Bluewaters Island Project Brings World’s Largest Ferris Wheel To Dubai

Bluewaters Island

The last time we talked about the “world’s largest Ferris wheel,” it was in reference to New York’s proposal to build the tallest wheel along the waterfront in Staten Island. At 625 feet tall, the New York Wheel promises to carry 1,400 passengers at a time, be taller than the High Roller wheel planned for the Las Vegas strip and 84 feet taller the Singapore flyer. Now, Dubai has thrown its hat in the ring with a wheel even bigger and taller.

At a planned height of just over 688 feet, the Dubai Eye will be the tallest in the world and part of the $1.5 billion Bluewaters Island entertainment project.

To be built in stages starting this April, the Bluewaters development will include a variety of venues to be built over the next two years. Boasting panoramic views of Dubai’s coastline, the man-made island will also include retail, residential and entertainment zones in a continuing effort by the emirate to promote Dubai tourism.

%Gallery-179029%
”The Dubai Eye will serve as yet another iconic structure and will distinctively dominate the Dubai skyline,” said Abdullah Al Habbai, Chairman of Dubai’s Meraas Holding, a Dubai-based development company in a statement. “We are confident ‘Bluewaters’ will develop into a key attraction for the UAE, further enhancing Dubai’s status as the preferred global entertainment and retail hub.”

Bluewaters will feature an open-air marketplace circled by dining venues, connected to the mainland by a Disney-like monorail system. Where did the name “Blue Waters” come from? Check this quick video to see:


[Photo Credit – Dubai Media Office]

A Family Night Out In Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
After a long road trip around Iraq, I find myself back in Baghdad. It’s our last night together as a group. For our final dinner we decide to eat a famous Baghdadi recipe at a famous landmark –mazgouf fish at Abu Nuwas Park.

Abu Nuwas park runs for one-and-a-half miles along the east bank of the Tigris in central Baghdad. It’s named after an early medieval poet who was half Arab and half Persian, and wrote poems in both languages. His poetry celebrated wine and sex and made fun of the Arab nostalgia for Bedouin life. This ensured trouble during his lifetime and fame after his death.

In keeping with the Abu Nuwas’ liberal tradition, the park that bears his name is a neutral ground for the city’s warring factions. Everyone comes here to relax, not fight. Of course there’s still the usual cordon of armed guards. Trust is in short supply in this country.

Once inside, though, it doesn’t feel like Baghdad at all. Families have picnics on blankets spread under trees. Kids do cartwheels on the grass. The Tigris glitters with reflected streetlights. A fountain at the edge of the riverbank shoots up water as colored lamps make the jets pulse red and purple. Music mixes with the calls of vendors selling nuts, candy, and Spongebob Squarepants balloons.

We’ve come to dine at one of the city’s most popular restaurants, Mazgouf, named after a large fish found in the Tigris that’s considered a delicacy. The fish is cut in half down its length and stuck on spike next to an open wood fire to slowly cook. When it’s done, it’s pulled off the spike and put on a plate. The scales and eyes on the outside are still preserved, making a sort of bowl from which to scoop out the goopy and incredibly rich insides. The restaurant at Abu Nuwas Park is said to be one of the best.

We find the restaurant and sit outside. As usual, the people at the next table come over and welcome us to Iraq. Mazgouf is made to order so there’s a long wait before we get our meal. Once it comes, everyone digs in with relish. I’m no expert on mazgouf but it’s the second-best meal I’ve had this entire trip. It’s so rich and heavy I can only finish half of it, although I’d love to eat the whole thing. The mood at the table is celebratory. We’ve made it through Iraq unscathed. Everyone is thinking of home but disappointed to be leaving.

While everyone else is leaving tomorrow morning and the guards will go off to other duties, my flight isn’t until the following morning, which means I get a whole day to myself in Baghdad. This worries me only slightly. My time in Iraq has taught me that the country is far safer than most people believe, and my hotel is in a good neighborhood. Besides, staying in the hotel all day simply isn’t an option. I just hope I don’t have any trouble when I go out alone.

After dinner we stroll around the park. The mood is relaxed and festive. So is the dress code. A woman walks by in a skirt and I almost keel over. It’s the first bare female leg I’ve seen in more than two weeks. Young couples who may very well be unmarried walk hand in hand, whispering to each other. I’ve stepped into another world. It’s even more relaxed than Kurdistan. Flashing lights and squeals of laughter draw me down a path and to another gate.

%Gallery-172598%It’s an amusement park. Kids are zipping around on bumper cars in the middle of a pool, or shooting down a giant inflatable slide. Their big brothers and sisters play videos games in a nearby arcade.

Getting in requires going through another checkpoint. There’s a brief hassle as the park’s guards demand that our guards leave their guns behind. Captain Ali, the senior of our two guards, doesn’t like that idea. I’m not sure how it’s resolved but we eventually get through, only to be stopped again.

“What now?” someone in our group groans.

“Photo! Photo!” the park guards say.

“Oh, OK.”

We all line up and take each other’s photos. I still haven’t figured out why Iraqis all want their photo taken. Only one of them has asked for a copy, and he never emailed me so I could send it to him. Maybe they just want to be part of my holiday memories. That’s cool. Memory made.

As soon as we’re through I ditch my guards. I don’t think those kids on the Merry-go-Round are going to shoot me, and after more than two weeks of these guys dogging my movements I’m sick of them. I slip behind some spinning ride with flashing lights and I’m gone.

Swarms of laughing children zip past me as I wander among the rides. I shake my head in amazement. How is this possible? This country is torn apart by war and sectarian bitterness and here everything is just fine. These families are the Iraqi majority, the decent folks who want all the bullshit to stop so they can get some enjoyment out of life. It would be silly to think they’re “just like us”; they’re not. But they’re enough like us that when this whole mess sorts itself out, I know who I want to come out on top.

“Mr. Sean.”

I turned around. Aw crap, Captain Ali has found me.

“We need to go now,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah.”

I turn away and keep walking. He trots patiently behind. This is a game he knows he’ll win.

Families come up to me, asking that I photograph their children or forcing their kids into impromptu English lessons. The kids take it with good grace, as curious as their parents about this strange foreigner who’s wandered into their fun.

Well, almost all the kids take it with good grace. One man drags his toddler over and urges her, “Say hello. Say hello.” She bursts into tears.

“Tired?” I ask.

He smiles and nods.

“Yes, tired. Late night.”

We laugh, one father to another.

Another tug at my arm. It’s Captain Ali again. Go away.

“Mr. Sean, we need to go.”

He leads me off, holding my wrist like a naughty child. I could complain, but he’s the law and even though he still has a reserve of good humor, his patience is at an end. We head for the exit.

Three bombs exploded in Baghdad this morning. More than a dozen killed. The story is already being broadcast by all the major news channels, with the usual blaring headlines and snuff film visuals. I take a last look around at Abu Nuwas park, at the picnicking families and the laughing children and the guys selling balloons. There are no TV cameras here.

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “A Solo Stroll Through Baghdad!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel

Orlando Braces For Decepticon Takeover, Wookiee May Intervene

Decepticons Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando announced Thursday a new ride based on the Transformers movies to open next summer. That’s big news for theme park fans around the world.

The new four-minute Transformers ride in Orlando will be entirely in the dark and use 3-D flight simulator technology, said to be the next generation of Spider man, much like Transformer rides already in motion at Universal Studios Hollywood and Singapore.

Continuing a move by theme parks to make rides more experiential, riders are recruited in waiting queue by the Transformers. Their job is to help keep the AllSpark energy source away from the Decepticons who will surely use it to take over Earth. Not everything goes well there though and a high-speed chase/battle to the death (of the Decepticons, not those on the ride) follow.

Perhaps bigger news comes from the magical world of Disney who agreed to buy Lucasfilm, heralding in a new era of Star Wars.

Three more Star Wars movies, the first to open in 2015, are in the works on top of the original films, which have earned $4.4 billion so far.

“I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime,” Lucasfilm founder George Lucas said in a statement reported by Travel Weekly.

It looks as if Star Wars will live on the silver screen and in theme parks too. Already a hit during Star Wars Weekends, Disney looks for more from the Star Wars franchise rolled into Disney products, including theme parks.


[Photo Credit: Flickr user Stephen Gardiner]

SeaWorld Brings Antarctica To Florida

SeaWorld

SeaWorld Orlando is expanding with their largest-ever project. Continuing a travel industry focus on making all things experiential, Antarctica-Empire of the Penguin is the anchor to a host of new offerings set to open in January. The new ride will have a family adventure theme that utilizes new technology for a unique experience that can change from visit to visit, allowing guests to choose their thrill level.

“Only SeaWorld and its parks can take you on these journeys or bring these experiences to you,” said Terry Prather, SeaWorld Orlando’s president. “We’re excited about what the future holds for our parks and our fans.

First, guests will meet SeaWorld star, a young gentoo penguin and the ride’s guide who leads guests on a journey through the Antarctic. Casting the park’s colony of penguins, including gentoos, rockhoppers, adelies and kings, guests’ experiences with the penguins will be a theme park and zoo first.Getting an authentic feel for Antarctica, guests will experience life on the ice through the eyes of a penguin via closer-then-ever animal connections with state-of-the-art interactive ride technologies for unique, personal adventures that are different for everyone.

Empire of the Penguin will be the coldest theme park attraction in the world with the temperature set to the low 30 degrees to maintain the penguin’s natural habitat. Antarctica – Empire of the Penguin is the biggest expansion in SeaWorld history, hosting the ride, penguin habitat, a gift shop and a restaurant. It is so big that it is considered an all-new “realm,” rather than a single attraction.



[Photo Credit: Flickr user Rita Willaert]

New Disney World Attractions To Bring Immersive Experience

Disney WorldWalt Disney World in Florida has some new attractions on the way. The new Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom park will be home to the Enchanted Forest, a new park within a park, inspired by the popular Disney films “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The Enchanted Forest officially opens December 6, 2012, but we got a sneak peek during dress rehearsals last weekend, open to the public.

Eventually hosting lush landscapes, roaring waterfalls and two new castles, guests will be able to ride under the sea with a little mermaid, dine in a beast’s castle and even join a “beauty” for a retelling of the “tale as old as time.”

On our visit, we stopped by Enchanted Tales With Belle, an interactive experience (as opposed to a “ride”) that begins when an enchanted mirror transported us from Belle’s house to Beast’s library, where Belle and Lumière invite guests to become part of a lively retelling of the “tale as old as time.”

Unique here is that groups are small and many are invited to participate in the experience that brings guests up close and personal with live action characters from Beauty and the Beast. This is not a passive, sit around and watch attraction.Disney WorldSteps away, Gaston’s Tavern was also open, serving LeFou’s Brew, Roasted Pork Shanks and other snacks. LeFou’s Brew looks like a mug of beer but is actually a “non-alcoholic no-sugar added frozen apple juice with a hint of toasted marshmallow, topped with all-natural passion fruit-mango foam,” we were told. Roasted pork shanks, so popular they ran out while we were there, fit right in with the tavern designed to look like a comfy lodge in the French countryside.

Not all attractions are open as work progresses. A Be Our Guest Restaurant will soon invite guests to savor the classic cuisine of France. Ariel’s Grotto is close to Under the Sea~Journey of The Little Mermaid attraction where Ariel will be on hand to meet new friends, sign autographs and pose for photos. In the same area and opening in 2014, a massive Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, will take guests through the Dwarfs’ diamond mine, along the countryside and on to their cottage to meet up with Snow White and her pals.

New Fantasyland is opening in phases for the largest expansion in the history of Magic Kingdom park, nearly doubling in size and offering more immersive enchantment and interactive experiences.




[Flickr photos by ChrisCruises]