In October 2010, the Ice Land Water Park in Ras Al Khaimah opened. This joins the Wild Wadi and Aquaventure Water Parks in Dubai. How does Ice Land compare? This is my very personal review.
I drove from Al Ain with my boys, aged 11 and 8, along with another father (I’ll call him David until he gives me the go-ahead to mention his name in this review) and his teenage son, in March 2011, 5 months after it first opened.
Here’s what it looks like from outside…
Here’s what’s good about the place:
1. My guess was that there were only a few hundred people in the water park all day when we were there. One of the staff told me that there were 2,000 visitors the day before, a Friday. They’ve had as many as 5,000 in the park.
We had a good time with so few people there. We only had very short waits to go on a slide, or no wait at all. I wouldn’t want to come on a Friday!!
2. Most of the rides were excellent. The lifeguards were friendly, alert and attentive, and communicated with each other very professionally using a sequence of whistles. The level of safety was very good – apart from in one area which I’ll come to later.
3. There is a large food court which has very friendly staff who were happy to chat and joke with. I bought a chicken green Thai curry with rice which I thought was very tasty, and a fair price at 35 dirhams. One of my sons had a chicken burger and chips, and the other had chicken nuggets and chips. The price of these was fair at 30 dirhams each (I think).
4. I rented a wrist band to activate a locker to store my mobile phone and wallet. This worked like a charm (better than the system at Aquaventure which I couldn’t figure out without help!).
What’s not so good…
1. You’re supposed to be able to put credit on the wrist band so you can buy food and drink using it, rather than having to go back to get your wallet. I was told the network was down on the day we were there.
2. My friend David said, “This place looks like it has been here 10 years.” When I told him that it had opened last October, he couldn’t believe it!! Why would he make such a comment? Here’s why… The place is not 5-star quality like Wild Wadi or Aquaventure:The design of the place is not what I would call ‘modern’ and ‘tasteful’ – it had a low budget feel.
3. The most popular side of the park is on the west side. I walked over to the east side where there are other ‘rides’ – but amazingly I got lost and couldn’t find entrances easily. I don’t think some of the signposting is very clear: the park has a ‘not well thought out’ feel to it.
4. There was some litter on the floor: for example, by the coral reef area was a plastic bag and straw. It was noon on a very quiet day. Walking further east there was more litter with staff walking past it. And near the entrance there was the plastic top from a food court meal, discarded. It’s not a big deal, but I’d say this park was less tidy than Aquaventure. My sense was that for staff walking by, keeping the place spotless wasn’t their highest agenda.
5. The Tundra Baths building contains a number of jacuzzi baths. My 8-year-old came back during the afternoon to tell that only one of the baths contained warm water: the others were cold. And the warm bath had a lot of yellow scum on the top of it. My friend David confirmed this.
6. The water rides are great as far as they go. But they aren’t as varied as at Aquaventure. In other words, for me, Aquaventure has far fewer rides, but they’re a lot more varied and fun. At Aquaventure my children and I went on many of the rides time after time and didn’t tire of them. But at Ice Land my boys said to me, “The rides aren’t as much fun here. Most of the rides I only went on once.” One of the reasons is that, at Ice Land, all the water rides go downhill. At Aquaventure and Wild Wadi, on many of the rides you are pushed uphill by strong water jets which makes them very exhilarating, surprising, and addictive.
7. My son Felix said he was shouted at by one of the staff for taking the wrong tube to go on a ride. Felix said that he’d never been shouted at before (and we’ve been to Wild Wadi once and Aquaventure twice). This is no great shakes, but when added to my above comments, I think you may get a good picture about this place.
8. The blue matting on the floor is quite uncomfortable to walk on. That’s why you’ll see the white tiles on the photos above: so you can walk from ride to ride by stepping on each white tile. Except that the tiles get knocked out of place. Why couldn’t the designers have got this part right in the first place rather than the staff having to add these extra tiles for walking comfort?
Cool Pix photo counter
A staff photographer took 16 photos of our party: some of the boys on a ride, and some of them jumping from a 5 metre platform into a deep pool of water.
Here are a couple of photos the photographer took…
At the end of the day we went to the Cool Pix photo counter where I asked to pay for all 16 photos to be emailed to me. To get this, the very helpful young man called Jake said I needed to buy one 6-inch x 9-inch print, and a further 40 dirhams. That was fine by me. He emailed me the photos the next day. However the photos were only 800×533 pixels: 72k each! This was not what I expected! This size is really only suitable for 6-inch by 4-inch photos. My 8-year-old pointed out the pixellisation on the 6×9-inch photo, without prompting, which he has never noticed before. I asked Jake about this. He said the (expensive-looking) SLR camera was set to its lowest resolution setting. Why?, I asked. “Well, because if we set the resolution higher, the photo software we use on our PC runs too slowly.” Not only that but their photo system can’t handle any cropping!
This is very surprising for a brand new water park. What kind of computer system can only cope with processing 72k images and nothing higher than that?! Oh well.
The consequence is that I cannot crop any of the superb shots of my 11-year-old jumping into the pool. I would have loved to have cropped them and printed them out, but the resolution isn’t good enough to be able to do this.
Jake understood where I was coming from and offered to look into taking higher-resolution photos if I was to take my family again – but he couldn’t see how to could do this due to the constraints of his hardware and software.
By way of contrast… I have paid for 2 DVDs of photos from the Aquaventure Water Park at the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai, and the photos from there were 3,600 pixels across, compared with the maximum of 800 pixels across which the system at the brand new Ice Land Water Park can cope with.
What my sons thought of Ice Land Water Park…
I shared none of my above opinions with my boys. But I asked them the next day to rate the park. My eldest son rated it 6 out of 10 and my youngest son rated it 6.5.
They have both been to Aquaventure twice. I asked them both to rate that in comparison. They said 8 and 8.5. (They haven’t been to Wild Wadi for 7 years so they’re too young to remember that.)
Ice Land’s safety
One section of the park has 4 rides spiralling out from one place. I thought was dangerous and chaotic. Some staff were taking down some scaffolding, and as they dismantled it, the steel rods were only a metre from adults and children as they were moved.
Two rides had large moving platforms. One platform had a broken section on the edge. A child could have caught its foot in it. Notice the child’s foot in the top left of this picture – and compare that with the size of the hole you can see bottom centre. Imagine a child putting their foot through that. Even worse if the platform is moving and this ‘caterpillar’ track runs ‘over the edge’. Yuck!…
I went to see the manager. When we met he said he was concerned for safety. He said he had closed down one section of the park a few months earlier as the paint was peeling (I think). He said it would be good to see the concerns about the rides through my ‘fresh’ eyes.
I pointed out the hole in the platform in the photo above. He said that no-one would put their foot in that hole. I disagree. Strongly.
I pointed out the men moving the scaffolding (you can see how close it is to the rides as you’ll see the white tubes on the right of the photo)…
The manager agreed with me, and told them to stop what they were doing. Great.
The idea was that people would walk onto the platform, climb into their blown-up ring, everyone would step away from the platform, the staff member would press a button, the platform would roll forward and the people in the ring would be set off down the ride.
But people were walking on the platforms as they were set moving forward. This is an accident waiting to happen, as far as I’m concerned!
The manager said “they shouldn’t be walking on these moving belts: they should go round the back.” I agreed but said that the reality was that people were walking in unsafe sections, so his safety system wasn’t working. “But they shouldn’t be walking here” he again repeated.
As he was saying this he was standing with one foot on solid ground and one foot on part of the moving platform which was stationary. Suddenly one of his team pressed the button which set the platform moving – so the manager I was talking to lost his balance! I said “See what I mean? This isn’t safe!” to which he responded. “Yes, but I shouldn’t be standing on this platform!” to which I replied, “but you are!”
In other words, his staff member should have looked around to see that no-one was standing on the platform – especially his blinking manager – before he pressed the button to put it in motion. But he didn’t!! Why? I think he wasn’t properly trained, and he was so stressed from trying to do so much at once that he wasn’t thinking straight.
(From what I know of the brain, the thinking part, the pre frontal cortex, runs out of juice fast when under stress, which is why people come home from a challenging day at work and can’t think straight!)
Then the manager turned to me and said, “I feel like you’ve come into my home and been critical, and you just don’t do that.” I think he took my comments personally, which wasn’t what I wanted. I was concerned, but he got defensive. I think he was in a difficult position. I strongly believe the park wasn’t well designed. I could be wrong, but if, say, a theme park safety officer came from the UK or US, I think they would shut this section of the park down. That’s how strongly I feel about this part of Ice Land.
4 more things…
1. The place had a tired look to it, despite its newness…
The anti-slip tape on the steps to the rides was peeling off…
…which meant that the steps, which do get wet, could be slippy. So look what the staff did to make things safer… They put down carpet tiles which are bigger than each step…
…which doesn’t make this place look very professional, does it?
2. The signs at the entrance to the park say that you must wear swimming costumes. But I saw children swimming in their cotton underwear. Not only is this not as hygienic, but it shows that this place isn’t being tightly managed.
3. In one part of the park is a very long water slide. People wanted to cross the slide as a short cut to the highest slide in the park. Some staff shouted at people to stop them crossing the ride and possibly bumping into people coming down the water slide at speed. But some of the people ignored the staff. The staff were helpless. One young woman who did this, and totally ignored the member of staff, then went on the very biggest slide, similar to the Leap Of Faith. This is what it looks like (the tall construction centre right)…
What you’re supposed to do is lie down at the top of the slide, cross your arms, and wiggle a bit to get you sliding down the slide at breakneck speed. This woman went down this slide holding onto the side to slow her down. For me, this is not safe. But her actions were a consequence of bad management here: this place is run in such a way that the chance of accidents happening increases.
It seemed to me that the staff here have a feeling of powerlessness: they don’t have the authority to warn guests that they will be asked to leave if they break the rules here – and if they persist to actually get them to leave. Instead they raise their voices at the guests, then do nothing if they are ignored.
I know next to nothing about running places like this, but from what I know of managing staff, if you don’t have clear boundaries and enforce them, all sorts of problems can arise.
It doesn’t mean that accidents will happen here at Ice Land, but the probability of them happening is larger.
4. As we were about to leave, we walked through the changing rooms. There was a loud bang, and one of the ceiling tiles 3 metres in front of us fell down to the ground. It was amazing it didn’t hit anyone. I grabbed my phone and took this shot just as a staff member was picking the (large, metal?) tile up. You can see the brown dust/debris on the ground…
What caused such a loud bang that forced this tile out of place?? How could this happen in a new water park like this??
What I did get from this visit was an extra appreciation of Aquaventure and Wild Wadi: I’m far more amazed now at how well these water parks were thought out and designed before they were built. In England we have a saying: Don’t spoil the ship for a halfpenny worth of tar. I think the Ice Land Water Park would have benefitted from more money spent on fittings, rides and training.
Finally, please leave your comments below. Have I reported on this water park fairly? Or not so fairly? I’d love to know what you think!