Abu Dhabi has a mystical sound to it’s name. Like “Zanzibar” or “Singapore”, there’s something exotic about it and one can’t help but feel like James Bond while recounting their adventures in this part of the world. In spite of its cool moniker, this emirate has always played second fiddle to one of the world’s most popular destinations, Dubai. However, Abu Dhabi hasn’t been just sitting around on its laurels while it’s northern neighbor built the tallest building in the world and put a ski resort in a mall.
It’s been silently putting together world class things to do to you to inspire you make the hour drive south. This year it rolls out brand new attractions with more to come in the near future. With its great line-up, AD is waiting for you as soon as you’ve tired of Atlantis and penguins. Scratch that. Does anyone ever get tired of penguins?
Warner Brothers World– it’s not Disney, but let’s not kid ourselves… Mickey would be burnt toast in the summer in this part of the world. The folks at Warner Brothers built an innovative indoor theme park with rides, shops, amazing props and fantastic restaurants all in the comfort of glorious AC. Each universe in the park has its own photo-worthy building facades and oversized props. Gotham City and Metropolis will have any super hero fan salivating even if they thought they’d seen enough Batman. The Scooby Doo haunted house might be a little kiddish for older guests , but it’s still a fun ride full of Kodak moments. The Flinstones and cartoon area are marvelous. Shooting Acme products in a 3D cartoon ride is sheer brilliance. The most impressive use of technology in the park is the main entrance area (Think Main Street USA) that becomes a multimedia experience with movie clips, color changing skies and sensory overload several times a day. There’s nothing that inspires brand loyalty like seeing eclectic scenes of your favorite movies displayed this way and being reminded that Warner Brothers has been there for you since you were in diapers.
There’s also a Joker/villain stage show that’s full of family-rated comedy that you won’t want to miss plus a superhero 3D ride that nearly rivals Universal’s Spiderman attraction. The park just opened in Summer 2018 but it’s already rocking Abu Dhabi. I loved it! Go during the week to avoid the crowds.
The Louvre– didn’t think our desert friends had any European culture? Think again. The Louvre opened this year as a bridge of east-meets-west and is full of art treasures, archaeological finds and has an amazing spacious building to hold everything. There’s Monet, Van Gogh, Magritte, Picasso and even American artists like Gilbert Stuart. Some of the art is on loan and changes throughout the year. I was shocked to see Whistler’s Mother (one of the most recognized paintings in the world) displayed casually on a wall after trying unsuccessfully to see it at the Parisian Orsay museum and the Chicago Art Institute. The giant Gaudi-esque roof covers the entire complex and the futuristic auditorium. Water inlet canals from the sea are integrated in the design and the sunset views looking out at the cityscape are as inspiring as the art housed within its walls. There’s other art galleries in the area including a spacious local artist showcase and a Museum of Modern Art that’s being completed early next year.
Ferrari World– many of us will never own a Ferrari, but that mild hindrance hasn’t stopped the Italian company from making us want one with their Ferrari branded theme park. This mostly indoor park gives us a historical tour of this record shattering sports car and fun rides to help us economically challenged folks have a fleeting sense of Ferrari ownership. There’s a hang-gliding attraction that has us following a vintage Ferrari through beautifully scenic roads of Italy, but the piece de resistance is the Rosso- rollercoaster ride. This isn’t your grandma’s rollercoaster. It’s the fastest one in the world. How fast is fast? 240kms/hr. You can’t take pictures because you’ll drop your camera. I scoffed at the mandatory goggles the attendant made me wear. Yeah. Guess what? You need goggles. It’s a moment of pure rocket launching adrenaline. The one ride is worth the price of admission in my book. It’s very close to WB World and it’s theoretically possible to do both in a day if you’re a theme park junkie that doesn’t eat or shop.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque– now wait a minute… there’s a mosque on this list? Before you go all Jihad on me, listen up. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the most beautiful in the world and shouldn’t be missed. You’ll have to take your shoes off before you enter, but you can’t help but be impressed with this shrine’s unique architecture and desert inspired beauty. It’s a great cultural bridge for understanding our eastern brethren a little better and who knows? You might even learn something. In our world where the media gives us the false impression that eastern and western cultures can’t get along, the UAE shatters these myths.
Last Exit– technically this gem of a place is on the edge of Dubai and is supposed to be the last chance at “civilization” before you drive through no-man’s land to the fringes of AD. The creators of this place took inspiration from Mad Max, mixed it with Burning Man and created the most unique food truck attraction in the world. Apocalyptic vehicles with machine guns, Russian trucks with tires taller than a person and insane props and signs from a parallel universe make up this roadside attraction/restaurant. It’s a photographer’s dream as well as a place to grab a venti Frappuccino from the weirdest Starbucks you’ve ever seen, or a gyro, pizza or whatever. Pick your drive-through and keep going, or park and eat your lunch at the Last Exit quirky dining hall. The restroom is beyond wacky and you need to go even if you don’t need to go.
Besides this amazing lineup, Abu Dhabi boasts great malls, the Palace Hotel and Seaworld has been announced for 2020. If you have a choice, visit in the winter when the weather is at it’s nicest.