Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi is a 150,000 square metre indoor theme park, built at a reported cost of USD $1 billion, that features twenty-nine rides and a wide selection of restaurants, shops, and shows. The concept was first proposed in 2007, though development work stalled for a number of years due to the global financial crisis. Construction finally began in mid-2015, and took three years; the completed park was officially inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on 26th July 2018.
The park is located adjacent to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld on Yas Island, a major tourism hub located to the east of the Emirati capital that is also home to a Formula One circuit, a shopping mall, and a selection of hotels. There are a number of additional projects under construction in the vicinity, including the world's largest indoor skydiving facility and a SeaWorld park (with no orcas) that is due to open in 2022.
Just days before my visit Theme Park Insider declared the six month old park to be the "best theme park of 2019", ahead of many worthy names like Animal Kingdom, Efteling, Tokyo DisneySea, and Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. This decision resulted in quite a few raised eyebrows among the enthusiast community, including mine; though reviews online were generally positive it seemed a stretch for a newcomer to immediately shoot to the top of the charts amid such exalted company. I rather suspect the park's post on Facebook asking for votes shortly before the deadline had a material effect on the outcome, and I'd be surprised if more than a handful of the voters had been to any of the other parks they were comparing against. But I digress.
The park opens at 10:00am, but there's a significant caveat in the proverbial small print to catch the unwary: guests are not allowed to move beyond the small Warner Bros. Plaza section of the park for the first hour. I'm not a fan of staggered openings in parks at the best of times, but the space we were confined to was beyond ridiculous; there was nothing to do except take refuge in one of four available restaurants, which wasn't what I'd have chosen to do less than two hours after eating breakfast. In an ideal world I'd have liked to have seen one or two of the major rides open, though honestly I'd have been content just to wander around. Instead our day began on a distinctly sour note as we reluctantly handed over some of our dirhams for overpriced coffee.
At 10:45am the plaza lights dimmed for a presentation of the Warner Bros. Cinema Spectacular, a collection of classic film clips shown on three large screens, to the accompaniment of some visually impressive projection mapping. The footage included highlights from many well known titles, including Batman (old and new), Fantastic Beasts, Harry Potter, Inception, Mary Poppins, Superman (old and new), The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, The Wizard of Oz, Titanic, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The show would not have lost much by being half the length, though it was on the whole very good; a particular highlight came at the end when on-screen CGI fireworks moved seamlessly from the screens onto the ceiling.
In due course we made our way into Bedrock, a themed land that immediately brought to mind one of my favourite terrible jokes of recent years: "People in Dubai don't like the Flintstones, but people in Abu Dhabi doooooo"! The area is home to two restaurants, a gift shop, and The Flintstones Bedrock River Adventure, an immersive dark ride with an Intamin flume as its transport system. The five minute long experience starts out with a slow journey past brightly coloured animatronics, leading to a lift hill that I'd estimate to be around fifteen feet. At its apex is a turntable element, albeit one with no clear purpose as the boats continue in a forward direction past high quality renditions of Bedrock Beauty, Bedrock Bowl, Boulder Dan's Billiards, the Water Buffalo Lodge, and other landmarks instantly recognisable to fans of the series. The layout concludes with a splashdown adjacent to the midway that today was unexpectedly wet; my polo shirt was still damp from the after effects several hours later.
We passed through a small archway into Dynamite Gulch, home to a souvenir shop, two flat rides, and Fast and Furry-ous (#2575), an Intamin-built family invert with an almost identical layout to the suspended 395m coaster introduced by Vekoma back in 2007. Though nothing official has been published it seems likely that the area was designed around machinery from the Dutch manufacturer, and that it wasn't practical to do a significant overhaul by the time the proverbial goal posts were moved. (With the anorak/enthusiast hat on I'm not particularly sorry when a successful design is cloned by a competitor, as it allows a like-for-like comparison on which hardware is more capable).
The ride has been supplied two ten passenger trains, though only one was in use throughout our visit. This was adequate during the morning hours, but much harder to justify by mid-afternoon when the queue had built significantly. The operators were managing to dispatch about once every five minutes, giving a theoretical maximum throughput of no more than 120 guests per hour, a figure bordering on the embarrassing for a marquee attraction at a major park. Worse yet, a significant portion of guests were boarding through a dedicated flash pass entrance. We decided to abort our planned second lap when it became clear how long we'd have to wait; those who want to do multiple laps should probably do so early in the day.
The top of the lift and the first (and only major) drop is in an enclosed area out of view of the midway, providing a nice surprise for first time passengers while also serving to muffle screams. The descent was surprisingly thrilling from the back row, as the forces were quite a bit stronger than I'd have expected on a ride of this scale. The rest of the layout was calmer, though it still retained a respectable sense of speed aided considerably by nearby scenery, which included elaborate rockwork, life size cacti, and a mine shaft. The comfort level was for the most part fine, with only the vaguest hint of vibration in places. The best feature of the ride for me was the onboard soundtrack, which was perfectly synchronised to the layout, even down to the restraint release at the end which happened precisely in sync with the last note of the tune. A little "toot toot" noise just afterwards was the perfect final touch.
Our next stop was in Cartoon Junction, home to a whole bunch of attractions for the under twelves, two dark rides, and a coaster. We decided to start our exploration with Tom and Jerry: Swiss Cheese Spin (#2576), a spinning coaster from Zamperla with a layout that is similar if not quite identical to that of Sierra Sidewinder. The queue routes through a brightly coloured house with exceptionally tasteless wallpaper marked by paw prints on the walls. At the half way point a mouse hole leads into Jerry's portion of the building, which has clever touches indicating scale, such as a wall-mounted wristwatch that must have been at least six feet tall. Just before the station guests pass by a recipe book open on a page for Cheddar au Fromage serving eight, reproduced here for those who fancy their own heart attack:
- Cook Cheddar until the center is consistently melted and outside is golden yellow
- Marinate in Muenster with minced Mozzarella
- Fillet and fry fresh-caught Feta
- Smother with sautéed Swiss
- Pour over with purée of Provolone
- Garnish with gently-ground Gouda
- Lay atop bed of fresh collard Blues
- Serve and enjoy!
The ride has two sixteen passenger trains with onboard audio that bear little resemblance to the Reverchon-derived rolling stock found on previous Zamperla spinning coasters. Each car has four clearly delineated forward facing seats secured with a new design of lap bar that is comfortable without being oppressive in any way. The cars spin at a steady rate on their way into the station courtesy of on-board motors, though for whatever reason these are not used out on track where they'd make for a far more thrilling ride. Our first lap in the front was mediocre as we barely rotated at all, though we were somewhat luckier with our second lap in car three. (One suspects that it might be possible to alter the programming temporarily for special events; if anyone from the park is reading this, how about it?)
There are a number of differently shaped screens on the left hand side of the lift hill where Tom follows the train for its climb. At the top is a brief dark ride scene featuring lots of different varieties of cheese which quickly disappears as the train gets up to speed. The rest of the journey is punctuated by occasional theme elements that light up as the train goes past, though the efficacy of these is somewhat limited by the fact that riders are not always facing in the right direction to see them. A particularly catchy soundtrack plays for most of the journey, which is smooth from start to end.
Our next hit was Scooby Doo: The Museum of Mysteries, a trackless dark ride where guests follow Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne and Velma through secret passageways and eerie corridors in an entirely successful attempt to "meddle in the goings-on". Three vehicles are loaded and dispatched at a time, with each following a slightly different route inside the show arena as guests are invited to "split up and look for clues". The highlight of the experience comes towards the end, where a fourth vehicle featuring Scooby and Shaggy joins the mix, and all criss-cross their way around each other in a brilliant recreation of the show's famous door scene.
We also went for a spin on Ani-Mayhem, a "rollicking delivery mission through six different iconic Looney Tunes scenes", or in more mundane parlance, a trackless target shooter where the task was to scan packages (rather than call turkeys). The queue took us through the Acme Office, which had a few rather unusual departments, not least "inhuman resources", "objects made smaller than usual department", "anvils, rockets, and costumes department", "pie department", and "termite terrace". The ride itself comprised a mixture of physical sets and video screens in 3D courtesy of the supplied glasses. Most of the targets were worth fifty points, but now and then one worth two thousand or more would appear, granting very high scores to those paying attention.
The park's fifth zone is Gotham City, and it is the closest that the park gets to an area aimed at teenagers and young adults. One corner of the space is home to Scarecrow Scare Raid, the world's only Moser Rides Daredevil, which I'd describe as the love child of a Gerstlauer Sky Roller and a Zamperla Air Race. Regular readers will know that I don't have the stomach for aggressive spinning under the best of circumstances, but I'd have been tempted to put my dramamine to the test for novelty value were it not for the fact that the ride in question has been closed for some time. Though no announcement has been made there is a definite indication that the present situation is not going to be resolved in the near future, given that all signage has been removed.
We decided against riding the Riddler Revolution Disk'o Coaster, and instead made our way into the Joker Funhouse, a custom-designed walkthrough with a brilliantly quirky art style that worked really well. During our exploration we encountered a dropping floor, a mirror maze, a rotating barrel, a shrinking room, moving stairs (pictured above), wobbling floors, and slides, and though there was nothing we hadn't seen before the standard of presentation elevated the experience to a level of its own. The final room had some screens showing overhead views of earlier areas, with two buttons that I'm told were supposed to spray water, though these were not working today.
The star attraction in the area is Batman: Knight Flight, a dark ride that uses robotic arms on a track similar to those found on the Forbidden Journey rides at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Japan. The storyline talks about a recruitment fair for Wayne Enterprises that turns into a mystery unfolding on the streets and in the skies above Gotham City, with all the usual suspects making a nuisance of themselves. The entrance is via a genuine lift, albeit one with lighting effects that suggest far more floors than there actually are. The relatively short ascent takes quite a while as guests watch a pre-show projected on the back wall starring a CGI Batman at a console filled with screens and other random equipment. The doors eventually open at the mouth of a cave tunnel, which leads to a staging area with lockers and storage for loose items. There is a short walk from there to one of four separate boarding platforms.
The ride itself features a mixture of physical sets and video screens, and at one point the two combine with an animatronic Batman whose cape flows onto the screen behind him. This effect works well, as do many of the others, but despite all the positives I found the overall experience to be distinctly underwhelming. The key problem was that there were several points in the layout where I could see track ahead, and there was one point where I could clearly see another vehicle with its robotic arm moving from side to side. Furthermore, the comfort level was a bit of a mixed bag; though the movements were fluid enough, we spent a bit too much time on our backs staring at the ceiling for my taste. It felt to me like the programming had been rushed, which is a shame really given the obvious capabilities of the ride hardware.
The final area of the park is Metropolis, the City of Tomorrow – modern, cosmopolitan, safe, and home to a decidedly mediocre lunch option. Big Belly Burger met a need but only just; we were served something that fell short of the high standard achieved by well known purveyors of haute cuisine such as Burger King and McDonald's. The menu offered burgers, hot dogs, and wings, as well as a handful of sides – though if what we got was representative I'd have to advise all but the terminally desperate to eat elsewhere.
In due course we made our way to Teen Titans Training Academy, the third global installation of a No Boundaries play structure from WhiteWater, and the first outside of China. Our interest was in a Zip Line Coaster with a ride time approaching one minute, which was enjoyable if not quite at the level of the outdoor installations popping up around the world. That being said, we probably wouldn't have bothered with it if we'd known how long the wait was; we guessed that the line at ground level was around thirty minutes, which was okay, but we were surprised to find the same again next to the boarding platform. Throughput could have been increased significantly if the staff were prepared to harness one rider while another was on track, but that wasn't happening today. (As an aside, the ride has a weight limit of 136kg, which should cover all but the most rotund enthusiasts.)
Our next hit was Green Lantern: Galactic Odyssey, a Brogent Technologies I-Ride motion base theatre capable of a variety of special effects, including scents, wind, and mist. We took our seats, secured seat belts, put on our 3D glasses, and prepared to join Hal Jordan and the team of interstellar peacekeepers on their mission to protect the universe. The movie itself was trite, but the range of motions coupled with the impressive 38 metre wide screen compensated somewhat. We followed this up with Justice League: Warworld Attacks, which was to all intents and purposes a clone of the Spiderman attractions at the Universal parks. (As an aside, the projections on this ride were noticeably sharper than on other attractions within the park, indicating that those who set them up knew their business.)
Our final stop was Superman 360: Battle for Metropolis, a show featuring Lois and Clark talking about newly developed autonomous panoramic cameras designed to capture newsworthy events in detail. The presentation begins in a mock TV studio, but after thirty seconds or so a wraparound cinema display is moved into position, dropping guests into the middle of the action. The technology was very impressive, as there was no obvious distortion to the footage no matter which way I looked, but I couldn't help but wonder whether it was all a little pointless given that the average human (schoolteachers notwithstanding) can only look in one direction at a time.
My overall impression of Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi was positive, though with apologies to the fine folks at Theme Park Insider the only way that I'd use the word "best" to describe it is if I was talking about the best Warner-themed park on Yas Island. The place looks really really good, edging out even the magnificent indoor area of Motiongate in my estimation, but it falls down a bit once you look beyond the spectacular facade. I've spoken about various operational issues above, but the key issue for me is the fact that there are very few attractions in the place that would merit being ridden more than once or twice in a visit (or indeed year). Though I enjoyed my day very much I honestly can't see myself making the effort to return in the near future, despite the fact that I connect flights in the United Arab Emirates every few weeks.