If you’re a splash-aholic, determined enough to make the long trek to the outskirts of Ras Al Khaimah, you’ll be rewarded by the rather bizarre sight of hundreds of plastic penguins perched atop a snowy plastic mountain in the middle of the desert. No, you’re not hallucinating. You’ve finally arrived at the long-awaited Ice Land water park.
Ice Land, part of the ambitious WOW RAK project to eventually include a shopping mall, planet earth theme park and seaside resort-style accommodation, opened at the end of September. When we visit on a Thursday afternoon, a few weeks after opening, it’s almost deserted. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that there are more penguins than people.
Expectations, according to media reports, are for this vast park – it stretches across 100,000-plus sq metres and claims to be the largest in the world – to welcome around 10,000 visitors a day, and while Ice Land is apparently busy at weekends, it still has some way to go. Yet there’s certainly an abundance of ‘wow’ factor, with dozens of splashing attractions, including a full-size water football pitch (complete with frequent rain showers) and the Tundra baths – a modern take on the old-fashioned Jacuzzi. Ice Land is also home to Penguin Falls, a manmade waterfall stretching up 14 metres and complete with caves for exploring, plus an Olympic-sized lap pool for serious swimmers. It’s pretty impressive – and far too much to absorb in just one afternoon (especially if you have to endure the ‘Sharjah shuffle’ on the way home).
With our motley crew of under-fives, we decide to give the Kids’ Cove a thorough testing. Exclusively for water babies under 1.2 m tall, this shallow play area is ideal for tots who are just beginning to gain confidence in the water. With around a dozen gentle slides – think a tongue lolling out of a fish mouth, a giant mushroom plus floating icebergs and turtles – there is plenty to keep kids aged three to five (a group that’s often ignored at other water parks) safely occupied. The spongy steps get our thumbs up (kiss goodbye to those heart-in-mouth moments when your over-enthusiastic slider skeets his way up the stairs), as do the padded bases at the bottom of the slides. No matter how fast they hurtle down, they plop smoothly into the water without the risk of cracking their coccyx or bruising their bottoms.
However, Ice Land is certainly not without teething problems, not least the fact that the pool’s floor is peeling off in strips. The surface is also incredibly slippery – not a problem if you’re small enough for the water to reach your thighs, but for gutless mums, it’s akin to tottering in heels on a newly-washed tiled floor. (We queried these points with the management who say that both issues have now been resolved.)
For sure, the slides are wonderful: There’s plenty for adrenaline junkies (Mount Attack looks precariously high and narrow, and Boomerango – a two-person tube ride where riders appear to be flung into the sky – is definitely not for the feint-hearted), while lazy ‘bob-abouters’ are perfectly catered for with the Snow River and Wave Pool. And more unusual features – such as the huge Penguin Bay stage and disco and Coral Isle, a shipwreck and mock diving zone – only add to the entertainment.
But Ice Land is not yet finished. Coral Isle is still being painted, and many of the F&B outlets are, at time of writing, still to open. Again, the management are hard at it and stress that out of more than 50 attractions, only three or four have yet to be declared operational.
But Time Out Kids’ main moan is the price. At Dhs225 for adults and Dhs175 for kids, a family of four is not going to get much change out of Dhs1,000 once you’ve done lunch and drinks. While we can’t fault the park’s attractions from a sheer amusement point of view (although it’s worth noting the heavy criticism from environmentalists) we have to question the pricing policy.
Ice Land Water Park, Dhs225 per adult, Dhs175 per child under 1.2m, under 0.8m free. Three, six and 12-month passes available. Open Sun-Wed 11am-8pm; Thu-Sat 11am-9pm. At the end of Emirates Road, turn left, park is 4km on right. (800 WOWRAK/969725; www.icelandwaterpark.com)