On fantasy island: Yas Waterworld

Yas Waterworld’s Mike Oswald has the sort of job that you wish you had asked your career advisor about when you were at school instead of how do you become an astronaut or a nuclear physicist or a plant manager. You see, Mike’s job is to run theme parks. “When you were at school I’m […]

Yas Waterworld opened this month in Abu Dhabi

Yas Waterworld opened this month in Abu Dhabi

Yas Waterworld’s Mike Oswald has the sort of job that you wish you had asked your career advisor about when you were at school instead of how do you become an astronaut or a nuclear physicist or a plant manager. You see, Mike’s job is to run theme parks.

“When you were at school I’m sure you wanted to be a reporter, I wanted to be in this business,” says the likeable Californian.

“Sometimes you just love an industry and you know that’s what you want to do.”

He then pauses and smiles: “It’s a fun business and I’m happy every day.”

The ‘fun business’ he refers to is running the Middle East’s newest and biggest water park. In design and location – it has the world’s first aqua park rollercoaster running through – it is also arguably the most ambitious ever attempted.

Yas Waterworld, so called because of its location on Yas Island, has been developed by Aldar Properties in cooperation with operator Farah Leisure Parks Management as the next step in creating a fully-fledged leisure resort outside of Abu Dhabi.

The park covers 15ha of land alongside Aldar’s Ferrari World complex on Yas – it sounds like a lot of room to play with but every bit of that area has been designed to maximise the space available; squeezing in 43 rides, attractions and the stealthily hidden network of pipes, pumps, filters and tunnels vital to keep the park running all year-round.

Considering the park is just 62 days from completion when we meet – with main contractor ALEC (Al Jaber LEGT Engineering and Contracting) and an army of 3,000 workers putting adding the finishing touches to Yas Waterworld’s facades – Oswald seems admirably relaxed.

Perhaps that’s because he expects completion to come earlier than planned?

“We will probably hand over early and definitely be open by the end of the year,” he says. “Which is a cool thing to be able to do.”
Talking of cool, on Oswald’s office wall hangs a map of the park, outlaying an impressive tangle of rides destined to thrill park visitors.

Many of them, he says, have never been seen before in the region.

There is Bubbles’ Barrel, which will let surfer’s ride the world’s largest 3m-high sheet wave; there’s Falcon’s Falaj the Middle East’s longest water slide at 300 metres;Liwa Loop, the region’s first high-intensity looping waterslide where riders stand on a platform which retracts; then there’s Dawwama, the world’s longest hydromagnetic powered tornado which will send riders up a 20m high funnel.

High-octane thrill-seekers will love the Aqualoop, the only looping waterslide in the Middle East, while the tech lover will surely enjoy the Pearl Master Quest, the world’s only SplashQuest interactive game. And then there’s Bandit Bomber, the world’s first rollercoaster to incorporate on-board water and laser special effects as well as the longest suspended roller coaster in the Middle East with a length of 550 metres.

While visitors will be thrilled with the dizzying array of rides, Oswald hopes they will be charmed by the theme of the park: ‘the lost pearl’. Yas Waterworld pays tribute to the UAE’s pearl-diving heritage, and is themed around “The Lost Pearl”, an original story about Dana, a young Emirati girl on a quest for the legendary pearl that had once brought prosperity to her village.

The UAE is already a crowded market in terms of water parks, and the scale and vision of Yas Waterworld is bound to force comparisons with the two best known, Wild Wadi and Aquaventure at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, but Oswald is confident that he is overseeing something truly unique.

“Those are very good parks but this park is designed to be the best in the world. I truly believe that this has the best rides that you’ll find anywhere else in the world.”


Oswald first joined the early stages of the project in 2008 combining duties on Ferrari World’s launch (“when big parks open it’s all hands on pumps”) and the design of the park. In 2009 work on the design began in earnest, he says.

“We worked on it in the interim (as we were opening Ferrari World), and this project with this design really started in 2009 and at the end of 2010 the piling work started. The main construction work started in February 2011,” he says.

Once the team nailed the story of Dana, the main character, they were able to work on the design. He explains that not only did it inspire the look of the park it dictated how the park would be designed and constructed.

“Once you integrate the story you have a theme park. From there you lay out the park, then, based on who will be coming to the park, you decide what kind of attractions you are going to have; then you look at how you can fit it together with the other facilities you need like restaurants, locker rooms. As you’re laying that all out, you take into account how you are going to power it and where the water, sewarage and utilities are going to come from.”

Much of the design was conducted by lead consultant WS Atkins with US firm Water Technology working on the engineering and aqautic design of the pipes and pumps (“they’re one of the best in the world”).

“WS Atkins are very well known here and familiar with this type of project. They had all the right connections (including appointing contractors for some of the themeing).”

With designers and consultant in place, the construction, under project manager Mohammed Younis of Aldar, began with the appointed of ALEC with the aim of being completed by the end of this year.

“There were piles were for the main buildings and then for the pools and other stuff they used planking, where they dig a hole and feel it with rocks. It’s not as elaborate as Burj Khalifa,say,” he laughs. “[Having said that] if you were here a year ago you would have been amazed at how deep some of these foundations go and the layers involved.”
In total 1.2 million kg of steel went into building the park with the contractors have carried out 50,000m2 of rockwork across the park.

In terms of equipment used ALEC turned to Liebherr tower cranes to do the heavy lifting, despite the relatively low ceiling of the park: “The site’s very congested with a maze of pipes running around.”

THE real magic

As a teenager he worked as a lifeguard at one of the biggest water parks in Los Angeles, before he took on the much more serious-sounding route of studying business and IT. His passion for the theme parks remained.

“I still get excited depending on what I’m looking at. You know I’ll go into the pump room – it’s just a pump and a filter – but some of these filters are super cool. When I first started, we had these huge sand filters that were [stretches his arms out] this big and now we are using [brings his hands close together] this big, and they use 90% less water during backwash.”

He continues: “With the old pumps you used to turn the valve and set it to sewer at full power for four or five minutes once a day – you, know those pumps would do a couple of thousand gallons per minute…now you drain the tank once a month and all you’re wasting is the water in the tank. Filter technology is also better and the quality of water is better as well.”

Unsurprisingly the water and the electrics of the park are the most important in the element in the experience.

“The MEP works are truly spectacular, I tell people that’s where the real magic is. The main utility corridor goes down 4m or 5m deep while the MEP works wind throughout the structures and in and out of the foundations. We use a lot of 3D modelling to make sure there’s no clashes.

He adds: “The main plant room is in the middle of the park, hidden by themeing and in the models you can see it looks like swiss cheese with all the pipes coming out of it. You try to run them in corridors as much as you can.”

Over the course of his career, the fresh-looking veteran has seen technology progress so far that he feels that 20 years ago a project on the scale of Yas Waterworld in the desert-like environment of Abu Dhabi’s outskirts would not have been possible.

“Back then they didn’t have 3D modelling technology and some of the construction techniques just weren’t there yet. The ride technology was not there as well. We’re using super high-technologies like linear injection motors which I don’t even know whether they were invented 20 years ago – and if they were they were certainly not being used on rides!”
The park, he says has been designed to meet the “highest standards of anywhere in the world” and matches both industry, ISO and EN standards.

“It was designed with the highest quality components as well,” he proudly declares. “In terms of efficiency it is definitely one of the most efficient water parks in the world.”

Strip the layer of landscaping and themeing away and Yas Waterworld, with its network of pipes and supporting struts looks more like an industrial plant or refinery belonging to Abu Dhabi’s gas giants.

Like those constructs and unlike normal commercial developments, its future development is a question of capacities and forecasted demand. Oswald says that a phase programme is already in place should it prove to be as popular as expected.

“Only time will tell how things will work out but if you go on site now you will see how it will work out. We’ve already made some changes to improve some things that turn out the way we thought. This is about continuous improvement,” he remarks. “We have two more phases already allocated to land. There’s concepts done for those and there’s another land bank for what we call phase four that’s there for the future. We’ll continually improve and get better and better as time goes on.”

But like an over eager teenager who’s fallen off our rubber ring, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and Oswald says that for now he will be concentrate on ensuring a smooth ride when the park opens

Built like giant functioning and complex machines, theme parks often show quirks and issues when they first let the crowds in; throw in millions of gallons of water being pushed around at speed and at height and Oswald knows he can expect one or two issues when the park opens.

“We strive to make it to make it as perfect as possible, but there’s always something,” he chuckles.
Mike Oswald is doing his dream job and he sounds like he’s enjoying it. Life is just not fair.

“Don’t get me wrong it can be agonising at times,” he says reassuringly, “but when you see the end result and the kids smiling and having a good time, it makes it all worth it. This is not like other jobs where you don’t get to see that.”

“It’s been a really good experience with Aldar, one of the things that has made this collaboration successful has been the high intergration, the collaboration with them and the delivery. A lot of projects don’t have the same level of cooperation. It really came down to the people involved. Sometimes you don’t get that same feeling and it doesn’t work that well.

“As an operator we want a high quality, unique park, that has the best experience possible. Construction guys want to deliver a high quality project that is on time and underbudget. If we do that together.

“Everyone is happy.”


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