DUBAI: Theme parks, somewhat surprisingly, haven’t had much success in the Gulf so far. ‘Surprisingly’ because it’s a region with an abundance of young people with some serious disposable income, and you’d think that theme parks — family friendly, culturally appropriate, fun and exciting — would be a no-brainer. But none of them (with the exception of one or two of the water parks) has yet proved to be the kind of year-round people-magnet that the best parks in the rest of the world are.
The latest entrant in the game is the (thankfully) all-indoor Warner Bros. World in Abu Dhabi. The ingredients for success are all here — wildly popular franchises including Hanna-Barbera, Looney Tunes and DC Comics; previous experience (there are Warner Bros. parks in Spain and Australia); and a lot of money (a reported $1 billion investment from Miral — an arm of the Abu Dhabi government).
The park opened on July 25, and I visited with my 10-year-old nephew Mansour on the first Friday after its launch, figuring that he would be closer to the target market than a grumpy 46-year-old.
We grabbed our entrance tickets (roughly $80) and our fast-track “Flash Passes” (an additional $40 to skip the queues) and headed into the Plaza. It’s effectively the park’s lobby — enclosed by shops and F&B outlets — from which you can access any of the park’s five other areas: Gotham City (Batman and his friends and foes), Metropolis (Superman and other DC heroes), Bedrock (The Flintstones), Cartoon Junction and Dynamite Gulch — the latter two home to attractions based on characters from Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
The park does a fine job of balancing the sense-assaulting noises and visuals necessary to appeal to kids without leaving adults feeling disoriented and nauseous. The rides, too, offer a good spread of experiences to satisfy the hardened adrenaline junkies and the more timid (or sensible) visitor.
The paths are wide and easily navigable, and the staff were unstintingly friendly and eager to help, doubling as hype-men (and -women) in those boring moments when you’re sitting on a ride waiting for it to fill up. The park is also a good size: Big enough to make you feel you’re getting value for money and can spend a full day there, but not so big that you feel like you’ve missed out on a bunch of cool stuff. During our four-hour visit, we visited nine of the 29 attractions (three of which weren’t operational at the time we were there) and had plenty of time for lunch and a coffee break.
We headed to Cartoon Junction first. Like all the park’s themed areas, the incidental scenery is fantastic, with lots of little nods to Warner Bros. World’s source material. Our first venture into one of the attractions was inauspicious, however, as our feet took a pummeling from the rope floor platforms of the Acme Factory play area. By the time we’d reached the top, we were both wincing in pain. It might be worth allowing visitors to keep their shoes on here…
We limped away towards the Scooby Doo Museum of Mysteries. My nephew was excited at the prospect of a few scares, but the ride — which places you in the center of a Scooby story via perfectly synced narration and animatronics — didn’t deliver any frights. For rabid Scooby fans, it’s worth a visit, but thrill-seekers should look elsewhere. Just next door, for starters.
We expected Tom & Jerry’s Swiss Cheese Spin to be more of the same — an attraction geared towards fans and small children. It wasn’t. Instead it was an exhilarating dark-ride mini-roller coaster that dramatically shifted the tone of our visit. We both came out grinning, with adrenaline pumping. That was more like it!
The elevated thrill levels continued from there. In Metropolis, the excellent 4D Green Lantern “flying theater” drew gasps from everyone strapped into the moving seats, while the Teen Titan Training Academy proved to be a much more exciting play area. Its “zipcoaster” was the big hit of the day for us.
Gotham’s Joker’s Fun House is a superbly constructed bit-of-everything, from old-school fun-house mirrors to classic jump scares and a seriously disorientating maze of mirrors that caused my nephew to run headlong into one of the “walls” convinced it was a passageway.
After sampling a few more rides, we ended up back in the Plaza for ice-cream, and both agreed it had been an excellent afternoon — and it must have been good to keep Mansour off “Fortnite” for so long, something nothing else has managed this summer except sleep.
Whether Warner Bros. World will manage to break the cycle of theme park flops in the GCC remains to be seen. But considering its attention to detail, great layout, smart balance between nostalgia and modernity, and variety of attractions, it’s hard to see what else it could do to have a shot.