Ferrari World

The Fast and the Fabulous

An edited version of this article appeared in Abu Dhabi Week magazine in July 2011. It no longer appears online.

The lights count down as our car pulls into position. We’d like to think we know a thing or two about roller coasters but the butterflies in our stomach have no idea what’s about to hit them. A hush falls over everyone clutching their handles and then the bottom drops out of the world.

This is the Formula Rossa, the fastest roller coaster in the world, the one everyone’s been talking about – but let’s begin at the beginning.

“We’re going to Ferrari World? Wicking cool!” Our little son – a bona fide motor head from birth – is giddy with anticipation as we approach the iconic red and white building on Yas Island. We’re pretty sure he means ‘wicked’ but the glee with which he squeals ‘wicking’ says it all.

At the ages of four and five, our boys are the perfect age for a visit to Ferrari World. Of the nineteen attractions on offer, all but four of them are appropriate for smaller kids.

We start with the Junior GT – after a spellbound session watching a brief instructional video followed by more instructions from trained experts, the boys choose their own mini 430 GT Spiders to drive around a kid-sized city streetscape complete with stop signs and roundabouts.

By the end of the day, our boys will have driven this course at least a dozen times, trying out a different colour car each time. For all the Formula One fervour surrounding Ferrari, both the Junior GT and the Junior Grand Prix are surprisingly safety oriented. Seat belts are a must and the kids get lots of instructions for driving safely.

Our five year old creeps around the world’s smallest F1 track with an expression of such intense concentration his tongue pokes out. Though it’s truly cooking outside this afternoon, it’s gloriously cool throughout this air conditioned beauty of a theme park.

“That’s two fums up,” says our youngest son as we begin the Bell’Italia. He and his brother take great delight in chauffeuring their parents through the highlights of Italy in miniature Ferrari 250 California Spiders, circa 1958. Though we’d heard horror stories of long lines, we’re surprised by how easily we get to the front of the line. We reckon the best time to arrive is right at noon when they open.

After a spin on the racy carousel, we’re ready for a sit down, so we check out a few of the theatre rides. We love the 3D Racing Legends which details the history of Ferrari, the bumpy Speed of Magic and the virtual simulation ride Driving with the Champion which captures the entire sensation of driving an F1 car right down to the smell of burning rubber.

The only thing better than Driving with the Champion is the Scuderia Challenge. Using the same technology used to train Formula One drivers, our thirty-something little boy raced in a simulated showdown with other amateur drivers on a virtual Yas Marina Circuit. He thinks it’s ‘wicking cool’.

With separate facilities for mums, wheelchair accessibility and plenty of rubbish and recycling bins, Ferrari World is excellent for parents. We particularly liked the family bathrooms, perfect for dads taking young daughters out for the day.

If you’re planning your trip to Ferrari World on a busy day, you might want to go VIP. For AED 495 (as opposed to AED 225 for a regular ticket) you can skip straight to the front of the queue. You’ll also get access to the VIP lounge where you can enjoy complimentary drinks and snacks while you lounge on the sofas or try your hand at the PlayStation from the comfort of a Fatboy beanbag.

While there are plenty of drinking fountains and snacks on offer, you won’t want to miss the restaurants. We especially love Ristorante Cavallino and Mamma Rossella, but we hear all six are excellent.

“Mummy look! I put together this whole Ferrari! Wicking cool!” Over at the Junior Training Camp, the boys have a grand time putting together a giant foam Ferrari, riding the pedal cars, piloting the remote control cars and monkeying around on the massive climbing structure.

Pretty much every single thing in the entire park is themed around driving, racing or cars – but you would expect nothing less from a place called Ferrari World. While the kids run out some of their excitement at the Training Camp, the adults take turns on the thrill rides.

Even driving by Ferrari World, you can’t miss the tunnel of speed G-Force which shoots off from ground level to 62m in just seconds. One minute we’re looking across the desert at the airport; the next we’re falling, gasping for enough breath to scream.

From G-Force it’s on to the Fiorano GT Challenge, a twisty twin roller coaster that pits one train of cars in a race against another. It’s funny to watch seasoned Abu Dhabi teenagers – veterans of the ride – stroll away without a care while first-timers staggered past looking as though they felt violated.

Then it’s time for The Big One. After summoning our courage all day, we take a deep breath and head over to the famous Formula Rossa.

If you haven’t been 240kph before, forget everything you know about velocity, acceleration and how not to wet your pants. As the car takes off – literally like a bullet shot from a 9mm – we can feel the wind under our eyelids as our bodies flatten and the skin of our faces flap.

We’ve just gone from sitting still to 100kph in two seconds flat and up to that screaming max speed of 240kph less than three seconds later. The rest of the ride is a blur as we try unsuccessfully to catch our breath. It is without a doubt the most terrifying moment of our lives.

Yes, it’s expensive but at least once, you’ve got to give Ferrari World a try. After seven hours, we finally pack up our weary children to head home. With one last look, our little one sums it up best.

“Mummy, this was a good day.”