Aqua Dunya, comprising the largest and most diverse theme park resort in the Middle East and a residential community of 3,400 apartments, will rise from the middle of the UAE desert by early 2008 owner/developer Al Sharq Development recently announced.
The world’s largest cruise ship, The Desert Pearl, inspired by an Arabian Sea-faring tale, serves as the centerpiece of the theme park resort, and beckons travellers from near and far to join its imaginary voyage to exotic lands. Anchored at its own Dubailand oasis, the ship contains a climate-controlled indoor element of the theme park and an authentic 330-stateroom luxury hotel.
The eight million sq ft resort and residential community, located in the heart of Dubailand, will include the Aqua Dunya theme park, the Desert Pearl Hotel, a traditional souk and port district, a conference centre, 170 vacation apartments, and 3,400 residential apartments offered for sale. The Aqua Dunya theme park will open with more then 36 wet and dry rides and attractions, and three exotic adventure islands, offering a one-of-a-kind family entertainment experience for residents and international visitors.
An MoU has been signed with Jumeirah, the Dubai-based luxury hospitality group, to operate the Aqua Dunya theme park, the flagship hotel, the souk and port, and the vacation apartments. Jumeirah has vast experience in managing five-star luxury hotels and resorts, both in the UAE and internationally and also owns and manages the hugely successful Wild Wadi Water Park in Dubai.
Future development will include a second theme park, two more themed resort hotels, a golf course, and expansions to the Aqua Dunya theme park, Port district and vacation apartments.
With 1.3 million theme park visitors expected in its first year, and three million annually at full build-out, Aqua Dunya is expected to raise the international bar for the theme park experience, officials from Al Sharq Development said. “Aqua Dunya brings something for everyone – world-class family theme parks and resorts, vacation apartments for visitors to use as a base to explore all of Dubailand and Dubai, and unique residences in a prime developing region of the new Dubai,” said Ali Sulaiman Al Shehri, chairman of Al Sharq Development.
The Dh7 billion Aqua Dunya development marks the first UAE mega-project for Al Sharq Development, a UAE subsidiary of the Saudi-based Al Sharq group of companies. Al Sharq Development is tasked with the development of Aqua Dunya and several other high profile real estate development concepts.
“Aqua Dunya will set new standards for international family entertainment in the Middle East by using the art of Arabic story telling to transport our guests on a fantastic fantasy adventure,” said Steven Tight, CEO for Aqua Dunya. Tight, who joined Al Sharq Development in January 2005, brings his 17 years of international theme park development experience with the Walt Disney Company to the Aqua Dunya project.
“We welcome our brothers from Saudi Arabia to Dubailand,” said Salem bin Dasmal, chief executive officer of the region’s – if not the world’s – largest entertainment, tourism, lifestyle and leisure destination. We, at Dubailand, are not new to unique projects – after all that is what Dubailand is all about. However, after reviewing details of Aqua Dunya, we are truly impressed by the scale of vision and ambition of the water themed resort. I am sure that Aqua Dunya will add to the appeal of Dubailand.”
Based on the imaginary tale of a young Bedouin boy, and his fascination for the sea, the Aqua Dunya resort is a record of his adventures around the world. The historical tale explains how the young man, enthralled by the oceangoing vessels in the nearby port, stowed away on a tea schooner heading east only to return years later with treasures and tales from around the world.
Transformed by his experiences and resolute in his determination to share them with his family, the young sailor decided to build a spectacular steam and sailing vessel in his oasis town and launch it via a purpose-built canal to the sea. The Desert Pearl, one of the grandest ships of its time, traveled the world for several years before returning to anchor in the oasis where it was covered by the desert’s shifting sands, until the Aqua Dunya team discovered it deep within the UAE desert.
Restored to its former glory, the modern day Desert Pearl is 407 m long and 95 m from water line to top of its eight masts, and is the focal point of the Aqua Dunya theme park.
The hotel within the ship has authentic turn of the century design and interiors which will transport visitors and guests to the golden days of transatlantic cruising. The nautical discovery theme will be relived every evening, as the ship makes preparations to embark on a new voyage, its engines, smokestacks, and foghorn coming to life as fireworks light up the night sky.
Gerald Lawless, CEO of Jumeirah, commented: “We are very pleased to have been selected to manage this diverse theme park resort that will be the first of its kind in the region. Jumeirah is looking forward to building on the success of Wild Wadi Water Park to ensure that the theme park is a unique and enthralling experience for every visitor. The management of this project is in keeping with our expansion plans in the region and internationally and we are proud to add this property to our existing portfolio.”
The Aqua Dunya project is one of the 19 confirmed projects for Dubailand, and it is among one of the first ten projects that will coincide with Dubailand’s Phase 1 Grand Opening in early 2008. Construction on Aqua Dunya, a project equivalent in size to 150 football fields, will begin in January 2006.
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