IMG Worlds of Adventure becomes the largest indoor theme park on Earth
Billed as the largest indoor theme park on the planet, IMG Worlds of Adventure officially opened to the public in August 2016. Owned by Ilyas & Mustafa Galadari (IMG) Group, and managed by IMG Worlds, the 1.5 million-square-foot facility was the first major theme park to open in Dubai and IMG’s first leisure and entertainment project in its City of Arabia development district, located about 20 minutes from downtown and 15 minutes from each of Dubai’s major airports.
The park offers four themed zones of rides, live entertainment, dining, and shopping. All of this occurs under the protection of a building that is virtually column free. The space frame is supported by 12 columns, and is equal to the size of 28 soccer fields.
“We’ve elevated the structure quite high to not give you the sense you’re enclosed,” says Lennard Otto, the park’s CEO. “We wanted that sense of openness, where people could feel like they’re in an outdoor environment—but we control the climate.”
IMG Group CFO Mohamed Adnaan says the final product is almost double the size of its original conception: “Dubai likes to have the biggest and the best, so that was one motive. But we wanted it to be future-proof. If you build a property too small, you’ll probably be called an FEC rather than a theme park and won’t have enough attractions to keep people here.”
With just one look at IMG Worlds of Adventure, there’s certainly no confusing it for anything other than a significant new addition to the attractions industry in the United Arab Emirates.
Start from Scratch
IMG is a multifaceted Dubai-based company involved in a wide array of projects, from construction to real estate to hospitality. and much more. Its namesake and executive co-chairman, brothers Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari, took a highly active role in the planning of IMG Worlds of Adventure. They traveled the globe visiting other theme parks, researching best practices and looking for ways to put their own stamp on the attractions industry, as facilitated by master planning from Falcon’s Treehouse.
“Every color drawing that represented something the guest sees has a signature from one of the two brothers,” says Markus Mack-Even, an industry veteran who serves as the park’s chief project officer. “We did not build anything without them having seen the creative intent.”
IMG Worlds of Adventure features two signature brands: Marvel and Cartoon Network. While these were secured by the end of 2011, the park’s complex physical structure took significantly more time to build than originally anticipated, Adnaan says: “There is no similar structure of this nature in the region. We had to educate the local authorities on building such a large expanse of roof with column-free spaces.”
All In for Day 1
Once the basic concept for IMG Worlds of Adventure was decided and the intellectual properties secured, the planners’ attention turned to the specific mix of rides and attractions that would fill out the park. Adnaan chuckles thinking back on initial meetings with ride vendors who were incredulous at what IMG was attempting to build in the middle of the desert: “We ended up with a fantastic set of ride vendors who understood the intent of the owners and worked hard with us from a timing standpoint to get this delivered to budget and within our expectations.”
Mack-Even says the planners looked at examples of recently opened parks around the world, noting what the guest experience felt like versus the total number of attractions available at those locations. He wanted to make sure IMG Worlds of Adventure felt like a true full-day experience right away: “We are proud that we opened the park on the first day with every single attraction online, and signed off by TUV and the municipality.”
While the park is under a roof, Otto says the intent was to bring as much action and life to the midways as possible, rather than hiding rides away in their own boxes. There are two roller coasters housed entirely inside the building, while “The Ride of Ooo,” an overhead monorail attraction, traverses the entire Cartoon Network Zone via an elevated track.
“There’s nothing better than walking through a theme park and hearing the kids scream and laugh, seeing the coasters go over your head,” Otto says. “We wanted to bring the attractions out to the people.”
The Importance of Shopping, Dining
One reason the park nearly doubled in size from its original designs was to accommodate a large increase in outlets for shopping and dining. IMG Worlds of Adventure offers much more than the typical ride-exit shops and food carts.
The Marvel Zone alone includes signature retail in its Marvel Vault, featuring apparel found only at IMG, as well as high-end watches and collectible sculptures. Tony’s Skydeck, meanwhile, is fine dining in a second-story restaurant and a mocktail bar themed to Tony Stark and his alter ego, Iron Man.
Mack-Even says Dubai has a strong food culture, so it was important for IMG Worlds of Adventure to meet guests’ culinary expectations to keep them satisfied over the course of a daylong visit. There are 28 different dining options featuring 13 different types of cuisine, including Arabic, European, American, and Asian. The park’s 25 retail outlets offer more than 5,000 different items in total, more than half of which can only be found at IMG Worlds of Adventure.
“What you see today is a park that can satisfy the family as a whole,” Sait says.
1,500 Staffers, 70 Countries,
To operate this massive indoor theme park, IMG spent six months on the road recruiting its team. Management traveled to four continents, interviewed more than 22,000 candidates, and eventually hired 1,500 people from 70 different countries.
“It took us six months because we were extremely picky and made sure we got everything right,” Otto says. “The service level is there, the safety standards are there, the quality is there. We’ve developed an army to deliver what we promised from Day 1.”
Part of that service is offering native speakers for the diverse array of international guests Dubai draws. More than 90 percent of the staff came from outside the UAE, while the remaining positions were filled by local Emiratis as a part of the IMG Emiritization program. IMG developed an on-site training team that spent three months educating the new employees. Officials are pleased that, to this point, turnover among staff is at only 8 percent.
More Worlds on the Way
In just a few months’ time, IMG officials are quickly learning more about their new park—and are already looking to the future.
“Everything is theoretical until the first guest walks in,” Otto says. “Then reality sets in, and what you assume a guest’s behavior would be might grossly change at that stage. We weren’t far off from what we predicted, but we’ve taken a close look at guest feedback to optimize the experience.”
Adaptations in the first few months include a new pricing structure that raised the height requirement for a ticket to allow a wider range of younger children to enter the facility for free. There are more live entertainment installations in the park now, with 24 different street shows occurring every day. IMG Worlds of Adventure also began offering seasonal events, including festivals themed around Christmas, Chinese New Year, and other holidays.
Initial marketing efforts in the run-up to the park’s grand opening focused on local residents, but now officials are broadening their focus to include international tourists. “A lot of people [in the UAE] didn’t know what a theme park is, what the experience will be like,” Otto says. “We’re now working closely with the Dubai tourism authority and airlines to expand into the international market.”
And then, in December, the company announced plans to open a second park, IMG Worlds of Legends, adjacent to the original facility. While no opening date is set, officials say the new park will be even larger than the original at more than 2 million square feet, and will feature a retractable roof. It will be connected to the original park via an attraction requiring a park-hopper ticket, and feature nine more themed zones based on brands from Nickelodeon, Mattel, and more. Attractions will include “interactive roller coasters” and the site’s first water-based rides.
“Just in our first few months, we’ve seen the demand is there and see this market growing,” Otto says. “We want people to spend multiple days here. There is more room to play.”
A Walk Around IMG Worlds of Adventure
IMG Worlds of Adventure offers a healthy mix of thrill rides, family fare, and children’s attractions spread across four different themed zones. Here’s a quick look at the park’s lineup.
This zone greets visitors as they arrive and serves as the park’s “main street” and connective tissue. It is primarily a dining and shopping district, offering five outlets for each.
The Haunted Hotel
IMG Executive Co-Chairman Mustafa Galadari was heavily involved in scripting a good portion of this walkthrough haunted maze and reviewed every single costume and room concept together with his brother, Ilyas Galadari. The attraction is intense and only available to guests 15 and older.
Themed to look like a hyper-realistic cityscape, the Marvel Zone offers a bevy of attractions based on the popular comic-book characters.
Hulk Epsilon Base 3D
This first-of-its-kind theater attraction features a 3-D dome combined with a motion platform. One hundred seats occupy what initially seems like a planetarium setting. Once the dome movie begins, the entire platform spins and tilts in concert with the action, as The Hulk and Iron Man battle deadly foes overhead.
Avengers Battle of Ultron
In the world’s first dark ride themed to the Avengers franchise, guests don 3-D glasses and sit in 12-seater multi-DOF vehicles as they move through a story told with a combination of media screens and physical sets.
Spider-Man Doc Ock’s Revenge
Guests join Spider-Man in a fight with Doctor Octopus in this 1,300-foot-long spinning coaster from Mack Rides. The ride features special effects, themed physical sets, and at one point interacts with the Marvel Zone midway.
Marvel Zone features the “Avengers Flight of the Quinjets” spinning ride and a Huss Top Spin called “Thor Thunder Spin.”
Lost Valley—Dinosaur Adventure
Ever since the Galadari brothers saw “Jurassic Park” in 1993, they’ve wanted to build an attraction themed to dinosaurs. IMG Worlds of Adventure finally fulfilled that promise a quarter-century later in a land created from scratch. At 700,000 square feet, this is the largest zone in the park and features the most thrill rides.
This Mack Blue Fire steel coaster is the only ride in the park that ventures outdoors. After a brief mixed-media scene, the 20-person train launches to 62 mph and careens around nearly 3,500 feet of track, featuring four inversions and a top height of 125 feet.
Gerstlauer’s Euro-Fighter is the only coaster in the park completely contained and visible within the main building. Its individual vehicles hold eight riders apiece as they navigate a 90-degree, 72-foot-tall lift. The ride is nearly 1,200 feet long, features three inversions, and exceeds 43 mph.
Guests sit in 12-person multi-DOF vehicles to experience this dark ride in a jungle setting, where they encounter 70 animatronic dinosaurs. The initially tranquil safari expedition quickly turns into an action sequence as the vehicles are chased by prehistoric predators.
Lost Valley’s “Dino Carousel” swaps out traditional horses for dinosaurs on this classic family attraction, while Adventure Fortress is a climbing and play structure for children.
Cartoon Network Zone
This area dedicated to younger children features a colorful, whimsical aesthetic and a wide mix of rides and shows.
The Amazing Ride of Gumball
An interactive dark ride takes guests to Gumball’s town of Elmore, where a science experiment has gone wildly awry. Riders zap targets that have “come to life” and are threatening to take over the town.
Adventure Time—The Ride of Ooo
with Finn & Jake
Guests’ vehicles hang beneath the track of this elevated ride that tours the Cartoon Network Zone, traveling through retail and dining locations and providing aerial views of the park.
Ben 10 5D Hero Time
This theater show features motion-base seats that move in time with the film. The story follows Ben 10 as he battles nemesis Rook, and includes various special effects in the theater.
“The Powerpuff Girls—Mojo Jojo’s Robot Rampage!” is a Zamperla Air Race, while the Lazy Town Mini Land features, among other play elements, “Robbie’s Lair,” a ropes course challenging guests to climb high above the midway.
How to Cool the World’s
Largest Indoor Theme Park
With summer temperatures averaging higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Dubai is plenty hot for the middle part of the year. To keep IMG Worlds of Adventure cool, the park’s first 25 feet or so above the ground are air-conditioned. The remaining hot air is allowed to rise to the roof, where it is pumped outside.