Travel Note

23rd February 2024

My first trip to Dubai Parks and Resorts took place in January 2017, when it still had the proverbial new paint smell and significant portions remained under construction. Despite the work-in-progress state however I remember being very taken with the development as a whole, particularly Bollywood Parks Dubai, which somehow managed to be my favourite of the three resort parks despite having no real signature rides. The reason, taken directly from my old report: it was full of colour and life, with things happening everywhere. I knew little to nothing about the topic but still had a good time.

Bombay Express

In 2020, management decided to address the park’s major weakness by installing ten additional attractions originally intended for the cancelled Six Flags Dubai, including a 140m high star flyer, a 55m Ferris wheel, a Zamperla family coaster, a handful of children's attractions, and the pièce de résistance: a record-breaking wooden coaster. The ride, advertised as Bombay Express, was completed and subsequently commissioned by engineers from Great Coasters International, yet for inexplicable reasons it did not open to the public.

Big coasters are not cheap, and it’s safe to say that one would not have been installed with the express intention of mothballing it; something had evidently gone amiss with the park as a whole. The public will likely never know the full story, but whatever it was eventually came to a head. In March 2023, the gates were closed temporarily for Ramadan. They would never reopen; just weeks later a shock announcement was made informing the public that the curtain had been lowered for the final time.

Estimates suggest that there are somewhere in the region of four million Indian expats living in the United Arab Emirates, and it’s safe to assume that a good percentage of those are familiar with (and interested in) their indigenous film industry. At the same time, however, at the risk of a massive generalisation, this subpopulation is not known for having abundant disposable income – and to that end, the park’s pay-one-price model may have in hindsight have ben an insurmountable barrier for much of the potential audience.

Work is now underway to reimagine a subsection of the original park as Real Madrid World, with the overlay due to open later this year. The new theme feels like a massive gamble from the perspective of this observer; does a Spanish football team really have more brand recognition in the Middle East than Indian movies? Only time will tell, but I’m sceptical; those who really want to ride the region’s only wood coaster might want to think about making their own pilgrimage as soon as possible after an opening date is announced.

Real Madrid World

Separately, it would be remiss of me not to say something about the current state of Riverland Dubai, an elaborately designed shopping district (think Universal CityWalk and/or Downtown Disney) that surrounds the three parks at Dubai Parks and Resorts. Back in 2017 the place was bustling; today it was virtually empty, and it was obvious that many of the shops and restaurants within are no longer trading. There have been some replacements and additions, not least the world's largest inflatable park, but plenty of units remain vacant and the whole area has started to look shabby.

One might have expected management to do everything in their power to increase footfall, but bizarrely they've gone in the opposite direction by imposing a 15 AED (~€ 3.77) fee to access the area for those who haven't bought park tickets. It’s telling that the enormous main car park has been blocked off in favour of the more convenient but radically smaller VIP lot, which is apparently more than adequate for even the busiest days. Perhaps this decision will be reversed at some point if the crowds demand, but that doesn’t seem likely in the near term.

 

Motiongate

23rd February 2024

Two new roller coasters were added to Motiongate in January 2022, and perhaps unsurprisingly these were priorities one and two for my visit today. In the run up to my trip I’d been keeping a close eye on the park’s maintenance schedule, and all looked good until a final check at the airport – when I discovered to my chagrin that the powers that be had decided to shut down John Wick: Open Contract until after my return to Ireland. Losing out on a S&S Free Spin was a bit annoying, but every dark cloud has a silver lining, as it meant that I didn’t have to spend half an hour feeling sorry for myself after riding. You win some, you lose some.

As it was the day began with Now You See Me: High Roller (#3113), a Maurer spinning coaster that is still technically a custom design, albeit one that is being cloned for a park in China later this year. Access is via a themed queue building that looks every bit as good as the rest of Motiongate, but I’m sorry to say that the same cannot be said for the ride itself, which stands above bare sand with no theming whatsoever. The cars are equally understated; each features a printed playing card that matches the brand, but nevertheless feels very sparse compared to what might have been. (Apropos of nothing, a pre-show starring Jesse Eisenberg et al would have been a nice touch.)

Now You See Me

Appearances aside however the ride itself is solid addition. The cars spin very well, perhaps even too well for immediately after breakfast, and the layout is interesting enough. The only black mark comes at the end; a small secondary lift hill is required to bring the cars back to station level, and this is followed by a sledgehammer-style straightening device that has absolutely no place on a coaster built in the last five (if not ten) years. In fairness to the park the ride was fabricated and sat in storage for several years before it was eventually assembled, so it’s not the latest technology by any means – but it would have been nice if this mechanism had been upgraded to something less violent prior to opening. In its current state it can't be doing the cars or the passengers any favours.

With the credit ticked off we made our way through the three dark rides located in the outdoor portion of the park: Ghostbusters, Hotel Transylvania, and the Smurfs Studio Tour. I’ve written about all three in previous reports and don’t intend to rehash, though it’d be remiss of me not to record that the lap bars on all appear to have been adjusted so that the locked position is no more than three inches away from the unlocked position. In their present state they’re perfectly adequate to lean on, but they’re not going to stop anyone exiting a car. I’d love to understand the thinking behind this change, as restraints set this way might as well not be there at all.

Though it wasn’t part of our agenda there was no queue at Smurf Village Express, and thought it would be rude not to do a token cycle. I’m glad we did; the comfort level and track quality has held up very well, a testament to the fact that Gerstlauer produce some of the best family coasters out there. (It’s a shame that the same thing can’t be said for their larger coasters, not least the abominations at Hansa Park, but that’s for a different report.)

We next made our way into the DreamWorks area, an 45,000 square metre building occupying roughly 30% of the entire park land bank. The entrance to this space is marked by a themed fountain, though this was screened off today for maintenance work. A quick peek through the netting revealed water damage to the ceiling above it, presumably caused by unsettled weather ten days earlier. Rainfall in the UAE is projected to increase by up to 30% as a direct result of climate change, which will no doubt generate plenty of work for roofing contractors.

Once again our targets were repeats of things ridden in years past. First up was Dragon Gliders, an elaborate powered coaster/dark ride combination that holds its own against newer attempts at more or less the same thing (not least a certain ride at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi that I wrote about on Wednesday). Next came Shrek, a dark ride with standard lap bars (see above) and a unique marionette theme that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Last and by no means least was Madagascar Mad Pursuit, a launched coaster that today felt quite a lot smoother then I remembered; the turn immediately after the launch track was a bit rocky from the inside back seat, but the rest of it was very good indeed.

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

I’d hoped to finally experience Kung Fu Panda: Unstoppable Awesomeness given that it had been closed on both my previous visits, but my bad luck held out: it was once again in an advanced state of non-functionality. Fortunately my other major miss was open. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: River Expedition is a themed rapids ride that Dave assured me wasn’t particularly wet. As things turned out he was entirely wrong; while most people in our boat seemed to get away with a gentle spray (if that), both of us got thoroughly drenched thanks to a series of errant waves.

The weather wasn’t quite warm enough to dry off independently, so we decided that a lap on Capitol Bullet Train might help speed the process a bit. Mack Launch Coasters are usually worth the time and this model was no exception; the swing launch felt a bit timid by today’s standards but the rest of the experience was just fine.

 

Dubai Hills Mall

23rd February 2024

Anyone who’s been to the United Arab Emirates in recent years will be aware that the country is not exactly short of major shopping malls. Statista’s report from the end of 2022 listed 22 “regional” and 17 “super-regional” malls in Dubai alone, the latter classification referring to a mall with over 800,000 square feet of leasable space. Despite the apparent glut in the market, local developer Emaar decided to get in on the act with the launch of the Dubai Hills Mall, a two million square foot facility with approximately 650 retail and dining outlets spread over two levels.

The building’s north-eastern corner has a fifty-metre high annex containing a large roller coaster and absolutely nothing else. From the perspective of the travelling coaster enthusiast, this is a wonderful feature that every self-respecting shopping mall (if that’s the right adjective) should replicate. For the average punter, it’s a bizarre and somewhat abstruse addition, especially since it’s largely hidden away; while the tower is visible from a distance, it’s not at all obvious what it’s for despite a ride logo on its side. Management have added “Roller Coaster” to all the direction-finding signs within the mall, though it’s fair to say that these didn’t appear to be having a huge effect on footfall on a Friday might.

Storm Coaster

The limited trade may also be due at least in part due to the sticker price; walk-up tickets to ride Storm Coaster (#3114) are expensive. A single lap costs AED 65 (~€16.35) when bought on site, and this excludes access to the front row, which has an additional charge; the operators send these seats out empty if nobody in line has paid the supplement. Buying online in advance is highly recommended, and there are discounts to be found, though the front is only available at full price – and it’s important to remember that all tickets are individual; a triple ride ticket is only valid for one person doing three laps, rather than three people doing one. We used a buy one get one free voucher to get a pair of two-ride tickets for AED 99 (~€24.89).

The experience begins with a pre-show video in a fake elevator that is entirely predictable for anyone who's ever been to a theme park (or watched a disaster movie). The picture is augmented by a moving floor effect when a tornado appears out of nowhere (it's funny how that can happen) but it's fair to say that the performance doesn't add a huge amount to the overall experience. We heard some local kids (presumably regulars) asking if they could skip the video, but their entreaties were politely if firmly rejected. On a happier note, though, those who've bought multi-ride tickets only have to watch it once.

Both of our rides were in row two with empty seats in front of us (yes, I'm bad tempered about it, deal with it). From that location the ride was a mixed bag. The lift hill is vertical and features a fast upward launch that culminates with a substantial pop of airtime at the top. This is both literally and figuratively the high point. The descent section follows a circular route down the inside of the tower, fitting in two dive loops along the way, and the result works reasonably well. Unfortunately there are also two sets of trim brakes. The first is barely perceptible, but the second takes a good chunk of speed away with a big hit to overall pacing. The shape of the building likely made these moments essential, yet they’re still suboptimal – I’d have much preferred if the layout could have be engineered to make full use of the available potential energy.

 

Magic Planet Mirdif South

23rd February 2024

Just over five years ago my travels took me to the City Center Mirdif mall close to Dubai Airport, where I was able to tick off a small family coaster. Less than four months later a second was added. At the time I was not enthusiastic about making a return trip, but tonight it wasn’t a problem as I needed to buy my dinner anyway. Finding parking on a Friday night was far from straightforward but I eventually located a rooftop lot that the locals had left almost completely empty. I can understand the desire to park undercover in the peak summer months, but it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference on a pleasant evening in February.

Cosmic Spin

Cosmic Spin (#3115) is a Gosetto product, and one of two known examples of the type in operation. A train of five spinning cars negotiates an elongated oval-shaped course with a tyre drive lift and an airtime hill. The ride is definitely in the family category, but despite that is actually pretty good for what it is; spinning is plenteous, tracking is smooth enough, and the general public appears to love it. What more is there to say?