It would be easy to be cynical about Warner Bros World, the new indoor amusement park on Yas Island due to open on July 25, at a cost of $1 billion (Dh3.67bn). It is, after all, a commercial enterprise promoting one of the world's biggest entertainment companies.
But from the moment you walk through the entrance, past the giant gold statue of Bugs Bunny nibbling on a carrot, your cynicism melts away. It is a remarkable place – meticulously thought out, yet goofy and carefree.
It never takes itself too seriously – even if it is absolutely serious about becoming a leading global tourist destination.
On an exclusive tour of the park, which covers 1.65 million square feet and features 29 rides and countless interactive attractions, the same thought kept spinning over and over in my mind: “Children are going to absolutely love it here.”
Every detail – from the paw prints going up the wall inside Tom and Jerry’s house to Fred Flintstone’s super-sized Bronto burgers – has been designed to widen eyes and broaden grins.
Five immersive lands – Metropolis; Gotham City; Cartoon Junction; Dynamite Gulch and Bedrock – branch off from the central Warner Bros Plaza (also an immersive land), where films are projected on the walls, and which buzzes with restaurants and shops, some of which sell merchandise specifically designed for Warner Bros World (one wonders how many packets of the Warner Bros beetroot crisps will sell, though).
As you wander from one land to the next, the whole atmosphere can change. Gotham City is dark and eerie. Neon lights flash sporadically and the Joker smiles conspiratorially down at you from high up on the wall. But then you stumble through to Cartoon Junction, where fluffy clouds dance across a blue sky, the houses are gaudily coloured, and the most menacing thing is an imprint of the Tasmanian Devil on the wall.
There is a joyous feeling of total immersion. Even when you’re not on a ride, there are theatre experiences to enjoy, whether it is Bugs Bunny mixing with the crowds or Batman flying down on a zip line to ruin the Joker’s surprise party.
Experiencing a Gotham City and Scooby Doo ride
And what about the rides? Not all of them are open yet but I was given access to the Riddler Revolution, in Gotham City, and Scooby-Doo: The Museum of Mysteries, in Cartoon Junction. In very different ways, both were a riot.
On the Riddler Revolution, you sit facing outwards on a giant disc, which whirls dizzyingly this way and that as it hurtles up on a near-vertical track and then rushes back down again. It is a full sensory experience: the Riddler chats away at you while clouds of fog blur your vision and dampen your face.
Scooby-Doo: The Museum of Mysteries is an altogether more sedate affair – but no less scary in its own way. Aimed at much younger children, the ride rumbles through a haunted museum, following Scooby-Doo and his gang as they attempt to solve a spooky mystery. Watch out for the mirrors; one of them will give you a proper fright. It really is like being an extra in every Scooby-Doo episode you have ever seen.
The ride that the staff were most excited about was Scarecrow Scare Raid in Gotham City, however. This ominous looking thing apparently throws you around and around in barrel rolls on a huge swinging axis. On top of that, though, visitors have a joy stick that they can pull to intensify the experience.
Even the queuing areas are entertaining
What most impressed me, though, was the way in which everything at Warner Bros World is connected. In Gotham City, for example, you look up to see a stone dragon with no head. Then when you pop into the Park Row Pawn Shop next door, there is the dragon’s head for sale. Neat touch.
Even the queuing areas are entertaining. In Metropolis, the area where visitors wait for Justice League: Warworld Attacks, an immersive theatre experience, there are great statues of the Justice League characters. By the time you have taken a selfie with each of them, the queue will have gone down. Another clever touch.
There is still a lot of work to be done before Warner Bros World opens – and I gather teams are working through the night to ensure that the park is ready in time – but from what I have seen so far, there is no reason to believe it will be anything less than a resounding success.