What to expect from the New Dubai theme parks when visiting with kids
It might come as a great surprise how many world-class theme parks you will find in Dubai and the UAE.
Currently, there are three in line for “best in class” for families living in and visiting Dubai – but there are plenty more due to open over the next few years to keep an eye out for.
You could easily do a “theme park only” short break in Dubai and not leave disappointed (but do take the time to stop and see the amazing beaches and the desert as well!)
Understandably, if you are completely new to the Dubai theme park scene there’s a lot to learn! Not all the theme parks have instantly recognisable names (ie, there’s no Disney!), and they are not in the easiest to access locations, but they are packed full of kids favourite characters, shows and thrilling rides.
Helping you sort out where your Dubai theme park time and money is best spent, this post gives a detailed review of the largest ones:
First, we’ll look at the Dubai Parks & Resorts complex, situated in Jebel Ali, 50kms west of Dubai Downtown (and only 1 hours drive from Abu Dhabi). The site currently houses 3 theme parks, a waterpark, resort and entertainment district, Riverland.
The main family theme parks here for families are Legoland Dubai and Motiongate Dubai. There is also a Bollywood Park at Dubai Parks & Resorts. In my opinion, it’s not quite in the same league as the other parks but may interest those who like dance, entertainment and shows more than thrilling rides.
Next, we will look in detail at IMG Worlds of Adventure – the world’s largest entirely indoor theme park before giving our verdict on which park you are best spending your precious holiday time at!
Our review is NOT on Dubai water parks – you can pop over to this post if you’d like to learn more about water parks, splash parks and generally cooling off in the water in the UAE.
This post is part of our series Discover the UAE – your family-friendly guide to the United Arab Emirates
So without further ado……..
Best Dubai Theme Parks – Legoland Dubai
A park made especially for the junior audience! The target market here is your Lego-loving 2 to 12-year-olds who are ready for some moderate thrills.
Joining the Legoland family of worldwide theme parks the indoor Miniland is the centrepiece and most unique part of Legoland Dubai. Housed in a huge dome, you will see a full-size replica of Dubai city, as well as many famous Middle East landmarks from Petra to Abraj al-Bait Towers in Saudi and Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque.
The park is then split into 4 ‘lands’ – City, Kingdoms, Imagination & Adventure. Each has rides from sedate through to somewhat thrilling as well as character meet opportunities.
There’s a live Ninjago stage show as well as 4D cinema. Throughout the park, there are plenty of opportunities to build, eateries and retail shops. Most of the rides are outdoors, while the shows and building areas are air-conditioned inside.
Do note, from the car park you need to catch a shuttle to Riverland, and from here with kids, it can be a further 5-10 minute walk to the park entrance; you’ll want to bring strollers for little legs!
Is Legoland Dubai suitable for toddlers?
I’d love to say yes… but sadly this has been one of our biggest letdowns for a place that claims to be aimed exclusively at 2 to 12-year-olds.
Legoland Dubai opened when our youngest boy was 2 and even with all his excitement, I’m afraid he often ends up bored. Not because there aren’t fun things for him to do spotted around; but when visiting with older siblings, I really struggle to keep a mixed group entertained throughout the park.
He has JUST reached over 95cm which opens up several more rides for him, but options are limited for your shorter kids. In the Kingdoms section particularly where our older kids enjoy the rides most, there’s nothing for those under 1.05m to do.
The older kids then find Duplo Valley too babyish so we end up with a split group and one of us having to do rides twice with each older child as they are then too short to ride alone!
There are just two rides with an 80cm restriction which fits most toddlers – Duplo Valley Express (pictured) and Submarine Adventure. At 90cm they can join in Lost Kingdom Adventure (a shooting game) – we do like that this ride allows little ones to sit in with 2 others even if they’re not playing. 95cm is a big breakthrough point, opening up these options:
- Junior driving school (City)
- City Airport (City)
- Rescue Academy (City)
The next big jump up is 1.05m where they can start to enjoy:
- Lego Technic Twister (Imagination)
- Dragon’s Apprentice (Kingdoms)
- Merlin’s Challenge (Kingdoms)
- Merlin’s Flying Machines (Kingdoms)
- Wave Racers (Adventure)
- Beetle Bounce (Adventure)
We completely get that height rules are all about safety but all up, there needs to be a little more flex or options for families with more than one child and age group. Clearly, another thing to add to my travel challenges for the family of 5…..
One thing Legoland does do well though is things like family bathrooms (yes large enough for a stroller to come in with you, male and female). They also have a dedicated mothers lounge sponsored by Mumzworld where you can feed your baby in private. The room includes a full kitchenette for warming bottles and baby food as well as a play area to keep your little ones entertained while you feed baby. This feature alone is a real winner for young families.
Will older kids still enjoy Legoland Dubai?
Now, this is a tricky one! Young and young at heart right? No one likes to admit when they are ‘over’ something, but I can assure you I know plenty of adults that just adore Legoland Dubai.
Sure, your tweens might think it’s just not quite cool enough and I’ll be honest, there are more thrilling rides elsewhere (keep reading below to our next two contenders!). Will they be bored though? I suspect their inner-child will think not! With peer pressure though, you’ll have a hard time getting your 10 to 15-year-olds to admit they actually really love it.
Can you visit Legoland Dubai & Legoland Waterpark on the same day?
A 2-park-pass is a great idea in the heat. During the cooler months, if you only have one day you could easily spend 6-8 hours at Legoland alone if you were to try all the experiences. In summer and the warmer months, however, you would benefit a lot from combining the two.
Note the Waterpark will close for a couple of weeks every Jan/Feb for annual maintenance during the coldest part of the year – check with the park in advance exact dates.
Can you visit Legoland Dubai in the Summer?
All of Dubai’s theme parks remain open 365 days a year despite the desert weather. Of all the ones we are reviewing, Legoland has the most outdoor areas.
They are well shaded but nonetheless, don’t be mistaken, daytime temperatures in Dubai are extreme and being outside when it’s over 45c is just darn right unpleasant. With kids… I can see the face you’re pulling!!
But let’s be honest, if visiting Dubai in summer and your little ones just don’t want to miss the Legoland experience, would I still say do it? Yes! It’s manageable. You won’t get to fully experience everything though so consider this before purchasing a full-priced ticket anywhere from June to September.
In 2017, the first full year of operation different Ramadan hours applied, this occurred again in 2018 & 2019. I’d strongly recommend if visiting in the summer, you combine a ticket with Legoland Waterpark to make the day bearable.
The two are immediately adjacent and you can combine the shaded and indoor parts of Legoland with the refreshing chill of the Waterpark afterwards.
What are the queues like at Legoland Dubai?
If you visit early in the day (normal opening time is 10am) you shouldn’t find yourself needing to queue for anything. Weekdays there are no crowds whatsoever unless it’s a local school holiday.
On weekends (remember that’s a Friday/Saturday in the UAE) and public holidays you can expect some queues on the popular rides by early afternoon. Only visit on these days in the winter if you have no other choice!
What does Legoland Dubai cost?
Since opening, I get the sense that crowd numbers have not been as expected. This is absolutely no reflection of the quality of the theme park, but perhaps lack of awareness of the park’s existence by overseas visitors.
The whole Dubai Parks & Resorts complex is also quite far away from other popular touristy parts of Dubai (albeit this will change with time and taxies do not cost too much). This has all resulted in amazingly cheap entry comparative to theme parks in other countries, particularly if you are a UAE resident and plan to visit more than once.
Annual Passes to Legoland Dubai
Annual passes now sell for only 275AED (USD$75) for Legoland only, 430AED (USD$117) for Legoland Dubai + water park or 525AED (USD$143) for an all Dubai Parks Pass. (Correct at June 2018)
Legoland Dubai residents rate
On presentation of a valid Emirates ID card, GCC residents can now get day tickets at 165AED. (Correct at June 2018)
Legoland Dubai visitors rates
For overseas visitors, fear not, you’ve not been forgotten! Entry for one day is 235AED (USD$64) you can advance purchase through our favourite international ticketing providers Get Your Guide (affiliate).
Or look to get a 2-park pass that can be used to add Legoland Waterpark or Motiongate Dubai to your Legoland ticket. Note there is no concessional rate for kids, all tickets are the same price for patrons over 3-years old.
So what exactly is it? Ok, already on the back foot with overseas visitors who don’t recognise the name. It’s a new UAE concept park, based on favourite Hollywood movies and characters. But don’t be mistaken, this is as good as any US movie-based theme park, in fact, I’d argue one of my worldwide favourites!!
There are 4 main sections to Motiongate:
- Columbia Pictures – a real mixed bag of movie favourites including Ghostbusters, the Green Hornet, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Hotel Transylvania.
- The Smurfs Village – as you’d expect, all things Smurfie
- Lionsgate – more thrilling rides and simulator based on Hunger Games and other action thriller movies
- Dreamworks – indoor theme park set around favourite characters from Shrek, Dragons, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda.
Although we’ve never purposefully studied the showtimes, we’ve always managed to catch some sort of live show and character meet and greets around the park every time. The rides here really vary from slow and easy, movie adventure stories (Shrek, Hotel Transylvania, Smurfs Studio Tour) through to rollercoasters, rapid rivers and 4D simulators. There’s quite a bit of variety depending on your desired thrill level!
Now on to some of the questions we have received about Motiongate!
Is Motiongate suitable for toddlers?
There’s a surprisingly good mix or rides that younger children can enjoy here. I’d venture to say even more so than Legoland! Under 1m children can enjoy:
- Hotel Transylvania – ride through the hotel set (90cm)
- Ghost Busters Battle for New York – shooting game (92cm)
- Mr Pings Noodle Fling – spinning cups (90cm)
- Melman go-round – merry go round (95cm)
- Shrek’s Merry Fairy Tale – interactive story ride (92cm)
- Smurfs Studio Tour – behind the scenes ride (90cm)
There are several play and climbing spaces for kids, the largest being the Woodland Play Park. Indoors, there’s Flint’s Imagination Lab, Smurfberry Factory and in Dreamworks Dragons, you’ll find Camp Viking (though prepare for them getting wet!).
There will, of course, be a bit of waiting around for them if they have older siblings but there seems to be a good balance of rides for different age groups in each section except Lionsgate.
Are there long ride queues at Motiongate?
It has taken some time for crowds to grow at Motiongate but yes, on weekends (Friday/Saturday) and holidays you will definitely find yourself needing to queue for the popular rides. These have been well over 1 hour on the busiest days.
I do think queue management is something they could do better here. Signage as to how long you will need to queue has been inaccurate (they don’t seem to use queue markers as we’ve seen used at Disney).
At some rides, they are not manning the entrance properly with the height checker meaning lengthy arguments over height and ride suitability are taking place as you board the ride further holding up queues. It seems many here in the UAE do like a good argument over these things…..
Is it worth getting a Q-Fast?
If you have no choice but to visit during the busy winter holidays or weekends, yes, you will benefit from a Q-Fast, but still, expect to queue! Some people mistake these for meaning no queue at all but it just means you skip to the shorter queue. You can upgrade to a Q-Fast at customer service on the day if you want to test how busy things are.
Are there single rider options at Motiongate?
Sadly no, this concept is sorely needed here. For the unfamiliar, the single rider concept is that if you don’t want to do a ride in a group, the spare seats in a row/ride are filled by people from the single rider queue. It usually results in a much quicker queue and stops the frustration of rides being sent around half empty. Can you pretty please look into this Motiongate?
Is Motiongate open in the summer?
Yes, its open 365 days a year. Getting between the 4 different parts can be hard going in the heat but many – in fact most – of the rides themselves are indoors so your queue at least is in airconditioning. The whole of Dreamworks is indoors and airconditioned. The good thing is Motiongate is open until late in the evening. If visiting in the summer I would suggest wait for the sun to go down to miss the worst of the heat. Evenings are still very sweaty, but we have certainly done it and survived – with no queues for anything!!!
What does Motiongate Dubai Cost?
Same as with Legoland Dubai, Residents can enjoy discounted one-day tickets at 165AED, or invest in an annual pass for 275AED (USD$75). The all-parks Annual pass is 525AED (USD$143). For visitors, the gate price of one-day tickets is 235AED You can advance purchase tickets here (affiliate)
Better yet, buy a combined 2 Parks Pass and enjoy either Legoland, Legoland Water Park or Bollywood Park on the same day. Motiongate opens at 11am and stays open until late so its a great combo for the Lego parks that close early.
The parks take about 10 minutes to walk between but enjoy the stroll through Riverland, there’s always street entertainment and special events going on.
IMG Worlds of Adventure
Our final contender for Dubai’s best theme park is a real mixed bag. Again, a difficult sell to overseas visitors as it doesn’t have an instantly recognisable international name. When I start saying Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network, Dinosaurs – you get the gist of what to expect…!
Basically – the world’s largest indoor theme park! At 1.5million square feet, there’s a lot going on here. It’s the best spot to come if you are a bit of a thrill seeker – and tall enough! The four main zones to explore are:
- Marvel – rides based on the Hulk, Avengers, Spiderman and Thor
- Lost Valley – Dinosaur based rides and adventures
- Cartoon Network – a live show plus Ben 10 and Powder Puff girl rides
- IMG Boulevard – retail and dining zone, also includes the very popular “Haunted House” (for 15 years+ only!)
All up there are 17 rides as well as shows and kids play areas. The park is based in an outer area of Dubai on the E311, near to Global Village and Arabian Ranches.
There is a hotel shuttle service, but be warned it makes a lot of stops. You may be best paying for a taxi to take you door to door. For a detailed guide on what to expect inside IMG Worlds of Adventure, see this post by Exploring Kiwis.
Is IMG Worlds of Adventure suitable for toddlers?
There are parts that are suitable, but all up, this is not the best theme park for the younger ones. They only charge children for entry once they are 1.05m as there are very few rides they can enjoy.
There are play areas in LazyTown Robbie’s Liar, the Dinosaur Adventure Zone and the Adventure Fortress. Smaller kids can also enjoy the CN Live Stage Show, but that’s about it.
Unless you’ve got an adult just to stay and play with the little one all day in the play areas they will get very bored tagging along watching older kids enjoy their rides!
The fun starts at 1.05m where you can buy a junior entry ticket (still a lot to pay when there are few rides they can do!). Kids will enjoy IMG Wolds of Adventure more once they are over 1.2m, and almost unrestricted above 1.3m.
Are there long queues at IMG Worlds of Adventure?
Weekends (Friday/Saturday) and public holidays you will need to be patient. Arrive early and go straight to your favourites to avoid any queuing. Weekdays are normally no problem except during school holidays. If visiting on a weekend we’d recommend you upgrade to include an Ultimate Fast Pass to get the most out of your day.
Can you do a “family rider swap” at IMG Worlds of Adventure?
Yes! We’re pleased to report that if you are in a situation where you have a little one with you that’s too short for the ride, your group can line up together and parents are able to switch rider after their turn without needing to line up again.
Can you visit IMG Worlds of Adventure in the summer?
Absolutely. This is an indoor theme park so it’s your best bet for beating the summer heat.
What does IMG stand for?
Good question! It is named after its owners and operators in the UAE Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari (IMG) Group.
What does IMG Worlds of Adventure Cost?
A day pass is 260AED (USD$70)- you can advance book a discounted ticket through Get Your Guide (affiliate). Annual passes can be purchased for 383AED (USD$105) Children under 1.05m do not need to pay. Under 1.2m you can get discounted junior tickets. There are also seniors and disabled concessions.
Accommodation near Dubai’s Theme Parks
Dubai Parks and Resorts includes Lapita Resort – conveniently located next to Riverland and pretty equal walking distance to all the parks. You can get inclusive ticket and hotel packages, and from our first impressions of the hotel, it’s pretty darn nice! Granted, if you weren’t going to the theme parks though I’m not sure I’d recommend it for a longer stay in Dubai, you’re staying here purely for the theme park convenience.
Want to stay at another Dubai Resort? Check out our favourite beach resort and desert resort picks. IMG Worlds of Adventure is in quite an isolated part of Dubai as far as accommodation goes. You are just as well off staying in popular areas such as Downtown or Jumeirah Beach and getting a taxi or the shuttle bus.
Other UAE Theme Parks not included in this review
As we mentioned at the outset, we have only included the biggest new theme parks in Dubai and excluded the water parks (You can see our water parks comparison here).
We have also excluded at this point Ferrari World and the new Warner Bros World both on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. Yas Island is about 40 minutes drive further west of Dubai Parks and Resorts, or about 1 hour 10 minutes without traffic from Downtown Dubai (Dubai Mall).
They are really very easy to access from Dubai – check out our review over here on our Dubai website how to get between Dubai and the Yas Island theme parks.
Are there better places to take your toddler in Dubai?
Frankly, yes! We only take our toddler to the Dubai theme parks because we are going with older siblings. Sure, there are elements toddlers can join in at each of the theme parks, but let’s be honest, they are not ideally designed for this age group.
If you are visiting Dubai with an under 4 only (ie no older siblings to keep happy too!) there are better themed entertainment options than the big parks.
OliOli experiential play museum and Woohoo! are two much better hands-on options for toddlers in Dubai. And there are dozens of choices of soft play centres across the city!!
Some of the bigger chains include Caboodle, Fabyland, KidsHQ. We share a bumper toddler guide to Dubai here on our Middle East website.
Alternatively, check out this guide to Dubai’s best indoor destinations.
Our Verdict – is there a “best” theme park in Dubai for families?
I honestly believe it is too subjective to call out a ‘best’. It really depends on too many factors, your kid’s ages, thrill tolerance, the weather, favourite characters, mood your child wakes up in….
The Globetrotters all claim Legoland to be their favourite place in the world, though as a family, I actually think it’s Motiongate we all get the most enjoyment at.
Our gang are all simply too little to fully benefit from IMG Worlds of Adventure yet. If you only have a day or weekend in Dubai – I’d take on the double park pass and see both Legoland and Motiongate at Dubai Parks and Resorts.
If your group is more tweens & teens, IMG Worlds of Adventure will probably be more thrilling.
So what do you think, have we got it right? What’s your experience with Dubai’s theme parks? Tell us in the comments below, who did you visit with and what was your favourite park and why? Do they live up to overseas standards?
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Disclosures: Prices are correct at the time of original publishing in February 2018. We have visited these theme parks as paying customers and on media passes, all opinions are our own. This page is in no way sponsored by any of the attractions mentioned but there are affiliate links in this post that may earn us a small commission if you purchase anything from them. IMG Worlds of Adventure images supplied, all other images remain copyright to Our Globetrotters. Our full disclosure policy can be found here.