The height of fun

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LADIES and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts as this may be the last train you ever ride! The seats begin to shake as the train starts moving, sometimes falling through the old, perilous rail tracks crossing a long-forgotten coal mine.

By (Silvia Radan)

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Published: Sun 30 Jan 2011, 12:17 AM

Last updated: Tue 10 Jan 2023, 8:28 AM

We are deep into the belly of the Earth, far from any human contact and the crawling creatures, the big scary machines, the squeaks of rusty metal and growls coming from the dark remind one of those “underworld” Mordor scenes from the Lord of the Rings. But we did reach the light at the end of the tunnel, and the happy, smiling faces coming out of the theatre bring back the reality: this is not the Middle Earth, this is Hili Fun City!

“It was pretty realistic, wasn’t it?” laughed Viviane Paturel-Mazot, senior manager of Hili Fun City. I must admit it was pretty good and definitely my favourite feature of the amusement park so far. “It is called ‘The Devil’s Mines’ and it is one of our two 3D movies,” she explained.

The Dynamic Motion Theatre is among the original attractions of the park, initially showing Disney-style short movies, with the theatre seats moving in all directions, shaking with every impact and following the film’s characters, making viewers feel they are actually inside the movie. To make the experience even more exciting, the old 2D movie was replaced by two more updated ones, and more adrenaline pumping 3D ones were added.

Spreading over 65 hectares on the edge of Al Ain, Hili Fun City was the first amusement park to open in the Gulf. Back in 1985 when it was inaugurated, it quickly became known throughout Arabia as the GCC Disneyland. Families from throughout the UAE and neighbouring Oman or even Saudi Arabia will stop over for a fun afternoon. At its peak, in the mid-1990s, the amusement park had no less than 34 attractions and rides and since 1989 an Olympic-size ice rink was added to the fun.

Over the decades, though, the rides became a bit rusty and outdated, so renovation could no longer be postponed. In August 2009, the park was closed for just three months.

“There isn’t a lot we can do in this amount of time, yet we managed to move eight attractions from the east to the west side of the park, update the old rides and add new ones,” explained Paturel-Mazot.

On November 27, 2009, Hili Fun City re-opened to the public with 16 family attractions, nine for children and three for adults, all located over 22 hectares on the west side.

“The advantage of having everything concentrated here for now is that people have a lot less to walk from one ride to the next,” she pointed out.

It doesn’t mean, though, that the east side will be left to wilderness. Tourism, Development and Investment Company (TDIC), which has become the operator of the park in August 2010, is now planning the phase two of Hili Fun City’s redevelopment and, although it is not settled yet what exactly it will entail, Paturel-Mazot said it will most certainly mean more exciting rides.

“We had a lot of requests from visitors for more loop-style rides, so we will probably bring more of those,” she revealed.

Something similar, perhaps, to the Flying Dutchman, one of the most popular and “wildest” rides in the park. “Hold on tight and don’t look down,” shouted Paturel-Mazot, who boarded the car in front of me, as the engines were being turned on.

Within seconds, the individual two-seat cars were almost parallel with the horizon, “flying” at over 70km per hour.

Yet, the Flying Dutchman is just a warm-up next to the whirling Thunderbold. The 20 two-seater snow-mobiles not only revolve around the central column at a terrifying speed, they also swing about forcefully from side to side, pretty much succeeding leaving every rider completely disorientated and blissfully euphoric.

Still standing? Then jump into one of the five four-seater carts of the Twister Mountain, which sets off on a winding track, twisting and twirling at every sharp bend, getting terrifying screams out of you, as you’ll be sure to fall off every second now. And that’s not all! The mad Twister will suddenly go into a spinning frenzy and it will drop down almost vertically, making sure that you’ll never add mayo to your sandwich again!

“Some of these rides look so tough even adults are too scared to go on them,” said Paturel-Mazot. “Rest assured, we never had any accident. Safety is our number one priority,” she added reassuringly.

Rides are not the only attractions in the Hili Fun City, though. From its beginning, and more so since its renovation, the park is a family-oriented place, with cafes and plenty of green areas for picnics and even barbeques.

“We have planted 200 new palm trees and over 30,000 plants,” revealed Paturel-Mazot.

To keep everything within eco-friendly boundaries, most of these plants are indigenous or hot-climate tolerant. Much of the grass too, over 5,000 square meters, is artificial, and the benches all over the park are made of material recycled in the UAE.

At the end of the day, Hili may be a long way away from Disneyland, but it is hectares of fun, Al Ain style. And I dare you to cross the Devil’s Mines and come out not smiling!


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