RIYADH: The third Riyadh Season, the biggest and most dynamic edition yet, marks a celebration of art and culture in the capital unlike any the Kingdom has seen before.
According to Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, this year’s Riyadh Season comprises more than 8,500 activity days and experiences in 15 diverse zones, each of which has a special entertainment character.
This includes the largest artificial lake in the world, cable car transportation, and cloud-embracing lounges, in addition to the international Cirque du Soleil.
It encompasses 252 restaurants and cafes, 240 stores, eight international shows, more than 150 concerts, 108 interactive experiences, seven global exhibitions, two international football matches, 17 Saudi and Arab plays, and WWE events, among others.
It also featured a Riyadh Season Cup, bringing together the Paris Saint-Germain team with stars from Al-Hilal and Al-Nasr football clubs.
To top it off, the event offers 65 days of fireworks, many Saudi and Arab plays, concerts, local and international exhibitions in the fields of anime, perfumes and games, and a multitude of other events for families, individuals and children.
The zones are Boulevard World, Boulevard Riyadh City, Winter Wonderland, Al-Murabaa, Sky Riyadh, Via Riyadh, Riyadh Zoo, Little Riyadh, The Groves, Imagination Park, Al-Suwaidi Park, Souq Al-Zel, Qariat Zaman, Fan Festival and Riyadh Front.
Winter Wonderland is just one of dozens of activities and experiences across the capital since Riyadh Season kicked off on Oct. 21.
Thousands of people have been flocking to Winter Wonderland, an amusement park, located in the middle of Riyadh. Now in its third edition, it is one of the most popular attractions.
Winter Wonderland, which hails from London and has traditionally been held in Hyde Park during the winter season from mid-November until mid-January, began in Riyadh in 2019 as part of the first edition of the annual city-wide event.
The Riyadh version features a 37-hectare theme park in King Abdullah Financial District with over 80 winter-themed rides, five new games and the largest skating park in the Middle East.
• Riyadh Season features a variety of events and experiences in its many zones, including concerts, local and international exhibitions, theatrical performances, Cirque du Soleil and WWE shows, fireworks spectacles and football tournaments. There are also restaurants and cafes, lounges and a wide range of interactive activities suitable for people of all ages.
• The third Riyadh Season contains 15 diverse entertainment zones and features the largest artificial lake in the world, cable car transportation, and sporting events such as the Riyadh Season Cup, which brings together the Paris Saint-Germain football team and stars from the Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr clubs.
• The zones are Boulevard World, Boulevard Riyadh City, Winter Wonderland, Al-Murabaa, Sky Riyadh, Via Riyadh, Riyadh Zoo, Little Riyadh, The Groves, Imagination Park, Al-Suwaidi Park, Souq Al-Zel, Qariat Zaman, Fan Festival and Riyadh Front.
“The entertainment industry is one of the tools Saudi Arabia is using to reach its 2030 goals and objectives,” Ahmed Al-Refaie, Winter Wonderland project manager, told Arab News.
“We developed Winter Wonderland this year by dividing it into five different zones, targeting children and families and have increased our capacity through an expanded floor plan that has helped us accommodate up to 25,000 visitors per day.”
Al-Refaie said this year’s event featured 35 food and beverage outlets and 20 retail stores. In addition, Winter Wonderland, like other Riyadh Season events, is not just providing entertainment to thousands of citizens and foreigners, but also creating jobs for young Saudis, said Al-Refaie.
“We have more than 3,400 employees working this year on the event,” he told Arab News. “We have many more international visitors this year due also to more events in Saudi Arabia and also the World Cup.”
Another highlight of the season is Boulevard World, which boasts a trip around the world without ever leaving Saudi Arabia.
The zone, which opened in Hittin on Nov. 21, offers experiences from nine different countries — France, China, Mexico, America, India, Morocco, Spain, Italy and Greece.
There is also Boulevard Pier that overlooks a massive artificial lake and rides, including Sky Loop, Star Flyer and Jumpoline.
For those who love games there is a life-size version of monopoly, and the largest anime attraction in the world called Anime Town that looks just like a colorful Japanese city complete with streets and areas named Animeverse Street, Tokyo Real Nakamise, Neo Scramble Crossing and Matsuri Garden.
There is also the hot air balloon experience for those wishing to take their fun and games above ground.
Since Saudi Arabia reopened cinemas in 2018, a host of entertainment options, films and cinematic experiences have swept the nation.
VOX Cinema, dubbed the Middle East’s fastest growing movie chain, operating under Majid Al-Futtaim, took part in Riyadh Season through a sponsorship agreement with Mrsool Park, which hosts a wide array of sporting and entertainment events.
“We are providing the Platinum and Sports Lounges with our core F&B catering service providing guests with an elevated culinary experience,” Mohamed Al-Hashemi, head of KSA’s Majid Al-Futtaim Leisure, Entertainment, Cinemas & Lifestyle, told Arab News.
VOX Cinemas, he said, is also running a cash-back campaign in partnership with STC Pay at Riyadh Boulevard Zone so its guests can enjoy better value on their favorite entertainment experiences.
“Entertainment is fast becoming a key pillar in the Kingdom’s economy, and Majid Al-Futtaim Leisure, Entertainment & Cinemas remains committed to investing in the prosperous future of Saudi Arabia,” added Al-Hashemi. “We are proud to be involved in Riyadh Seasons, given our shared commitment to develop a thriving entertainment sector.”
Al-Hashemi said the progressive opening of the entertainment sector is one of several forces driving social and economic change in Saudi Arabia. “It has also laid the foundations for long-term growth and fueled an ambitious pipeline of leisure and entertainment attractions.”
“While the entertainment market is relatively new in Saudi Arabia, it is evolving at a rapid pace into a global powerhouse of leisure and entertainment and is set for unprecedented expansion,” he added.
The growth can be seen through VOX Cinemas’ expansion in the Kingdom over the last five years, which Al-Hashemi said “presents a huge opportunity” for the company.
According to Comscore, the media measurement and analytics company, Saudi Arabia is on track to become a billion-dollar entertainment market before the end of the decade.
VOX Cinemas has built a strong infrastructure integrated with leisure and entertainment across the Kingdom with a total of 154 screens in 15 movie houses across six cities. It was also the first exhibitor to introduce multiplexes in all six cities.
“Having established a presence in Riyadh and Jeddah, we intensified our efforts to improve access to entertainment in smaller cities and brought the magic of movies to Hail, Tabuk and Jubail for the first time,” said Al-Hashemi.
In 2023, VOX Cinemas will expand its footprint in the Kingdom with three new openings in Riyadh and Jeddah. Like the goals of Vision 2030 for entertainment and employment, VOX Cinemas is also expanding into offerings with a specific focus on creating jobs for young Saudis.
In September it opened Dreamscape Virtual Reality in Riyadh featuring a variety of new experiences — some of which let attendees even become their own heroes.
“With half Saudi’s residents under 30, there is a large and growing appetite for entertainment in Saudi Arabia,” explained Al-Hashemi.
As the ongoing celebration of entertainment continues in the Kingdom’s capital, with countless activities meant to activate the imagination and spark joy, what most will agree defined this year’s Riyadh Season, apart from its size and dynamic offering, was its ability to offer something to all — Saudis and international visitors.
Al-Hashemi said: “What makes the event so special is that it has something for everyone.”