Residents share nostalgic memories of early editions of Global Village in Dubai
Dubai - Last year, the festival park saw a footfall of over seven million visitors.
As Global Village gears up to return for its 25th edition, longtime residents recall the evolution of the world-class destination, from its humble beginnings on the Creek to its current location off Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road.
Indian expat Asad Haque remembers the days when the family destination was no more than a few kiosks hosted under the Dubai Shopping Festival banner. A UAE resident for the last 30 years, he used to take his family to check out their entertainment offerings "frequently". His kids - now adults - were toddlers during the time.
The shopping and leisure project flourished rapidly over the years and moved to a dedicated space spanning 1.6 million sqm. Today, it plays host to pavilions from nearly 80 countries. Last year, the festival park saw a footfall of over seven million visitors.
"We used to have extended family members plan their trips specifically around the Global Village season, so they could enjoy the destination too," said Asad. "The sheer variety of choice - whether in terms of entertainment, shopping or dining - meant that there was something for everyone."
Last year alone, Asad and his family visited the venue about six to eight times before it closed early in February due to Covid-19 restrictions. He has visited several mega parks around the world, including Disneyland in multiple countries, but believes they cannot compare. "You can see the world within the Global Village at a very affordable price. It's truly a cultural experience."
When Lebanese expat Juliana Khalil first moved to the UAE 14 years ago, she made visiting the Global Village one of her must-explore destinations.
"I remember how amazing it was for me because I'd moved here from a place where I didn't see too many people from other nationalities. On the contrary, this one had scores of 'countries' in one hub. I was keen to explore the different pavilions with cultures that were so foreign to mine."
The mind mapping expert, who plans a trip at least once a year with her friends, said the family park has definitely seen a "big jump" from the past. "As the city got more cosmopolitan, so did the Global Village. I loved how much there always was to see, all the new activities and, of course, the shopping options. Hopefully, there will be even more pavilions to explore this year."
For the last five years, Nidhi Karia and her friends have faithfully upheld a mutually-loved tradition: to celebrate New Year's Eve at Global Village.
The plan is well-reasoned too. "It feels like we're celebrating the festive spirit globally," said the 28-year-old. "It's something unique to do, to see every country ring in the new year in their own special way. The organisation is beautiful and the fireworks are unbeatable."
Nidhi and her friends make it a point to visit at least four to five times every season. "I've really seen it grow and, over the years, it's just gotten better and better, with the addition of several more pavilions and shows."
She recalls how the destination evolved to bring in entertainment options that she was disappointed not to be able to experience in other countries too - such as the time she missed out on Ripley's Believe It Or Not! in Thailand. "I was so excited when they brought the attraction here last year," she said. "Every time we go to Global Village, there's even more to explore. You just cannot finish seeing it all in a few hours, which keeps us coming back for more."
British-Pakistani expat Nyma Peracha believes the family destination is "very underrated". A resident of Dubai for the last 10 years, she used to visit the Global Village a couple of times a year, but ever since her daughter was born, aims to visit at least once a month when the season is on.
"We love the lights and shows - and especially that it's outdoors. It's a large, paved communal area with no cars, so it's a great space for my daughter to run around. There's plenty of visual stimulation for her, and plenty of food stalls and cultural offerings for us."
As a frequent annual visitor, the co-founder of Be More Keto has been witness to the growth curve of the family park. "I remember about six years ago, it was a lot smaller. There weren't as many live stage performances back then. These have definitely increased, along with diverse restaurant offerings."
She is especially fond of the Pakistan pavilion. "As someone who's only lived in the UK, I love the opportunity for my daughter and myself to familiarise ourselves with our heritage and see how Dubai represents Pakistan. We were sad that Covid-19 happened this year, but are looking forward to visiting the Global Village when it opens again this year."