REVIEW: IMG Worlds of Adventure

The world’s largest indoor theme park! When you work in the industry, you’ve got to see that! So I jumped on the first opportunity that came about; I arranged to stop over in Dubai on my way back from the IAAPA Expo in Orlando.

I had wanted to purchase my ticket online before going thinking it would save me time once there but I had to give up, it was way too hard. I don’t regret as I got a similar 10pc discount at the park by presenting a coupon I grabbed at my hotel; and there was no queue when I go there! Wait a minute. No queue at 3.30pm on a Saturday only weeks after opening? That’s not good!

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The park is located in the middle of nowhere about 20min taxi from the city centre. The access from the highway is very complicated as the park is on the wrong side of the road coming from the city centre. It doesn’t help that the whole surrounding area is under construction with miles of hoardings advertising for future phases of the project or maybe some residential development, and the harsh climate is making the outside of the building look a bit beaten already!

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Once inside everything has been designed for big attendance so it’s huge! Very wide paths, very long queue lines (empty), lots and lots of restaurants and retail stores, etc. I can’t believe I was there on a weekend and yet the park was almost empty. Most visitors were Arab families, Russians or Eastern/Central Europeans and the odd UK tourist!

The place reminded me of TransStudio in Bandung, Indonesia (but without a mall attached to it). I guess it’s the nature of indoor theme parks; it’s hard to have a strong focal point like Disney’s castle or nearby Bollywood Parks’ palace. The indoor didn’t feel too oppressing at all and it could have been very pleasant but something was not quite right.

There’s nothing wrong with the hardware. There is no lack of rides, good F&B and retail outlets and great IP’s. I think the problem lies in the very poor show/live entertainment program and lack of enthusiasm from the staff (there are too many of them and they are bored), which makes for a rather weighty atmosphere. The only uplifting moment came as I was leaving when a group of Bedouin dancers started a traditional dance near the exit, which I enjoyed but is it really ‘on brand’?

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I will focus on the Cartoon Network (CN) Zone because it was the one I was most interested in for a project I am working on. It is actually the most interesting and felt busier than the other zones. The CN visuals work very well in the signage, facades and even floor patterns. It’s fun and colorful without being tacky. The use of a lot of the flat surfaces for mega-size video projections makes it lively and happening.

The layout is smart with a big circular building (with Back-Of-House in the centre) and outlets all around opening up onto a path wrapping around and distributing the main attractions:

  • Gumball is a shooting dark ride; a bit light on the theming, maybe too much 2D
  • Powerpuff Girls is a hardcore rotator ride, which I didn’t find very ‘on brand’ but people in the Middle East love this kind of rides
  • Ben10 is a 5D cinema; I thought the 2D look of the cartoon turned into 3D worked very well visually but the storyline was a bit all over the place
  • Lazy Town is a highly themed active play area

The show at CN Live (the only show in the entire park) is based on Lazy Town. After a slow start (people started leaving) it became a bit more interesting when kids were asked to stand up and make superheroes moves. The show was then suddenly stopped apparently for technical issues!

The F&B outlets are well themed and seemed to have interesting and relevant menus (see pictures). The karts are also quite cute.

The highlight is clearly the retail, which is amazing! Every attraction has a dedicated outlet and it’s very ‘on brand’, there’s also a general CN Store and a CN Classics Store. I only bought a few items but I could have gone crazy!

And now just a few words on the other zones.

Lost Valley is a dinosaur-themed zone featuring the park’s signature roller coaster coming out of the building (lots of twists and turns) and Forbidden Territory, a very smooth hydraulic dark ride. The zone is very big and very well themed. There’s a cool play structure (Adventure Fortress) with a huge tower and slides coming down.

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The Marvel zone was a ghost town when I visited. The dark futuristic look makes it look quite sad and old-fashioned, and there is way too much retail. That being said the rides again are of very good quality. I tried Spider-Man Doc Ock’s Revenge: a very good indoor spinning coaster with good theming. There is also Avengers Flight of the Quinjet, a 3D flight simulator and Hulk Epsilon Base 3D, a stereoscopic cinema dome.

The most popular attraction (and the only one with a queue) was actually the Haunted Hotel, the only non IP-based, located in IMG Boulevard! Great décors, not too scary. People loved it.

It is hard to summarize everything in just a few words. I would just say there’s nothing wrong about IMG Worlds of Adventure but it just does not feel quite right! Maybe it’s just that feeling you get when you’re inside a huge air-conditioned box in the middle of the desert with nothing around, not even a hotel!

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