A burgeoning modern metropolis of mind-blowing scale and lavish extremes, Dubai has been favourably compared to Las Vegas. But it will be giving Florida a run for its money in terms of thrills and spills when Dubai Parks and Resorts, Dubai Safari Park and IMG Worlds of Adventure are unveiled later this year.
Twenty-five million square feet of empty desert has been transformed into Dubai Parks and Resorts containing no less than three theme parks: the cinematic-themed Motiongate similar to Universal Studios; a branch of Legoland with a water park; and a Bollywood-inspired entertainment complex, all due to open this October. Slated to welcome visitors slightly sooner, IMG Worlds of Adventure will become the world's largest indoor theme park.
Together they will add hundreds of new attractions to the UAE's already impressive array of rides and experiences. On top of that, the long-awaited Dubai Safari Park, which replaces the old zoo with open enclosures, will also open in the coming months.
Dubai has never been afraid to go big so it's little surprise that there has been so much investment in creating more tourist-friendly theme parks and attractions. From the world's fastest rollercoaster to rides recreating classic computer games, there's something to put a grin on everyone's face. Here's a round-up of the ten best theme parks that you won't want to miss on a holiday to Dubai – whether you're a family traveller, thrill seeker or just a big kid.
Dubai's top 10 theme parks
Wild Wadi Water Park
On the shore near the instantly-recognisable sail-shaped Burj Al Arab skyscraper, Wild Wadi Water Park looks like an Arabian water fortress arranged around landscaped palm-dotted grounds interlaced with artificial rivers and deep ravines. There are rides for daring types – the Jumeirah Sceirah water chute that plunges steeply from a high tower – and there are more leisurely experiences such as the long lazy river. Surfing pools, cascades, uphill slides and inflatable flume rides are among more than 30 watery attractions. Be forewarned that water babies will want to stay all day.
Not a theme park in the white-knuckle ride sense although it does have a Jungle River and a Runaway Train, Global Village has themed pavilions representing 32 different countries with markets and wares, music and dance, food and games. A visit here is a one-off experience that successfully creates the feeling of a whistle-stop tour around the world. It's also spectacularly illuminated at night, with fireworks at 9pm on Fridays and lots of live entertainment and dining options making it a great spot to visit after dark as well as during the day. Find traditional funfair rides and children's amusements on Fantasy Island, and check the events calendar at: globalvillage.ae for scheduled stunt shows, cultural performances and concerts.
Based around the classic SEGA video game Sonic the Hedgehog, this two-level indoor amusement centre is great fun for families and big kids who fancy a throw-back to early games console days. Recreating Sonic's super-powered charge, the Spin Drive rollercoaster is one of the best indoor white-knuckle rides in the Middle East, and the Robotnik ride, based on the game's main villain, flips you 360 degrees in the air. There are lots of other crazy slides and simulators that let you feel like you are playing the game for real, as well as arcade and interactive games galore, and soft play areas for little kids too. Part of the gigantic and popular Dubai Mall, it's the ideal attraction to combine with a shopping trip.
Atlantis Aquaventure Water Park
Dreamed up from the legend of the lost city of Atlantis, with high pyramid-like structures plunging into aquamarine lagoons filled with sharks and rays, the enormous Aquaventure Water Park has a fantastic design that really enhances the experience. Part of the luxurious Atlantis the Palm development, there's nothing more refreshing and exhilarating in the sometimes-sweltering Dubai heat than splashing into the elaborate pools and lazy rivers. A great selection of rides and slides snake out from the triangle Tower of Poseidon and Tower of Neptune including the world's largest water slide – the Aquaconda – and the hair-raising Leap of Faith.
Aquaventure's other exciting activities include a water funnel through shark-infested waters and the unique Atlantis Shark Safari where visitors are invited to don special helmets and go underwater with the marine creatures. As well as water-coasters, the park boasts the longest zipline in the Middle East – the Atlantean Flyer Zip Line – descending from 20 metres up. For young children there's a fun splash pool, and more sedate pursuits are offered too. There are paradise pools, sun decks, not to mention the 700-metre-long sandy beach.
One of three theme parks situated within Dubai Parks and Resorts, Motiongate will offer visitors the chance to step inside some of the most popular movies of recent times when it opens in October 2016. Akin to Universal Studios in Florida, Motiongate instead takes its inspiration from the hit movies created by DreamWorks, Lionsgate and Sony Pictures. New generation rides and cinematic attractions feature the stories and characters from family favourites such as Shrek, How to Train Your Pet Dragon, Madagascar and The Smurfs. There are also two hotly-anticipated rides derived from the Hunger Games that the makers have billed as an immersive adventure on board a hovercraft to see the world of Panem, and a rollercoaster based on the Capitol bullet train transporting guests from District 12 to the Capitol.
Legoland and Water Park
Set to become the first Legoland in the Middle East when it opens in the Autumn, this huge theme and water park has been constructed from more than 60 million Lego bricks. Split into six zones including Lego City, Adventure, Lego Kingdom, Lego Create and Lego Factory, there is also a Miniland recreating some of the Middle East's most iconic buildings and landmarks in Lego miniature. With forty interactive rides, shows and attractions across the resort, and a top-of-the-range water park designed for families with children aged two to twelve, this theme park is the most kid-orientated of the bunch.
Classic rides and water attractions like the wave pool are combined with some innovative interactive rides such as the Build-a-Raft River where families can design and build their own customised raft from lego blocks and an Imagination Station where children can make structures and test their designs against the flow of water. Legoland is situated within the Dubai Parks and Resorts development, alongside two other theme parks. The Riverland eating and shopping district and the luxury Polynesian-themed Lapita hotel all sit within the same area.
Bollywood Park Dubai
Have you ever dreamed of being in a Bollywood movie? Well even if you haven't this all-singing all-dancing new theme park is a great place to have a laugh and get immersed in the kaleidoscopic world of Mumbai's famous film industry. Rides and cinematic simulators based around Bollywood blockbusters, flamboyant live shows, delicious Indian food and an epic Broadway-style musical make this theme park well worth a visit. Like Legoland and Motiongate, it's part of Dubai Parks and Resorts, and will open its doors this October.
IMG Worlds of Adventure
Taking its lead from a mix of Cartoon Network and Marvel comic characters with a Jurassic Park-style zone and animatronic dinosaurs thrown in for good measure, IMG Worlds of Adventure is expected to become a big hit with families visiting Dubai. When it opens this spring/summer, it will be the largest indoor theme park on the planet, and its climate-controlled environment will make it an ideal retreat when temperatures outside are soaring. The new theme park is split into four "Epic Zones" with the central IMG Boulevard acting as the main hub and gateway to the Cartoon Network zone, Marvel Superheroes zone and Lost Valley – Dinosaur Adventure. Leisure attractions include roller coasters, a 5D Cartoon Network cinema, a 3D Avengers: Battle of Ultron experience and other unique rides.
Dubai Safari Park
Another world-class attraction scheduled to open later this year, Dubai Safari Park will replace Dubai Zoo with an expanded park of open naturalistic habitats where animals can roam and interact with visitors. The park will house hundreds of species, including some endangered creatures such as tigers, and families will love the giraffe feeding zone, hippo viewing and elephant interaction. Divided into three main areas, the safari enclosure is explored via a tram system and there are village hubs representing Africa and Asia with authentic designs, native animals and plants. Among its bevy of captivating sights the Sealife House, Monkey Forest, Tiger Territory, Lion's Camp and Bear's Den will have everyone excited, and there's a Children's Zoo for little ones too.
Fans of fast cars are in for a real treat at this impeccably-presented state-of-the-art theme park in Abu Dhabi that's easily accessible for travellers staying in nearby Dubai. Covered with a gigantic red-domed roof, Ferrari World is the only one of its kind, and it has 20 distinct rides and attractions to appeal to petrol heads and families alike. It boasts the fastest rollercoaster on earth – the Formula Rossa – and it also features the steepest coaster in the world with the tallest loop, which gives you some idea of the mammoth scale of the indoor park. Visitors can enjoy go-karting, drag racing and Ferrari drives, and browse the showroom with its collection of fabulous specimens.
When the raft of new theme park openings is complete in the autumn, the only thing missing in Dubai will be Disneyland, though many say the emirate is already a kind of Disneyland for grown-ups. Enhance your experience with a stay at Atlantis the Palm to be wowed like a wide-eyed kid, and go to one of the extravagant Friday brunches that have taken the city by storm to truly feast like a royal sheikh.