Touted as "Hollywood in the desert", the Motiongate Dubai theme park is the largest among the three parks currently in the Dubai Parks and Resorts complex, and perhaps the one most-geared to entertain all ages. Legoland is relatively fun for adults, but aimed towards the little ones, and Bollywood Park is certainly an acquired taste, specifically for fans of Indian cinema. Motiongate is the star attraction.
Thanks to the 50°C-plus temperatures dominating our days this summer, scheduling a visit to Motiongate feels like an exercise in determination; only the most avid fan would consider it, or perhaps the most desperate parent, eager to provide entertainment to bored, listless children.
I fall into the latter camp. Every morning, my daughter, who is almost 5, asks me if it's time to go back to school yet, and I have officially run out of fun things to do with her, despite two more months of summer ahead. So when Motiongate offers us a sneak peak at one of its newest areas, which is the most-popular with children – the DreamWorks Animation zone, entirely housed inside a humongous, air-conditioned, indoor complex – I don't hesitate for a second. We slather on the sunscreen, arm ourselves with water bottles and wake up early in anticipation of a day filled with movie-themed adventures.
That is mistake number one. The hot weather understandably dictates that the parks are operational later in the day, and opening hours during the summer have been pushed back from the original 10am start to summer opening times of 3pm. In return, however, the price of admission has been significantly slashed. Compared to the usual Dh330 for a full-priced ticket, the current promotion for Dh145 to visit Motiongate – your ticket also affords you entrance into all the other parks – is a good way to get a taste for the thrills available. The promotion continues until August 31.
Here is how best to enjoy your time at DreamWorks with your family.
VIP parking is your friend
Although DreamWorks is housed indoors, it's a long outdoor walk to get to it. Parking in the VIP section means a short wait in an air-conditioned lounge for a buggy to arrive and drive you through Riverland, the retail and restaurant area of the parks, all the way to the entrance of Motiongate. During mild weather, the 17-minute walk is a pleasant one, but right now, Riverland is as deserted as a haunted village, with most outlets boarded up for the summer, so avoid that walk if you can.
"Where is everybody?" my daughter says to herself, as we head towards Motiongate. "I guess they're all playing on the rides already," she assures herself.
Get acquainted with your DreamWorks
The Animation zone houses four "lands" – the Kung Fu Panda area, the Madagascar Land, the Shrek part and a zone dedicated to the movie How to Train Your Dragon, all accessible from a beautiful decorated entrance that is home to a magnificent giant bronze-cast fountain featuring detailed statues of the four movie franchises' characters.
"Wow. I wanna look at that forever. Can I touch it?" asks my short companion.
Start with Shrek
There are two main rides in Shrek's land, but if your child is anything like mine, you will only ride one of them. The Shrek's Merry Fairy Tale Journey is a beautiful attraction, heavy in intricate detail and an interactive take on how Shrek and Fiona first met. The ride is dark, so I hear whispered admissions of "Mum, I'm a little bit scared", coupled with a tightened grip on my arm, especially during our long walk in a dimly lit area to get to the ride.
Such walks prove to be a recurring theme at DreamWorks, so be prepared. However, by the end of the ride, the first thing she says is: "Can we do this again? Please?"
The other main attraction, the Swamp Celebration, is a fast-paced ride inside a large, hollowed-out log that is not for the motion-averse. We have to stop the ride seconds after it starts because both myself and my daughter are wimps.
"That's the worst ride ever," she announces. "That hurt my tummy a lot." Few would agree with her, though – it proves a popular ride with the few other visitors we come across.
Head to Viking land
We breezed through the How to Train Your Dragon zone, because three of its main attractions are too fast for my 5-year-old. The Swinging Viking is a ship that propels itself back and forth at high speed and the Dragon Gliders is a roller coaster that zooms all around the indoor enclosure, with your feet dangling in mid-air.
Note that she could have gone on all the rides – she certainly meets the minimum height requirement – so if your child has the stomach for it, there is a lot of fun to be had.
Instead, we explore Camp Viking, a wet and dry play area. "Next time, don't forget to bring my towel, Mum," I'm told. Free lockers are accessible throughout DreamWorks, so bring a backpack with a change of clothes.
Party it up at Madagascar
Proclaimed her favourite zone, the Madagascar Land rides feature a ride on a beautiful, if mellow, merry-go-round, featuring all the colourful characters from the movie, and a Penguin Air ride where how fast you cycle dictates how high your little aircraft glider can go; my daughter loves both.
We also grab some popcorn and coffee (Dh36) from King Julien's Side Show Cafe and settle in for a meet-and-greet with some "penguins" only too eager to hug an excited little girl. For the more-adventurous, the Madagascar Mad Pursuit roller coaster ride is the fastest one inside DreamWorks and affords some serious thrills.
Brush up on your kung fu skills
Children are taught some serious kung fu skills at the Kung Fu Panda Academy, as well as wise adages such as: "A real warrior never quits."
The experience is rounded off with a meet-and-greet with Po the Panda, before heading off to enjoy our two favourite rides of the day.
Mr Ping's Noodle Fling is a classic teacup ride where you can control the speed of your cup, and Unstoppable Awesomeness is a 3-D, multi-sensory simulator ride that has my daughter shrieking in excitement and begging for a second chance at the fun, interactive experience, which has you believing you have just delivered an important package to the emperor.
"I really feel like a real kung fu master now, Mum," says my 5-year-old. "That was the funnest one ever."
The pros and cons
Unlike most theme parks in the world, the crowds at Motiongate during a UAE summer are non-existent. Often, my daugher and I are the only ones on any of the rides, and for the entire three hours it takes us to explore every nook and cranny of the DreamWorks Animation zone, we queue for seven minutes in total.
"We do get very busy, especially closer to the weekends," says Ashley, a Scottish-South African food-and-beverage manager at King Julien's Side Show Cafe. Perhaps weekday afternoons are a good time to go for minimal queuing, but it does take away from the fun atmosphere of a day out if you are the only shrieking guests in sight.
The final verdict
The significantly reduced admission prices make a Motiongate visit a must this summer, especially considering you will be indoors at DreamWorks out of the sun. Once you are done several hours later, the worst of the heat will have subsided, and you can easily explore the Smurfs Village next door – a favourite with younger children – as well as ride on the family-friendly attractions at Columbia Pictures.
We highly recommend the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs River Expedition; plan to get wet, so perhaps leave that for the end, or fork out Dh20 to step into a full-body dryer. You will have to walk back to your VIP parking; the golf-cart service is only one way and a ride back to the parking on a buggy costs Dh15 per person.
As for my little companion? She was won over. “Mum, let’s come back here every day, every single day, and let’s tell all my friends, too, OK?”
Motiongate Dubai is open from 3pm in the summer months. Go to www.motiongatedubai.com for more details.