NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
– Hey KLM, I’d like to travel to the hottest destination you’ve got.
– But Glenn… is it okay if that destination includes roller coasters?
– Yeah baby, that’s what I’m talking about…
And before I knew it, I was spending more than six hours on a plane. My destination: the scorching hot desert of Abu Dhabi. I got a few days off and I wanted to use them for visiting amusement parks. Unfortunately, many European parks are closed on weekdays in September, so I started looking for an alternative. That alternative is a quick visit to the United Arab Emirates. This country has become a decadent tourist paradise over the past few decades and that’s also reflected in the theme park business. Ferrari World was inaugurated in 2010, in 2016 both IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks & Resorts opened their gates and Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi followed in 2018. Some projects in the region have also been cancelled, but nevertheless it’s a top destination for amusement park fans. My last visit dates back to 2015, so Ferrari World was the only local park which I’ve seen with my own eyes. It’s about time to change that.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel on Yas Island is my home base for this trip. This 4-star hotel is a 15 minutes’ drive from Abu Dhabi Airport and it’s very close to Ferrari World. In fact, my room even provides a modest view of Formula Rossa, the park’s eye-catcher. It’s possible to walk to Ferrari World, but believe me… I did it, so you don’t have to. Abu Dhabi’s climate makes it almost impossible to stay outside for more than 10 minutes in September. The temperature reaches an unbearable 43°C during the day and even at night it doesn’t get cooler than 30°C. Unless you really want to know how it feels like to walk 3 kilometres in a sauna, this test can better be avoided. Fortunately, there’s a shuttle bus (which is called Yas Express) linking Crowne Plaza to all major tourist sights on Yas Island. It’s practical, it’s air-conditioned and it’s also completely free of charge.
The Yas Express is rather useless on Tuesday 24th September, since I’m travelling to Dubai Parks & Resorts today. In contrast to what the name suggests, it’s not exactly in the city centre of Dubai, but 45 kilometres southwest of it. From Yas Island, it’s a good 70 kilometres’ drive. I get a taxi to cover this distance, because there are hardly any alternatives. My advice: opt for a standard taxi and don’t choose Uber. Uber is considered a luxury product in the United Arab Emirates and it’s therefore more expensive than a regular taxi. Unless you really want to travel in a shiny Lexus, there’s no reason to use Uber. The taxi ride from Yas Island to Dubai Parks & Resorts costs 150 dirhams, approximately 37 euros.
Dubai Parks & Resorts is a playground of impressive proportions. The complex features 3 theme parks, a water park, 2 hotels and an entertainment area like Disney Springs. This entertainment zone is called Riverland and it’s surprisingly big. The pathways are wide, there are lots of restaurants and the theming works amazingly well. Yet, despite the fact that everything opened just a few years ago, the area evokes a feeling of faded glory. This is mainly due to the fact that Riverland is completely deserted today. Most doors remain locked and all terraces are empty. This could be a wonderful place to have lunch or a drink, but it’s literally dead during my visit. So let’s quickly head to the first theme park of my trip: Legoland Dubai.
Legoland never really blew my mind in the past. The Californian park provided one of the worst amusement park days in history and the original Legoland Billund was cool, but it’s mainly focused on families with young children. As a result, Legoland Dubai was low on my to-do list, but I managed to find a cheap combination ticket with Motiongate (the biggest theme park of Dubai Parks & Resorts). That’s why I decided to spend a few hours here, before heading to Motiongate. Let me start with the bad news: I won’t be able to get a coaster bingo at Legoland Dubai. I immediately notice that Dragon’s Apprentice is closed for maintenance. That’s unfortunate, but there’s another roller coaster nearby and that second one seems more interesting anyway.
A Dragon roller coaster seems to be mandatory at every Legoland. In this case, we’re talking about a modern Zierer coaster. And just like most of its namesakes, it features a dark ride section through a medieval castle. It’s clear that Legoland Dubai is a fairly new park, because that dark ride part looks fresh and shiny. The dark ride ends with a surprising descent, after which the experience continues outside. The actual coaster part is pretty fast and it’s got powerful curves, so this is a great family roller coaster if you ask me. However, when staff members invite me to make a second round, I say no. I’d actually rather visit an attraction that takes place in an air-conditioned environment. So Legoland, where should I go?
Glenn, you should go to our Egyptian themed zone and you’ll find an interactive dark ride there. Hey, thanks. First of all… The Egyptian theme is frequently used by amusement parks, but I’ve never experienced it as convincing as here. When you’re walking in a scorching 40°C, it indeed feels as if you’ve arrived in the middle of an Egyptian desert. Good marks for the credibility, but the dark ride itself is less impressive. Lost Kingdom Adventure has a boring layout and the scenes are just too simple. Thanks to Challenge of Tutankhamon and Tomb Blaster, we all know that interactive dark rides with an Egyptian theme can be a lot more entertaining. Thank you, next.
The park’s second dark ride is a whole lot more unique. I’m talking about Submarine Adventure, a ride that’s themed to Atlantis. I take a seat in a Lego submarine and I then admire a colourful underwater world. For the record: that underwater world isn’t fake. Lego figures were added here and there, but the sharks and rays are definitely real. It’s unusual to see such a Sea Life-like experience while being inside a submarine. That’s why I consider Submarine Adventure as a very cool ride, even though it’s very short.
Legoland mainly consists of simple family attractions. The park has a 4D movie, a jet ski ride, some inevitable family carousels and a fire fighter ride in which you have to compete with other teams. I wouldn’t want to ride it with these temperatures, but that’s not the only problem. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find another team today, since Legoland is completely deserted. That doesn’t come completely unexpected with these temperatures, but it’s still bizarre to be in an empty theme park. The only place where I’m finding a few other visitors is Miniland.
Miniland is the centrepiece of every Legoland theme park. This zone always consists of huge structures and monuments, entirely built out of Lego bricks. Miniland usually focuses on famous landmarks from the park’s region. On the American West Coast, the skylines of San Francisco and Las Vegas were rebuilt and the emphasis is on Scandinavian sights in Billund. Here at Legoland Dubai, the Middle East is especially well represented. Striking elements are a 17-metre tall replica of the Burj Khalifa, the skyline of the Sheikh Zayed Road (Dubai’s busiest highway) and an impressive Lego version of Burj Al Arab. I’m also encountering some stunning replicas of the Taj Mahal and the stone-carved city of Petra.
With a total of approximately 20 million (!) Lego bricks, Miniland is the unparalleled highlight of Legoland Dubai. Besides, Miniland is located in the centre of the park and it connects the various areas with each other. It may be nice to know that this version of Miniland is completely indoors and air-conditioned. So it’s not just the most impressive part of the park; it’s also the ultimate location to cool down.
And so I end up in the park’s main street again. This zone – which is called Factory – consists of colourful facades, restaurants and (obviously) a whole lot of souvenir shops. Spending a fortune on Lego construction kits is easy, but did you know that it’s also possible to get a free Lego brick? Just join the Factory Tour, a guided tour that takes place every 30 minutes. During the tour, the production process of Lego is explained. A brief video is shown in the first room and next, we’re taken into a real production hall. The yellow bricks that are made there are handed out to participants at the exit. So Factory Tour is not just a nice experience, it also provides a free souvenir. Don’t skip it when visiting Legoland Dubai.
My visit to Legoland Dubai may be one of the shortest in history, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything. I’m not a part of Legoland’s targeted audience and therefore, most attractions fail to impress me. Still, I do believe that families with young children can have a great time here. The park has a lot of fine family rides, the atmosphere is pleasant and Lego remains one of the world’s strongest brands anyway. The only thing which could be improved, it is the balance between indoor and outdoor park areas. Most of the theme parks in this region are largely covered, so a visit during the Summer months is actually no problem. Legoland, however, is a fairly standard outdoor park. That makes a visit in September a little less obvious: it’s literally a challenge to walk through the outdoor areas of the park. Great compliments, by the way, to the staff. They do their jobs in a very professional way, despite the heat.
Is Legoland the greatest amusement park of the United Arab Emirates? No, it certainly isn’t. I enjoyed my short visit, but I mainly came to Dubai Parks & Resorts for a different reason. That reason is a film theme park with some solid roller coasters and amazing dark rides. That’s why I spend the rest my day in the world of DreamWorks, The Hunger Games and the Smurfs. And believe me… that world doesn’t disappoint. To be continued at Motiongate Dubai.