This autumn (fall), Wild Wadi is due to welcome its five millionth guest, confirming the popularity of this world-class waterpark. Located on the Gulf Coast in Dubai, with its blistering year-round temperatures, its success is not surprising, but its general manager feels it is down to more than just a good location. Like many other facilities in the Emirate, Wild Wadi prides itself on service, as Owen Ralph discovers.
Opened in August 1999 as an adjoining attraction to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Wild Wadi was joined on the waterfront a year later by the Burj Al Arab, the iconic hotel known for its sail-like structure and ‘7-star’ status. All three have become Dubai institutions, and all three are managed by the luxury hospitality group Jumeirah.
“The waterpark was originally designed for the purpose of feeding our own hotels, but it functions in a much greater capacity now,” reveals Glenn Davidson, Jumeirah’s general manager of waterparks, who runs the facility with the help of an international team including Wild Wadi waterpark manager Christopher Perry. “Just over half our guests now are tourists, the rest are residents of Dubai,” he adds.
Much of the equipment inside Wild Wadi was installed by Biwater, but fabricated by now defunct NBGS International, the team behind the Schlitterbahn trio of parks in Texas.
A number of ideas from Schlitterbahn have been incorporated into Wild Wadi, including minimum downtime away from the water. Guests who want to ride begin by boarding one of two Master Blaster uphill water coasters, interconnected to a series of waterslides. “To get onto 13 waterslides, there are only two queues or starting points,” details Davidson. “You are actually ‘queuing’ while you are sat in the tube between slides, but from the guest point of view they don’t perceive this as queuing and that is a good thing for us. As for the rivers and the wave pool, there just is never a queue.”
Wild Wadi also boasts one of only two Family Master Blasters (using four-person rafts) in the world, the other at Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels. Separate to the main network of waterslides is Jumeirah Sceirah, the tallest and fastest freefall speed slide outside North America – dropping a heart-stopping 33-metres at up to 80km/h.
Juha’s Dhow & Lagoon, added late 2005, is a giant play structure from Whitewater West including over 100 interactive games, five slides and a giant tipping bucket – a focal point for park guests, as are two Flowrider surfing attractions (pictured), popular with surfers and spectators alike.
On the hour throughout the day, guests can also enjoy the Wadi Wash, which uses the rockwork theming near the front of the park as the backdrop for a choreographed sound, light and water show recreating a flash flood.
Themes & Streams
Underpinning all of this is a storyline based around the tales of Juha and Sinbad, who survived a huge storm and found themselves stranded in a lagoon. It was a beautiful place, but entertainment was scarce and so the children found fun in the streams and waterfalls.
“The level of theming here and attention to detail I personally haven’t seen anywhere except the two Disney waterparks,” declares Davidson, “but I think the thing that really sets us apart and makes people come back time after time is the service that our colleagues provide, the experience that you get from them.”
In 2003, Wild Wadi received the Dubai Quality Award in recognition of its service standards. Nothing is too much trouble for its staff, which is why when they present you with a customer feedback form it seems so easy to write nice things. The sunshine probably helps a little too.
Reflecting Dubai’s cosmopolitan population, Wild Wadi employs staff from 45 countries. Across all of Jumeirah, 105 nations are represented. The group’s general manager of waterparks is American. Armed with a with a degree in Park and Recreation Administration from Mississippi State University, Glenn Davidson spent the first six years of his career working in the state’s parks before taking on a new role in the then developing waterpark sector. “I was never at school thinking this is exactly what I wanted to do, but I am doing something that is fairly related to my degree considering I started university before the first waterpark had opened,” he tells us.
Starting out at Rapids on the Reservoir in Jackson, Mississippi, Davidson went on to serve in a variety of roles at waterparks including Raging Waters in San Jose, California; White Water Canyon, now Knott’s Soak City in Chula Vista, California; and The Newport Aquarium in Northern Kentucky, where he served for two years as director of operations before coming to Dubai in 2001.
One of his biggest challenges at Wild Wadi has been keeping tabs on the number of visitors. A daily admission of AED170 (€33) confirms Davidson’s positioning of the park as a “premium attraction,” but it does nothing to stop the guests flowing through the front gate.
“We are pushing the capacity of the park right now,” he admits. “We are reaching a point where we will soon not be able to handle the level of guests we are getting and are already having days when we are having to do one-in/one-out entry.” Could they build a second gate? “We looked at that, but there simply isn’t the room.”
When the park put in some new food and beverage offerings just a few years back, it also created new seating areas, including a sunbed deck overlooking the Burj Al Arab. While this has allowed for more guests to be accommodated in comfort, as Dubai’s visitor numbers rocket, capacity is expected to become an even more acute problem in the short to mid term.
“Before I came here, there were around 3 million tourists coming to Dubai,” notes Davidson. “Last year I believe they were claiming 8 million, with an anticipated 15 million by 2010 and the ultimate goal of 30 million when everything is finished.” Many potential visitors are eager to go already, but there simply aren’t enough beds. Davidson nevertheless relishes being part of such a vibrant tourist destination, and identifies Jumeirah’s involvement with the Aqua Dunya resort (see opposite) as one way of soaking up demand for extra water recreation in the region. It too will feature a large waterpark component, leading Jumeirah’s waterpark chief to conclude: “Part of our growth will actually come from competing with ourselves.”
Acknowledging that capacity at Wild Wadi is being pushed to the limit, Glenn Davidson, Jumeirah’s general manager of waterparks, welcomes the group’s involvement in the upcoming Aqua Dunya development at Dubailand.
Much of the AED 7 billion (€1.4bn) project, including a waterpark, hotel and retail/entertainment offerings, will be managed by Jumeirah on behalf of the Saudi-based developer Al Sharq Investment.
When it opens in 2009, the 8 million sq ft resort and residential community will comprise not only a waterpark and hotel, but also a traditional souk and port district, a conference centre and over 1,000 apartments. Future development will include a second park, an 1,800-seat theatre, two additional themed hotels and a golf course.
The centrepiece of the resort will be the world’s largest cruise ship, the Jumeirah Desert Pearl, containing a climate-controlled waterpark element and a luxury themed hotel. The main ‘land-based’ waterpark, meanwhile, will include more than 35 wet and dry attractions spanning three exotic adventure islands.
“I think it will be a healthy addition to our offer in Dubai,” believes Davidson. “We will also look at other things that come along to see how we position Wild Wadi in the future.”
Based around an Arabian seafaring storyline, Aqua Dunya will carry a distinct identity to Wild Wadi, but there are plans to extend the original waterpark brand by expanding into Jordan. “There is a waterpark being designed for a resort there that will carry the Wild Wadi name,” confirms Davidson, ”and there could be others in the future.”
Such carefully-chosen affiliations are decided upon based not only on what would work well for the Wild Wadi brand, but also what fits in with the overall Jumeirah philosophy. “The reason Aqua Dunya works for us,” highlights Davidson, “is that it includes a 5-star hotel within the resort.”