My third and final day in Qatar began with a morning of sightseeing, taking in both the National Museum of Qatar and the Museum of Islamic Art. Both were included on the same ticket, which cost QAR 99 (~€25.01). Readers should be aware that the latter is not an art gallery per se; rather it is a collection of antiquities such as tiles, carpets, and ceramics. Though interesting, the real star of the show in both cases is the buildings, which are spectacular; students and connoisseurs of interesting architecture should not miss them.
Lusail Winter Wonderland
28th January 2023
Lusail Winter Wonderland is located on Al Maha Island to the north of Doha. At the time of my visit the official website suggested that access was only available to those who downloaded a phone app, registered a phone number, and obtained a QR code. I tried very hard to get this to work both before and after arriving in Qatar, but was unable to do so; the required confirmation code never came through despite numerous attempts – including one using my brother’s UK phone number. As things turned out however I need not have bothered; I walked onto the island as any other pedestrian might, and while I passed a security guard he didn’t give me a second glance.
The island is easy to access via public transport. Take the Red Line to Legtaifiya, then transfer to an Orange tram line to Esplanade. I was unable to spot any trams while sanity checking my route using Google Earth, and I now know why; instead of operating at street level the Lusail tram is an underground system in all but name. It’s even accessed via stations with permanent sliding doors to keep the heat out in the summer months. The only practical difference is in ticketing; you need to tap your metro card as you board rather than when you arrive at the station.
The walk from Esplanade to the park takes about ten minutes, and it’s quite a picturesque journey along the waterfront. There is a particularly good view of the Crescent Tower, one of the city's landmarks. The walk also passed what I can only describe as a car park for the rich and (in)famous; today it contained no less than five gleaming McLarens, three Ferraris, a Lotus Elise, and a (relatively) cheap and nasty Porsche 911. A security guard apologetically asked me not to take a photograph, and he was so nice about it that I decided against attempting to sneak one from a distance with a zoom lens. I couldn't help but wonder what the combined value of the vehicles was; I rather suspect the number to be more money than I'll see in this lifetime.
I’d bought an unlimited ride wristband online ahead of time, so my first task was to pick it up. This involved the first queue of the evening, stretching almost fifteen minutes mainly because everyone seemed compelled to discuss their life stories with cashiers. In due course I was handed two bands; a red one for admission, and a black RFID wristwatch that was officially at least supposed to be scanned at individual attractions. In practice I'm not sure what this was for, as it was only ever glanced at by operators. I realised after getting back to my hotel that I'd forgotten to return it, which I guess means i have an interesting souvenir for my collection.
Once inside the gate I decided to capture a few photographs before sunset, and as light was already beginning to fade I made a rapid circuit of the park in order to at least get shots the different roller coasters. With that done I took advantage of the Ain QNB – a gratuitously branded Ferris Wheel – for some overview images, before making my way down to the largest of the four credits. After putting my phone and glasses into storage I got to sit in the train for almost ten minutes before the staff decided that a sensor problem was going to close things down for the moment.
It’s worth pausing for a moment to talk a little about the loose article policies in force at Lusail Winter Wonderland. It’s quite normal and sensible for phones to be forbidden on roller coasters, though today phones were forbidden on all rides – and in order to accomplish that operators were insisting that every rider leave a mobile phone in a loose object storage bin on ride platforms. A feeble attempt to say that I didn't have one was met with polite but firm disbelief. I had to remove my phone from a zipped interior pocket and store it ahead of the target shooting Dark Ride, and to add to the fun, a member of staff was hanging out inside the live area of the attraction (which wasn’t all that dark) presumably in the hope of catching anyone attempting illicit onboard footage. It's fair to say that this policy did not improve operation speeds.
My first coaster became Snow Dash (#3049), an oval-shaped Cosmic Spin from Italian manufacturer Gosetto. The ride featured a train of five spinning cars, each of which was equipped with a fixed position lap bar that was lowered from the right to the left. The experience didn't look like much from the midway, but proved surprisingly enjoyable in practice; the cars spun better than the standard SBF designs, and the four lap cycle left me feeling slightly dizzy after disembarking. With luck more of these will appear; they're a definite step up over other similarly sized coasters.
Next I ticked off Sky Coaster (#3050), a SBF Big Air coaster complete with Hamster Wheel. As with previous encounters with the genre I decided not to partake, choosing the more sane spinning cars. The ride experience here was about what one would expect, with a three lap cycle. The ride has the distinction of being the first of its type in the Middle East, though I daresay it won't be the last.
The park has two full-sized coasters in its roster, both of which appear to be permanent installations. The first is Snow Slope (#3051), a standard “Rebound” Vekoma Family Boomerang and the thirteenth operational example of the type. This was running well, though I only got one ride (in the back seat) because the crew were determined to wait for enough guests to fill the train. After an interminable wait they decided to send it with half of the seats empty, though only after giving out to me for having the audacity to pull down my own lap bar. Perhaps to make a point the whole train was unlocked just so that an operator could lower each bar themselves.
The final credit of the evening was Ooredoo 5G (#3052), a roller coaster named after a local mobile phone company and their latest service offering, At the risk of being slightly catty here, operations were sufficiently sluggish that I’d suggest a rename to Ooredoo GPRS, or perhaps Ooredoo 300 baud (though the latter might be showing my age a bit too much. I am old.) I timed a few dispatches out of morbid curiosity, and the very best I saw was 7:30, with the worst being more than double that. Each cycle took twenty people, ten each from the standard and fast track queues – and I very quickly realised that I’d need to wait more than two hours if I wanted a second lap. Tempting as that was, I decided I wanted to sleep more, given that my taxi to the airport was due at 5:15am.
The ride itself was pleasant if not overly memorable. The climb up the curved lift with direction change took the better part of a minute, during which I contemplated the weird shape and wondered if it had been designed for a mall somewhere. It turns out that it was, in fact, designed for a mall; the layout was created for a Sparky's park in Saudi Arabia, and carefully routes around obstacles that don’t exist at Lusail Winter Wonderland. The initial drop and turnaround were fine, and the loop was negotiated well, though after that the train slowed right down, to the point that it felt like a strong gust of wind could valley it. A few more lethargic turns brought us back to the station with basically no energy left. (Separately, the roll from the brake run to the station took a further 75 seconds; a second train would have helped throughput enormously.)
I had hoped to enjoy the Doha Bank View Star Flyer, but there was a no single riders policy in force and in any case the queue was beyond ridiculous. With nothing else on my must-do list I decided to wrap up my evening with a night ride on the Ain QNB for a few last photos.
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