney or Universal " This is exactly what Aspen Creations committed to Miral when the major part of themeing was awarded to Aspen ( Warner Bros Plaza, Cartoon Junction, Bedrock, The Flintstones Bedrock River Adventure, Bronto Burgers, Gotham City and The Riddler Revolution. Our goal was to place Warner Bros on the same platform with the two big guys, Disney and Universal and proudly I can say we have nailed it.
THE SKY IS THE LIMIT. A company founded in UAE 20 years ago to deliver world class Theme park!!! Aspen Creations founded in 1997 a brainchild of Hashem Al Marzouqi an Emirati Entrepreneur is behind achieving this remarkable benchmark.
Thank you for the nice Article. By the way almost all the photos and videos in your Article are of Aspen Creations work.

July 26, 2018 at 3:03 AM

Regardless of the political issues, (which I think are considerably more complex than Jason K suggests)the UAE simply isn't going to figure on my choice of destinations for at least three other significant reasons. One, apart from the theme parks there's literally nothing there I'd want to do so I'm not going to fly all that way to visit a couple of decent but not awesome theme parks, (especially as this one looks like a family park), and then what? The climate is vicious. I've been to the UAE. It was unbearable anywhere other than inside an air-conditioned building which, frankly, isn't my idea of a good holiday. And third the sheer expense of it. The Middle East has cast it'self as the opulent playground of the world and 'cheap' or 'bargain' just aren't words in their lexicon. If I'm going to spend mega-bucks to be honest I'd rather spend it in Orlando where I'll get a hell of a lot more for my money in a more amenable climate and there's no chance of running out of things to do.

July 26, 2018 at 7:42 AM

Interesting article. Has anyone seen the project annual attendance for this park? The daily ticket looks ~25% more than Motiongate, which seems a reasonable comparison as a movie park. The Motiongate annual pass is cheaper than a daily ticket for Warner Bros World. At AED 1295 the annual pass for Warner Bros World is over 4x the AED 295 price for a pass at Motiongate and less than 10% below the basic 3-park season pass for Universal Orlando. Would be interested to hear from anyone who visits if the park is busy.

July 26, 2018 at 8:18 AM

"The Middle East has cast it'self as the opulent playground of the world and 'cheap' or 'bargain' just aren't words in their lexicon."

That's not really true. Yes, if you want to spend big bucks to visit the UAE in style, traveling first class and staying in penthouse apartments, you can rack up a pretty big bill. However, the UAE actually represents one of the best travel deals on the planet. I'm not sure where you're from David, but from the East Coast of the US, I can travel to the UAE for less than it would cost to fly to London, Paris, or Rome, and with plentiful hotel rooms and dirt cheap gas, the costs once you get there are a fraction of what it costs to travel to Europe (or western Asia or North Africa). When Motiongate Dubai first opened, I was curious what it would cost to spend a week in the region, and on a quick skim, the costs were comparable to what it would cost for us to take a trip to LA or San Francisco (airfare to the UAE was little more expensive, but lodging and ground transportation were far cheaper). If fact, if you wanted to travel business class and elevate the quality of your accommodations, it was way cheaper than trying to do the same for a west coast trip.

I think the biggest hurdle for us would be the lack of real attractions. We love visiting theme parks, but aside from Orlando, our vacations always include going to at least a few places other than theme parks (museums, historical sites, parks, etc...). The UAE simply doesn't have anything else to offer unless you find shopping an adequate fill-in for those vacation staples. Personally, I'd much rather visit Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel than spend a week in the UAE.

July 26, 2018 at 9:19 AM

@Jason K I don't feel the need to keep going since we've both explained our positions and I do respect yours but I thought you should know that I'm actually from Canada not the US. I do visit the US and despite their current problems at least I know that my existence as a gay man isn't illegal.

July 26, 2018 at 11:45 AM

@ Russell. I'm from the UK. From here the UAE is never on the 'cheap' list of anything! Even supposed 'cheap' deals I see on specialist websites always come in at way more money than I would ever consider for a few days away.

July 26, 2018 at 12:39 PM

I'm surprised flying from the UK to the UAE is so expensive (they spend an awful lot of money advertising with shirt sponsorships of 2 of the biggest EPL teams - they do own majority stake in Man City FWIW). I had always assumed it was expensive to fly to the Middle East until I spitballed a trip last year to see what it would cost, and was frankly shocked how cheap the big name Middle Eastern airlines (Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad) are to get from the east coast (DC, Philly, and NYC) to the UAE. When I saw how flying to the UAE was actually cheaper than flying to Heathrow, Fiumincino, or CDG, I took a step further to see how much lodging and rental cars were, and my jaw practically hit the floor. Rates for decent hotels in the center of Dubai were running in the $50/night range, and rental cars were less than $25/day. In fact, doing a quick "package" shop just now for a random week in October 2018, I am seeing over a dozen different packages from DC to Dubai that would cost my family of 3 just over $2,500 (airfare, hotel, and car) for a 7-day vacation.

Perhaps the UAE tourism board is marketing differently to the UK than they are to the US. You could probably do the UAE over a long weekend from the UK (just 3 hours different) while a trip from the US would require almost a week because of travel and the significant time change (8 hours from the east coast).

July 26, 2018 at 4:15 PM

Flights from the UK to the UAE are about the same as flights to the USA! And despite much of what is happening in your country right now I’d far far far rather invest in a holiday to the USA....

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