By Grant Duvall
When most people think of the Middle East, they tend to envision warfare, the desert, and nothingness. However, this is far from the case in the United Arab Emirates, as there are a host of theme parks near Disney and Universal quality. IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai is one such park.
In 2016, the world's largest indoor theme park opened up, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Dubai. When learning about this theme park, as well as many others that had opened in the UAE, I had to get that plane ticket and visit. This will be the first in a series of my adventures in the UAE.
IMG Worlds of Adventure is massive. This building can be seen from miles away, and it seems unreal that such a building can exist. Everything in this park is indoors, with the exception of their roller coaster, The Velociraptor, which is part indoors and outdoors. While the size of the building is impressive, it pretty much resembles a super-sized Costco or Wal-Mart, and doesn't really scream theme park. So the roller coaster outside allows people to know that there is a massive amusement park in there.
Also, I asked a park employee how much room was left, and they said more than you can imagine. The ceiling is almost a black basket with weaving that I understand is for soundproofing. Also, there were very few people in this park. We went on one of the UAE's weekend days and it was empty. Everything was walk-on. This worried me for the future of the park, but this year a story came out that they will not let this fail, and are going to start building a whole new theme park near this one. Another big note, the UAE is primarily a Muslim community, so at random times, prayer music will come on - even in the theme parks. The rides still run, but it was one of those moments where I really noticed I was not in the USA.
You enter through a very unassuming front door, and give your ticket to the attendant. Then you step beyond the turnstiles, and holy crap, you're in a whole new world. This is MASSIVE, and you see roller coasters in the distance along with the many paths to take to get to them. There are bright lights and shops everywhere. You enter into IMG Boulevard, which is basically Main Street, with all sorts of restaurants.
Characters rome from properties such as “Adventure Time” and “The Amazing World of Gumball.” We knew that we only had a day here, so we skipped the shops and went on the rides. Also, we noticed it is commonplace for not all rides to open at once. More people came in at around 2 in the afternoon, so then more attractions opened. I suppose this is a way to keep labor down, but just know that you won't be able to fly through this in a few hours, even with no lines. You'll still have to wait for other attractions to open. The one attraction on IMG Boulevard is the Haunted Hotel. This was the only attraction I had to wait more than 5 minutes for. I spent 30 minutes waiting for this incredibly large walk-through haunted house with live scare actors. It is very gory, and rather than following one straight road, you are encouraged to explore the space until the scare actors come at you with chainsaws and chase you out. This is a must-do if you like haunts. It was refreshing to see a year-round haunt with scare actors and nice effects.
We decided to check out the first of the three zones to begin, which was Cartoon Network. This is highlighted by life-sized buildings of current Cartoon Network shows. Restaurants from current shows are there. I unfortunately knew very few of the properties, but wanted to see the rides anyway.
The first big ride, which circles the whole land, is the Adventure Time Ride of 000, with Finn and Jake. I don't know these characters, but the best description is a more advanced Peter Pan's Flight. You go in and out of buildings to some impressive scenes from the show, and get a good Peoplemover-style view of the land. This was a long ride with several show scenes. You also get tor ride in a giant Jake, so it adds a lot of whimsy to it.
Next up was a ride that we thought would be super mellow, the PowerPuff Girl's Mojo Jojo's Rampage. This was an insanely aggressive spinny ride that flipped you upside down and spun you and dropped you. It was deceptive, as it very much looked like your standard fair ride. This thing is intense, and Mojo Jojo mocks you as you ride it.
Next up was the Amazing Ride of Gumball. This was basically Toy Story Midway Mania through a school and practical sets, but all the shooting was on screen. This was okay, but I figured I would have enjoyed it more if I knew the property. Another impressive attraction - that we did not do - was the LazyTown kids play area. Lots of slides and interactive activities are there for those under 10. Last in that area was Ben 10 5D Hero Time. We did not get to try this, as it went at specific times, and we happened to be in other parts of the park when this was going down. From what I understand, this is a 20-minute-long simulator ride similar to Shrek 4D at Universal.
The second area is the Lost Valley Dinosaur Adventure. This is very much “Jurassic Park”-inspired, but, boy, is it fun. There are several attractions here, including two roller coasters. The first, the Velociraptor, is a launch coaster that takes you out of the building and into the desert. This has a great layout, and the only real problem is that you witness dinosaurs to the right of you on a screen as you are launching, so I could see where someone could get really bad whiplash. Overall though, it was a great roller coaster with a nice little dark ride portion at the beginning. The second roller coaster is the Predator, which is a dive coaster (you go up vertically, they hold you at the top, then you drop more than 90 degrees). This is a short, but sweet ride, and was neat to see that they were able to put a dive coaster indoors (although I had done one themed to Spongebob at the Mall of America).
There is a dinosaur carousel and a MASSIVE playground, with slides more than 50 feet tall. There is also a Wingstop here, which I ate at, and noticed the quality was actually better there than in the states. The main attraction, and easily the best attraction in the park, is Forbidden Territory. This is very much a ripoff of Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom, as you are traveling to get dinosaur eggs in a vehicle, very much the same as Indiana Jones/Dinosaur. The thing that set this apart though, was how impressive the animatronics were. One of them, a brachiosaurus, full on stood up and near hit the ceiling from a complete standstill. It was unreal, and looked very natural. There are so many animatronics throughout the ride, and unlike Dinosaur, it is very well lit. This ride doubles back on the track in several areas, allowing for a very long ride (over 5 minutes) in a relatively small space. This alone is enough to get me to buy a ticket to go here again.
The last area is Marvel, and the city streets look very much like the Marvel area of Universal's Islands of Adventure. The first ride is Avengers: Battle of Ultron. This is very much like Spider-Man ride at Universal (or Transformers for those on the west coast). This is very well done, and the Hulk picks up your vehicle! Also, this ride is trackless, and includes all of everyone's favorite Marvel heroes -- but the comic versions of them, not the Disney ones.
Hulk Epsilon Base 3D was closed, sadly, but from what I've gathered, that is a unique concept along the lines of Star Tours meets Circlevision (basically the theater is on a track and your seats can spin in a circle so you can see all around you). Oh well, next time then! Also skipped was Thor Thunder Spin. This is a topspin ride, and those tend to get me sick, although the theming looked good. Maybe if I am more awake next time I will try it (I did IMG the day after a very long flight to the UAE running on 3 hours of sleep).
The last big attraction is Spider-Man Doc Ock's revenge. This was the most intense ride in the park, as it is a spinning roller coaster, but moves extremely quickly down very sharp drops. You really feel like you are swinging through the rooftops, and chasing a villain. My wife told me never again, but I didn't find it as rough as she did.
Overall, this park is a blast, but could definitely use more attractions to turn it into a full-day park. Also, the lack of crowds was kind of disconcerting, and it was very unusual to be almost the only people in the theme park. However, in future installments, you'll see that we got used to that feeling very quickly. This park is also cheap to visit. It's included in the Go Dubai Card (a build-your-own-attraction card for a low price, which is what we did) or you can pay about $80 USD to go, but there are coupons everywhere. My advice is to just buy the Go Card, so you can see all sorts of attractions. The rides and theming were on point, and the employees were very friendly. This is definitely a can't-miss if you are a theme park fan.
Creepy scale - 7 out of 10. While Adventure Time isn't creepy, the haunted house is very much so, and the dinosaur section is very frightening in places.