How Dubailand Works

By: Sarah Dowdey
Person exploring vibrant capital cities of Arabia, Dubai.
Emiraties survey a model of Dubailand. See more pictures of Dubai.
Rabih Moghrabi/AFP/Getty Images

In Dubai, laser light shows flood souks and bazaars, tree-shaped islands materialize out of the gulf and people in full-length robes learn to ski. Dubai, a city of anomalies, wonders and themes -- extravagant themes -- is undergoing its greatest project yet. Developers are transforming 3 billion square feet of desert into Dubailand, a colossal complex of theme parks, malls and model cities.

Dubai Image Gallery


These are heady days for theme parks. In 2006, global theme park attendance grew 2.2 percent [Economist]. And while the saturated North American and European markets remain fairly stable, there is potential for enormous growth in other parts of the world. Dubai, which is a quick flight for a large part of the world's population, is poised to accept the traffic. Dubai has already made a name for itself in the theming business. Emiratie elite prepared for the inevitable exhaustion of their state's oil reserves by developing a booming tourism industry. Because the city-state lacks the historical presence of other great cities and has an uncomfortably hot desert climate, Dubai attracts visitors with its conspicuous excess, luxury and extravagant, all-encompassing themes.

Dubailand's developer, Tatweer, breaks the complex down into seven master themes: theme parks, culture and art, science and planetariums, sports and sports academies, well-being and health, shopping and retail, and resorts and hotels. In total, the development will span an area twice the size of Disney World and boast 45 mega-projects, each capable of being a stand-alone destination in its own right but concentrated into one swath of desert.

Dubai's biggest dreamer, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler since 2006, announced the Dubailand project on October 23, 2003. However, the project will not be complete until around 2020 -- despite the city's rapid pace of construction. After completion, Dubailand should continue to transform and expand. Because the complex combines classic theme park standards like rides and shows with living space, retail and even schools, developers expect Dubailand to take on a life of its own.

In this article, we'll learn all about Dubailand's dazzling projects.



Dubailand Theme Parks

Construction workers on the site of Dubailand
Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Theme parks around the world are being transformed into resorts. Developers are building luxury hotels, restaurants and satellite parks to entice guests to linger longer. Five star dining, 18 holes and spa services extend guests' visits and offer a respite from the frenzy of theme park crowds. The Walt Disney Company even ventured into permanent theme-living in 1994 when it created Celebration, Fla., an idealized community.

Dubailand, however, will one-up even the most elaborate destination resorts and theme towns. Nearly every major park project includes its own mini-city, complete with hotels, villas, shops, golf courses and even schools. Entertainment and spectacle are woven into every project in the form of rides, attractions and extravaganzas. Let's take a look at some of Dubailand's most intriguing undertakings.


The Dubai Snowdome will integrate ice, slopes and alpine fun into a desert climate. Tourists with an appreciation of paradoxes -- as well as residents and emiraties wanting to escape the heat -- will be able to ski, toboggan and skate without heading north. An enormous, 246-foot-high transparent dome will protect 6,000 tons of snow from soaring temperatures. The US$1 billion project will also boast an ice castle, aquariums, spa and a passel of penguins. Fantastical crystal towers and iceberg-shaped homes allow for themed living. Remarkably, the Dubai Snowdome will be the emirate's second indoor ski run. The Mall of the Emirate's Ski Dubai already dazzles children who have never seen snow with slushy ice and oversize plush characters based on Islamic symbology.

Ski Dubai
Dubai's existing indoor ski run, Ski Dubai.
Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Dubailand does not ignore its desert locale. Guests wishing to soak up sun and cool off in the pool will be able to do so at Aqua Dunya, an enormous water park inspired by the tales of Rakaan and his ship, the Desert Pearl. Three islands incorporate aspects of Rakaan's adventures, and a five-star hotel shaped like a cruise ship sits moored in a desert oasis. Themed residences and timeshares complete the aquatic fable.

For all its snow domes and water parks, Dubailand does not neglect amusement park traditionalists. The Great Dubai Wheel will be the largest observation wheel in the world when it opens in 2009. It will dwarf the London Eye and allow visitors to see vistas of about 31 miles.

In the next section, we'll learn about several other extravagant Dubailand attractions.


Dubailand Entertainment

Dubailand will feature animatronic dinosaurs
Michael Gottschalk/AFP/Getty Images

Dubai's developers have constructed a constellation of modern wonders of the world in the past decade. The city's collection already includes a gold-drenched seven-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, and sprawling man-made Palm Islands. Dubailand also features historical wonders, fairy tales and dinosaurs.

For visitors who have already seen the world or who enjoy one-stop sightseeing, Dubailand will offer the Falcon City of Wonders. The mega-complex's design features large replicas of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Taj Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower, and the Great Wall of China. True to Dubai's love of functional theming, the monuments will also double as hotels, apartments, offices and stores. In an odd juxtaposition of wonders, the Great Wall of China will encircle an enormous Pharaohs Theme Park rather than protect wealthy residents from marauding Mongolians. The entire 100-acre development will take on the shape of a falcon, its wings made of villas.


As Dubailand transforms the face of the desert with development, it also celebrates idealized Bedouin culture with the Al Sahra Desert Resort. The eco-resort includes traditional buildings, date plantations and camel farms. Tourists fresh from visiting some of the largest malls in the world can slow down their pace and stop by a working souk to buy pottery, carpets and spices. They can also catch "Jumana -- Secret of the Desert," a theatrical extravaganza complete with lasers, water effects and pyrotechnics at the entertainment complex.

Dubailand also employs an Arabian theme for the Al Sahara Kingdom and the City of Arabia. The famous tales of One Thousand and One Nights inspire the theme parks and luxury developments of Al Sahara. And while the City of Arabia also includes the requisite hotels and luxury dwellings, its star attraction will be a pack of animatronic dinosaurs. For those who prefer shopping to Jurassic wonders, the Mall of Arabia, which should become the world's biggest mall, will be located nearby. Its lots will have room for 10,400 cars.

To learn more about Dubailand and Dubai, look over the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • "$5bn Dubailand project stuns local business." AME Info.
  • Al Sahra.
  • "The biggest wheel in the world due to become reality at Dubailand." AME Info.
  • City of Arabia.
  • Dubailand.
  • "Dubailand Index." Ten Real Estate.
  • Dubai Sports City.
  • "Dubai to get first Tiger design." BBC Sport. December 3, 2006.
  • "Falcon City of Wonders." TEN Real Estate.
  • Gain, Sarah. "Showtime at Al Sahra." March 8, 2007. >
  • Manly, Lorne. "It's Not a Mirage: Dubai Is Building a Sports Oasis." The New York Times. May 9, 2006.
  • "Role up, role up." The Economist. July 5, 2007.