How Dubailand Works

Emiraties survey a model of Dubailand. See more pictures of Dubai.
Rabih Moghrabi/AFP/Getty Images

In Dubai, laser light shows flood souks and bazaars, tree-shaped islands materialize out of the gulf and people in full-length robes learn to ski. Dubai, a city of anomalies, wonders and themes -- extravagant themes -- is undergoing its greatest project yet. Developers are transforming 3 billion square feet of desert into Dubailand, a colossal complex of theme parks, malls and model cities.

Dubai Image Gallery

These are heady days for theme parks. In 2006, global theme park attendance grew 2.2 percent [Economist]. And while the saturated North American and European markets remain fairly stable, there is potential for enormous growth in other parts of the world. Dubai, which is a quick flight for a large part of the world's population, is poised to accept the traffic. Dubai has already made a name for itself in the theming business. Emiratie elite prepared for the inevitable exhaustion of their state's oil reserves by developing a booming tourism industry. Because the city-state lacks the historical presence of other great cities and has an uncomfortably hot desert climate, Dubai attracts visitors with its conspicuous excess, luxury and extravagant, all-encompassing themes.

Dubailand's developer, Tatweer, breaks the complex down into seven master themes: theme parks, culture and art, science and planetariums, sports and sports academies, well-being and health, shopping and retail, and resorts and hotels. In total, the development will span an area twice the size of Disney World and boast 45 mega-projects, each capable of being a stand-alone destination in its own right but concentrated into one swath of desert.

Dubai's biggest dreamer, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler since 2006, announced the Dubailand project on October 23, 2003. However, the project will not be complete until around 2020 -- despite the city's rapid pace of construction. After completion, Dubailand should continue to transform and expand. Because the complex combines classic theme park standards like rides and shows with living space, retail and even schools, developers expect Dubailand to take on a life of its own.

In this article, we'll learn all about Dubailand's dazzling projects.