Ride a roller coaster, win a prize, and … enjoy your meal? Not usually. Theme parks are not often synonymous with gastronomic sophistication.
In the early days of theme parks, food was often an afterthought – served and consumed quickly and on the go, with little thought to quality. Visitors just wanted to get back to their rides and attractions.
These days though, theme park-goers want more from their meals, and in the case of Dubai Parks and Resorts, there’s a smorgasbord of options when it comes to dining amid all the fun.
Food is such a strong contender on the attraction list that an entire part of the parks – Riverland – is dedicated to a wide range of restaurants to suit every taste.
Now that school’s out for the next three weeks and there’s a good chance you will be making the most of the cooler weather and heading to Dubai Parks and Resorts over the winter break, there’s no need to relegate yourself to slim pickings when it comes to what you will be eating in between the rides. Here’s our guide to how to navigate the food and refreshments on offer at the parks.
First, show some restraint
At some point, you may be hungry enough to want to eat anything, anywhere. Don’t. It’s not worth it. The cafeteria-like restaurants dotted around Legoland, Legoland Waterpark, Motiongate and Bollywood might be good for a quick lunch to appease the children – there are chicken tenders, pizzas, pastas and burgers everywhere – but you may find the meal wanting. From personal experience, the salad was too dry, the noodles and Asian dishes a little too bland and the rotisserie chicken was nothing to write home about.
Instead, pick up sandwiches, crudites, a fruit bowl and other healthy options from The Café at Legoland’s entrance, just opposite the Pick-A-Brick shop. This will tide you over until you reach the Riverland restaurants. Everything is made fresh; there’s afternoon tea for Dh99, pancakes at a cooking station for Dh20 and pre-packed lunch boxes for kids, as well as baby food (Dh8) for toddlers. Try the prawn mango salad (Dh27).
Second, pick your treats wisely
Legoland is home to an original snack that delighted us, something far superior to a bucket of popcorn (Dh15 at Legoland and the Waterpark and Dh20 for a small or Dh30 for a large size at Motiongate and Bollywood) or store-bought ice cream (Dh20).
Cue Granny’s Apple Fries: a signature treat invented at Legoland that turned out to be unbelievably addictive. Granny Smith apples are sliced like French fries and fried, then dusted with a coating of cinnamon and sugar. They are served with a dollop of whipped cream as a dipping sauce. They’re crispy and sweet from the outside, right before you taste the tartness of the apple. There’s one stand in Legoland serving them, right by the medieval castle section, next to the Knight’s Table restaurant. It’s Dh20 a portion, and you won’t want to share. Hands down, our favourite snack of the day.
Third, holidays are the time to reward yourself
Don’t make the mistake of heading to Riverland and leaving without treating yourself at Ella’s Creamery. At some point during the day, perhaps once you’re done with Legoland and walking through Riverland to head towards Motiongate, take a break and duck into this kitsch, pastel-decorated dream of an ice cream parlour, and a completely original one at that, where mermaid and unicorn ice cream flavours of your dreams do actually exist. Try their Pink Cadillac shake (Dh55), a signature menu item. It starts off as a strawberry milkshake, and then all bets are off: it is topped with marshmallows, strawberry ganache, whipped cream, strawberry sauce, cotton candy and a cheeky lollipop to round it all off.
There are waffles, cookies, ice cream sundaes and shakes to ogle, or you can just have a coffee – it's served with a mini-scoop of ice cream in a mini waffle cone on the side. It's the perfect spot to indulge, and is justified considering how much walking you will have done during the day. There are signs to assure you that "life is better with ice cream". There's no arguing with that.
If you lack a sweet tooth, next door to Ella’s Creamery is Tortilla, another original concept restaurant serving delicious, freshly made Mexican food. The small California Burrito (Dh37) should tide you over until your next meal; this tasty snack is packed with chicken, tomato rice, black beans, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsa verde.
And if treating yourself is on the agenda, then also duck into Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory, if only just to inhale the sweet smell of dulce de leche being made. There are bucketloads of candy to choose from, but also, fresh fudge (Dh20 a piece), gorgeously decorated candy apples in every possible flavour and configuration (starting at Dh25), dipped pretzels in all shapes and colours, plus just too many desserts and sweets to list. The place would put Willy Wonka’s to shame. Stock up and take some goodies home.
Finally, sit back and dine
Riverland is your oyster: pick a cuisine and enjoy a more rounded meal. There’s hearty family fare aplenty at the likes of Italian eatery Olive Garden and French bakery Pascal Tepper makes for a good meal in the French Village area. Or head to authentic Emirati restaurant Al Mashawa for some fresh seafood and try the Jesheed (Dh55), which is a slow-cooked baby shark fillet blended with onion, loomi and Emirati spices and served with rice, or the Muhammar Safi Matfi (Dh72), a whole Safi fish cooked in Emirati tomato gravy and served with date-sweetened rice.
Just outside Bollywood in India Gate, there’s also Japanese, Chinese and Indian cuisine to choose from. Haru Robatayaki is a crowd favourite and they serve Bento box lunches starting from Dh55.
For vegetarians who don’t mind spicy food, there are also dining options. You can check out Spicy Dhaba and Mughal-e-Azam: Shahi Dining. There are more than 50 restaurants and cafes to choose from in Riverland’s four zones, so don’t hesitate to walk around first and get your bearings.
End the night at the Irish Village; their outdoor patio overlooks a beautiful part of the park.