Occupying a huge swathe of land some 10km inland from the marina, the vast Dubailand development (wdubailand.ae) has become the defining symbol of the spectacular hubris which engulfed the entire city for much of the noughties. Launched in 2003, Dubailand was originally slated to become the planet’s largest and most spectacular tourist development, boasting an extraordinary mix of theme parks and sporting and leisure facilities covering a staggering 280 square kilometres – twice the size of Walt Disney World in Florida. Major attractions were to have included the Restless Planet dinosaur theme park (featuring over a hundred animatronic dinosaurs) and the Falcon City of Wonders (with full-scale replicas of the Seven Wonders of the World no less), not to mention the world’s largest hotel (the 6500-room Asia-Asia) and the planet’s biggest mall (as if the Dubai Mall weren’t already big enough on its own).
In the event, Dubailand struggled from day one, and was finished off completely (along with most of the emirate’s other loopier mega-projects) by the financial crisis of 2008–9. Parts of the complex did actually manage to get built, even so, including the Dubai Outlet Mall, Global Village, the Dubai Autodrome and Dubai Sports City, and a quartet of golf courses (the Els, the Arabian Ranches, and the “Earth” and “Fire” courses at Jumeirah Golf Estates). Meanwhile, the one Dubailand novelty attraction that has been finished (although not until 2013) is the appropriately bonkers Dubai Miracle Garden (t04 422 8902, wdubaimiraclegarden.com; Oct to late May daily 9am–9pm, Fri and Sat until 11pm; 50dh). Furnished with some 45 million plants, this is claimed to be the world’s largest flower garden, although the place is notable not so much for its record-breaking botanical contents as for the sheer zaniness of the overall design – a surreal horticultural headtrip complete with striped flower beds, wacky topiary and myriad outlandish designs (changed annually) which have previously included floral pyramids, flower-encrusted buildings and cars, and an 18m-high replica of the Burj Khalifa. The attached Butterfly Garden (wdubaibutterflygarden.com; daily 9am–6pm; 50dh) seems rather tame in comparison, with fifteen thousand of the winged creatures flitting around nine climate-controlled domes.