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Just when you thought Dubai couldn't get any more fantastical, the biggest city in the United Arab Emirates will open its first theme parks later this year, adding to the already mind-boggling array of attractions and adventures in this desert oasis. And in typical Dubai style, they're big, bold, brassy and cutting-edge.
Between them, IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks and Resorts will provide more rides, more thrills, more fun and more beloved characters than even the most fairyfloss-fuelled family can handle.
Leveraging famous movie and entertainment franchises from around the world, the parks will connect fans of all ages to their favourite heroes across a head-spinning assortment of activities and entertainment, covering everything from lifelike dinosaurs, maddening mazes and adrenalin-pumping rollercoasters to LEGO building and docile rides for youngsters.
Dubai has always aimed for the superlative. It is already home to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, as well as the world's largest water feature, indoor snow at Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates shopping centre and the incredible Dubai Mall with its 1200 shops and 200 eateries. Then there's Aquaventure water park, which has a water slide with a tunnel through a shark pool and a three-kilometre raft ride, as well as skydiving, paragliding, scuba and snorkelling, plus dune bashing, desert tours and camping.
The opening of IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks and Resorts continue the city's transformation from stopover to destination; two more extraordinary additions designed to encourage visitors to turn a few hours at the airport into a few nights at the oasis.
IMG WORLDS OF ADVENTURE
Whether your kids are big on Ben 10, dote on dinosaurs or are thrilled by Thor, IMG Worlds of Adventure has you covered - literally - as this is the biggest indoor theme park in the world. The doors will swing open this month, and visitors from around the world are expected to join in the fun.
The temperature-controlled space is the size of 25 rugby fields and can handle 30,000 thrill-seekers at a time at around $A109 for adults, $A90 for children and under threes free.
IMG Worlds of Adventure will be the first multi-themed destination in the region with four distinct entertainment zones: MARVEL, Cartoon Network, Lost Valley – Dinosaur Adventure and IMG Boulevarde, all with their own rides, adventures and, of course, multiple gift shops.
The MARVEL franchises are marketing superheroes that have been more successful at taking over the world than the nemeses of Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor and Captain America combined. The three-hectare MARVEL zone's rides, attractions and restaurants pay homage to the massively popular and chiselled crusaders, highlighted by new thrill rides. On the stereoscopic 3D multimedia Avengers: Battle of Ultron ride you can join the team and save the world, while the Hulk Epsilon Base 3D ride is a 100-seat system combining 360-degree projection screens and motion to virtually propel guests through an immersive battle scene.
Younger adventurers may prefer the Cartoon Network zone featuring the playful antics of their favourites from LazyTown, Adventure Time, The Powerpuff Girls and The Amazing World of Gumball. Ben 10 is the biggest star here with a 5D (virtual reality) cinema and a huge retail store.
Lost Valley – Dinosaur Adventure zone is a dream destination for budding palaeontologists. The same guys who built the dinosaurs for the Natural History Museum in London are responsible for the state-of-the-art animatronic dinos in this 65,000-square-metre Jurassic extravaganza. The 1.1-kilometre Velociraptor rollercoaster will be the tallest and fastest in Dubai, capable of propelling riders from zero to 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds and taking them out over the Dubai desert and back again.
IMG Boulevarde is the entry point and central zone of the park and is home to the ghoulish fun of the Haunted Hotel maze. This is where you'll also find a range of eclectic dining options including the Popcorn Factory, Samosa House, Flavours of Arabia, The Coffeehouse and worldwide cuisine at Boulevard Gourmet.
DUBAI PARKS AND RESORTS
In a city famous for its extremes and superlatives, Dubai Parks and Resorts will be the biggest theme park in the Middle East when it opens in October. The statistics boggle the mind: $4 billion to build, 15,000 construction workers on site every day, a total area of 232 hectares, more than 100 rides, 6.7 million projected visitors in 2017. And 60 million LEGO pieces. One number they haven't decided on yet is the entry fee.
Dubai Parks and Resorts is actually three distinct parks, all with multiple zones, connected by Riverland Dubai, a retail, dining and entertainment walkway. DPR will also be home to the Polynesian-themed Lapita Hotel, managed by the Marriott Group, the only hotel in the park.
Hollywood-themed Motiongate will be the star of the show. Split into five zones – Sony Pictures Studios, DreamWorks, Smurfs Village, Lionsgate and Studio Central (the entry boulevard) – Motiongate pays tribute to 13 blockbuster movies through 27 rides, five of which are rollercoasters running on 2593 metres of track, multiple play zones, 4D theatres and 15 live entertainment experiences, including roaming interactive shows. Think a How to Train Your Dragon- suspended rollercoaster, a Hunger Games 360-degree Capitol Bullet Train rollercoaster, a full-sized replica of Shrek's swamp and a glide-ride through the mushroom-capped land of the Smurfs. There's even a ghostbusting singing boy band, for some reason. And literally hundreds more attractions.
Nine movie-themed restaurants plus plenty of fast-food kiosks will feed the kids while the 15 movie merchandise stores will feed the pester-power.
Bollywood Parks will bounce and gyrate with all the captivating colour and kitsch of the Hindi-speaking movie phenomenon. Guests will enter via Bollywood Boulevarde to access the other four zones: Mumbai Chowk, Rustic Ravine, Royal Plaza and Bollywood Film Studio. Current Bollywood blockbusters you've never heard of but will love anyway are the inspiration for 30 high-energy live shows, 16 cinematic rides, six restaurants and rotating musicals at the 850-seat Rajmahal Theatre. Sing, dance, sweat, scream and laugh before recharging with a lavish Mughal-style banquet or a quiet curry and pappadams.
The ode to the world's favourite brick at Legoland Dubai will feature 15,000 models across six lands: Factory, Lego City, Imagination, Kingdoms, Adventure and Miniland, all offering opportunities for inventive young minds to create their own Lego masterpiece. See bricks made at the Factory, build and race Lego cars and get your own Lego driver's licence, pimp out your model with Lego robotics and see the Dubai skyline and other Middle-Eastern landmarks at Miniland. The adjoining Lego Waterpark is designed for 2-12 year olds and they can build their own Lego raft, take on the giant Joker Soaker and more than 20 waterslides.
And 2019 will see the opening of a fourth DPR park – Six Flags – adding another 27 rides across six more zones.
FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO IN DUBAI
EAT BRUNCH AT THE W
A social institution marking the start of the Middle East weekend, all the hotels compete for the Friday dining marathon dollar with extravagant buffet spreads and bottomless champagne deals fit for a sultan. The just-opened W hotel at Al Habtoor City has a Mediterranean-inspired brunch/feast with live entertainment. About $140 a person. wdubaialhabtoorcity.com.
SUNRISE AT BURJ KHALIFA
If you've decided to take on the world's highest outdoor observation deck 124 floors above the desert, do it at sunrise for maximum thrills. Be the first to fly up the 452 metres in the world's fastest elevator at 5.30am on Fridays and Saturdays and watch as the first rays of the day touch the Arabian Gulf and surrounding golden sands. Sunrise tours available October-March, from around $45 an adult, $27 a child. atthetop.ae.
Until now shopping here has been a chance to drool over the world's most exclusive labels with the two main mega malls crammed with upmarket stores. Now a new outlet mall at Dubailand claims to offer discounts of between 30 and 90 per cent on more than 1200 premium and top-end brands. Worth a look. dubaioutletmall.com.
THE GOLD SOUK
Cross the creek on an open-top boat to the grittier side of town and stroll through the glitter-filled markets knocking out traditional pieces like 18-carat headdresses, wedding belts and delicate wrist and hand adornments. Bargains can be found if you have nerves of steel for haggling. The adjacent spice markets are another must-see.
ATLANTIS, THE PALM
The underwater tunnels of the Lost Chambers Aquarium are just a few of the grains in this sand dune-sized collection of things to do. You can also feed dolphins, dive with sharks, snorkel in the fish tanks and take on water slides with names like Tower of Neptune and Leap of Faith at this amazing multi-attraction complex. atlantisthepalm.com.
Lapita Hotel in the middle of Dubai Parks and Resorts will be the only on-site hotel at either of the new theme parks. The 504-room hotel will provide three levels of accommodation and is designed for family vacations. It will include adventure playgrounds, kids and adult pools, child-friendly restaurants and family spas. Rates have not yet been released.