Before we begin, I need to put this into perspective for you. The Ferrari World Theme Park (FW), located on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, was named the Middle East’s leading tourist attraction at the 2015 World Travel Awards. If you are anything like me, that means absolutely nothing to you. Instead, what may peak your interest is the fact that FW takes up 86 000 m2 of space. That translates to just under 8,6 rugby fields worth of adrenaline-rush-inducing activities, including the world’s fastest rollercoaster.
The theme park
The engineers that brought you the 812 Superfast (the uncreatively named successor to the F12berlinetta as the world’s fastest Ferrari) came together to push the boundaries of the laws of physics – as applied to theme parks. The rides are split into 4 categories: for little champions, live shows, family fun and fast fun.
For little champions
Children are well entertained for hours with multiple age and size appropriate activities. The mini-me ticket allows them to enjoy activities such as climbing walls, a play area, boat rides, a waterless carwash and a Ferrari driving school.
The variety of live shows is an entertaining and fairly motionless experience. Plays, special events, and live performances are scheduled throughout the day. One show you can miss is the Fast Lane live game show. Reason being, despite winning I felt short-changed as there was only one question.
These rides are designed for family bonding moments. You can change tyres, explore dreamscapes in 4D, navigate remote controlled aqua-vehicles, twist in tyres, race in F1 simulators and play arcade games together. One can also experience the sights, sounds, and scents of Italy by gently soaring on the Viaggio in Italia ride.
I have an irrational fear of falling. I am also an adrenaline junkie with a particular craving for speed. As a result, I am involved in a love-hate relationship with roller coasters. If you have ever driven a performance vehicle and felt the power of G-force as you switched between gears, you should have a vague understanding of the sheer exhilaration of the rides described below.
Formula Rossa – the fastest ‘coaster in the world
We had just had breakfast and the first thing we did at FW was to get onto this 240km/h roller coaster. Insert cliché phrase justifying why this was a good idea, here. To the best of my recollection, the whole ride took less than a minute. In reality, we waited about 15 minutes to travel 2,07km in a mere 90 seconds. Going from 0-100km in 2 seconds and reaching 240km in 4 seconds, the Formula Rossa deserves the wide-eyed look of shock that each rider disembarks wearing.
The driving experience
The Formula Rossa was our first activity at FW simply because my ability to drive on the left of any road means nothing in a country that was not colonized by the British. After a few minutes of arguing for why I should be trusted enough to operate a California T (with adult supervision of course), I conceded defeat as endangering the lives of others is a little rude… Even if it is in a Ferrari. At this point I could hear my dad reproach, “I told you to get your international driver’s license.”
That did not deter my pursuit of fast paced enjoyment. I convinced myself that being a passenger would be just as fun. I have never driven a Ferrari but when I do, you will receive an accurate comparison between driving one and being driven in one. What I can tell you is, the latter was worth every cent of my hard earned money. If you do not have an applicable drivers’ license or AED895 (or AED695 if you do not want to capture the experience in 360° video footage) then you can opt for the passenger package. For AED595 (or AED395 if capturing memories is not your thing) you can spend 20 minutes riding in the front seat of a Ferrari California T. What’s more, you can add a passenger for an extra AED120, then split the total cost between you. At the time of writing, it would cost you 3.94 South African Rand to purchase one United Arab Emirate Dirham.
That afternoon, my best friend and I jumped into a quintessentially red Ferrari California T operated by one sight-soothing Marco, an Italian professional racer, of course. We gave Marco one simple directive: go fast. For the sake of continuity of our friendship, we took turns riding in the front seat. With every rev, we squealed in delight as the sun glistened off of our golden-honey-coloured skin and the wind caressed the stress from our temples.
Fiorano GT Challenge
This is a drag racing roller coaster where two cars race alongside each other on similar tracks. Thus, the proper thing to do is to enjoy the ride twice, once on each side. It is neither the fastest nor the highest ride but it will get you to throw your hands up in the air as you enjoy the G force from the swift stop-start motions.
This baby is where you will find the tallest loop in all the lands. Its creators avouch that they wanted riders to “feel what it’s like to be a daredevil pilot.” The WWII inspired passage to the ride does nothing in the way of calming one’s nerves. However, as fortune favours the brave, you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of Yas Island should you keep your eyes open for the duration of the ride. We did this one twice.
Turbo track – the test driver experience
If, like me, you have ever thought that you have what it takes to be the Stig then give the Turbo track a try. It shoots you up to the highest point on Yas Island then allows you to free-fall back to the earth. Everyone should try it at least once; but only once.
Random pit stops
There are a variety of typical arcade-style games; all of which are Ferrari themed. You can shoot some hoops, shoot at heavy objects, steer objects across a finish line or chuck things for a prize. I have dubbed these activities pit stops as they are strategically placed around the venue for you to catch your breath (and gather your wits) while still taking part in something fun.
Shopping is never a dull experience in the United Arab Emirates and as expected souvenirs, paraphernalia and branded apparel are a plenty in the Ferrari stores. If for some strange reason, you have come to FW in search of a fine dining experience, you will be bitterly disappointed. The food is just about the only thing at FW that is not award winning; however, it is good enough to consume and satiate any patron.
- The park opens at 11 am. Arrive at 10:30 am. You will need all of the time you can get.
- Should you have ambitions of driving a Ferrari, bring along your driver’s license. Note that only international driver’s licenses and licenses from countries that drive on the right are permitted.
- If you are plagued with motion sickness yet you delight in motion sickness inducing rides, take a nausea pill in the morning, after food, or as directed by your physician.
- Bring a power bank or two. There are plug points around the theme park but that chains you to the outlet when instead you could be hurling through the air at 240km/h.
- Wear closed shoes or they will force you to ride barefoot. I wore flip-flops…
- Ladies, you will not look cute all day long unless you abstain from fun. Bring a hairbrush and a hair tie. You will need them.
- If you have a fear of falling, sit on the side of the Turbo track where you will fall backward rather than forward.
- It is customary, dare I say necessary, to clap for the riders who have just completed the ride before you. When you are done, you will want someone to clap for you too.
- While burning rubber in the streets of Yas Island, you can turn your driving experience into a high-speed party by playing music from your phone. Memories are always better with soundtracks.
- AED275 gets an adult into FW and it will cost AED230 for anyone under 1.3m. This does not include extras such as food, paid rides and photos. Thus, it would be worth your while to look for FW package deals with hotels on bookings.com or search for cheaper tickets on groupon.ae.
- It costs about AED80 for a picture of yourself on the ride. Bring along enough legal tender or forget about the pictures.
- Visit during off-peak season to avoid long queues and crowds.
- Bring a friend. This is one experience you will want to share.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is not amoung the items on the list-of-things-to-do-on-a-tight-budget-in-the-UAE. Despite that, it is a fine source of thrills, excitement and memorable experiences.