Kerry van der Jagt samples five of the most dizzying thrills you can experience in a desert anywhere.
On water slides, as in life, it pays to pick your partners well. I'm tucked into an inflatable yellow tube with five hyperactive teenagers. Between punching the air and shouting "let's do this bro", they swap grins like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Before I can ask to swap playmates, we are away, blasting around bends, tearing through tunnels and, finally, hurtling into the eye of the storm. This may be the world's first and largest hydromagnetic-powered six-person tornado ride, but I would say it's the closest you'll get to knowing what it's like to be flushed down a toilet.
With the global financial crisis (GFC) nothing more than a bad memory, the United Arab Emirates is once again proving it can build the world's biggest, fastest and best.
Post-GFC, it's Abu Dhabi, not Dubai, leading the way, with the opening in January of Yas Waterworld, the biggest water park in the UAE. Not to be left behind, Dubai is adding some bling to its parks, upgrading rides and incorporating new attractions.
Here are five worth checking out:
Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi — give it a whirl
Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi is the newest kid on the watery block, offering 43 rides, slides and attractions across 15 hectares. Five of these rides are one-of-a-kind, including the largest FlowBarrel 10 double in the world (surfer talk for big waves), the first roller-coaster in the world to incorporate on-board water and laser special effects and a maze of six slides and tunnels with LED-light effects and 3D videos.
Guests can choose from four levels of adventure, including the Liwa Loop, with a heart-stopping 20-metre free-fall, a choice of "lazy" or "crazy" rivers for tubing, Marah Fortress for littlies and a traditional Arabian souk (market) for shoppers. The park continues its tribute to the Emiraticulture with a pearl-diving show and interactive pearl-master treasure hunt.
My only complaint is that the place is so big, it's easy to get lost while you're hunting.
Boast Dawwama, the world's first and largest hydromagnetic-powered six-person tornado water slide.
Best for Singles, families and thrill-seekers.
Cost Single-entry tickets cost 225 dirhams ($59) for adults, 185 dirhams for children under 110 centimetres, free for children three years and under.
Getting there Yas Waterworld is on Yas Island, a 30-minute drive from the centre of Abu Dhabi. yaswaterworld.com.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi — fast and furious
Designed to simulate the formula one driving experience, the Formula Rossa roller-coaster takes off like a red devil, hitting 100km/h in two seconds, before reaching a maximum speed of 240km/h. With a g-force of 4.8G, there's a chance your eyeballs will shoot out the back of your head, but it's worth the risk. Though probably only once, because the queues are like peak-hour traffic and there are other attractions to road-test.
The world's largest indoor theme park offers 20 attractions including a tower of terror, which shoots passengers 62 metres into the sky, a duelling GT roller-coaster, a gallery of Ferraris, a variety of race simulators, a driving school for kids and an impressive range of Italian-inspired eateries.
Boast World's fastest roller-coaster.
Best for Ferrari enthusiasts and those with a need for speed.
Cost General admission (130 centimetres and above) costs 235 dirhams ($62) and 195 dirhams for juniors (under 130 centimetres).
Getting there Ferrari World is on Yas Island, a 30-minute drive from the centre of Abu Dhabi. ferrariworldabudhabi.com.
KidZania, Dubai — small kids, big dreams
Ten-year-old Jenifer and eight-year-old Natalie are tearing down the straight of a racing-car track. Other children are reading the news in fully functional TV studios, patrolling the streets in police uniforms or wearing scrubs for mock operations. In this miniature indoor city, children play at being journalists, dentists, firefighters, beauticians, or any one of 80 role-playing activities across 60 establishments.
Adults must be accompanied by a child, so I've borrowed the daughters of an expat friend. I'm keen to check out the media centre, but Jenifer wants to fly a digital plane, while Natalie just wants to "make Coca-Cola".
The blatant product placement is a little concerning, but overall it's a lot of fun.
The girls rate it as one of their top-three things to do in Dubai.
Boast Making kids think work is fun.
Best for Four- to 14-year-olds.
Cost Adults cost 95 dirhams ($25), 140 dirhams for children (four to 16 years), 95 dirhams for toddlers (two- and three-year-olds) and infants (under two) are free.
Getting there KidZania is located inside Dubai Mall in the downtown district. kidzania.ae.
Ski Dubai — sun, sand ... and snow?
As tourists strip to their swimmers on the nearby Jumeirah Beach, I layer up like Mawson-of-the-Antarctic, pulling on a jacket, gloves and ski boots before stepping inside the oversize freezer for some meteorological mischief. A ski resort inside a shopping mall is startling enough, and that's even before you see the penguins.
The latest addition to Ski Dubai's five ski runs, Freestyle Zone and Snow Park, is a colony of gentoo and king penguins. Part of a conservation project in conjunction with SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas, US, these well-dressed guys can be viewed daily.
To be frank, Ski Dubai is a novelty and doesn't offer much for experienced skiers or boarders, but for children, or those who have never thrown a snowball or heard the crunch of snow underfoot, it's pure magic.
Boast First indoor ski resort in the Middle East.
Best for First-timers and frustrated ski bunnies.
Cost A two-hour ski pass, including entry, chairlift and all ski (or snowboard) gear costs 200 dirhams ($53) an adult (13 years and above) and 170 dirhams a child.
Getting there Access is through the Mall of the Emirates, located off Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai. malloftheemirates.com.
Wild Wadi Waterpark, Dubai - the slide of your life
The Jumeirah Sceirah has always been Wild Wadi's trademark ride, but with the addition in 2012 of a second tandem slide, it's now twice as terrifying. Riders step inside capsules, cross their arms (and fingers) and wait for the countdown. Three, two, one ... before the floor drops, propelling them down the 120-metre slides at 80km/h.
Some of the other 29 attractions include Tantrum Alley, with three tornadoes, Juha's Dhow and Lagoon for the littlies and two flow riders for surf lovers. Wild Wadi is a little dated, but its strength is its compact size, interconnected rides and location near the Burj Al Arab hotel.
Boast Jumeirah Sceirah is the fastest water slide outside North America.
Best for Singles, families and all fun-lovers.
Cost Admission is 225 dirhams ($59) for adults, 175 dirhams for children (below 110 centimetres) and free for toddlers under the age of two. It's also free for Jumeirah Beach Hotel guests.
Getting there Situated on Jumeirah Road, in front of the Burj Al Arab, Dubai. wildwadi.com.
Kerry van der Jagt was a guest of Eastern Mangroves Hotel and Spa by Anantara and travelled with the assistance of Abu Dhabi and Dubai Tourism.
Getting there Etihad Airways flies to Abu Dhabi from Sydney and Melbourne, priced from $1840 return. etihad.com. Emirates flies to Dubai from Sydney and Melbourne from $1900 return. emirates.com/au. It is an easy 90-minute drive between the two cities.
Staying there Eastern Mangroves Hotel and Spa Abu Dhabi by Anantara offers a quiet reprieve from the action and is just 15 minutes from Abu Dhabi airport. Rooms from 600 dirhams ($155) a night. anantara.com.