NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
It’s always special to visit amusement parks in tropical weather conditions. I remember 35°C during a weekend at Europa-Park, we had a scorching 37°C at Nigloland and it’s actually always too hot at Universal Studios Singapore. Tuesday 24 September 2019, however, is my hottest theme park day ever. I experience what 42°C feels like at Dubai Parks & Resorts, a huge leisure complex that can be found in the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It includes luxury hotels, a water park, entertainment zone Riverland and 3 completely different theme parks. I spent the morning at a deserted Legoland, where the impressive Miniland was a highlight. This afternoon, even more theme park fun is planned at the nearby Motiongate.
The United Arab Emirates aren’t known as the world’s cheapest travel destinations and that’s also reflected in the local amusement park rates. Legoland and Motiongate both charge 245 dirhams at the ticket booths, which is approximately 60 euros. But spending 120 euros to visit these two parks in one day, that sounds ridiculous to me. Luckily, I was able to find a good deal on Klook.com, so I pay just 47 euros to enter both parks. That’s a very nice start of the day, if you ask me. Besides, Motiongate makes a good first impression anyway. The entrance is stunning, the main street consists of beautiful facades and the bombastic film music immediately creates a wonderful atmosphere. If I didn’t knew better, I’d say I’m currently entering a Universal or Disney theme park.
The theming level isn’t the only thing reminiscent of Disney; the layout of the park also seems to be based on a Magic Kingdom. The main street leads to a central hub, from where you can enter the different zones. I decide to start on the far right and I end up in an area called Columbia Pictures. At Motiongate, zones aren’t necessarily based on a specific theme, but rather on different film studios and their productions. Columbia Pictures is therefore a collection of different movie themes, which aren’t linked at all. That doesn’t bother me: this is a cosy area with lots of greenery and a beautiful lake in the centre. Most of the rides are located around that small lake and the first one on my to-do list is… a roller coaster.
This coaster is called The Green Hornet – High Speed Chase. And although this might make you think of a high-speed thrill machine, it’s actually a rather simple family coaster. The Green Hornet is a so-called Bobsled Coaster manufactured by Gerstlauer. It’s smooth, fun and the vehicles are comfortable, but that’s it. By the way: the Roller Coaster Database states that the theming of this coaster was provided by the Atelier Artistique du Béton. And indeed… The Green Hornet was put on an uninspiring slab of concrete. That’s a shame.
When I say Ghostbusters, you might start humming a well-known melody. Honestly… that’s the only recognizable thing this film franchise has in store for me. I’ve never watched the movies and I’m not planning to change that anytime soon. That’s probably not the ideal situation to understand the story line of Ghostbusters – Battle for New York, but I do like the attraction. This dark ride with laser guns may be a bit too 2-dimensional at times, but the length is good and the interactive game is fun. It’s not the best interactive dark ride on Earth, but it’s more than decent.
This visit to Motiongate is one big treat for a dark ride enthusiast like me. One of the hidden gems in this segment is Hotel Transylvania. Once again I have to admit that I’ve never seen the films, but this attraction triggered my interest. Everything about Hotel Transylvania is great. The exterior looks stunning and it contains some of the best forced perspective I’ve ever witnessed outside of a Disney park. In addition, the waiting area is also beautifully themed and the ride experience is refreshing. The nicest part is a ballroom-like scene which makes clever use of the trackless ride system. The vehicles seem to be moving randomly, which creates a sense of chaos. It might have been even better if there were some variation in speed, but hey… that’s a detail. Hotel Transylvania gets five stars anyway.
I’m not into shot ‘n’ drop towers, so I skip a ride on Zombieland Blast-off. The adjacent rapid river, however, is more than welcome with these temperatures. One thing is sure… it’s got a quite lengthy name: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – River Expedition. The animation film of the same name is about an experiment which causes food raining down from the sky. The theming of this rapid river therefore consists of huge hamburgers, pancakes and fries. That’s an original idea, but those decorative elements clearly suffer from Dubai’s burning sun. The colours are faded and it looks as if some water effects don’t function properly. That’s a shame, especially because this ride could use some extra excitement. It’s not wetter than the average European rapid river, while I was actually hoping for a soaking experience like Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges today. Missed opportunity, if you ask me.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – River Expedition makes a glorious shot at the title of longest ride name in the world, but it didn’t refresh me like I hoped it would. That’s why I once again visit an air-conditioned dark ride. One which is themed to the Smurfs, this time. It feels like pure nostalgia to me: I always loved watching the Smurfs when I was a child. Dark ride Smurfs Studio Tours is about those blue creatures wanting to record a movie. Of course, Gargamel is doing everything he can to prevent that from happening. Of course, there’s a happy ending to this story and Smurfette is in the centre of attention in the ride’s closing scene. Although Smurfs Studio Tours doesn’t feature any high-tech animatronics or strong details, the atmosphere is excellent. This is a perfect family ride and it’s definitely worth a visit.
Is it national-refurbish-your-kiddie-roller-coaster-month in the United Arab Emirates? It seems so. This morning, Dragon’s Apprentice at Legoland remained closed and now I’m faced with a closed Smurf Village Express. No coaster bingo for me – damn! – but this was the least interesting roller coaster of Motiongate anyway. So hey… let’s move on to the next zone. That next zone is called DreamWorks and it was based on 4 of the animation studio’s most successful films: Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, How To Train Your Dragon and Shrek. DreamWorks is the most impressive area at Motiongate for several reasons. It’s got a central location at the end of Main Street (where the castle would stand at Disneyland), it’s completely indoors and the theming is at an insanely high level. The Fountain of Dreams, for example, is a mind-blowing piece of art.
The left side of the DreamWorks pavilion is home to Kung Fu Panda. Colourful lanterns, mysterious dragon statues and a few pagodas create a very cool Asian atmosphere in this area. After having lunch at Mr Ping’s Noodle Shop (it should rather be called Mr Ping’s Chewy Chicken), I’m ready for Unstoppable Awesomeness. The entrance to this attraction is beautiful and the queue, which winds through a Chinese garden, is even more stunning. This creates some high expectations and the ride doesn’t disappoint. I don’t like 3D experiences that much, but Unstoppable Awesomeness has such a refreshing story line that it puts a giant smile on my face. You may also interpret the word ‘refreshing’ in a literal way: this simulated cruise through Chinese canyons will get you wet. By the way… can I compliment the makers of the film? I’ve never seen a 3D attraction with such razor-sharp images as this one. Unstoppable Awesomeness is a wonderful family attraction, but be warned about its low capacity. I therefore guess that queues will get ridiculously long during busier times of year.
The DreamWorks building consists of four separate sections and the idea is always similar. Each hall consists of one main attraction, one or two B-rides, some souvenir shops and restaurants. Madagascar Mad Pursuit is the main reason to visit the Madagascar section. Once again, the queue is stunning: the circus-like setting looks nothing less than brilliant. It’s also nothing less than empty, so I’m immediately seated in one of the comfortable vehicles. The actual roller coaster ride is a huge surprise to me. Mad Pursuit contains a short dark ride section, a powerful launch and some very intense curves. I expected a rather tame family attraction, but it actually turns out to be a sensational thrill ride. The smooth course, the relatively long layout and the hilarious theming elements provide bonus points. This crazy roller coaster is so cool that I’m definitely riding it again later this afternoon. Madagascar Mad Pursuit is even one of the nicest Gerstlauer creations I know.
The Madagascar area is colourful and somewhat chaotic, but above all very cheerful. This contrasts sharply with the dark Viking village of Berk, where How To Train Your Dragon takes place. This film franchise has been one of my favourites for years and the soundtrack counts as one of the best ever created. That’s why I’m getting goosebumps while entering the zone that’s based on this DreamWorks gem. It all looks great: the Viking ships and those huge rock formations make me believe that I’m actually approaching a dangerous land full of dragons. This is the theming level you’d normally only see at Disney.
The Swinging Viking isn’t a must-do in my opinion, but the main attraction of this zone definitely is. That thing’s called Dragon Gliders and it uses the same ride system as Arthur at Europa-Park. I’ve always admired Arthur for its very smooth movements and variable speeds. Since its opening, it was obvious that other parks were going to discover this awesome attraction type. And indeed: Dragon Gliders opened about 3 years after the original in Germany. I sincerely apologize to Europa-Park, but Motiongate has surpassed Arthur’s decoration level. The dragon theme is a perfect fit for this coaster type and it all looks very realistic. Besides, Dragon Gliders makes ingenious use of the varying speeds and the story line is told in a great way. The nicest moment of the ride is quite similar to Arthur’s: you suddenly float over the main hall and that creates nothing less than a great feeling. Do I have to say that Dragon Gliders is my favourite Motiongate attraction? That I would immediately travel back to Dubai for this? That I’m once again dreaming about Berk while writing this text? This is amusement park perfection of the highest grade.
DreamWorks guarantees the best entertainment at Motiongate. The theming is fabulous and the main attractions are very convincing. After the 4D experience, the roller coaster and the dragon flight, the 4th highlight is also performing exquisitely. I’m talking about Shrek’s Merry Fairy Tale Journey, a trackless dark ride. Anyone who has seen the Shrek films, probably knows what he or she can expect: a fairy-tale world with some hints of sarcasm. Shrek is hilarious thanks to these subtle details and that’s not any different in this attraction. Yet, Shrek’s Merry Fairy Tale Journey’s most unique aspect is its unusual way of telling a story. In this dark ride, Shrek, Fiona and Donkey tell their story through a puppet show and the result is very amusing. The ride is also surprisingly long and the trackless system is cleverly used in some scenes. Although some sets may look a bit too simple, this attraction is technologically overwhelming. Anaheim remains The Dark Ride Capital of the World, but damn… Dubai is quite amazing as well.
The DreamWorks building could be considered as an amusement park in itself. It’s therefore easy to forget that Motiongate has more attractions and that it’s still extremely hot outside. Later in the afternoon, however, I brave the huge temperature difference because I wouldn’t want to miss the Lionsgate area. This has nothing to do with the theme: Lionsgate is about The Hunger Games, a film franchise which doesn’t interest me at all. But the eye-catcher of this zone is a Mack Mega Coaster and these rides are always enjoyable. Unfortunately there are some technical difficulties at the moment I arrive, so I decide to start with another attraction: Panem Aerial Tour. The name makes me think that it’s some kind of Soarin’-like attraction. Unfortunately that’s not the case and I eventually end up in an Immersive Tunnel. I already did this attraction type at Bobbejaanland, Movie Park and Lotte World, but the experience never blew my mind. Image quality is remarkably better here at Motiongate, but Panem Aerial Tour is just as disappointing as the other versions. So please… just skip it if there’s a line.
The Mack roller coaster just got repaired… yay! That’s why Capitol Bullet Train is my next stop and I once again notice how empty the park is: I’m literally the only one in the train. That’s a bit sad, but oh well… this makes it easier to choose the front seat. This ride simulates a high-speed train between District 12 and the Capitol (fans of The Hunger Games probably know what I’m talking about) and launched roller coasters are obviously ideal rides to tell that story. However, it’s a shame that the actual acceleration is extremely boring. Mack never has the most intense launches, but this triple launch is just ridiculously powerless. Luckily, the rest of Capitol Bullet Train’s layout is more convincing. Despite its limited statistics, this ride generates good G-forces, the inversions are fun and it’s so smooth. I had already watched an onride video on YouTube and found Capitol Bullet Train to look terribly slow. But videos can be misleading and in reality, this is quite an intense coaster. During my second ride, I notice that the Bullet Train is even better in the back seats. Especially the backward spike is a wonderful element if you’re seated at the rear of the train. Surprising roller coaster.
There are no queues today. On the contrary… most of Motiongate’s attractions are literally waiting for passengers. That’s not ideal for the overall atmosphere, but it’s quite nice to make some evening rides on the Madagascar roller coaster, Dragon Gliders and Capitol Bullet Train. And oh, how I enjoyed this day. You may already have noticed while reading this text, but Motiongate has blown my mind. Although I mainly planned this last-minute trip for visiting Warner Bros and Ferrari World, this extra park became one of the highlights of my weekend. It’s not cheap to take a taxi to Dubai, but I’d immediately do it again. Motiongate has a number of first-class dark rides, the roller coasters are great and the theming is on par with most Orlando theme parks. Especially that world-class DreamWorks section is worth the 7-hour flight to the Emirates.
Yes, Dubai Parks & Resorts was a winner. Legoland isn’t that special, but Motiongate just rushed to my Top-15 of favourite amusement parks. And you know what… this region has more great things on offer. The world’s fastest roller coaster or the world’s most beautiful indoor theme park, for example. So I’m ready for another great day. Good night and see you tomorrow… at Warner Bros World and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.