Three years in the making, the Ice Land Water Park is finally about to open, carrying with it RAK's hopes of becoming a tourist destination in its own right. This icy refuge, part of a $100m theme park complex, is designed with family fun in mind. Anna Zacharias pays a visit Ras Al Khaimah // In the sweltering September heat, the plastic penguins look a little sandy and tired from the Arabian summer.
Yet the story of a group of renegade penguins who make themselves a new home on the Arabian Sea is the theme of a polar-themed water park that backers expect to put RAK on the map as a tourist destination. Featuring a huge man-made waterfall, a rain dance pool and aquatic football field, Ice Land Water Park opens its doors to the public this Wednesday, 28 months after its originally scheduled opening.
On Thursday evening, the media was given a sneak preview of the 50-hectare icy playground that will accommodate 10,000 guests and includes 37 slides. Experiencing what the public will soon be able to do themselves, journalists stepped into the park's entrance - a chilly blue cavern carved into the man-made mountain that guards its entrance - and immediately felt a world away from the desert outside as the thermostat plummeted.
After buying tickets at the cavern, visitors enter a world of icy igloos and snow glazed mountains. In the days before opening, staff have tested the rides before the crowds arrive. They swish down slides from Swiss-inspired chalets. Each mound of mountain has a name designed to chill. "Mount Cyclone" is already a lifeguard favourite, as is the 100m slide descending down "Mount Attack". After three years of construction, workers have just a few days left to put the finishing touches on the igloo-inspired huts and lay the prickly blue astroturf carpeting that covers the park.
Three-hundred and eighty thousand litres of water have already begun to splash down the 37-metre tall and 165-metre wide Penguin Falls, but boxes of plastic coral in primary colours are yet to be unpacked and placed in the Coral Isle pool where guests will snorkel with real fish. 6,000 guests can boogie down at Penguin Bay in the 2,800-square-metre rain dance pool, an outdoor disco showers guests with water.
Russian and Indian staff faced off against each other in a friendly game of football to test the squishy plastic aqua field. Executives are optimistic that Ice Land, one hour from Dubai and just 30 minutes from Umm al Qaiwain's Dreamland Aqua Park, will attract tourists in the thousands from around the world. "There are a lot of water parks in the world but theme water parks are very few," said Balwant Singh, the managing director of Polo RAK Amusements, the company managing the park.
The project is partially financed by RAK Investment Authority and RAK Properties, who own other coastal developments such as Mina al Arab. Ice Land is the first phase of the US$100 million WOW RAK theme park that will include a shopping mall with an ice rink ready in autumn 2011, and Planet Earth amusement part in 2012. "Tourists coming from different parts of the world will have accommodation, they will have nice malls, they will have a water park," said Mohammed al Qadi, the chief executive of RAK Properties. "Everything complements each other and we are very optimistic that RAK will be put on the tourist map from now onwards."
The location of a wintry water park in a hot emirate that suffers from power and water shortages may seem odd. However, the park will be supplied by its own generator and have water pumped to it from a desalination plant. Even so, the RAK public has had a mixed reaction. Residents of Jazirat al Hamra, the coastal village directly beside the development, said the loss of the public beach hurt their fishing industry.
Some people mourned the loss of a popular location once populated by ghost crabs and the occasional stray camel. Others were optimistic. "It will be very good for RAK," said Aaesha Khamis, the head of promotion for RAK Tourism and a resident of the area. "Emiratis will be there," said Santokh Chawla, a managing director of Polo RAK Amusements. "Without them we are not complete." The park has 600 employees and is expected to create hundreds more jobs.
No reason was given for the delayed opening. "We are businessmen but we have a passion for this industry and we're always on the site and we try to do it better," said Mr Chalwa. "We say if we lose a little money we are happy but we want to give the best thing to the public." firstname.lastname@example.org