Skip to main content
In depth

Theme Park Dubai: where the Dream’s the Theme

With elements of Dubailand coming online even as others are still being finalised, Keith J Fernandez tracks down several of the key players to try and make sense of it all …

The Dream’s the Theme

How do you track a work in progress? For residents and returning visitors driving along Dubai’s inner arterial roads away from the main city, new projects almost seem to emerge from the sands overnight, taking shape and form and welcoming visitors, even as a giant master plan seems as yet far away from final execution.

Dubai Autodrome,  the Polo and Equestrian Club, the Al Sahra Desert Resort – slowly, gradually, the Middle East’s very own Orlando is taking shape, providing a totally new dimension to the city’s already established tourism superpower status in the Gulf.

With its stated aim of increasing tourism’s contribution to GDP to 20% in 2010 and more than doubling current tourist numbers to 15 million by 2015, the emirate is fast executing plans to build a host of golf courses, new hotels,  malls and leisure facilities in order to meet expected demand. 

One of the emirate’s many "cities within a city" and central to these plans is Dubailand which has been compared variously to family-values Orlando and Las Vegas – but without the sin.   Dubailand has been planned to cover an area in excess of 2 billion square feet (185sqkm), and when it opens and expects a footfall of 200, 000 visitors a day and an initial three million visitors a year, going up to 15 million  once fully operational . By this time around 2.5 million people (residents, tourists and workers ) should be living within the area.

Mohammed AlHabbai, CEO  of Dubailand, (a subsidiary of the government-owned Tatweer) has described Dubailand as "the world’s most ambitious tourism, leisure and entertainment project, " and the development is projected to cover a staggering 3 billion square feet, making it larger than the entire city of Orlando – home to Universal Resort, Walt Disney World, Sea World and numerous other parks, attractions and hotels.

The entire 45-project venture, not scheduled for completion until 2025, is estimated to cost Dh235 billion ($64 billion dollars), 60 % of which is expected to come from private investors. Tatweer’s contribution is Dh100 billion, spread over Bawadi, Tiger Woods Dubai, Global Village and more, AlHabbai explained.

In summary, Dubailand has 7 components:

  • Theme parks,
  • Sports and sports academies,
  • Eco-tourism,
  • Well-being and health,
  • Science and planetariums  
  • Shopping and retail and
  • Resorts and hotels.

“Most of our projects are on time, ” he told TTN in a one-on-one interview. “Four projects are already up and running and we are on schedule for a 2010 opening, but many  projects will complete Phase 1 and open this year.”

Other projects will be ready by 2009, he said, and all the major hotel projects, Asia Asia, HollyBolly and Desert Gate, are on schedule.

A Strip of Happiness

These 3 are part of the enormous $54-billion 217 million sqft Bawadi project, a 10-km-long project within a project, that was announced in 2006 as the world’s largest hospitality and leisure development consisting of more than 50 themed hotels with 60, 000 rooms, almost double the number currently available in Dubai. Arif Mubarak, its CEO, has described it as "the ultimate hospitality and entertainment destination."

Marketed as longest hospitality boulevard in the world, Bawadi will boast some of the most uniquely themed hotels. Its "AsiaAsia, " tipped to be world’s largest hotel, with 6, 500 rooms, will be developed by Tatweer. 45% of Bawadi is already agreed upon with private investors, AlHabbai said.

Six hotel development contracts have been signed with private developers, Mubarak said. “We are now focused on the delivery of Phase 1, which will drive the development of the next 3 phases. By the time this is completed in 2011, we will have our own hotels, Desert Gate 1 and 2, and Asia Asia, up and running. We have done that because we believe that we should drive the success and we should set the standards and be a benchmark for the other developments. Following that we will have our developers, ” he added.

Bawadi has already launched its initial infrastructure phase, which will mainly focus on roadworks, and is set to be finished by the end of 2007. It is a project that will continue to grow, he explained, hinting at the emirate’s truly expansive vision.: “We see Bawadi as more than four phases. If you restrict yourself to a specific number of rooms or years, you are limiting yourself."

  Theme Delights

As to Theme Parks, Dubailand has already agreed a deal with Universal Studios to create a Universal Theme Park, part of a $2.2- Universal City Dubai. The 505-acre development is to include a 149-acre theme park together with over 4, 000 hotel rooms, 100 restaurants and a variety of retail outlets.

"Falcon City of Wonders" is now under construction ; a 100-acre development costing $ 1.5 billion. This mixed-use project will be shaped like a falcon and contain life-size replicas of the seven wonders of the world, in addition to a Pharaoh Theme Park.

Aqua Dunya, a $1.9-billion development spread over 8 million square feet, promises to include two theme water parks, three hotels, a waterfront retail and dining district, with a build-out capacity of 2 million visitors.

Restless Planet Dinosaur Park is looking at a 2008 completion date and will form a prehistoric home to more than 100 life-size animatronic dinosaurs and the Wadi Walk retail project, featuring an enormous shopping mall will cover over 20 million sqft , both projects being integral parts of the $1.96-billion City of Arabia project.

Dubai’s new obsession with sub-zero temperatures is to be taken one one step further with the 1.4-million-sqft Dubai Snowdome .This extraordinairy project will feature the largest free-standing see-through dome structure in the world (over 200m in diameter, ) and will include a toboggan run, rotating ski deck, pinguinarium, snow play area, mountain run, training area,  ice skating rink, ice skating adventure area and a flying theatre featuring a virtual flight over the Antarctic together with a snow resort. 

Further attractions of note include an Islamic Culture and Science World, observatory Great Dubai Wheel,  the Astrolabe Resort and the Emirates Planetarium.

Search for something

More from this author

Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.

Find out how to update