10 Tips For Visiting Legoland at Dubai Parks and Resorts

I love theme parks. I love roller coaster rides and funnel cake dusted with icing sugar. My last theme park adventure was almost fifteen years ago, at Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto.

Until very recently, theme parks were a rarity in Dubai. I remember going to Al Nasr Leisureland as a kid in the 80’s. It was small, and the rides were pretty basic, but for a 6-year-old in a small town it was heaven.

Dubai depends on tourists, and it is actively positioning itself as a family-friendly tourist destination. To achieve this objective, Dubai has built an enormous property called Dubai Parks and Resorts.

I heard of the opening but did not know much about it, except that there would be something called Bollywood Parks. I did not know there is a Legoland, or a waterpark, or the enormous scale of the site.

Dubai Parks and Resorts is the largest multi-themed leisure and entertainment complex in the Middle East. It consists of three separate theme parks, a water park, a themed retail and dining destination called Riverland, and much more spread over 30 million square feet. A fourth theme park, Six Flags Dubai, will be added in 2019. In other words, it is mind-boggling in size, far bigger than Canada’s Wonderland.

Legoland Dubai and Riverland opened first in October 2016, followed by Bollywood Parks, Legoland Waterpark, and Motiongate. Each theme park has different areas inside it, with restaurants, rides, games, and a host of guest services. I am convinced Dubai residents still do not have information about this incredible entertainment juggernaut. Beyond the official opening there has been little in the way of marketing.

Map of Dubai Parks and Resorts
Map courtesy Emirates 24/7
My 3-year-old niece was visiting from Singapore over the weekend and my brother was keen to take her to Legoland. They stayed at Anantara The Palm, which offered a 2-for-1 deal on tickets to Legoland and a free shuttle ride to the Parks. We decided to go on Sunday when there was a break in the rainy weather.

We arrived at 2pm and were transported from the parking lot to Legoland by tram. The park is extremely well organised, clean and beautifully landscaped, with greenery, lakes, fountains, and colourful buildings. There are plenty of bathrooms, and wheelchair and stroller access.

Legoland consists of 6 areas: Adventure, Imagination, Miniland, Kingdoms, Lego City, and Factory. Traveling with a toddler meant we could not cover everything, but we squeezed in rides, games, a meal, plenty of time on two of the many playgrounds and two visits to Miniland which displays all the region’s impressive landmarks made from lego blocks. We stayed until the park closed at 7pm.

Miniland at Legoland features landmarks of the region made of lego blocks
Lego structures at Miniland. Image courtesy The National UAE.
Besides Canada’s Wonderland, I have been to Six Flags in the U.S., Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland. From the little of Dubai Parks and Resorts that I experienced, it is definitely up there with the best theme parks in the world, if not better.

Here are some tips to help you plan a trip to Legoland with your family at Dubai Parks and Resorts:

  1. The price of a day pass at Legoland is AED 265 and does not include access to Legoland Waterpark – this can be added to your ticket for an additional cost. Dubai residents get a 30% discount and free parking if they purchase their tickets online. A complete list of ticketing options, including multi-park passes, can be found here.
  2. Annual membership is available and a better option if you plan to visit the Parks frequently.
  3. Arrive early. There is so much to do, and if you plan to go on the weekend you may need to factor in wait times for rides. If you want to avoid lines altogether, Q-Fast front-of-line access can be purchased separately.
  4. Because the park is both indoors and outdoors, I recommend going during the cooler months of the year. I cannot imagine making this trip strapped with kids and strollers in the heat!
  5. Wear closed, comfortable shoes. The area is absolutely massive with lots to see. Avoid sandals and loose, dangling jewellery – they can fly right off on faster rides.
  6. Our tram made two stops: the first at Riverland and then at Legoland. Riverland is the gateway to Dubai Parks and Resorts and has over 50 themed retail, dining, and entertainment experiences located on a waterfront. If you want to have a nice meal this is a great option. The best part: you do not need to purchase a ticket to enter Riverland.
  7. Some rides have a minimum height requirement of 95cm for children. No exceptions.
  8. Guest services include locker, stroller, and wheelchair rentals, prayer rooms, change rooms, ATM’s, Lost and Found, and a Baby Care Centre in Imagination that has bottle warmers, microwaves, and feeding chairs for nursing mothers.
  9. Dining options inside Legoland are limited and not very good or healthy, frankly. There are more and better restaurants within walking distance right outside Legoland’s entrance, and a re-entry stamp on your hand enables you to leave the park and re-enter the same day.
  10. My niece’s favourite ride was Submarine at Adventure. If you are going with small kids, this ride is a must. Bonus: no minimum height requirement.

Sadly, there is no funnel cake at Legoland. But there is something called Granny’s Apple Fries: warm granny smith apples dusted with cinnamon and sugar, served with vanilla cream dipping sauce. I didn’t get to try it, but if you do, let me know if it’s as delicious as it sounds!

Title image courtesy Gulf News 

Afshin Pirhashemi’s House of Cards: How One Iranian Artist Explores the Impact of Mainstream Media at Art Dubai 2017

Art Dubai, the region’s biggest international art fair, just wrapped up it’s 11th edition. From March 15-18, Art Dubai 2017 featured 94 galleries from 43 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, making this year’s fair the most diverse yet.

While I was unable to attend the events, I happened to walk by Afshin Pirhashemi’s House of Cards exhibit at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai International Financial Centre.

Ayyam Gallery is surrounded by a number of other galleries, but it was Pirhashemi’s massive paintings of stunning imagery that made me stop. As I walked through the courtyard I was scrolling through yet another article about hijab on my phone. All week I had been asking myself why the world is fixated on the hijab, or headscarf. As if to drive home the point, I looked up and saw a striking black and white canvas of a beautiful woman wearing a headscarf.

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To the right of this image was an even larger painting with 3 disparate elements: four women in chador pointing revolvers, the White House and a Porsche. It was absurd, so naturally I was intrigued.

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Looking around, it became obvious rather quickly that women and violence were central to House of Cards. Many paintings centered around women – some in chador and some without – and nearly all holding guns. But this was not commentary on Muslim women, or women in hijab, or Iranian women. This was a commentary on the media’s commentary of these figures.

Based in Tehran, Pirhashemi explores the impacts of mass mainstream media on society’s views of power, violence and gender subversion. He uses large scale, monumental imagery to draw parallels between the cold ugliness of war-induced crises and the scripted, premeditated reality of television and social media.

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Images of the White House made me think of American foreign policy and its effects on countries like Iran. While this is true superficially, there is a deeper, more nuanced message.

Gallery literature pointed out “Pirhashemi’s reference to the U.S. elections depicts the absurd nature of a world informed by television and celebrity culture…In contrast to this widespread dependency on mediated reality, Pirhashemi reminds viewers of what lies beyond their screens by alluding to the growing war-induced crises that are impossible to ignore.”

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Diversity was the crowning achievement at Art dubai 2017, and it would be a mistake to think of art from the Middle East as anything but that. While Pirhashmi dissected the influence of the media, politics and Donald Trump, especially Donald Trump, were not off limits for other artists. Farah Nayeri of The New York Times did an excellent summary of artists who chose to express their disapproval of Trump’s Muslim ban through their art.

Art Dubai offers a singular opportunity for artists from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia to exhibit in a large and well-funded forum. In an article for cnn.com, Fair Director Director Myrna Awad says, “I’m proud to work with an institution that has been a major catalyst in the local, regional and international conversations on art from the Middle East and beyond…it has very much contributed to putting art from these regions onto the world map.”

Far from being a short-lived spike in interest, the arts scene in Dubai grows larger every year. Furthermore, the Guggenheim and Louvre Museums are currently under construction in Abu Dhabi.

Historically, the arts – theatre, music, cimema, literature, and art – have played and continue to play a prominent role in Arabic speaking cultures. As Ayad reminds us, a push for the arts in countries like the U.A.E. and Qatar did not arrive in a vacuum; after all, Middle Eastern art has a storied past. Interest is blossoming in Dubai and Doha because they are stable and have growing economies.

Which means more opportunity to amplify the unique perspectives and stories of artists like Pirhashemi in the region. Given the demographics of the U.A.E. and the prestige of the event, a lot more people will get to see these stunning works of art.

Title image courtesy artnet.com 

In the News: Hijab, Hijab, Hijab. Why Are We Obsessed With a Head Scarf?

Model Gigi Hadid on the cover of Vogue Arabia's first issue, March 2017
Supermodel Gigi Hadid on the cover of Vogue Arabia’s inaugural issue, March 2017

In the past week, I have come across more articles on hijab, the head cover worn by some Muslim women and others, than any other news story. More than the war in Syria.

This week alone, government officials, a multinational corporation, individuals, and the European Union are using hijab to articulate a wide range of positions. A symbol of resistance and opportunity for some, a tool of oppression for others.

These are some of the stories making headlines right now:

1. Nike unveils the Pro Hijab for Muslim female athletes. Priced at USD 35 and available in 2018, the Pro Hijab is targeted at consumers in the Arabian Gulf who wield enormous purchasing power. Like many other international brands, Nike is keen to target this demographic. Possibly the biggest hijab story of the decade. 

2. The European Court of Justice delivers a landmark ruling which states the workplace ban on headscarves is legal. Amnesty International warns the ruling “panders to prejudice.”

3. A Pakistan government official wants to make hijab mandatory for female students at colleges in the province of Punjab. To sweeten the deal, extra marks will be rewarded to those who comply. The good news: the government has rejected the proposal. The bad news: this will not end attempts to control what women can and cannot wear.

4. In the age of President Trump and his Muslim ban, women are choosing to embrace hijab as form of resistance, introducing a modern-day counterpoint to a widely accepted image of hijab as oppressive.

5. Backlash to Nike’s Pro Hijab gives rise to #BoycottNike on social media. Many accuse the company of making money off the subjugation of Muslim women.

Controversy surrounding the hijab is not new. If I were to calculate how long the hijab has been an object of public scrutiny, I would need to go back many hundreds of years.

European art of the 12th century and onwards depicts inhabitants of Muslim lands as exotic, backward, violent, and sexually depraved. Artists reimagined the private spaces inhabited by Muslim women and often showed them in the nude, the ultimate “unveiling.” Jean August Dominique Ingres’s Grand Odalisque of a young Oriental chambermaid, hookah pipe in hand, is one of many such paintings of the period. Like others, he never visited the Orient.

Oriental painting of a young chambermaid in the nude
Jean Augusta Dominique Ingres, Grand Odalisque, 1814, Musee du Louvre.

It’s a long running obsession by any measure. Unbelievably, this makes he hijab the most controversial piece of cloth in history.

In comparison, hijab in the UAE is apolitical. Who wears it, how they where it, when they wear it, and why they wear it are all non-issues. No one forces you to wear it, and no one yanks it off if you do (looking at you, France). There is no religious police. Notions of modesty for Emirati society are not religious; they are deeply cultural.

I feel like a broken record. There are plenty of women who chose to wear it, and lead productive lives while doing so. What will it take for us to turn the page and move on from the hijab to a point where it simply does not matter what a woman wears?

Guns n’ Roses in Dubai: A Lifetime Later, They’re Still On Top

When the announcement came in early 2016 that original band members Axl Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan would reunite for a world tour, Guns N’ Roses fans everywhere let out a collective gasp. Could they really be playing together after more than two decades?

The bitter split of Guns N’ Roses in 1994 – due to personal differences fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse – made attempts at reunification impossible. For twenty years Rose and Slash were not on speaking terms, and Rose missed the group’s 2012 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A recluse by nature, Rose withdrew from public life soon after the band broke up while Slash went on to find commercial success with new group Velvet Revolver. For fans, it was an overwhelming sense of loss for one of the greatest bands of all time.

Rose eventually resurfaced with a new line-up of GnR. In 2010 they performed at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. I was curious, so when they returned in 2013 I quickly bought tickets. True, there was no Slash. But Rose sounded great and had put together a talented group of musicians who hammered out all the hits as well as songs from Chinese Democracy. They started on time and delivered a smooth set. No riots, tantrums or controversy, hallmarks of classic GnR.

But it did not have the mesmerising performance quality that was on full display earlier this month. On March 3, the original GnR played Dubai’s Autism Rocks Arena as part of 2017’s Not In This Lifetime world tour. The chemistry between Rose and Slash is undeniable, and while they are older, more mature and sober, there is no question we were witnessing a singular musical performance. GnR gave the giddy audience a triumphant three-hour show packed with songs from Appetite For Destruction, GNR Lies, Use Your Illusion I & II, Chinese Democracy and The Spaghetti Incident. It was hard enough to process the scene. There they were, sharing the stage and unleashing Sweet Child of Mine. LIVE. It was harder still to believe they had gotten even better. This was especially true of Slash, whose multiple guitar solos were sublime.

Dubai’s Autism Rocks Arena can hold a maximum of 21,000 people. But this was GnR, and GnR 23 years later drew a capacity-busting crowd of 30,000. Hundreds of die-hard fans flew in from Pakistan, where the band has a cult following. I was surrounded by groups of teenaged boys who weren’t even born when GnR’s first album came out. Concert organisers were overwhelmed and arrangements unravelled quickly at the end. Many were stranded after the show and walked kilometres to find a cab.

For the most anticipated reunion in rock, I had to pinch myself it was happening in Dubai. It was further evidence of just how far the city had come. This would have been unthinkable in the early 90’s when GnR were at their peak; the infrastructure simply did not exist. So thank you, Dubai, for letting so many enjoy a truly incredible moment in rock history!