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Arab spring

28 May 2021

Words: Gaynor Stanley

If our Morocco feature has you daydreaming about which kaftans you’ll be packing, here are some mighty uprisings in neighbouring Arabian destinations to work into a stopover.


The United Arab Emirates revolves around all things bigger, better, blingier so it’s no surprise to learn its newest indoor theme park made it on to Time magazine’s World’s Greatest Places 2018 within a month of opening.

Costing a cool $1 billion, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi presents all the characters and stories from DC Comics, Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera in 29 attractions across six ‘lands’. Step through the iconic Warner Bros. shield to enter a hedonistic world where Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman fight for justice, the Flinstones and Jetsons flit by and Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo come to life in awe-inspiring ways.

Wandering 15 air-conditioned hectares from ride to ride must feel a bit Truman Show-esque, yet with temperature highs that average well over 30°C and into the 40s for eight months of the year, trust me, you’re going to want to be inside.

Ultimate meets unique

You’ll find the aforementioned world’s largest cartoon strip on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island – along with another indoor themed park, Ferrari World, which boasts the world’s fastest rollercoaster Formula Rossa (240kmh at full throttle), and Yas Marina Circuit - home of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

Warner Bros. World’s October 2018 launch was heralded as another milestone in Abu Dhabi’s journey to become one of the world’s leading tourist destinations; and, don’t mind if we do, nab some visitor share from its overshadowing next door emirate, Dubai.

One of the other jewels in its casket is the Louvre Abu Dhabi (also on the Time Greatest Places list), which has welcomed more than a million visitors since opening just over a year ago. International visitors accounted for 60% of them, attracted by the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s remarkable architecture and buying clout with France’s finest institutions that see it hosting exhibitions like Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces of the Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre (until May 18). Inspired by traditional Islamic architecture, the Jean Nouvel-designed building features a monumental perforated dome of star shapes that create a ‘rain of light’ effect within the museum.

If you plan to self-drive between the emirates you can enjoy the Louvre’s Highway Gallery, the world’s first roadside gallery, spanning 100km of the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway. Let the locals pass by in their Bentleys and Maseratis as you tune in to local radio stations and listen to a curator’s presentation on each billboard-displayed work.

Anything you can do

Meanwhile the one-up-sheik-ship continues next door, where the USD1.4 billion Royal Atlantis Resort Dubai is due to open later this year along the beach from the original Atlantis - the resort which redefined tourism in Dubai when it opened on revolutionary manmade island The Palm, in 2008. Unlike its older sister, resplendent in Arabian pink and minarets, the Royal Atlantis Resort will be a contemporary design by New York firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates that stacks curvy boxes housing 231 residences and 795 guest rooms in Jenga-like prevarication above the Arabian Sea. Among the host of planned amenities is an infinity pool situated 90m above the ground, reminiscent of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands icon.

Not to be outshone, Atlantis The Palm – where a night in the Royal Bridge Suite averages $33,000 - continues to evolve its opulence meets entertainment niche. Last month it opened Wavehouse, which it claims is another first-of-its-kind for Dubai. Overlooking the resort’s Aquaventure Waterpark (famous for the Leap of Faith slide dropping riders at an 86-degree angle from the top of a replica Mayan temple through a clear acrylic tunnel to emerge in a shark-filled lagoon), Wavehouse now brings guests the rush of surfing in a beach bar meets gastropub setting, complete with artificial wave outdoor pool and indoor bowling arcade.

Heights of fancy

Elsewhere in the Gulf States, Oman also has many superlative attractions and places to stay – including one of the world’s highest luxury hotels Anantara’s al Jabal at Akhdar Resort. Crowning the fabled Green Mountain, two hours inland from Muscat, the 82 canyon view guest rooms, 33 private pool villas and modern Omani architecture elevate luxury to new heights.

Emiratis don’t shy from taking something extraordinary and trouncing it so in Saudi Arabia, the world’s first kilometre high building is due for completion in 2020. The Jeddah Tower will surpass the current tallest skyscraper, Burj Khalifa, in (no surprise here) Dubai by a heart pounding 180m. Those who thrill to new heights will be poised to make their reservation for the Four Seasons hotel or ride the elevators to the observation deck that will cling like a spaceship landing disc to the 652m point. Inspired by a bundle of leaves shooting up from the ground, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture designed Jeddah’s higest rise to emanate the growth, prosperity, and regional emergence of its homeland on the global stage. Indeed.

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