5 Things That Surprised Me About UAE Theme Parks

I don't want to sit here and admit to myself that it's been two years since our honeymoon trip where we were able to visit so many incredible parks because then it makes it real and I have to accept it. But sadly that is the reality, and like many of you I'm stuck indoors on a gorgeous sunny day when I'm suppose to be getting excited about a flight off on another trip this evening, so I though I'd distract myself with a little reminiscing. I didn't think I would enjoy the UAE theme parks half as much as I did, but truly I was blown away with not only the theme parks and what they had to offer but the countries themselves and how much I loved them. As with all visits to places you've never visited before, we all head to our destination with a preconceived idea of what we're going to encounter and the majority of time those things don't turn out to be true - and the UAE was no different. Here's five things that surprised my about theme parks in the UAE!

I'd seen the reports of what ghost towns the theme parks in the UAE were but nothing can truly prepare you for how true that is. The cred whore side of my brain was relieved - my dream come true, a whole theme park entirely to myself! But the reality is an empty theme park is a strange place to be, almost to the point of eeriness and discomfort. It's true that a theme park without a crowd lacks atmosphere and no amount of distracting myself with going on Dragon Gliders for the fifth time in a row could help that glaring factor. It's extremely hard to get a good feel of the vibe of a place when you can literally hear a pin drop between your own conversation and the echo of the parkwide sound as it echoes off of the walls with no bodies to soak up the soundwaves.

What's particularly unnerving is because many of the parks, especially those in the Dubai Parks & Resorts area, have a certain Orlando-esque quality to them the comparison is even more stark when something your brain is used to experiencing bustling full of guests wouldn't look out of place with a tumbleweed blowing through. It's...kind of depressing in a way? And awkward. There's nothing more awkward than standing and watching a show where you and five other people are the audience, or having a cast member desperately trying to stay in character and deliver their spiel to you before sending you off on your ride. It's just weird and a bit sad.

So. Many. Dark Rides. Thinking logically it makes sense that the UAE parks have so many dark rides because of the heat - given the choice you'd much rather experience a pleasant ride through an air conditioned room than find yourself nauseated on a forceful flat ride in the desert heat. But yh, it's just something I'd never considered before and when you're conditioned to view dark rides as a kind of unexpected treat in theme parks outside of Disney & Universal it's a bit overwhelming to suddenly be spoilt for choice with them! Even the likes of Ferrari World had four or five dark rides blended in amongst its world beating coaster line-up, and I laughed my head off at Motiongate when we boarded Smurfs Studio Tour - our FOURTH trackless dark ride of the day!

Not that I'm complaining, I love a good dark ride. But something I realised in the UAE about dark rides is they have to have a certain flare to be enjoyable. There has to be some element of drama or high stakes or catchy theme tune or...SOMETHING. Like don't get me wrong, Shrek's Merry Fairy Tale Journey was great but that's because the source material itself is awesome and the ride is just a retelling of it. But there's no...speed? Or anything different? Or really cool SFX? And sure it's for children of course but it feels like they're a little phoned in. Excluding Dragon Gliders (because that's half coaster/half dark-ride) I reckon my favourite UAE dark ride is Benno's Great Race - a delightful family dark ride where guests are armed with a spanner that uses a Nintendo Wii style system and challenges us to build the race car before the big race finale. So cute and innovative!

Listen, if you go to the UAE expecting a budget holiday then more fool you - it's essentially the luxury vacation capital of the world and is very glitzy and glamorous. BUT that said I wasn't quite prepared for the bog standard stuff to be as expensive as the obviously expensive stuff would be. Like for instance water - funnily enough it gets pretty hot in the desert so you'll be wanting to keep hydrated as much as possible. When in Ferrari World we purchased a bottle of water and a pretzel and it was £15 and I almost slapped the cashier. OK that was a joke but still you get what I mean.

The parks themselves are very expensive too - I'm talking Orlando park territory expensive which I'm not entirely sure is justified for the most part. When I can pay $120 for a park like Islands of Adventure it's a pretty bitter pill to swallow that a park like Ferrari World is £70 for entry. And don't even get me started on the merch! I'll talk more in detail about what merch was actually on offer in a sec but I found a magnet set I wanted at Motiongate and it was £30 for the set. Likewise things like mugs in Ferrari World retailed at roughly £22 which in my opinion is way too expensive for what should be a souvenir at the cheaper end of the spectrum. Make sure you've got plenty of spending money if you're planning on visiting!

One of the things you hear loads about the UAE theme parks and the countries in general is that they're very conservative. You're told that if you're a woman you should look to dress modestly and if you're an unmarried couple you should be careful about holding hands lest you find yourself in a UAE police station. And honestly I fell for it - I was a little nervous about what I should wear and even though we're married Conor and I have our own surnames so thought this would maybe be an issue. Turns out all of these things are hugely over-exaggerated. That's not to say you should walk around the parks naked and grind on each other in the streets, all it means is the parks are not half as strict as you might be lead to believe.

To be on the safe side I have purposely packed things like midi-skirts and t-shirts to ensure my knees and shoulders were covered when we visited the parks, but honestly I needn't have bothered giving it a second thought. You'll see people dress in all sorts at the parks from traditional kanduras, ghutra and hijabs to spaghetti strap dresses and hot pants. Contrary to popular belief the UAE is a pretty modern, multi-cultural melting pot with people from all around the world and the attractions are very accommodating towards that. And if you choose to venture anywhere a bit more concious of that kind of thing like the mosques, they will provide you the appropriate coverings to wear whilst you're inside so it's not something you ever have to worry about.

Given how the UAE theme parks have clearly taken a lot of inspiration from the Orlando parks it was pretty shocking to me how poor the park merch available is. Aside from being astronomically priced for what they are, the actual stuff available is almost on park with the crap the Chinese parks pedal out (although tbf nothing could be that bad...) I found it very hard to find anything remotely park related, which I always find strange because surely if you're buying something from a park it's as a memento, not because you really fancied a new summer dress (why do parks sell these I don't get it?) In the parks with IPs there was always a TON of IP related stuff - you couldn't move for Cartoon Network or Marvel merch at IMG Worlds or Dreamworks merch at Motiongate, but trying to find something with the theme park names on them was nigh on impossible.

And then if you DID finally find something with the park name on it was either really crap, like a really rubbish mug or magnet or something, or it was stupidly overpriced. More often than not it was both. The only park that really hammered out the park related merch was Ferrari World but I'm just not down with dropping £20 on a keyring, something about it just doesn't sit right with me!

Of course, no destination is ever going to be exactly as you pictured it in your head from what you've seen and heard about the place, and all of the surprises along the way just help to improve the sense of adventure in my opinion! Have you been to the theme parks in the UAE? Was there anything about them that surprised you? Let me know in the comments below, I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Talk later xoxo,