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ECC Arabian Adventure: Theme Parks of the UAE

18-22 March 2017

Visiting the hottest new theme park destination of 2017 with over 100 members of the European Coaster Club.

With four major theme parks opened in the last few months, the United Arab Emirates is one of the most exciting destinations for theme park and rollercoaster enthusiasts right now. I travelled with over 100 fellow members of the European Coaster Club on the ECC's Arabian Adventure, as we became the first big rollercoaster club to visit the country on an official trip. Without exception, the parks we visited were brilliant, each giving us a wonderful welcome and keen to show off what they had to offer - much of which is providing some of the best theme park experiences available in the world right now.

Saturday 18th March 2017

Starting off slowly? No way! We managed to pack in two parks at Dubai Parks and Resorts plus the huge Global Village all on the first day of our Arabian Adventure in Dubai.

Riverland

Riverland

Stepping off our Emirates A380 flight and into the very impressive Dubai International Airport, the 37 of us who had taken an overnight from Heathrow met up with the rest of the group of members of the European Coaster Club to begin our adventure in the United Arab Emirates. The number of people on the trip was so large that we had to split up over three coaches, which proceeded in convoy down Sheikh Zayed Road (the longest road in the Emirates) toward Dubai Parks and Resorts.

Dubai Parks and Resorts currently hosts three theme parks, a waterpark, a hotel and a restaurant/shopping district all on the same site. While Disney and Universal both have resorts offering multiple gates, these started with a single park and grew over time. When it officially opened last December, DPR became the first resort in history to launch with multiple theme parks on site on the same day.

The three theme parks are connected by Riverland, which hosts an array of shops and restaurants set around a central river that runs through the resort. Our coaches dropped us in the coach park near the entrance to Riverland, and we walked through the nicely themed buildings and around the river to our first park of the trip, Legoland Dubai.

Legoland Dubai

Legoland Dubai

Barely a couple of hours after stepping off our flight, we began our first ERS (Exclusive Ride Session) of the trip, on Legoland's Dragon rollercoaster. Unfortunately there was only one train in operation, which meant the ERS was more of a first-riders-of-the-day kind of thing rather than a repeat-riding experience, but it was very kind of the park to lay it on for us.

As with other versions, The Dragon begins with a dark ride through various scenes inside the castle. Dubai's version is almost identical to that of Legoland Windsor's, apart from a surprise drop at the end just before the train emerges into the sunlight outside. The rest of the ride is a nice enough sweep around the area next to the castle, before it re-enters the station.

The Dragon

A peek inside The Dragon's dark ride section from the ride station

After a ride on the park's other coaster, Dragon's Apprentice, we went in search of breakfast and ended up in the Knight's Table restaurant. We were greeted by a whole load of genuinely friendly and enthusiastic staff. Unfortunately they didn't have much in the way of breakfast type food on offer, so we settled for burgers and chips. These turned out to be identical to those on offer at Merlin's branded Burger Kitchen restaurants at their UK parks - tasty but not particularly high quality. It seemed to be a similar story at the parks other food outlets which were all serving the same kind of food as at other Legoland parks - burgers, pizza, hotdogs and ice cream - without any attempt at providing more interesting localised fare.

With hunger satisfied (kind of!) we took a tour around the rest of the park. Very similar to Atlantis at Legoland Windsor, Dubai's Submarine Adventure was well presented with lots of fish and sharks to see on the underwater expedition. Another highlight was the Lost Kingdom Adventure, again a well presented version of the laser gun dark ride from other Legoland parks.

Legoland Dubai entrance

The main entrance to Legoland Dubai

Interestingly, aside from the park's spectacular Miniland which is housed under a giant dome, Submarine Adventure and Lost Kingdom Adventure are among very few rides at the park that take place inside. Most of the others are in the open air. Some of these are underneath giant sun shades, but others sit in direct view of the sun. Given Dubai's climate (even on the March morning we visited temperatures were up around 35°C), it is an interesting decision.

Overall, the park felt very much like a standard Legoland, albeit a rather small one. Miniland was great, and the rest of the rides were all good quality proven Lego rides from other parks around the world. However, it all seemed a bit "cookie cutter" - everything was lifted straight from the standard Legoland catalogue and operations manual. Hopefully, as the park develops further, some more unique attractions can be added to make it feel a bit different from everywhere else.

More:  Legoland Dubai Legoland Dubai Video

Bollywood Parks Dubai

Bollywood Parks Dubai

A park which definitely can be described as feeling a bit different from everywhere else is Bollywood Parks Dubai, our second park of the day, which is right next door to Legoland. It was the best presented park we visited on the whole trip, and that was immediately evidenced by the spectacular entrance plaza. Theming is a major strength of Bollywood Parks, with the park being highly decorated throughout. With the hot Dubai weather, it very much feels like you could be in India.

There is an obvious question though - why the pluralised Bollywood Parks, rather than Bollywood Park? Erm ... dunno, sorry. Moving on...

Bollywood Parks is a theme park without a single rollercoaster. Instead, its attractions are a mix of the latest in virtual reality/3D technology and live action shows.

Bollywood Parks Dubai entrance

Entrance to Bollywood Parks Dubai

The first ride we tried turned out to be my favourite in the park - Krrish: Hero's Flight. This is a 4D flying theatre based around Krrish, a Bollywood super hero: the super hero of the world no less. It uses the latest generation of flying theatre tech, which is capable of throwing riders around a lot more than previous versions, and also incorporates high quality projection and smell effects. As for the story itself, its a bit wacky, but fun. We start on a tour around India, which soon goes wrong meaning Krrish has to come and save us. As our tour continues with Krrish at the healm, Earth is suddenly attacked by aliens. Krrish, with us in tow, has to go and sort the mess out. Just the average day in the life of a superhero, I suppose.

Krrish shares a building with Ra.One: Unleashed, a 4D cinema with a cool preshow. We are special invited guests of the company, visiting to be the first to see the revolutionary Game Glove Controller. In the preshow, a live actor dons the glove and, via an awesome special effect, morphs into a digital avatar which proceeds to describe the details of the invention. Visitors are then led through to the 4D cinema to experience the glove tech for themselves.

After these two experiences, we went for a wander around the rest of the park. There's a lot to see apart from the rides, with lots of immersive and very detailed theming. We also caught some of a dance show taking place on one of the park's outdoor stages - it was full of life and colour, and seemed to be attracting a crowd. Well, I say crowd. Apart from the 130 odd coaster enthusiasts, there weren't a huge number of other visitors to be seen. This was a common theme during the trip - all the new UAE parks are currently largely deserted. Apparently they're expecting numbers to pick up as they get closer to the world Expo which will be held in Dubai in 2020.

DaBanng Entrance area

Entrance area for the DaBanng stunt show

So, following a ride on Lagaan - Thrill of Victory, an almost indescribably odd "cricket" simulator, and having had my photo taken sitting on one of the vehicles parked around the area (only then to notice the "please do not touch" sign ... oops!), we met up with several other tripgoers in line to watch the park's major daytime show, Dabangg - Stunt Spectacular Show. Hosted inside a giant warehouse, it lived up to its name: it was hugely loud. The show begins with a group of "terrorists" firing guns in the air, and the noise doesn't let up from there. The show has a minimal story - girl gets kidnapped, boyfriend has to rescue her - but its largely a mix of dancing, stunts and explosions. Given the cultural sensitivities, the romantic elements of the story are fairly low key.

Time was ticking, and I was keen to have another ride on Krrish, so we headed back over there next. We found a few more ECC members in the queue, so enjoyed a mini half-front-row takeover.

By this stage most people had seen the park, although consulting the map a few of us discovered the Rock On show was about to start. The fools that we were, we stopped and asked a nearby staff member where the Rock On venue was and he duly pointed us towards a large doorway off one of the main park thoroughfares. It looked a bit deserted, but given the emptiness of the park we weren't surprised. The staff on the other side of the door were quite surprised, however, to see us as we ventured through ... into an evening nightclub venue. Turns out, Rock On is both the name of the park's nightclub and also one of its daytime shows, the latter being a small group of musicians standing on a street corner opposite the nightclub entrance. Ahhh ... all makes sense!

Our time at the park over, we headed back to the coaches, and onward to our hotel - the very new Hilton Garden Inn next to the Mall of the Emirates. The hotel is very new - everything is clean and shiny, and we even found some bits still wrapped in plastic! The room was a typical Hilton Garden Inn room - clean, tidy and very comfortable.

More:  Bollywood Parks Dubai Bollywood Parks Dubai Video Bollywood Parks Remixed Dance Show Video DaBanng Stunt Show Video

Global Village

Global Village Dubai

At this point, having had an overnight flight followed by a full on day at two theme parks, sensible people would have called it a day and settled down for a quiet meal and an early night. Instead, after some much needed showers, the group congregated back at our coaches and we headed off to Global Village, our third main stop of the day (which by this time was more evening than day).

Global Village is described as the largest cultural and entertainment destination of its kind in the world. However, I don't think many of us really imagined the scale that we saw. It attracts over 5 million visitors each year, similar numbers to Europa Park. Global Village, though, achieves this in half the time - it is only open for six months of the year. While it didn't feel overcrowded, it was busy and had a good atmosphere.

The main reason for the ECC trip to visit was Fantasy Island, a large fair towards the back of Global Village, which is run by Mellors, the UK-based fair family. Amongst the various rides on offer is the old powered Mine Train coaster from American Adventure, which has now found a new permanent home in Dubai. At Global Village, however, the power has been turned up to 11. I've never experienced such as fast powered coaster, and really felt the need to hold on!

Camel Burger

My first ever camel burger

Global Village is much more than rides, and we spend a lot of our time there exploring the huge pavilions which dominate the site. Each of these represents a different country, and most have large and impressive facades. Inside each are market stalls offering "local" products from the country represented, although mostly these were cloth, perfumes and foods.

Not having eaten since Legoland much earlier in the day, we also managed to fit in time to find some food. There is a large variety on offer, but I settled on trying something new. Never having eaten camel before, a camel burger seemed the natural choice. Luckily it was very tasty - much like venison, it had a strong but not unpleasant flavour.

After looking inside a few more pavilions - Egypt, with its pharoahs and sarcophaguses was a particular highlight - the time was approaching 9:30 and we headed back to the coaches for the return trip to our hotel. Ali our coach driver had to divert around some of the late night Dubai traffic, and we ended up passing by Global Village about fifteen minutes into our journey, much to the amusement of the passengers on the coach. In fact, Global Village is so centrally located, it became a recurring trip joke that everywhere we went we would pass it at least once!

More:  Global Village Global Village Video Apple Rollercoaster POV

Sunday 19th March 2017

Day two of the ECC's Arabian Adventure took us to a Family Entertainment Centre in Sharjah and then on to Motiongate, the largest of the Dubai Parks and Resorts theme parks.

Antic's Land

Antic's Land

Travelling on our coach the previous day we'd found Dubai to be a very western place, with giant skyscapers and all the trappings of a modern city. Our first stop on day two of the trip was at the Mega Mall in Sharjah, the northerly Emirate neighbouring Dubai. Sharjah felt much less westernised, and was more as I had expected a desert settlement to look. Many more mosques could be seen from the road, some with beautiful tall minarets (towers from which the call to prayer is given five times a day).

Again to the amusement of those onboard, our coach driver Ali tried to take our coach around a very tight corner at the entrance to the Mega Mall. Realising his mistake, he executed an skillful series of manoeuvres that got us unstuck ... not made any easier as the two other trip coaches had followed us directly behind and had to do some interesting reversing back onto the main road to let us out.

Having caused chaos outside, it was slightly surprising that we were still welcome inside the Mall. We must have been quite a sight - a group of 130+ rollercoaster enthusiasts taking the escalators up to the top floor to Antic's Land, an indoor Family Entertainment Centre with a small rollercoaster called Thunder Mountain.

Thunder Mountain sign

Thunder Mountain entrance sign

As might be imagined, we formed a large queue for the ride which had a maximum capacity of 16, although realistically half that number of large adults. I was near the back of the queue and soon noticed a couple of Mall security guards behind us. At first I thought they were there to make sure we weren't causing any trouble, but they were actually there to ensure our safety and that we didn't have any problems and were being well looked after.

It took a while to churn through the queue, but it was eventually my turn. I sat at the front next to one of my ECC friends ... we quickly realised that probably wasn't a particularly smart idea as we both started slamming into each other when the train left the station and sped up down the first hill. Lots of fun though!

Following the coaster, we still had some time to kill at Antic's Land before we were due back on the coaches. I joined a group for a ride on the park's suspended monorail. The route alternates between travelling through arabian themed tunnels and flying out high above the park, giving some nice views of the other rides and down onto the rest of the shopping mall.

Overall, Antic's Land is a nice little park, with some great theming and a nice selection of rides. After a quick exploration of Antic's Land's pirate ship which sticks out from the front of the park, it was time to get back onto the coaches and travel south, back to Dubai Parks and Resorts for the main park of the day.

More:  Antic's Land Antic's Land Video

Motiongate

Motiongate Dubai

Motiongate is the largest of the three parks currently open at Dubai Parks and Resorts, and also the furthest from the coach park. The walk through Riverland to it would doubtless usually have been pleasant, but the sandstorm which was picking up upon our arrival would have made that decidedly less so. Luckily the park had laid on a couple of trams to pick us up and take us on a rather bumpy journey to the entrance.

Whilst the park is the largest at DPR, it is also the least finished - only three of the five coasters were up and running for our visit. Given the heat of the day, we headed first for Madagascar: Mad Pursuit, housed inside the giant indoor (and air conditioned!) Dreamworks section. This is a Gerstlauer Infinity coaster, beautifully smooth, and a fantastically fun ride with some impressive theming details. So good, we took three rides back-to-back. Again, the park was largely deserted save for the ECC folk, so these were all walk-on.

Dreamworks

Fountain outside the Dreamworks building

Having retrieved our belongings from the lockers next to the ride, we realised the park's Step Up Dubai, All In! show was about to begin. The theatre is right next to the Dreamworks building so a brief sprint (why oh why oh why do we keep running around in the hot sun?) got us seated just as it was starting. The show is loosely based on the storylines from the Step Up films, seeing a local Dubai hip hop troop entering a big dance competition. As you'd expect, the dancing was very good. Unfortunately, the story and dialogue were awful. Lighting wasn't good either, meaning the dancers were horribly backlit or dancing in the dark for a lot of the show.

Lunch was next on the agenda. We consulted the park map and saw that The Very Smurfy Cafe nearby sold a selection of salads and sandwiches, which sounded pretty nice. Disappointingly, when we got there we found that the park's healthy eating experiment had obviously failed, and the menu was now full of burgers and chips.

Pizza Restaurant theming

Meatballs hang from the roof of the pizza restaurant

We headed instead for a resturant just down the street, which claimed to be a Pizza and Pasta buffet. I quite fancied some pasta for lunch. Things again were not quite as advertised, but this time in a good way. It wasn't really a buffet, and we didn't actually get a choice of pizza or pasta. Instead, we headed up to a counter to order a pizza freshly cooked to order, then were sent to another counter to order a salad, then on to a third to order freshly cooked pasta. Three meals in one, both in variety and size! The pizza and the salad were very high quality. The pasta was less good, being warmed up from a bag rather than freshly cooked. Weird, given how everything else was fresh and they skimped on that one bit. Overall however, the meal was superb and the restaurant setting was great - I've never eaten sat between giant meatballs and cones of spaghetti before!

Readers still keeping up with all this are probably questioning whether this was a rollercoaster club trip, since up until this point we'd been at the park a couple of hours and had only ridden one coaster. Well yes, it is, and we headed for Green Hornet next. This is a fairly standard but not particularly notable Gerstlauer Bobsled. The queueline and station are indoors, but most of the ride itself takes place outside. There's nothing bad about it, but given the quality of theming and attention to detail in the rest of the park, there's not much to it.

Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania

The same cannot be said for Ghostbusters: Battle for New York, a spectacular trackless dark ride. This is one of two trackless dark rides in the Columbia Pictures area - while Ghostbusters is an interactive laser gun shooting experience, Hotel Transylvania is more passive. It is billed as a tour around the world's only hotel for monsters. It's a nice concept, but the realisation wasn't 100% there: the ride passes through various hotel room scenes which work nicely, but it spends a large amount of time criss-crossing large ballroom. There are plenty of opportunities for interaction with other cars, and I suspect the effect would work well if the cars were filled with other riders. Unfortunately, with the park empty, the effect is rather lost.

Needing a break from the heat, we went back inside the Dreamworks building to ride Kung Fu Panda: Unstoppable Awesomeness, another of my trip highlights. This is a motion simulator themed around a boat journey down some massive rapids, all in the company of the cast from the Kung Fu Panda films. This is cutting edge tech, the movement of the ride was very realistic and synched to the visuals really well.

Entrance to Columbia Pictures at Night

The entrance to the Columbia Pictures section lit up at night

The final rollercoaster currently available at Motiongate is the Smurf Village Express. Smurfs sounds like a weird and out-of-date theme for a children's area, but apparently they are absolutely huge in the Middle East, so are actually a very good choice. The coaster is from Gerstlauer, and is similar to the Troublesome Trucks Runaway Coaster in Thomasland at Drayton Manor. Like its railway cousin, Smurf Village Express is loads of fun and was made even more so by the staff running the ride. They seemed genuinely enthusiastic to see us, encouraging us to chant and clap our way around the tracks - definitely not the kind of behaviour I thought would be encouraged in the UAE!

By this time it was getting dark and the park lights were coming on, which created a really cool atmosphere. It wasn't long before park close - but we were staying on for dinner by special invitation!

The group met up back inside the Dreamworks building, and we were treated to a buffet featuring both Western and Emirati dishes - the Emirati food especially was delicious. After we'd had our fill, Dan and Greg from the park management came and chatted to us about the park and hosted a Q&A session, before taking us back to Madagascar Mad Pursuit for an Exclusive Ride Session. After that, we boarded our coaches once more for the short drive back to our hotel ... and a much needed sleep!

More:  Motiongate Motiongate Video

Monday 20th March 2017

A sand storm, the world's largest indoor theme park, and a giant hedgehog ... all things we encountered on Day 3 of the European Coaster Club's trip to the United Arab Emirates.

IMG Worlds of Adventure

IMG Worlds of Adventure

After the heat of the first two days, Monday dawned much cooler. With the coolness came wind, and with the wind came sand. The views of Dubai we had enjoyed had been replaced by a murky gloom. A sandstorm had blown in and was whipping up clouds of dust, but luckily this was the day we were going to visit IMG Worlds of Adventure, the world's largest indoor theme park.

The site on which IMG sits is massive - our coaches had to drive around most of the perimeter to get from the highway to the Worlds of Adventure entrance. The main reason for the extended detour was because, not content with having just opened a brand new theme park, IMG has already begun construction of a second sister park on the neighbouring land.

Even from a distance, the Worlds of Adventure building looks massive, only dwarfed by the huge empty car park beside it. Admittedly we'd arrived early as we were going to have an ERS prior to park opening but, although certainly fuller than Dubai Parks and Resorts, the park was to be very quiet all day.

Spider-Man ERS

ERS on Spider-Man: Doc Ock's Revenge

Our ERS was on Spider-Man: Doc Ock's Revenge, IMG's spinning coaster from Mack. The coaster spins around a nighttime cityscape, before briefly popping out and soaring over one of the main park thoroughfares. The ride itself is really good fun, and I managed 5 rides during the ERS. My major criticism though was the quality of the theming. The queueline and station look good, but the cityscape is just "cardboard cut-out" skyscapers coloured with UV paint. Its the kind of theming you'd expect from a local family-run park, not a destination aiming to be world-class.

Following the ERS, we were taken into the park's large and very impressive Cartoon Network Live theatre for a talk from one of the park's managers. Before he came on stage, however, we were welcomed by the park's dance troupe who gave an exclusive performance of Worlds of Adventure's daily park opening ceremony dance just for us. It was a very nice touch, and showed what a talented cast IMG have been able to recruit.

IMG Cast

The IMG cast gave us an exclusive performance

The presentation itself told us all about the various areas of the park, some stories about its first few months of operation, and then gave us a look at the sister park which has been construction next door and will open in 2020 as IMG Worlds of Legends.

Although the presentation was interesting, we were keen to get out into the park and explore. We were advised to head first to Velociraptor, the park's only outdoor rollercoaster, due to the worstening sandstorm which might force the ride to close. Velociraptor is a Mack launch coaster, with the layout being a clone of Blue Fire at Europa Park. Given that Blue Fire is one of my favourite rollercoasters, I was excited to try this version but ended up being slightly underwhelmed. Unfortunately the heat and the desert seem to be taking their toll on Velociraptor, which is already feeling quite rough, unlike the smooth gracefulness of Blue Fire. Although it would have been nice to ride it again, I wasn't overly disappointed to see that it had indeed been closed later in the day.

The park's other coaster is Predator, a standard Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter. There's nothing wrong with it as such, but it was just rather boring. Of the three rollercoasters at IMG Worlds of Adventure, Spider-Man Doc Ock's Revenge is a clear winner.

Chang's Golden Dragon chefs

Chefs at Chang's Golden Dragon prepare our lunch

One thing highlighted in the park presentation was their food, and the amount of effort they have put into it. IMG were keen that their offering should be much higher quality than the standard "park food". We decided to try out Chang's Golden Dragon, their Chinese restaurant. The food was amazing - I tried the crispy duck pancakes, and they were some of the best I've ever had, not just in a theme park but in any Chinese restaurant.

Straight after lunch we headed for the Haunted Hotel, IMG's live actor walkthough, which was about to open. We were told that it was by far the most popular attraction in the park and would attract a long queue. Given it was only open for a few hours a day, it was best to get there early. This advice proved correct: we arrived at the entrance about 10 minutes before the attraction opened, and there was soon a long queue behind us. While not overly intense, the maze has been done well - theming is good, and the actors perform some classic scares.

As we came out of The Haunted Hotel, The Lazy Town Show was about to start back in the CN Live theatre, so we opted to watch that before continuing to explore more rides. The show was very colourful and featured some catchy tunes. The show's underlying theme is that children should eat healthy food rather than evil sweets - a message that largely flew over my head at the time but upon reflection was rather strong and contrived.

Dinosaur

A dinosaur in the Lost Valley

The rest of our time at Worlds of Adventure was taken up trying out some of the other rides and simulator experiences. The Forbidden Territory is billed as IMG's major dark ride, but was a disappointment: again it had good ride hardware but some of the theming was pretty poor. The 4D/simulator attractions were much more impressive - Avengers and Ben 10 being two of my favourites.

Overall, IMG Worlds of Adventure is a great park, and being indoors underneath a giant air conditioned dome is a major plus. They have some great rides, but they are let down by the quality of theming in some attractions, especially since their rival Dubai Parks and Resorts is just a few miles up the road and excels with this. Hopefully though, theming can be fixed, if IMG are prepared to throw a little more money at it.

More:  IMG Worlds of Adventure IMG Video

Sega Republic

Sega Republic

We left IMG Worlds of Adventure late afternoon (with coach driver Ali taking a somewhat "cross country" route out of the car park and then driving the wrong way down one of the park roads, laughing with us as he went), for a short drive back into central Dubai to visit Sega Republic, housed on two levels of the Dubai Mall.

The park entrance features a large Sonic the Hedgehog overhead, and he along with various other Sega characters can be found throughout the park. The major attraction for the coaster club was the park's spinning coaster, which is where most people headed for upon arrival. Not wanting to get stuck in a big queue, a few of us went first to explore some of the other rides, and found ourselves first at Halfpipe Canyon. Two pairs of riders are strapped onto two large snowboards, and then have to rock their feet backwards and forwards to "power" their board up a giant halfpipe, competing with the other pair to gain the highest score. It's a fun experience but definitely tiring, and probably quite hard to imagine without seeing it!

Having let it eat through the queue of coaster enthusiasts, we then headed for Spin Gear, the Gerstlauer spinning rollercoaster for a walk-on ride. It was a really fun ride, and I enjoyed it so much that we went around straight away for a second go.

Indoor Ski Slope

The indoor ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates

The park treated us to a pizza buffet, so we rejoined the rest of the group as we all squeezed into Sega Republic's party room for some gratefully received sustenance. The park were very generous, and there was plenty of pizza to go around. In fact, they insisted that we took the leftovers with us, and I ended up carrying a pile of pizza boxes back to our hotel on the coach!

With some time to spare back at the hotel before bedtime, a small group of us headed over to the neighbouring Mall of the Emirates. As well as a huge range of shops, the mall also hosts a giant indoor ski slope. This is like Tamworth Snowdome on a massive scale - all air conditioned down to -2C while the temperature outside is regularly in the 30s or higher. Some things in the UAE are both astonishingly impressive and slightly (but lovingly) bonkers!

Having taken a walk around and seen the ski slope, we settled down for a traditional(?) evening ice cream sundae before heading back to the hotel to get prepared for the next day of Arabian adventures.

More:  Sega Republic Sega Republic Video

Tuesday 21st March 2017

The fourth day of the European Coaster Club's Arabian Adventure in the UAE took us to Abu Dhabi, to visit the attractions of Yas Island and ride the fastest rollercoaster in the world.

Yas Waterworld

After the previous days of sun followed by sandstorm, the UAE weather seemed determined to make us complete the set, with Tuesday bringing torrential downpours. And what do you do on a rainy day? Visit a waterpark of course! We boarded our coach for the 1½ hour trip south into Abu Dhabi and to Yas Island, which was home to both our destinations for the day - Yas Waterworld and Ferrari World.

Yas Waterworld

Yas Waterworld

Yas Waterworld is a large waterpark next door to the future site of Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, yet another theme park currently under construction. The rain had somewhat eased off by the time we arrived, but there was still a sprinkling in the air. We all trooped off our coaches and into the changing rooms, then back out of the changing rooms to visit a small kiosk to purchase wristbands for the lockers, then back into the changing rooms, and finally proceeded into the park itself.

Amongst the various slides, pools and lazy river, Yas Waterworld also has a Vekoma Splash Party coaster called Bandit Bomber. This is one of those rollercoasters designed to be ridden at a waterpark, although there weren't any of the usual water effects to get riders wet (either that or they were turned off ... maybe because it was raining? :p ) It was, however, a good fun ride, similar in many ways to Vekoma's Suspended Family Coasters. We did manage to get at least a little bit wet from the rain dripping off the track and wheel assembly above our heads. Mmmmm, lovely oily water!

Given the rather unappealing weather, having ridden Bandit Bomber a few times, we didn't spend a huge amount of time in the waterpark. After having some lunch, we went back to the coaches for the short drive around Yas Island to one of the most anticipated parks of the trip, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

More:  Yas Waterworld

Ferrari World

Ferrari World

Ferrari World plays host to Formula Rossa, the world's fastest rollercoaster. This is an obvious draw for coaster enthusiasts, and most of our group headed straight for it as soon as they entered the park. Not wanting to have to wait in line behind the best part of 150 people, especially having heard about some of the less than speedy ride operations, a few of us headed instead for Flying Aces, the park's 2016 Intamin Wing Coaster. I have to say, we made an excellent choice. The ride is wonderful: a speedy cable lift pulls the aeroplane themed cars up to the top of the 206ft tall lift hill in a few seconds, before the train traverses through a massive non-inverting loop and various hills and turns, culminating in a barrel roll at the end of the circuit. Everything was executed with a smoothness unbecoming of Intamin, and sitting beside the track on the wings (much smaller than those on B&M's wing coasters) was very effective.

Flying Aces vertical loop

Flying Aces' giant vertical loop

Conscious that our two walk-on rides on Flying Aces may not have given quite enough time for the Formula Rossa queue to die down, we took the opportunity to try out the park's other coaster, Fiorano GT Challenge. This is a racing family launch coaster from Maurer, with the two trains nicely synchronised to provide a real race, rather than having one of them speed off at the beginning of the ride and impossible for the other to catch. It was another really fun ride - enough to make us ride again to experience both sides.

Ferrari World had two other coasters under construction. Turbo Track, an Intamin shuttle coaster which launches up a spike through a hole in the middle of Ferrari World's giant glass dome, was due to be ready for our visit but unfortunately opened a few days after we had arrived back home. Mission Ferrari, which was originally due to be completed in 2016, was not open either and is still under construction a few months after the trip.

This all leads on nicely to Formula Rossa which, by the time we had ridden Flying Aces and Fiorano GT Challenge, had chewed through the majority of the queue of other trip goers. With an acceleration of 0-149mph in 4 seconds straight out into the desert, eye protection is mandatory for all riders. Most people are given thin plastic goggles to wear - glasses wearers like me get the joy of full blown safety goggles to put on over our specs. Reminded me a bit of chemistry experiments at secondary school!

Formula Rossa

ECC members on Formula Rossa

We opted to queue for the front row, which proved a great choice. The view down the launch track is both exciting and slightly intimidating. The launch itself is exhilarating. I'm used to the relatively short launches on rides like Rita at Alton Towers or Stealth at Thorpe Park. Formula Rossa's is in another league - it goes on and on to the point where you feel it must have reached its top speed, and then it goes on even longer. My ears popped at some point, and my eyes were watering even underneath my two layers of fashionable eyewear. I hardly noticed the first hill, but really enjoyed the swooping turns and hills the train traverses (still at huge speed) before the final brake run. It was a great ride, and a unique experience, but I have to say I preferred Flying Aces.

BMX bike at Red Show

BMX rider performs in the Red show

Having ridden all the coasters, it was time for a bit of a sit down. Given the massively expensive food and drink at Ferrari World though, we decided that seeing the "Red" show was the best option. This takes place in a huge auditorium, and features a variety of acrobats, dancers, BMX stunt riders and other acts. Many of these were very clever, although the vast cavernous performance space wasn't really used to full effect.

Up next was Benno's Great Race, a brilliant interactive dark ride. Rather than the usual laser guns, Benno's Great Race featured a variety of mini games at various points in the ride, which included cutting strings with virtual scissors, building Benno's car and squashing shedloads of tomatoes. These all proved to be extremely good fun, and shows what a little imagination in dark ride design can achieve.

After trying a few more rides and the park's flying theatre, we just had time two more rides on Flying Aces in the evening twilight before it was time to leave. Not being a car enthusiast, I didn't expect to enjoy Ferrari World anywhere near as much as I did.

Following the long trip back up to Dubai, a couple of us went back to the Mall of the Emirates for dinner at the local branch of The Cheesecake Factory, before retiring for the night in preparation for a very early start the next day, the final day of the trip.

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Wednesday 22nd March 2017

The sun had yet to rise at the start of the final day of the ECC Arabian Adventure trip, which saw us going up the world's tallest building and visiting Adventureland in Sharjah, before an eventful trip back to the airport ready for the journey home.

Burj Khalifa

The final day of our trip in the UAE began very early, with the group having checked out and ready to depart on our coaches by 7:15am. The reason for the early start was our pre-booked tickets to go up the Burj Khalifa as the first tourists of the day.

The Burj Khalifa, at 2720ft high, is the world's tallest building. Luckily, there is a lift to take visitors to the viewing platform on the 124th floor. This is actually only two thirds of the way up the tower, although it is more than high enough to offer some amazing views over Dubai and out into the desert and sea beyond.

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Although still a little hazy, the dust clouds and rain of the previous two days had dissipated and we were able to get some spectacular photos looking down onto the rooftops of the city's giant skyscapers far below.

After spending over an hour at the top, everybody made it safely back down in the elevators and, after stopping for some photos at the bottom of the tower, returned to the coaches for the journey to the final park of the trip, Adventureland Sharjah.

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Adventureland Sharjah

Adventureland Sharjah

Adventureland is the largest Family Entertainment Centre in the Middle East, and is housed on the top floor of the Sharjah Centre mall. In common with many of the FECs in the region, visitors purchase a plastic card that can be topped up with credits to pay for each ride. It was quite a sight, then, to see 138 coaster enthusiasts forming a giant queue at the pay kiosk outside the entrance to Adventureland!

The park hosts three rollercoasters. We headed first for Rocket Cycles, a MotoCoaster from Zamperla. At 45 feet high, the top of the lift was tall enough that riders could almost touch the ceiling as they reached the crest. They've definitely tried to maximise their use of available space! The ride itself was good fun. The trains are similar to Vekoma's Motorbike coasters, although they feel a little more compact.

The other two rollercoasters at Adventureland are both powered coasters, again from Zamperla. Their tracks sprawl over the park, and burst through the park's entrance to give mall shoppers a sight of the fun they could be having inside.

ECC queue outside Adventureland

The queue of ECC members outside Adventureland

Having had our fill of Adventureland, most of the group opted to have lunch in the giant food court on the same level of the Mall. This provided a nice variety of options to suit most people's tastes, so everybody was well fed ahead of the short coach drive back to the airport to begin our journeys home, a successful trip complete ...

... Almost. As we travelled along the main road to the airport, our coach driver (as I have mentioned previously, we were in the lead coach of the three) got a call from Bus 3 to say they had broken down. And so followed a rescue mission - not quite as slick as Thunderbirds maybe but still heroic - as we, with Bus 2 following, began navigating the backstreets around Sharjah to get back to where Bus 3 was parked. Luckily several of those on the trip had already left the coaches as they were extending their stays for extra days in Dubai, so between the two remaining working coaches we were able to host the poor stranded Bus 3 souls. We'd eaten all our chocolates though, so they didn't get to share in that aspect of Bus 1 awesomeness! ;-)

Rescue mission accomplished, the rest of the short drive to the airport was uneventful. And there ended a trip which will go down in ECC fokelore as an absolute classic - brilliantly organised all the way through, fantastic parks and great friends. Thanks must go to the ECC team, but especially to Ben for providing such a wonderful experience. I don't think this will be the last time the European Coaster Club visits the Arabian Peninsula!

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