Abu Dhabi is hoping to make a splash on Yas Island with the launch of its first water park this year.
Yas Waterworld, which is costing some Dh604 million (US$164.4m) to build and will have 43 rides, slides and other attractions, is likely to rival the best water parks in the world, industry experts say.
"It looks like something that I have never seen before in a water park," said Stefan Zwanzger, a theme-park expert who runs a website called thethemeparkguy.com. "All the Disney parks, the Universal parks, have a lot of sophistication when it comes to rides and theming, and there are themed water parks like Atlantis, Wild Wadi when we talk about the Middle East. But the Yas Waterworld park also incorporates a roller coaster and slides, and everything on top of each other. It's the whopper of water parks. It's like an exhibition of water slides from the best manufacturers."
It has been a challenging operating environment for Yas Island since it launched, with much of the surrounding development on the $40 billion destination still to be completed. Ferrari World, an indoor theme park on the island, last year cut jobs as opening hours were adjusted in line with demand.
It is hoped the new attraction will help to boost tourism to the island and to Abu Dhabi.
"As part of the 2030 plan for Abu Dhabi, the plan is to attract greater numbers of tourists and we're definitely supporting that plan," said Michael Oswald, the park manager for Yas Waterworld. "Yas Island is growing as a destination in itself and we're one component of that."
The water park on Yas Island, scheduled to open in the fourth quarter, has rides including what is described as the longest suspended roller coaster, surfing rides, a hydromagnetic-powered ride and the Middle East's longest water slide.
The park's theme is based on the story of an Emirati girl who is searching for a pearl.
It is also designed to feature a pearl-diving attraction, where the audience watches a demonstration, and will have a souq. The park is being built by Aldar Properties.
"From what we've seen so far, it will definitely be in the top four water parks in the world," said Mr Zwanzger, adding it seemed it would be comparable to those in Florida. "I've seen the artwork, I've been on the site, and it has the potential to beat all other water parks that are out there, but of course it all depends on the finishing."
The two water parks in Dubai have proved to be highly popular.
Jumeirah Group's Wild Wadi is located between the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Burj Al Arab, while Aquaventure is part of the $1.5bn Atlantis resort on the Palm Jumeirah. Both were ranked in the world's top 20 most-visited water parks in a survey conducted by Aecom and the Themed Entertainment Association (Tea). Wild Wadi attracted 690,000 visitors in 2010, while Aquaventure brought in more than 1 million, according to the survey.
In purely economic terms, water attractions can be highly profitable, industry insiders say. They are relatively cheap to build compared with theme parks, and their operational costs are easily manageable as long as they attract high volumes of visitors.
Yas Waterworld, which was originally designed to be spread over 18 hectares, will now cover 15 hectares of space, Mr Oswald said.
"We compressed the park on purpose to ensure that people were going to be in [a] situation where they were going to be able to interact with each other. We kept the same number of rides and attractions, we just cut about three hectares off the size.
"It's an amazing, complex project to build a water park of this scale with the types of technologies incorporated in this park."
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