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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!