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Holiday showdown: Orlando theme parks vs Dubai theme parks

  • Published 19 December 2019

Get ready to scream with excitement as we pit the two theme park capitals of the world against each other.

Are you a thrill-seeker? Do you feel at your happiest when the air is rushing through your hair as you go up and down, round and upside-down while strapped into a brightly coloured cart? Then let us help with your next thrilling trip. Enter Dubai and Orlando, two great destinations famed for their theme parks. Scream-inducing rollercoasters, towering waterslides, character meet and greets and nearby five-star luxury hotels found in both make it difficult to choose however we’ve made that decision a little easier with our holiday showdown. Will it be Florida that’s home to Disney, film legends Universal as well as Animal Kingdom and Busch Gardens? Or, will Dubai steal the crown with its hotel waterparks, as well as Legoland® Dubai, Bollywood™ Dubai and IMG World of Adventures? You decide.

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Global Village Dubai
Motiongate Dubai™

As well as a fair share of record-breaking firsts and sky high hotels, there’s plenty of thrilling adventures in Dubai. Global Village Dubai, the first theme park to open in the emirate, showcases 90 countries around the world in one place with various landmarks to take selfies in front of such as London’s Big Ben and Italy’s leaning tower of Pisa. Shows, parades and street performers are a common occurrence, and there’s even a circus and rides that the whole family are sure to adore. One of the newest additions is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not which gathers fantastic oddities from around the world to educate and fascinate. Dubai is also home to Dubai Parks and Resorts which boasts four theme parks in one: Legoland® Dubai; Motiongate Dubai™; Bollywood Parks™ Dubai; and Riverland™ Dubai. Starting at Riverland™ Dubai, you’ll venture through four distinct areas themed around a French village from the 1600s, 1950s America, the British RAF of the 1930s, and early 19th century Europe.
You’ll then get transported to India courtesy of Bollywood Parks™ Dubai. The first and only theme park to be centred around Bollywood, rides, stunt shows, and live performances are sure to fill your day with hours of fun and laughter. For the film buffs be sure to visit Motiongate™ Dubai. Inspired by Hollywood here you can meet all your favourite characters such as The Smurfs, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and the stars from various other Dreamworks movies. There’s a whole host of rides to go on time and time again such as Madagascar: Mad Pursuit which reaches speeds of 60mph. For older children and adults, the Lionsgate area is home to The Hunger Games themed rides, and the Hotel Transylvania options in Columbia Pictures are sure to please any age with a 4D motion simulator and a Chance of Meatballs river rapids ride. For the little kids, and those young at heart, Legoland® is home to rides, factories and more. Fly a plane, drive a car, ride a rollercoaster… the choice is yours. Oh, and if you want to put the pedal to the metal or discover even more movie magic, then head to neighbouring emirate Abu Dhabi and swing by Yas Island which is home to Ferrari World and Warner Bros Studios, just an hour away by car.

Universal Studios Florida™
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

The Sunshine State of Florida has long been associated with legendary theme parks. Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Universal’s Islands of Adventure™, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay… the list is almost endless. Collectively, Orlando’s Disney parks cover 40 square miles, and trust us, the brand has squeezed a lot in. From embarking on a safari in Animal Kingdom and doing a round-the-world trip in Epcot to riding Space Mountain at Walt Disney World Resort and screaming on Rock ‘n’ Roller at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, your days will be full of fun. On the other hand Universal Orlando Resort™ is home to three theme parks that are perfect for movie-loving travellers. See Hogwarts and meet Marvel superheroes at Universal’s Island of Adventure™, ride the waterslides of Universal’s Volcano Bay™ and stroll through Springfield at Universal Studios Florida™… you’ll be smiling from ear to ear. 
If your kids can’t get enough of Elmo and Big Bird, then Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is ideal. With a Sesame Street Safari of Fun area complete with attractions for younger family members, and the chance to meet characters in the flesh, you won’t ever want to leave. Thrill-seekers will be in their element here too as Busch Gardens is home to SheiKra which jets you 200ft into the sky, 90-degrees down and there’s also Tigris which broke records when it opened as it’s now the tallest launch coaster in the whole of Florida.


Aquaventure Waterpark
Wild Wadi Waterpark

The only thing better than a theme park in a hot country is when you can don your swimwear and cool off at a waterpark. Atlantis, The Palm will have you slipping and sliding all day long thanks to Aquaventure Waterpark, rated the emirate’s number one by Trip Advisor. There are more than 30 slides and attractions to keep you entertained, or if you just want to relax then there’s 500-metres of private beach to take advantage of. The Leap Of Faith will see you plunge from a height of nine-storeys right through a lagoon full of sharks and stingrays, and there’s also Poseidon’s Revenge waterslide which hits speeds of 60km/h. You can race your friends and loved ones on Slitherine which is the world’s first twin-racing tube slide or ride the Rapid River which Is the longest river rapids in Dubai.
Wild Wadi Waterpark is another option and is in a prime location in front of the Burj Al Arab. Themed around Arabian folklore, this waterpark is the first to be ISO certified and boasts a trophy cabinet bursting with awards highlighting its safety, technology and innovation. If you’ve forgotten any kit then there are shops on hand with swimming costumes, floats and pool toys and when hunger strikes there are multiple restaurants to whet your whistle.

Universal Volcano Bay™
Disney’s Blizzard Beach

Universal Volcano Bay™ in Florida is a waterpark like no other. Centred around a towering volcano and lined with swaying palm trees, there’s no need to worry about queues here. The Virtual Line™ lets you select a time to return to the ride thanks to the downloadable app, this gives you more family time together, running around or sunbathing on the beach if you prefer. Alternatively, there’s a TapuTapu™ which is a waterproof device that saves your space in the virtual queue and tells you the wait time for other rides so you can decide which to go on and when. In terms of the attractions,  Ko’okiri Body Plunge™ will see you slide at a 70-degree angle for 125-feet that begins with a trapdoor opening from underneath you, taking you through the centre of a volcano. Give your lungs a workout as you scream down the slide of Krakatu™ Aqua Coaster which sees you and three other people board a four-person canoe which twists and turns as you’re plunged through a waterfall. It’s not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure.
Disney’s Blizzard Beach in Lake Buena Vista has a rather unique USP, being themed around a ski resort – there’s even a ski lift to reach the top of Mount Gushmore. Standing at 90-feet tall, it’s the fifth highest point in the whole of Florida and is where many of the entrances to the slides and flumes are including Summit Plummit which is the highest free sliding body slide in the United States. In the Tikes Peak area of the park there are smaller slides for little ones to have a go on, and there are three inner-tube waterslides at the Runoff Rapids.


Legoland Dubai®
Disney’s Magic Kingdom®

If you’re travelling to the Middle East with young kids, then Legoland Dubai® ticks all the boxes. Designed for children between the ages of two and 12, you can ride on the back of a dragon, get them learning how to drive early at the driving school, and even fly a plane at the airport. There’s a Beetle Bounce ride which will have them screaming in excitement, and there’s also the chance to build and test creations in the factories. At Legoland® Waterpark, you can even build your own raft out of the colourful bricks, slide down one of the 20 rides and more. Alternatively, IMG Worlds of Adventure is an indoor amusement park that caters to younger children wonderfully. While some rollercoasters do have height restrictions, there are play areas in LazyTown Robbie’s Lair, as well as a Dinosaur Adventure Zone which will see you get up close and personal with prehistoric beasts. Oh, and there’s also the CN Live Stage Show which is a live musical featuring classic Cartoon Network characters.
In Florida, toddlers and young children are sure to have plenty of fun. In Disney’s Magic Kingdom® you can ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant and enjoy Peter Pan’s Flight as well as The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh. On the other hand, you can always get the tune of ‘It’s A Small World’ stuck in your head as you go round the attraction, but it will definitely be worth it as you see the joy on your little cherub’s face. There’s a Shrek 4-D experience as well as the chance to embark on an adventure with ET at Universal Studios as well as Tot Tiki Reef play area at Universal’s Volcano Bay™.
Let’s not forget about Crayola Experience, too. One for the promising artists in the family, this attraction is situated inside The Florida Mall, just a 20-minute drive from Universal Orlando Resort. 26 hands-on experiences will see you have endless colourful fun, and you even get to name and wrap your very own Crayola crayon. Kids can melt down crayons into shapes and get messy with sculpting and colouring in. If that wasn’t enough, there’s even the world’s largest Crayola crayon as well as a gift shop so you can grab souvenirs, too.


Atlantis, The Palm
Jumeirah Beach Hotel

For the perfect place to rest your feet after a day of exploring the theme parks of Dubai, there are plenty of five-star options. Atlantis, The Palm is perfect. As well as being home to Aquaventure Waterpark, the property also boasts The Lost Chambers Aquarium which has more than 65,000 marine animals and there’s also the chance to admire dolphins and sea lions. You have an army of restaurants to choose from – 30 in total – including the legendary Japanese fare of Nobu and the Cantonese food of Hakkasan Dubai. Oh, and new for November 2019 is WHITE Beach Restaurant which offers guests an Instagram-worthy pool, sunset cocktails and an outdoor eatery. What’s more, staying in Atlantis, The Palm grants you unlimited access to Aquaventure Waterpark as well as The Lost Chambers Aquarium.
You also receive complimentary access to Wild Wadi Waterpark when staying in any of the Madinat Jumeirah properties, Jumeirah Beach Hotel or the Burj Al Arab. However, Jumeirah Beach Hotel is the closest. The iconic wave-shape building boasts a private beach to top up your tan as well as five swimming pools, a kids’ club and a scuba diving centre. A choice of 616 rooms and suites are lavishly decorated and feature amazing sea views, and there’s a wide choice of restaurants to keep every taste bud tantalised. Lastly, Lapita, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Autograph Collection is a wonderful base if you know you’re going to venture to the attraction. Polynesian in design and just a short walk away from the parks, each of the accommodation choices feature private balconies or terraces, marble bathrooms, pillowtop beds and complimentary Wi-Fi. There are four dining destinations including HIKINA which serves Pan-Asian hot pot and dumplings as well as ARI restaurant and bar when you fancy some light bites by the pool.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

If you want to surround yourself with the lights, camera and action of Universal Studios Orlando™ then Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando is our top choice. Just five-minutes away by car from the theme park, the hotel re-creates the charm and romance of Portofino in Italy and even has cobblestone streets and outdoor cafés. There are 750 guest rooms and 45 suites for larger groups and families, as well as eight restaurants and bars including a Starbucks® and fine dining eatery Mama Della’s Ristorante that’s also available to hire for private events.
When it comes where to stay near the happiest place on Earth, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa ticks all the boxes. There is a shuttle service to all of the parks which run every 20-minutes making it ideal for fans of Mickey Mouse and friends. Think a live orchestra in the lobby playing Disney classics, watching the evening fireworks over Cinderella Castle from your balcony and the chance for your children to become elegant princesses and dashing knights courtesy of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. You can also enjoy a breakfast buffet at 1900 Park Fare restaurant with beloved Disney characters, and there’s a Perfectly Princess Tea available to book where you get to have a cuppa with Sleeping Beauty herself.


Both Dubai and Florida offer fantastic themeparks that will have you practising your screams

We love theme parks but hate the queues. When is the quietest time to visit Disney in Florida?
Off-peak season for Walt Disney World Resort is November. This is when you tend to get cheaper rates, although it isn’t guaranteed, and while it will still be busy it won’t be anywhere near as packed as the summer.
While we love thrills and a good theme park, what hotel in Dubai do you think would be the best if you want a sanctuary of your very own?
Atlantis, The Palm is a brilliant oasis if you’re a theme park junkie. Accommodation is comfortable and spacious, and you can even stay in an underwater suite, perfect for budding little mermaids. Add to the mix 30 restaurants, a kids’ club and an on-site spa with 27 treatment rooms and you have yourself the perfect hotel.
How long are the flights to Dubai and Florida?
Jetting off to Dubai takes seven-hours and you can fly with a whole host of airlines including British Airways, Emirates and Qantas. A little more time in the air, a flight to Florida typically takes nine-hours with direct routes served by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.


Dubai and Florida are two amazing destinations for thrill seekers and theme park lovers. However, there are some differences. Dubai offers travellers the chance to unwind after a day of riding rollercoasters, while Florida is more for those who want a fun-filled non-stop holiday even after the parks have closed for the day. Florida is also the home of Disney so if you’re a fan of the franchise, you can’t go wrong with the chance to visit Mickey and friends. Meanwhile, Dubai is home to two amazing hotel waterparks which promise a fantastic day that the whole family is sure to enjoy.
Both have plenty of five-star resorts, too. To start planning your next trip to either Dubai or Florida click here or call one of our personal travel managers on 0203 816 0985.

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