Motiongate Dubai delivers a Hollywood experience to the desert
Motiongate Dubai officially opened in December, but what awaited guests on the first day of operation was more akin to a movie preview than a full feature film. At press time, only about a third of the theme park was fully operational; park officials say the goal is to have everything done by the start of third quarter 2017.
When complete, Motiongate will bring together three Hollywood studios in one place, offering a wide range of attractions based on more than a dozen different film franchises. The park is intentionally Western/American, officials say—“a piece of Hollywood in the desert” providing the local market something it’s never seen or experienced before.
“Motiongate is a one-of-a-kind project,” says Director of Park Operations Dan Cuffe. “We’ve taken three of the biggest movie studios in Hollywood, and put them into one park. We’ve combined the best of their brands and brought them together. We’ve transformed this piece of desert into an oasis.”
The park is divided into three main zones based on the studios involved: Columbia Pictures, DreamWorks, and Lionsgate. Within each studio’s space, however, the individual franchises act as their own “mini-zones,” as Cuffe calls them, with their own placemaking elements. Typically, this involves an attraction, a retail space, and some form
of food and beverage outlet.
This approach is most apparent in the DreamWorks section, a 440,000-square-foot building with areas dedicated to Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and How to Train Your Dragon. DreamWorks serves almost like a park within a park, as each movie has a full complement of activities and fully themed environments. The Dragon area is set to open in spring 2017, while the other three were, at press time, open to the public in “technical rehearsal” mode.
In a sense, though, the entire park is going through a bit of a technical rehearsal as officials acclimate themselves to the customer base, and vice versa. Officials say there’s been a great deal of learning over the first few months of operation, and they’re quickly learning how people react to a brand-new experience in the region.
Not all this education comes with easy answers, either. Take hours of operation, for example: park officials say one of the big revelations in just the first few weeks of operation was how families from the UAE spend more time together later in the day and well into the evening. They expected this might be true during the hot summer months, but they’re learning it’s more of a broader cultural trend. The natural inclination, then, is to extend operating hours to midnight or even later. However, Motiongate is looking to attract a strong audience of international tourists, as well; many of these are Westerners used to showing up at “rope drop” first thing in the morning and leaving in the early evening. The park wants to appeal to both segments of the audience, who seem to want directly opposing hours of operation. Determining that balance is just one of several adaptations the team will be making in the days, months, and, likely, years to come.
So patience will be a virtue at Motiongate—patience in opening all the rides and attractions promised, patience in adapting to the clientele, and patience playing a role in turning Dubai into a hotbed of global tourism. Officials say it will take time to build Motiongate as a new brand, but feel the quality product in the park will help grow its reputation as a world-class facility.
“We’re poised to do something really great,” Cuffe says.
Immersion in the Movies
Motiongate Dubai is meant to envelop guests in the movies. It makes a dramatic opening statement with an entry gate built to resemble a massive film reel. The park is laid out in a traditional “hub-and-spokes” design, with the Studio Central zone serving as its “main street.” This area begins the immersion process with its old-school Hollywood backlot theme (the “Backlot Crew” streetmosphere show helps reinforce the motif). When visitors reach the beautiful fountain in the center of the park, they choose which stories to step inside.
The Green Hornet: High Speed Chase
This Gerstlauer Bobsled Coaster is themed to the classic masked crime-fighter. Guests ride in four-seater vehicles themed to the character’s Black Beauty car (an original vehicle from the 2011 Seth Rogen film resides in the queue). Originally this coaster was supposed to be indoors, but officials removed the plans for the building to bring more action to the zone.
Zombieland Blast Off
This attraction is inspired by 2009’s “Zombieland,” starring Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, and Woody Harrelson. Guests first make their way through a haunted house-style queue before strapping into a 190-foot-tall drop/launch combo tower from S&S.
This trackless dark ride takes place inside a 30,000-square-foot re-creation of the castle from the 2012 animated film starring Adam Sandler. Guests board coffin-like four-person vehicles that wind their way past scenes and characters from the movie.
Ghostbusters: Battle for New York.
Based on the 1984 original “Ghostbusters,” this interactive dark ride asks guests to charge up their Proton Packs and blast ghosts to score points. Ride vehicles move from one media screen to the next in an environment themed to the streets of New York City.
“Underworld 4D” tells the vampire story in a 3-D theater equipped with motion seats, while “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs—River Expedition” is the UAE’s first water-rapids attraction (it was still in testing at press time).
This children’s area is dedicated to the little blue people who have appeared in various films and television shows since the 1980s. It includes “Smurf Village Express,” a Gerstlauer Junior Coaster, and “The Smurfs Studio Tour,” a dark ride where guests watch as animatronic Smurfs film their own movie. Smurfs Village also features three different themed play areas with a variety of interactive activities.
This zone did not have an official opening date at press time, but officials are expecting its debut in mid-2017. It will be the first Hunger Games theme-park experience in the world and will offer two signature rides: “Capitol Bullet Train” is a launch coaster from Mack Rides, while “Panem Aerial Tour” is billed as a “4-D hovercraft motion-simulator experience.”
Already open in the Lionsgate zone is the Hollywood Theater, home to “Step Up Dubai All In!” This live stage show is based on the popular Step Up film franchise and features hip-hop dance and music, with choreography from Geo Hubela, who appeared in the original film. The show is directed by Broadway veteran Michael Clowers.
The DreamWorks zone is entirely indoors and functions as a park within the park, featuring four of the studio’s most popular franchises, each with their own set of attractions. At press time, this area was in “technical rehearsal,” and not all attractions were yet open to the public.
Dedicated to the lovable green ogre voiced by Mike Myers, this area’s key attraction is the “Shrek’s Merry Fairy Tale Journey” dark ride, which tells the Shrek-Fiona love story as a puppet show. “Swamp Celebration” is a family-friendly spinning flat ride, while The Candy Apple is a fine-dining restaurant.
“Madagascar: Mad Pursuit” is Motiongate’s most aggressive roller coaster in this first phase of development. The indoor Gerstlauer Infinity Coaster launches to a top speed of 59 mph as the individual eight-person vehicles navigate a 2,822-foot-long track themed to a circus. Madagascar also features a carousel and spinning flat ride.
Kung Fu Panda
This area’s signature attraction is “Kung Fu Panda: Unstoppable Awesomeness,” a 3-D motion-simulator. “Mr. Ping’s Noodle Fling” is a classic teacup ride, while “Kung Fu Panda Academy” is an interactive live show.
How to Train Your Dragon
At press time, this area was yet to enter technical rehearsal and was scheduled to open in spring 2017. It will feature “Dragon Gliders,” a coaster/dark ride hybrid using Mack Rides’ Inverted Powered Coaster. The land will also offer the Camp Viking water-play area and “The Swinging Viking” flat ride.