Travel Note

21st February 2024

My interest in theme parks and roller coasters remains every bit as strong in 2024 as it was when I first got into the hobby more than two decades ago. At the same time, however, I've realised that I no longer care to run myself ragged in pursuit of every last Wacky Worm. I'd much rather build up a relaxed itinerary centered around interesting coasters, be they small or large, then fill in any spare time with attractions and sightseeing along my general route. I don't begrudge those that want to credit whore; it'd be a bit cheeky of me given that I did it myself for years. However, it's definitely a younger person's game and one I've largely decided to step away from.

Negotiation with my partner over the Christmas period gave me a window of a few days for a theme park trip in late February, which I decided to fill with a route comprising a non-stop flight and at least five respectable roller coasters that I hadn’t been on before. Those narrow parameters (and the European winter) left me with just two realistic choices: Florida or the United Arab Emirates. Both options would have been fine, though once I thought about it I realised that it would make sense to leave the Sunshine State until after Universal Epic Universe opens its portals.

As such, I booked a round trip flight to Dubai. My revised approach to trip planning meant a deliberate decision to leave out new and/or relocated ticks at Al Qasba, Festival Land, Magic Planet Sharjah, and Rashidiya Park – as well as several Zipline coasters. I'd likely have been denied access to a few of these anyway, and I just don't have the patience for that sort of thing any more. I guess I'm growing up at last.

 

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

21st February 2024

My morning began with a very unenthusiastic wake-up after just four hours of broken sleep. This hadn’t been part of the plan, but happened nevertheless due to a combination of a late flight, excruciatingly slow baggage reclaim, and a recalcitrant GPS that thought it’d be good to send me on a wild goose chase through the back roads of Dubai in the small hours of the morning. I was tempted to roll over and go back to sleep but decided that I had more important things to do – so after a quick shower and breakfast I headed to my car.

The first challenge for the day was to pick up my friend Dave from his home in Business Bay. Driving into any city centre is an exercise in patience mixed with aggression, and this morning was no different; I beeped and got beeped at and made at least one last minute lane change, but otherwise arrived without incident. The route back to Sheikh Zayed Road with my passenger wasn’t straightforward either but in due course it too was negotiated, allowing me to begin a pleasant ninety minute drive west to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. My underpowered rental car wasn’t able to keep up with the posted 140km/h speed limit but I wasn’t in any particular hurry.

I knew ahead of time that the world’s fastest coaster had been out of service for weeks due to an unplanned maintenance issue, and signage at the park entrance on arrival made it abundantly clear that Formula Rossa remained in an advanced state of non-functionality. This was something of an embuggerance, albeit a much smaller one than it might have been given that I’d gotten to experience it on all three of my previous visits. (As an aside, all major coaster records are due to fall later this year with the opening of Six Flags Qiddiya and the ridiculously tall Falcon’s Flight; I can’t say I’d have put that on my bingo card a few years ago.)

Formula Rossa Junior

Once through the turnstiles we discovered that our primary target for the day wouldn’t be open until noon, and with that in mind, we decided to begin our day at Formula Rossa Junior (#3109), a respectably-sized Zamperla Family Coaster that premiered (with comedically spectacular timing) at the beginning of March 2020. This last minute change of plan turned out to be the right call due to an operational policy we were unaware of prior to visiting: families with children are given priority on the ride whenever there's a queue. Signage explicitly warns that adult groups will have “an extended waiting time”, and we actually saw an adult group being sent away from the ride mid-afternoon as the switchbacks were full.

The main reason for the restriction is limited throughput. Formula Rossa Junior has a single twelve seat train that is operated with a maximum of one adult in each row, despite there being plenty of space and individual lap bars. I found myself wondering whether the restriction originated with the manufacturer or the local regulator, but regardless as to its provenance, its effect is that adult-only groups cause a bottleneck. Each cycle takes about 75 seconds for two laps, and at least the same again to load – meaning a maximum throughput of around 144 adults an hour if everything goes to plan, which (of course) it never actually does.

On a happier note, adults that do manage to ride will discover a good quality family coaster that tracks well and delivers solid forces at the back of the train. There was a small amount of vibration once up to speed, but nothing unmanageable. The experience wasn’t life changing, but it was definitely fun – and I’d gladly queue for it again in the future, provided of course that I can do so without discommoding too many tiny humans. (In an ideal world the park would have bought a higher capacity attraction, but there likely wasn't space which remains at a premium inside the park building.)

Our next stop was at Made in Maranello, a dark ride tour through the Ferrari production process. This ride is fine for what it is, though that isn’t much – virtually all of it comprises screens with sparse visuals that the cars slowly track past. The park’s official website suggests that riders will gain an exclusive insight into the entire Ferrari manufacturing process, and if that’s really true I suspect I now know why Ferrari hasn’t won a F1 Constructors Championship since 2008. (I’m intrigued to see if that changes with the arrival of Lewis Hamilton next year; if nothing else the races should be interesting to watch.)

Dark ride number two was Speed of Magic, where a young child is given the keys to a Ferrari by a doting parent (which would definitely happen in real life, yes habibi). My 2016 trip report records out of focus projectors, and I’m sorry to report that the experience was similarly impaired today; one of the scenes had a major blotch obscuring the right eye, and the final scene had no picture whatsoever, making the audio announcement that we’d won somewhat understated. Dave mentioned to an operator that the screen wasn’t working and got a blank look (much like the screen) and an offer to ride a second time if we wanted to. We decided to forego.

Mission Ferrari

Instead, as the clock had just passed noon we headed to Mission Ferrari (#3110), promoted by the park as the world’s most immersive mega coaster. Though it’s tempting to unpick the hyperbole word by word, I’ll just say that I understand why the marketing people chose this over one of the world's most delayed roller coaster projects. Designed by Dynamic Attractions, the ride first began construction in 2016 – and work continued on and off all the way through to its eventual opening at the start of 2023. The fact that it was eventually completed is a minor miracle, particularly since the manufacturer subsequently filed for bankruptcy as a result of significant cost overruns during development.

The new coaster has been built inside the space that formerly held V12 Enter the Engine, an embarrassingly poor flume memorably described by Top Gear as perhaps the most disappointing ride of them all. My own trip report noted potential but lamented poor-quality theming that looked like third-grade paper modelling. The only footage of it I've been able to find is a ride-through from TPR; it's fairly clear why it only lasted a few years.

Mission Ferrari reuses both the queue and loading station from V12, but is otherwise a completely new experience. It begins with a left turn and a brief controlled backward movement that no doubt serves some purpose, though I can’t pretend to know what as there was no accompanying visual today. A screen on the right hand side of the track shows a brief presentation, after which the train rolls forward and around a corner into a superbly detailed show scene featuring lots of high-quality theme elements and visual effects. Moments later the train launches forward into the “outside” portion of the ride: an airtime hill, turn, and corkscrew. The tracking in this section is flawless, without even the slightest hint of jarring.

Once back inside, riders are treated to another show scene followed by a drop and turn into a feature that is currently only found on Mission Ferrari and two rides in China: a simulator section where the train is shaken forward and backward in front of a video screen while balanced on a moving track segment. This works very well indeed in the front seat, with the highlight being a convincing drop that made me think briefly that we were about to plummet into the abyss. The effect is somewhat less dramatic in the back, presumably due to the reduced height difference, but it’s still respectable enough.

In due course the train drops backwards into a a vertical loop and perhaps fifteen seconds of actual coaster, before coming to a halt once again at a final show scene. After some brief preamble a projected helicopter fires upon the train, causing it to drop sideways in a manner that is as startling as it is uncomfortable. A little bit of horizontal body support would have helped this moment work, but there isn't much to speak of, meaning that the abrupt stop at the base is equivalent to a distinct wallop to the side. The mechanics required to make this moment work are no doubt complex, calling to mind the famous line from Jurassic Park; your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Mission Ferrari

My first impression of Mission Ferrari, based on a back left seat, was that it was a novelty but little more than that. The biggest issue was an inability to see what was going on, as the storyline is reliant upon visual imagery that is completely obscured by the seats in front. A second ride in the front was far better, but the experience definitely wasn’t groundbreaking, and the sideways drop hurt even when I knew it was coming. As a coaster, I found it forgettable. As a dark ride I thought it respectable enough (and radically better than Made in Maranello!) but not something I’d be willing to wait in a lengthy queue for, and you are virtually guaranteed a lengthy queue when a five minute long ride is only operating three eight-seat vehicles.

I was much more taken with Benno’s Great Race, a family-oriented dark ride comprising a mixture of sets and scenery. Riders have a spanner-like device with a button that can be used to play various on-screen games, and these are fun even if the calibration can be a little hit and miss (pun absolutely intended). I had a whole row to myself and ended up changing spanner part way through as the first one had a distinct leaning to the right.

By this point we’d finished everything on our shopping list, and decided to work our way through the other operational coasters. Flying Aces remains the best of the bunch; a stupidly fast lift prefixes a minute or so of coaster perfection. The tracking isn’t as smooth as it once was, but that is perhaps forgivable after eight years outside in the baking desert heat. Turbo Track remains a solid if brief filler, though readers should be aware that it is the only coaster in the park where glasses cannot be worn (strap or otherwise). Last and by all means least was Fiorano GT Challenge, a Maurer twin-track racing coaster; while both sides were running today we decided not to bother queuing for the left hand side, as the lap that we did on the right was forgettable; launch, clatter, brake, rinse, wash, repeat.

Our day finished at Viaggio in Italia, a flying theatre. Though it pains me to say it, this really should not have been operating today. Three sets of seats were laid out in front of a large screen, but the centre and right blocks were out of service and the operational left block was definitely not happy; grinding noises and juddering motion effects suggested a mechanism in need of professional help. Worse yet, the projection was nowhere near as bright as it should have been, and the edge of the screen where we were placed suffered both from severe blur and fisheye. The only thing I remember from the overall performance was a scent effect, as it was very reminiscent of the washing up liquid I use at home.