Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kuwait



In March 2012 some friends had arranged a trip to Kuwait and asked if I'd like to come along. One flight ticket booked later and I was in. The plan, as ever, was to visit the known theme parks in the country and then research the country to find some more. There were 7 known parks and my research had found 4 more that had coasters. I'd also found around half a dozen other parks that could be checked. A German friend Thomas was also planning to visit the country just before us and kindly accepted to do the groundwork in looking at the smaller parks, and of course confirming the coasters at the 4 I'd found. So with much thanks to Thomas here's our a report of our much easier than it should have been  trip to the country.

The parks we visited

Cartoon Network World

 
This is a small indoor park located in the shadow of the tallest skyscraper in the city, the Al Hamra Tower. 

The building in which the park can be found has seen better days and on entering it you can't but think that you've got the wrong place. 

Fortunately there are enough cartoon themed signs to allay any fears. 

As in a lot of the city there's a lot of new businesses moving in and in time the building may become a little more welcoming, bad spellings aside. 

The park itself is very nice, with a decent selection of kids rides and a Ben 10 themed rollercoaster as the centrepiece. 


Themed around a rocky mountain the ride is great for kids and adequate for adults. I had heard that this ride was supposed to have a well executed lighting arrangement but it wasn't there when we rode; perhaps I had my wires crossed and it was the complex and not the ride that was being referred to. With the ride over we took a quick scout around the complex and then left.

Infunity Zone

This is located within one of the newest malls to open in Kuwait, the huge 360 mall, which is a short drive from the airport. 



Located on the 3rd floor is the Infunity Zone, a very nicely coloured complex of orange, white and blue, with again, a great selection of rides, and a spinning coaster circling overhead. 



This park has had a lot more investment than Cartoon Network World with LED backdrops, huge video screens and a much more escapist ambience. 


The ride however, despite having a winjas like layout where it disappeared into dark areas outside of the main hall, was a little disappointing in that we only managed to get the car to spin when we hit the brake run. 




There are some rather unusual things in amongst the games too, that caused a wry smile. A nice touch that to fit with the laws of the land the grabbing game has a mini sweet grabber on the side that becomes available to play if you lose on the soft-toy side. You keep playing that side until you've won sweets.

The mall itself was very nice with the usual stores (and sadly a large selection of western ones) and a very nice drinks bar where I had my first ever red bull iced tea. If you're interested in becoming a pilot they even have a full sized aircraft simulator for you to enjoy.

Kuwait Entertainment City



This is the largest park in the country and the most like the theme parks we're used to. It is home to 3 coasters and rather surprisingly one of them is a B&M inverter, which I did not realise before heading out here; this was a very pleasant surprise. 



That ride was really good with a standard Batman Layout offering plenty of forces and inversions. It was also refreshing to be allowed to enjoy the ride properly, once we'd paid to ride there were no other regulations being enforced other than making sure the seats were locked in. They didn't mind us wearing glasses, taking photos, taking on-ride photos. In fact they didn't even have an issue with one of us walking up the brake run to take pictures of the ride from there. 

The second coaster was a small childrens ride, which was alright; tick! 



Unfortunately the third coaster, which looked like a decent sized Schwarzkopf was down for maintenance. 

Judging by the dusty colour of the train and track and us being able to see a freshly painted piece of track far off at the far end we're guessing the ride is just getting a fresh lick of paint. 


A number of the other rides were down including the Jungle River Cruise and the Australian themed log flume. 

Camel rides were open, there was just one snag, they weren't real camels.

and the staff were clearly having a down-day too.

As we had time to kill (our driver was off getting lunch) we chose to grab a bite to eat ourselves, unfortunately this meant we were eating in Arabian branded Pizza Huts and Burger Kings.


For the spin ride fans, there is this very peculiar Moser monster that offers lots of points of rotation and no doubt a very sickly ride experience. 

Gift shops don't sell park merchandise but do sell lots of plastic toys including Ninja Starter sets.
A very nice park indeed. Be aware that Mondays is Ladies day.

99 Village

This is a mid-sized collection of rides way out to the west of Kuwait (about 20 minutes from downtown Kuwait City) and was the first of the four new coaster parks that I'd found in researching the trip. The park is heavily themed around The 99, which is a cartoon and comic book that tells the story of a bunch of (ok, 99) kids who each possess a crystal that grants them super-abilities. 


It's a publication that preaches Islamic values but in a way that doesn't force the religion directly e.g. none of the characters' religions are actually stated, I guess a sort of introduction on how to be excellent to each other. Religion aside the artwork around the park was brilliant and whilst the rides were of varying calibre I was content taking in the comic book stylings.

It was a little bit of a shame the climate had faded some of the pieces, but still it's rather cool to see comic book stuff everywhere. 



As for the coaster, Jabbar's Rollin Adventure, this was a bit of an odd ride. The train was beautiful, themed around a Robert Louis Stevenson steam engine. It was very slow to climb the lift hill, but the rest of the ride, hidden behind hedges so not easy to photograph, was alright with one of those violent sweeping turns into the station that's great for kids and a potential rib-breaker for adults. Jabbar was the first of the 99 who's power was to turn into a 2 metre tall, 200kg giant and nothing to do with the Hutt species seen on Tattooine. 

Elsewhere in the park the other standout ride was a clone of the Flying Ride at Blackpool, probably only the second one of these I'd ever come across. However it was down on our trip. 


This chariot ride was pretty cool. I don't recall seeing one like this anywhere else.

I also noticed an interesting sign at the Tagada that insisted that boys and girls had to ride this separately. Out here Tagadas are much more of a free-for-all with the people being thrown around and into the centre of the ride whereas in the UK we tend to remain in the seats. So I can understand how mixed sexes rolling around the ride could be challenging to some interpretation of the Sharia Law. Interestingly this policy wasn't consistent in other parks.

Nice theming on the carousel too.



Overall I was pleased with my find, and despite not having a great ride to make it a must-do park, the unique comic book theming definitely made this a find that I'm pleased to have visited.

Mishref Play Land

This was the second of my finds and it's a small park located within the grounds of the city's main convention centre. 

Cute dodgems.



Here we found two rollercoasters; factory models of the wacky worm and the powered dragon. Neither offered anything out of the ordinary other than giving our taxi driver something to laugh at as he saw us crest over the walls of the park atop the caterpillar ride. A quick interpretation of the Arabic signs gave us the name of "The Worm" for the caterpillar. 


Dragon we'd guess correctly as that was decked in neon with that name. 

At the back of the park was a ghost train, which we also rode. This was fairly basic with the darkness perpetuated with the occasional skeleton...and not much more.

There is another caterpillar but this one isn't a coaster.

The hills are alive with the sound of fairgrounds...

Check out the ass on that!

Mishref Luna Park is nothing more than a travelling fairground that never moved on, but for the credit whores is still worth a visit.

Abassiyah Fun Land

Those of you who are on the right-hand side of the plane on landing will likely spot this park on landing as it is directly under the flight path. We didn't believe it had any coasters but as it was mid-way between two parks we decided to drop and take a look.

From the outside of the park we could see coaster track and a dragon train so things were looking up.

But when we got into the park it turned out the track was horizontal from start to finish. Ah well.





Elsewhere the park had a mixture of spin rides, the majority for kids but one or two for teens. But with no coaster and a burning desire to explore the city further we didn't stick around for too long.

Hawally Park


This is a beautiful little city park with a collection of rides and a number of credits, including one debatable one for the coaster enthusiasts. The operations of this park were a little testing however as it was difficult to get the rides opened for running. On our first trip, only one coaster was open and we were told the other two would open the next day. When we returned neither ride was running and we only got them to be run by entering the station and sitting in the cars until someone came over and run the ride to get us off. Not behaviour I'm a fan of, but it worked and for that I'm grateful. 


Anyway, coaster number 1 is a bizarre spinning contraption that offers some very good spinning along it's circuit and if timed right some crunching laterals on the hairpin turns. As with a lot of the smaller coasters in Kuwait we were sent around for 3 laps, which made the ride more and more enjoyable and worth the money. I was very fortunate that photos were not being taken on this ride as the ride handles come up between your legs, which look rude anyway, even more so when the young boy who jumped in next to you falls across your lap during the ride whilst you're holding on to stop spinning around.

The second coaster was a small Gerstlauer coaster that in the back acted quite wild and more like something made by Pax, which for those that don't know have a reputation for throwing you around. This was the one that needed the sit-in protest to get running. 






The final coaster, and this is the more contentious of the 3, is a 2-lap water splash with coaster track and cars that look and act like those on Nautic Jets. This ride was a hoot with the first two-cars getting stuck and needing pushing, water splashes that didn't get you wet but where the splashback did, and cars that looked like they'd been made in a school project. It turns out that the ride used to reside in South Korea, before finding its way over here. Our taxi driver also took the time to come over and watch us make fools of ourselves on this. We were clearly leaving him with a very bizarre impression of westerners :) 


Aside from the rides outside, of which there's a good selection, Hawally also has a large indoor section with plenty of childrens rides and a huge food court. On a bad note they were also selling caged bunnies that they'd dressed up and chicks that they'd painted. (I didn't take any photos in there for as the indoor section was heavily populated with locals who I didn't want to offend with photos)

The nicely lit park wheel, definitely worth coming in the evening to see.

Al Sha'ab Leisure Park

 
This is the second largest park in Kuwait and is owned by an organisation that also owns a couple of other parks in the country (The 99 Village, and Marah Land). It's also one of the parks we visited on both days, which is why there's a mixture of night and evening shots.



This has two large coasters, neither of which was running. The first has actually been down for some time, and is a legendary Intamin attempt at the pipeline coaster. It's a bizarre looking thing with a tyre powered twist section, a freefall drop and then another tyre powered section back to the station. I can only assume the ride was a failure because I can't see how it could have made the drop and be caught by the tyres easily, and would probably have valleyed more than it made it round the track. Being in somewhere as remote as Korea (where it resided previously) and then Kuwait perhaps indicates it was a proof-of-concept, that only managed to prove that it wouldn't work. 




The second coaster is a single loop single corkscrew arrow ride that we'd been told had been down for a few months. A lack of anyone working on it perhaps indicating that the problem is more long term. 


So we thought we were destined for a no-coaster hit here until we killed some time by riding their dark ride Dinosaurs Jungle. This actually turned out to be a coaster, albeit an odd one. It was powered and once inside the building very slowly climbed a spiral hill but once it made it to the top the descent didn't feel powered at all and we picked up so much speed on the way down that we smashed into the car in front when we returned to the station. A huge springed buffer on the front and rear of the car perhaps showing that this was normal behaviour. Still a bonus credit is always a nice surprise and my research that relies on spotting rides on satellite imagery will never pick up enclosed rides so I was chuffed too! 


Amongst the other rides in the park there's a decent sized SkyCoaster, a wind tunnel Sky Diving Simulator and a strange see saw ride. 


Tucked away in the back corner of the park, easily overlooked despite its size is a massive indoor OmniMover dark ride with some great theming, sound effects and ride duration that is probably longer than the Haunted Mansion. It's also one of the more expensive attractions and the last to open. We had to wait around 90 minutes for it to open up, and we got to ride it on our own, I guess the price putting the majority off. Something to be wary of if you do ride it is that not all the cars were rotating properly which means if you're unlucky you're not going to see all the unique theming.


The rope assault course is called "confidence", what a great name!

This is almost similar to that bouncy snake from Phoenix Nights. Apparently the Nessi coaster used to be situated here.

Sometimes the most effective ones are the simplest. Actually Kuwait is extremely clean but that's more due to the large cleaning workforce than the attitudes of the people, as I saw in Singapore. As long as they have oil I guess Kuwait will always have a thriving economy.

The shot tower is easily located at the rear right of the park.

and the Sky Coaster to the left. Loving the light job!

A mini zorb run.

This park was a little bit disappointing but only on account of it not having the 2 big coasters running. One of them looks like it'll never be able to run again; it would be a shame if the second went the same way.

The gift shop DaDiDa doesn't sell merchandise and unfortunately doesn't sell any Dadaist art, Adidas, pictures of Di and Dodi, Dildos or that 80s track Da Da Da.

Future Kid


 Located in the City Centre Shopping mall, not far from our hotel is one of the eight branches of Future Kid in the country and the only one known to have a rollercoaster.


 It's not an easy one to photograph as it's circumference is hidden within a circular wall of video games. It's probably the most simple of all the coasters that we rode on the trip but they all count... 

...and I think Kat liked it.

Marah Land Sarabiyah

This park is located to the south of the city and is another fairly decent sized park. Listed as having 3 coasters, we only found two (we suspect one replaced another). 


The first was a Nessie Coaster, which is a kids ride that helixes up onto the station roof before helixing back down. It was an OK ride, the experience peppered with local girls screaming at the top of their lungs. I can't imagine if they were making so much noise on that what they would have made of riding the second one; 



Ultra Coaster, a huge pipeline coaster similar to the one I've ridden at Nagashima Spaland and Rusutsu Resort, both in Japan. This ride is huge, easily towering over everything else and dominating one side of the park. Unfortunately it was down due to it needing parts to be shipped over from Japan (I wonder if the parks there with the similar rides are helping?). 


Needless to say it wasn't running for us and gave us the biggest reason to come back. 


We consoled ourselves by ending the coaster riding and our trip by finishing up with a go on the Bobcart ride, that this park has. Those rides are always fun and the helixes so powerful when taken at speed that the grins stuck til we got back to the hotel.

A view from the Ultra-Coaster looking back at the park.

Another nice little park with a signature ride that we were unlucky to miss. The ultra-twister is quite out of place and appropriate to an older demographic than the majority of other rides in the park.

The ones that got away


King Fjra Ahlgreafa Park

This was my third find and just a rollercoaster located behind a building close to Marah Land. Chances are it was a temporary sited ride that has now moved elsewhere, although nobody knows right now. It was Thomas who took the time to investigate this one and find it had moved on.

Khiran Resort

This one is not located in Kuwait City or it's surrounds but a 2 hour drive south close to the Saudi Border. The Khiran Resort is a reclaimed project down that way that is trying to be an exclusive resort and as such not an easy place to casually visit. I had found an apple coaster within the complex, and Thomas had attempted to visit it on his trip but was turned away being a single male. When we tried we were asked if we were married, which we lied and said we were. We were asked to take two rooms for the night, which we were prepared to do at £150 each. Then when they discovered we were westerners the price doubled to £300 each, which we weren't so comfortable with. Then even with all that they couldn't give us a guarantee that we'd be allowed to ride, which pretty much killed the deal. Even trying to get them to let us in as coaster reporters didn't work. So this one is added to the "hard to get" list and we recommend holding out for the rules to slacken or for the ride to be moved to somewhere with less strict rules. 

Touristy Stuff

Kuwait doesn't really lend itself to the casual tourist as there isn't too much to see, but in an attempt to see the city I did a lengthy walk starting from the hotel in Al-Samiya up to the Kuwait Towers in Dasman, a 4-hour walk following the Corniche. Here are some pics from that.

The starting location, is the Holiday Inn Salmiya hotel (actually a very good hotel with nice restaurants, free wi-fi and a swimming pool for those who don't or can't walk for four hours).

The majority of the walk was along the corniche, following the coast. The highway here is home to lots of people who think they're playing Grand Theft Auto for real with excessive speeding in expensive cars and the bikers popping wheelies for miles. Fortunately for those of us who need to cross the road there are periodic gaps in the real life frogger game to make it safely across.

The city aquarium and discovery centre, which teaches kids about science.

I like the signs, especially the no Hookah Pipes. Elsewhere on the Corniche the locals bring their pipes and smoke them. They smell so good I'm interested in getting one myself.

Old reconstructions of boats around the back of the aquarium building.

Perhaps given the wealth in the country it's not unusual to expect to see a Marina with a display of opulence in the yachts, but actually they were quite modest in size.
  
The mall next to the marina is the obviously titled Marina Mall. It's home to lots of western stores and a sizeable arcade hall, but no coaster.

For those who have an aim to visit all the Planet Hollywoods in the world, you now need to come here as a new one had recently opened. 

and the Hard Rock Cafe fans are also catered for. We did eat here and it was actually alright unlike the one in Jakarta which was too much on the ears. Do remember that you can't get alcohol at these branches.

Way off in the distance is the capital Kuwait City. I was going to be walking past that monster skyscraper to the buildings behind it to the right.


Little pieces of architecture break up the beaches and gave me landmarks to head for. If it was just beaches I'd have given up I'm sure.

Very pretty!

I have no idea how this catfish ended up so far up the rocks. Perhaps a fisherman had a crap throw when putting it back into the sea. It was long dead by the time I'd gotten to it.

A nice peace of art. (Yes, that was intentional)

For the people who are bored burning up and down the corniche it's possible to hire jetskys (sic) and burn them up and down the coast.

The Kuwaiti attempt at hitting home the message that speeding kills. They make trophies of cars that have crashed and put them beside the road. It's a shame they're ignored by the cars racing up and down the road.

Back at Al Sha-ab and here you can see the 3 parks that are part of the same organisation.

There are 5 obvious photoshop manipulations made to this photo. Can you spot them?

Chicky Funland has to be the park with the biggest delusion of grandeur of all the parks in the world. It's just that climbing frame in the background and nothing more.





This is Green Island, a reclaimed development half way along my walk. It seems to have fallen into disrepute and to be honest was a waste of the entry fee. There were only 6 other people in the complex when I took a walk around it.

Just another structure to break up the walk a bit. You can walk along it and pier over the side if you want. (Yes, that was intentional)

The surprisingly modern looking down town area of Kuwait City. That tall building isn't open just yet and is 77 storey's high. It's currently the tallest structure in the country. Plans are underway to build one that would be more than 2.5 times taller, which would make it the tallest in the world. Scary stuff!

This is Independence Tower, which is home to a hard to get revolving restaurant. It's rumoured to only open on their Independence Day.

The sun going down behind the Al Hamra Tower

Kuwait Towers was my end point and I'm glad I made the walk. They look very odd and the one on the right hand-side is open to the public with a viewing gallery offering views over the city.

 Whilst offering a great view of the city, you also get a dirty one. I guess the battle to keep the windows clean has been lost to the sandstorms that occasionally hit the city. Don't go up if you want great photos. 

This is the city's waterpark located behind the towers. By the time I'd gotten to it it had closed, or had yet to open; its hard to tell here.
  
This was my favourite building in the city. I loved it's skewed design. It's the Kuwait Trade Centre.

Overall I walked about 14Kms, which was more than enough to get an insight in the city. It is possible to head in-land, and I did for a bit but there was nothing much of note...except for.

One to keep an eye on



In Salmiya I came across this construction site that features a great looking structure with a big wheel in it's centre. From afar I also spotted a poster of a flying B&M ride which on closer inspection turned out to be promotional material for Manta at Seaworld in Orlando, but perhaps an indication of what might be included in the designs.

Getting around

I thought it useful to share some pointers that I picked up on the trip, so that those thinking on visiting can have an easier time.
  • If you're prepared to pay for a car and driver then Kuwait is a very easy city to get around, and easily affordable if you're part of a group. If you're going to do the driving yourself then I can imagine it'll be a little more testing. 
  • With a driver and a bunch of pre-printed maps we managed to do 10 of the parks in one day showing that Kuwait is one of the more simpler places to cover, and as such is perfect for a 2 day stop if travelling further afield, as long as you do the prep. Drivers won't know the parks, particularly the smaller ones so maps are essential. We had a deck of Google Map screen shots to help and they did the trick brilliantly.
  • As an indication of drive times from our hotel over by Future Kid it's around 45 minutes to The 99 Village, which aside from the silly Khiran Resort is the furthest park out. So you're not going to be spending loads of time on the road like you would do if you were trying to 10 parks in the US. 
  • The opening hours in Kuwait are nothing like we're used to with, in most cases, parks closed in the morning, open in the evening and closing around midnight. The larger parks also have a lead time between opening the gates and opening the rides so you're better off arriving later rather than earlier. So enjoy the lie-ins that a trip to Kuwait offers.
  • Pretty much everything we rode was a walk-on, even the B&M so don't worry about needing to beat queues. 
  • As mentioned earlier the culture insists on women-only days at some places; we're only aware of that at Kuwait Entertainment City where blokes shouldn't try going on a Monday. 
  • The entry fee to the parks is minimal or in some cases free but you need to pay per ride, which you do by charging up a card with points. You can share a card amongst groups so you don't need to worry about having a card each. You will however spend some of your time in the park trying to find the open charging station, as not all of them were manned, at least when we visited. 
  • You will not have an issue with cuisine as there are plenty of eating establishments in and around the parks including all those western chains you're probably used to, and that I despise seeing abroad. I can't help but wonder if they all poured into Kuwait on the back of the liberation of the city purely to better their brands by forcing them on a nation that previously wasn't interested.
  • Kuwaiti people are welcoming but to be honest tend to just leave you alone, which you might be OK with or not. Our friendliest welcome actually came from the immigration desk who just greeted us and waved us through.
  • Immigration is actually pretty painless. Having landed you need to collect your visa, which you do at the desk signed upon landing. You need to take a ticket from the right hand side of the desk. Don't worry about filling in any forms until you're called, and you can fill it in at the desk. They'll then take your passport and photocopy it before calling your name, handing it back and giving you the visa paperwork. Keep this with the passport at all times as you'll need both at the hotel check-in desk and if randomly stopped by police (which didn't happen to us at all). Also we seemed to make it through the visa process without having to hand over any money, which was a pleasant surprise. A German woman was asked to pay by buying a stamp from a nearby vending machine, so perhaps it's only certain nationalities that incur a fee? 
  • When taking photos try not to get the locals in shot, it is apparently offensive. Fortunately with a lack of ride queues we were able to take plenty of photos without challenge. One of us did however upset a woman in one of the FECs.
  • Kuwait is a dry country which instantly makes the place feel a lot more safer than it might. There's lots to be said for this I think.
  • Try not to only have 10 dinar notes on you but exchange for smaller denominations. A lot of places had problems changing them. They're equivalent to £30 each. Smaller notes are better and in Kuwait they even have half and quarter Dinar notes.

Overall I liked Kuwait and I do see myself going back. It's a simple escape with little hassles and for the coaster counter a decent number of hits in a small and easy to get around place. It serves as a wonderful place to stop en route to the further destinations. 

1 comment:

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