At 4.30pm, the staff started a countdown then a burst of confetti signalled the launch of the 26th season of Dubai’s Global Village.
As guests arrived, acrobats, clowns and music added to the festive atmosphere.
Take a look through the photos above to see more from opening day.
What's it like at Global Village in 2021?
Stepping into the family-friendly destination felt different this year, and not only because of the opening day crowds.
The venue looks more spacious, and Jaki Ellenby, executive director of marketing at Global Village, says a lot of work has gone into making it appear this way.
“There have been a lot of changes that we’ve made this year to help people get around more easily, something that is important for us. There have been 2,500 square metres of new streets added. We’ve also made a lot of new seating areas,” she says.
Some of these changes might be too subtle to pinpoint, but the effect is clear: the entrance is far more open, with fewer crowds clogging the way.
Added seating is a welcome relief. Anyone who has visited Global Village knows this is an attraction best visited in comfortable shoes, as you'll do a lot of walking, but the abundance of seats now makes it easier on the feet.
During a leisurely stroll through the attraction on opening day, we come across a seating structure by the main stage. Fireworks Avenue, an area between the stage and the carnival rides – so named because it offers some of the best views of the fireworks – also has more seating spaces, completed by a small fountain.
“Every year, we listen to feedback from visitors and, if we can't introduce it immediately, we do so the next season,” Ms Ellenby says.
Floating market gets a revamp
Another reason Global Village feels so different this year is because of a remodelling of one of its attractions.
Last year, it introduced its fire fountain show. This year, the fountains have been elevated by a 20-metre-long dragon that sits in the lake, now named Dragon Lake.
Not only does the dragon breathe fire, it also comes with a little stage, so perhaps visitors can expect fiery new shows there soon.
Meanwhile, one of Global Village’s main attractions, its floating market, has been shifted this year to be right on Dragon Lake.
Those craving authentic Asian food can head to the enhanced space, which features 32 kiosks that offer everything from sticky mango rice to nasi goreng.
New food options at Global Village
As tempting as the floating market and its fares are (the soups are especially wonderful on chilly days), there's a host of other food options this year.
Apart from the vendors selling everything from hot corn in a cup and roasted chestnuts to freshly prepared crepes, pastas and kebabs, it has the Railway Market.
Located where the Floating Market used to be, the Railway Market is inspired by Thailand’s famous Umbrella Market, and is a wonderful place to stop if you have a sweet tooth, as it features sugary treats including ice cream and sweet mango creations.
This year also features new restaurants. Visitors will notice a new Italian restaurant, Piero, and Saudi Arabia's Saudi Heritage. There's also a Chili's, serving up that delicious cultural mishmash of cuisines Global Village is known for.
Entertainment and shows
It looks like there will be plenty to keep audiences entertained this year, including 15 new stage shows. Global Village's stunt show is back, and with it, new water stunts. Meanwhile, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not has introduced more exhibits, as well as a Moving Theatre, a family cinema experience.
If stage shows, the plethora of food and desserts, and photo opportunities around every corner aren't enough, a visit to Global Village is always a must at the weekend for its fireworks display.
The show takes place every Thursday and Friday at 9pm, as well as on special occasions. Fireworks are also scheduled to take place on Tuesday night for opening day celebrations.
In 2020, Global Village introduced a number of safety regulations, including thermal screenings and temperature checks.
While this has ended, the attraction is enforcing precautions such as the wearing of masks, and social distancing is encouraged. Hand-sanitising stations can be found throughout the area as well.
GV Pay is still operational, and the app and website have been enhanced, Ms Ellenby says.
There is also a push towards contactless payments, with Global Village tickets now priced at Dh15 online and Dh20 at the gate.